alaska’s flattop

So, what does one do when deposited back at the trailhead at 8:30 in the morning? When, by 8:30 in the morning, the day has already included the thwarting of an all-day hike by a too-close encounter (thankfully injury-free) with two grizzly bears and then with a moose and calves?

If you’re me, even thus traumatized, a day set aside for hiking can’t be that that easily diverted, especially when the weather is even vaguely amiable. If you’re me, you take a car nap (because exhaustion follows quickly on the heels of intense stress), you make another round of coffee in the trailhead parking lot (because you’re always prepared for that sort of thing when you’re a dirtbag car camper), and you find somewhere else – more popular – to go hike (because weekends are made for hiking). On this day, already being at the Glen Alps trailhead outside of Anchorage, Flattop Mountain was the obvious choice.

3 miles roundtrip. Steep. And one of the most popular trails in the region.


I’m normally a fan of less-traveled trails and less-visited scenes. Not so in Alaska; not so in grizzly country. Not right now, at least. I’m now a fan of busy trailheads and lots of faces on the trail. I see little potential for solitude in the Alaskan landscape. But I do see lots of challenge and beauty. And, as long as I’m an Alaskan (read: for the rest of the summer) I’ll be out in it.


Flattop Mountain is a great trail. That perfect balance of hard and visually rewarding. I was surprised at the number of people (including smallish children) that scaled the rock scramble at the top to find their way to the summit. And, true to name, it is a wide and flat top. A bit too windy and drizzly for lingering long, but the clouds were moving in and out such that I got to enjoy some great views of, alternately, cloud-shrouded mountains and long swatches of Cook Inlet beyond Anchorage.


There’s certainly a reason this is such a popular trail.


And being so close to an urban area allows for recovery and contemplation with all the modern comforts one could hope for to round out an eventful weekend.

alaska’s flattop

alaskan days

At some point over the last few weeks, I went from getting a handle on my new surroundings to falling into a routine here. My life as an Alaskan is one of full throttled intensity. Somehow the long days feel short as I try to squeeze every last drop out of this experience.

I live in a bunkhouse nestled away in the middle of a valley. It has a very college dorm feel with its shared rooms and communal kitchen and living spaces. I have an 18 year old roommate that, through no conscious effort, makes me feel ancient on a daily basis. I miss my privacy and having complete control of my surroundings though it’s nice to have the house camaraderie and a short walking commute. Fortunately, I’m an early riser and have a quiet house to enjoy my coffee in most mornings. Add in this view from the big picture windows and I’d say I have a pretty sweet deal.

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I’m in a temperate rainforest and it rains accordingly – more days than not, and I’m told that the percentage of rainy days will only increase as the season progresses. The rain here tends to be blown sideways by the near-constant wind in the valley. Most days, I wear both a rain jacket and rain pants for my quarter-mile walk to the visitor center.

Speaking of, the visitor center is a “busy” place. Lots of folks pass through the Kenai Peninsula on their vacations and road trips. And many of them stop in to check out our exhibits, upwards of 600 on weekend days. Yosemite left me more than prepared to at ease with a traffic flow that feels staggering to my co-workers. I like bookstores and am so glad to be back to working full-time again.

The extended daylight of living so far north means that the workday doesn’t cut into my exploration time. Weather-permitting, I spend a portion of my evenings wandering the nearby walking paths. Months of living in DC has trained me to ignore my car, so I save driving expeditions for my weekends. It’s frustrating to be surrounded by inaccessible mountains, but there’s lots to explore on the flat planes as well. Wildflower season is in full swing and I can entertain myself for hours seeking out, identifying, and photographing all the flowers, lichens, and fungi.

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Another, less pleasant, aspect of the extended daylight involves convincing my body that it needs sleep. It doesn’t come easily. I’m used to being an early bird — that’s not a sufficient label here. As one of my friends put it, during Alaska summers, I’m not an early bird or a night owl but rather an exhausted pigeon. My best solution: wear myself out to exhaustion. And that’s what weekends are for anyway, right?

