Two events were scheduled on the Juneau Alpine Club calendar one recent October weekend - a moonlight paddle on the Friday night and a run to Point Bishop on Sunday. However, the weather quickly changed the scheduled events. I canceled the moonlight paddle because of the wind and overcast skies and Dave Duntley's run was washed out with the forecast heavy rain and wind gusting to 45 knots. So what else do JAC members do when the weather doesn't want to cooperate with kayaking or trail running? Climb Olds Mountain of course.
Bill Forrest sent an e-mail out to the club and proposed the climb. Eight people took the offer and at 8 a.m. Sunday morning Oct. 20, Forrest, Don Larsen, Tim Arness, Carol Race, Nick Meyer, Joe Galluci, Greg Bledsoe, Greg's dog Marshall and Marshall's friend Molly, my dog Nicki, and I met at the Perseverance Trailhead. The skies were overcast and the wind could be heard blowing through the narrow valley, but at least it wasn't raining. The weather was calling for strong, gusty wind and heavy rain after noon. We quickly hurried up the trail hoping the predicted weather would hold off for a few hours, at least in time to make the summit.
We made it all the way to the valley just below the summit before noon with no rain and only a few strong gusts of wind. The summit of the 4,400-foot Olds Mountain loomed above us. Rapidly moving clouds would occasionally cover the summit, then clear for a moment before shrouding it again. Dozens of ptarmigan flew by, or were blown by, and a goat was observed skirting the high slope.
As we scoped out the steep route we noticed a small waterfall that was being blown back up the mountain. That was a good indication that the wind was really ripping on the ridge. Rather than take the hint and turn back, we immediately started to take extra layers of clothing out of our packs. Better to prepare in the sheltered valley than up on the wind-blown ridge. Rain pants, gloves, hats, goggles and any extra layers of clothing we had were donned.
Like a heard of goats we started climbing the steep grass and scree slope to the ridge. As the valley walls grew closer together and the terrain steepened, the wind intensified. Fortunately, it was on our back - at least for now. Once we cleared the funnel-shaped valley the wind decreased and our walk along the slick snowfield to the last pitch to the summit was wet but relatively pleasant. We were just below the cloud layer and could still see the alpine landscape spread out below us. It was around 12:30 and the heavy rain forecast for noon finally arrived, causing water to flow down every eroded crevice in the surrounding mountains.
The last few hundred feet to the summit required scrambling over large rocks and, at this time of year, occasional soft patches of snow. We were taking good time but the dogs Marshall and Nicki, each weighing over 80 pounds, were having trouble getting up the large, steep, snow-covered rocks. Molly weighed in at under 10 pounds and had no trouble bounding over the boulders. Other than carrying the heavy dogs up the rocky maze, which was something I wasn't about to do, I could see they weren't going to make the summit. I elected to stay behind with the dogs while the rest of the group headed into the clouds. Nicki found a patch of snow to lie down on and Marshall howled for his owner, who was now disappearing into the fog.
I stood on a boulder and ate lunch listening to the sound of the rain and waterfalls while the strong wind blew furiously around me. In less than 15 minutes, I could see Greg appear out of the haze and the others were soon to follow. Marshall was happy to see his master and Nicki was more than ready to start down. We cleared the rocky area and once on the snowfield, more of an icefield, the wind once again decided to show its might. The challenge was to try to get a good footing on the ice, while the 50-knot wind made every attempt to blow us down and send us sliding over the edge of the cliff.
Ice axes in the ready, we were able to negotiate the worst part of the wind and safely make it to the rock and grass ridge. Now it was time to get through the wind tunnel, this time with the wind in our face. I was glad I brought my goggles.
We managed to get back to the valley in one piece, wet, but all together. It was near 2 p.m. and we had plenty of time for a clothing change and a snack before slogging down the now-saturated Granite Creek Trail. Once on Perseverance we encountered several joggers running up the trail, a family riding past on mountain bikes, and other people casually hiking along in spite of the heavy rain and gusty wind - just a typical fall day in Southeast Alaska.
One can stay home and grumble about the weather and complain there is nothing to do or, with the proper clothing, equipment and training, go out into the wind and rain, get some exercise for a few hours and come home feeling amazingly energized.
Larry Musarra is a local outdoors enthusiast who is active in the Juneau Alpine Club.