Scott and I had just returned from our annual fall vacation a few days early (see my previous blog for that story). So we found ourselves with a free weekend and the tail end of a rare October cycle of clear, cold weather.
Fall can provide great hiking opportunities. Thick brush loses its summer energy and obediently lies down, the bugs are gone, and the bears go into hibernation. If we’re lucky, we get a cold snap and the ground freezes. These conditions made a perfect opportunity to traverse the normally boggy Spaulding Meadows all the way over to Montana Creek.
A friend of mine cautioned me when I told him I was planning to hike up Hawthorne Peak. “The snowpack can be pretty icy up there this time of year. You should take an ice axe with you.” I agreed with him, and I did pack a set of ice grippers and a hiking pole. But no ice axe.
The heavy rains of the past week kept many Juneau residents inside. I was scheduled to teach cross country ski lessons at Eaglecrest last Saturday and Sunday, so I spent two full days skiing and it wasn't too bad. My students were eager to learn, and when I wasn't teaching I enjoyed the nicely groomed Lower Loop trail, working on both my classic and skate skiing. Scott and I made a few runs on the mountain Sunday morning, but were defeated by the low visibility and wet conditions.
This year’s hiking season has had a slow start. First I was distracted by all the skiing that I could do well into May, and then family obligations took precedence over recreation. When I was finally ready to get out on the trails and just hike, I couldn’t believe it was still snowing up in the mountains and raining hard below. On Saturday, the first of June, I decided enough was enough. I put on all of my rain gear and waterproof boots and headed up the Lake Creek trail.
Eighty minutes. That’s all the time it took Scott and me to go from our ordinary, everyday routine of work and home projects to a cross country skiing paradise. One hour and twenty minutes of easy hiking on packed snow through the woods up the Spaulding Trail gave us full access to rolling, open meadows just begging to be skied and enjoyed. Sometimes the trip is faster, but we had all day so we were in no rush.
It all started innocently enough. The weather forecast was perfect and Scott and I had the day off together, so we decided to go for a hike up Blackerby Ridge. If we started early enough, we could easily get up Cairn Peak and then over to Observation Peak, which I had never climbed. This was the plan – a good effort, a new peak for me, and a beautiful late summer day spent high in the mountains.
There is a special place up on an alpine ridge above Granite Creek basin. When I sit there, I feel as if I am at the center of the world. I can look around and see two of my favorite ridge hikes – the Gastineau-Roberts-Sheep ridge and the Mt. Juneau ridge. I can look up at Mt. Olds on one side and Clark Peak on the other. Hardly anyone comes up here. It’s somewhere I can always go when I want to enjoy the mountains and have them all to myself.
My favorite hiking partner, Scott (who also happens to be my husband), was going to be out of town for a week and the summer weather was finally looking like it might give me a break. I had a day off coming up fast and I had to make a quick decision. The hiking traverse starting from the Mt. Roberts trail head and up to Gastineau Peak, Mt. Roberts, Sheep Mountain, then out Sheep Creek valley trail was on my mind as I hadn’t done it in a few years. Scott and I had just hiked the Juneau ridge a couple of weeks earlier so I was physically ready.
Do you ever make an offhand comment to someone, only to immediately wonder, “Now why in the world did I say that?” That’s the way I felt last week, when I casually suggested to my coworker Courtney that we hike Blackerby Ridge to Cairn Peak. Ideally, I like to spread my ridge hikes out to once every seven or eight days at most. I still hadn’t fully recovered from the 13 mile, +5,700’ traverse I had just done two days earlier with another friend over Mt. Gastineau, Mt.