It’s a rare day off that doesn’t find me on some sort of adventure. Whether it’s a roadtrip to go sea kayaking in Homer or to a birding festival on the Kenai River, or jumping on a glacier cruise boat out into Prince William Sound, or hiking around Anchorage or Girdwood, there’s always something to go see or do. I mean to take full advantage of all the things Alaska has to offer (well, things that are reasonably within my grasp this summer).

 

alaskan days

alaska introductions

Alaska feels like it’s on a different planet. But really, it’s attached to worlds I’m more familiar with. #AlmostAdjacent

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There are so many new faces here. My first moose sighting stopped me in my tracks. My first red-necked grebe and my first harlequin duck both took my breath away. And I still haven’t gotten used to the opaque blue of glacial water. Yet familiar friends can be found as well. Cottontail rabbits make fast work of the blooming dandelions. Lupines are making an appearance (fat, squat nootka lupine). Robins, golden-crowned sparrows, and bald eagles ensure that I’ll always having some measure of success on my birding forays. And the so-green aspen-like birches transport me to the Eastern Sierra.

Regardless of if a moment finds me entranced by a new sight (like lungwort lichen) or wondering just how an orange-crowned warbler migrates so very many miles, there’s no question that Alaska is a beautiful place. My explorations thus far have been mostly limited to my immediate summer home base. Long rambling strolls, either alone or with some housemates, always on trail (no bushwhacking through prickly devil’s club and brown bear-concealing willows for me), have yet to fail at yielding a learning opportunity or an arm-pinching reality check. A slow crawl with tree and wildflower field guides, a stop-and-go walk with binoculars, a blood-warming hike to a glacier viewpoint, a dash back to the indoors while flailing ineffectively at hordes of Alaska-sized mosquitos.

It’s a pleasant mix of comforting knowns and stunning unknowns. Wonder is a great salve (though certainly no cure) for homesickness.

alaska introductions

of crocuses and mud

Spring is on its slow way in.  

 

I spent my Sunday exploring more of what I think is the hidden gem of DC: Rock Creek Park. This park weaves itself throughout the city. I went out with a Meetup group and our nine miles took us in a big loop hopping through neighborhoods and alleyways to follow the trails that cross the park. 

In spite of the chill air and clouded skies this morning, it feels like spring is almost upon us. From the warmth of the intermittent sun to the surprise of a few wildflowers, talk trended to spring festivals and summer plans. I’m grateful for the winter we’ve had, but also I’m ready for some strong sunshine and green growth. 

of crocuses and mud

of vermont weekends

I ❤ Vermont.

Seriously. Especially Woodstock. It’s everything I could’ve wished for in a small northeastern town. We drove in town on a cold, snowy evening to a town festive with holiday lights. And ate at a delicious farm-to-table restaurant. And stayed up late hanging out with friends. Then it snowed more. And we played in the snow (to varying degrees of extremeness). And found a well-stocked farmers market to patron. And spent more time staying up late drinking wine and sharing culinary skills. It was a great way to spend a long weekend.

I don’t ski (well, besides that one time at Badger Pass last winter that left me a bit injured and disillusioned). So I opted for hiking instead. I spent most of my time Saturday hiking at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park. It’s a small park site – the only one in Vermont, I believe. The trails are nice, especially when covered in a thick blanket of snow (though still not quite enough snow to warrant snowshoes). I hiked out to the Pogue – a small pond that was completely frozen over – and up on top of South Peak for a view looking out over Woodstock – though the view was pretty nonexistent with the storm clouds. On Sunday, we managed to score a private tour of the Rockefeller’s buildings on the property. The most exciting part of which were the fallout shelters. I’d never been inside one before and really didn’t fully understand the purpose of them. There are two on the property (though only one is open to the public) and they’re eerie and fascinating and claustrophobic.

