Tidbits on trails

Posted: Friday, November 19, 2010

Aiming for that patch of sunshine only a few strides above me, I turned up the pace. My legs burned like furnaces. My breath came quick and I ticked up the volume on my iPod. That's better.

Abby Lowell / Juneau Empire
Abby Lowell / Juneau Empire

A few minutes later, I was high on Mount Roberts and engulfed by that fierce reminder that I am minute compared to the expanse of surrounding wilderness, ice and mountain peaks.

I gasped for breath, like a diver that had gone too deep.

But it wasn't the vistas, the gnarly climb or the sunset looking like a fire burning on the horizon that took my breath away.

It was the wind - that cold, cold wind. The kind that is born from the bowels of the arctic. The kind that permeates even the "smartest" of fabrics and pinches every millimeter of exposed skin.

I smiled.

Sure, it wasn't terribly pleasant, but the expanse of blue above me and the rock hard trail I had followed below came as a welcome change from the slogging I'd done for weeks on trails which were ridden with mud holes and slippery everything.

Frankly, I think Juneau's topography is at its best when the weather turns cold and clear.

Muskeg firms like a dried out sponge. Trails harden like concrete and moisture is ripped from boardwalks that are otherwise treacherous slime farms.

It's refreshing to be able to run, hike and explore areas of our temperate rainforest and arrive home feeling energized instead of soggy.

Do note, however, that caution is key during these stints of clear, cold weather. Apart from the dangers of slippery surfaces, freeze and thaw cycles cause rooted boulders, rocks and debris to loosen, and familiar areas, such as the Perseverance Trail, can harbor hidden hazards.

Marc Matsil, director of CBJ Parks & Recreation, said these cycles are already taking a toll on the safety of the popular trail.

"People should just be really cautious, should they choose to go up there. We have this issue every year, it usually doesn't occur this early in the year ... but the rocks are there."

Matsil is referring to the recent rockslide that is currently blocking a portion of the trail just above the Ben Blackgoat memorial bench and before the trail declines to Ebner Falls. He said crews contemplated getting up there to remove the debris, but it's frozen solid and the risks associated with bringing in machinery are too great at this time. This is the same area that, on a larger scale, slid last year.

But frost-wedging - when water seeps down into pores and fractures of rock, then expands upon freezing - can happen anywhere. The result sends rock blowing off the hillside, said Matsil. The solution? Be aware of areas that could result in falling rock and choose wisely.

Matsil offered up a few recommendations for those looking to get out and about.

GASTINEAU MEADOWS and TREADWELL DITCH TRAIL

"We put in a trail last year to Gastineau Meadows," Matsil said. "That access is above Crow Hill Apartments."

This trail takes hikers out of the forest canopy and intersects with the Treadwell Ditch Trail. Which, as of Wednesday, proved to be virtually ice and hazard free. Users should, however, be aware of the minature "mud boulders" that have formed where mud holes previously existed. If navigated poorly, these can quickly turn an ankle. Otherwise, it's a great choice for a longer hike or run without grueling climbs. Plus, the 17mile-long singletrack is almost entirely under the protection of the forest, which offers protection from high winds.

AMALGA MEADOW TRAIL

The Amalga Meadow Trail is located at about mile 25 on Glacier Highway, Matsil said.

This is one local trail that is hikable for the whole family and leads users through the rainforest, onto beaches and offers some great views.

"(It's) a lovely trail that leads you up on a bluff that offers great views of the Chilkats."

POINT CAROLINE TRAIL

A recent addition to the Jensen-Olson Arboretum area, this trail was completed with help from Trail Mix Inc., local Boy Scout groups and SAGA. It leads from the arboretum to an overlook and is just under a mile long.

AUKE LAKE TRAIL

"(The) Auke lake trail is a lot of fun," Matsil said. "(It) takes you through multiple venues such as floating boardwalk and a sub-boreal section that takes users to Goat Hill."

And it's ADA accessible, meaning it's absolutely user-friendly. This trail can be accessed directly adjacent to Glacier Highway where it meets Auke Lake.

As daylight dwindles, the search for sun intensifies. It does for me, at least, and I'd venture to bet I'm not alone. So if the hunt for sunlight sends you out of the valleys and up peaks, that's OK. It is a great time of year, after all.

But choose wisely, Matsil said, and consider "hiking with your hockey helmet," just in case.

• Contact Outdoors editor Abby Lowell at abby.lowell@juneauempire.com.



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