If only there was more to draw one to the far northeastern corner of the country. Then I would totally insist on living in Vermont. As it is, I’ll be content with the fact that we seem to have brought some winter back with us. After months of uncertainty as to whether winter really happens in DC, we have a blizzard watch this weekend. …because why just have a little snow when you can have a whole blizzard?

of vermont weekends

of ten lakes

If you’re looking for wildflowers – or mosquitos – in Yosemite, then the Ten Lakes trail is THE place to go. As something of an amateur botanist and a secret lover of flat trails, this was a long overdue hike for me.

The first several miles are a relatively uneventful forested warm-up for the drop down to Grant Lake (a one-mile spur trail off the main route). Grant Lake is especially notable for its outlet which happens to be the main source of Yosemite Creek that, of course, feeds Yosemite Falls. The hanging gardens dropping down to the first lake were incredible, including giant larkspur, corn lilies, lupines galore, and green gentian. That last one was a special treat for me as it’s quite possibly my favorite flower in Yosemite. It just looks completely alien and intricately monochromatic.

From the Grant Lake junction, it’s a super short trek up to the Ten Lakes Pass which affords a breathtaking view of the high country and a few of the lakes below. I started my hike early to avoid crowds and thunderstorms, however clouds were already building when I topped out on the pass mid-morning. I still opted to make the steep trek down to at least get a close up of a couple of the lakes before booking it out ahead of the rain. The lakes were all similar, classic alpine lakes. Beautiful, reflective, buggy.

Since the sky was turning ominous and I had allowed myself to forget my rain jacket, I was in a bit of a rush to get out of exposed zones and back to the trees (and my car). One could easily spend days in that lake basin, hopping around from one amazing swimming spot to another. I was equally happy to get in a little trail run over those last few miles and not get soaked, either from swimming or rain. A 14(ish)-mile day hike was a great way to round out June in Yosemite.

of ten lakes

of hiking in june

I met Unwoman at the Clockwork Alchemy Convention last month. Her steampunk electric cello music has been providing the soundtrack to my life since then. Intertwined is my current favorite.

Looking back over the past few weeks, I’m startled to realize the calendar firmly avers that June is drawing to a close. We’ve plunged into the warmest part of summertime (or so I tell myself). My shoulder season whirlwind is finally slowing to a more manageable workload. And I finally have a moment of unobligated freedom to reminiscence over all that’s happened in June.

Work aside, there’s been some good hiking and swimming and general adventuring. Not nearly enough, but still many memorable moments. And more on the horizon. Changes loom and I’m filled with a desire to fill every waking moment with everything I haven’t gotten around to yet.

I’m still finding my way to secret places. Those spots that you’ve maybe heard of but needed a knowledgeable counterpart to guide the way to. Like Hidden Falls, where I hiked recently with my friend Jim. I still need to cross Sierra Point off my list. And I want to get back to Devil’s Bathtub and the Indian Caves and the one Basque arborglyph I know where to find. And no, I cannot divulge the locations of any of these. But, if you’re lucky enough to find your way out to any of them, they’re all worth the trek.

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I’ve been fortunate enough to incorporate some play in with work in the high country too, like jaunting up to my favorite sunset spot at the end of long days of working on-location. It’s a not-so-secret mostly-locals-only filled-with-memories-of-summers-past spot that melts my heart and reminds me of the overwhelming goodness of life.

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I’m also getting in designated trail miles as well. After 4+ years of living and hiking in Yosemite, I find I have to go further and further out to get to new places. I had a wonderful visitor from DC this past weekend and we did something of a lakes hiking tour. Paul took me out to one of his favorite Yosemite wilderness spots, Raisin Lake, which I now highly recommend – not just for the heartwarming rock-sunning solitude, but also for the cold swimming and beautiful views.

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We also did a long(ish) trek in the Ansel Adams Wilderness with a mutual friend out to Agnew Pass and Gem Lake. It was windy and stunning. And also a little incongruous to see dams, structures, and rail tracks, and be reminded that the USFS and NPS have such different takes on land management.

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I feel like I can confidently, slightly regretfully, strangely excitedly, definitely bittersweetly, say that this is my last summer in Yosemite. And cheers to making the most of it!

of hiking in june