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

of a world without ravens

Yes, that’s right. There are no ravens here in DC. We do have crows – two kinds even – but it’s just not the same. No bird has quite that same sort of exuberant essence. I miss ravens.

I miss quite a lot, in fact and honesty. That list is overwhelming sometimes. But I find this sums it up quite well:


Any picture of Yosemite sums it up well. A picture like this conveys so much. Beyond the straightforward beauty of the Ten Lakes Basin, I see the crystal clear cold water of subalpine lakes and rivers. I see trees laden with squirrels and woodpeckers. I see bears and bobcats and deer. I see granite outcroppings and oceans of forest. I see forest litter unmarred by human feet. And I hear …nothing. That not-quite-silent silence of deep wilderness. I miss silence too.

I remember and miss so much. Finding small pieces of urban nature is nice, but I miss deep wilderness. I hope to rediscover something of that experience in Shenandoah and the Appalachia this coming weekend. I find myself counting down the days until I’m once again enveloped in mountains. Until I breathe in clean mountain air. Until I feel that muscle ache of steep elevation gain. Until I once again inhabit a world with ravens.

of a world without ravens

of ribbons

Today was the first day I’ve had energy to spare in quite a while. Plagued by a rare migraine and its residual headaches and lethargy without the luxury of being able to afford a sick day in this vortex of deadlines, to wake up refreshed this morning (on my only day off this week, no less) could only mean the day was destined for something amazing.

Some time back, I’d heard there was a climbers’ trail up to the Ribbon Fall amphitheater. And there is. The trail is unmarked except for an inconspicuous cairn hiding behind a boulder surrounded by manzanitas back beyond the woodlot. Even with those vague directions, it was surprisingly quick to locate. Once on the trail, it is well-traveled and cairned enough to easily follow. Steep, a little bouldery, mosquito-infested, super quiet (a nice treat after a 15 minute wait to get in the park gate). When you suddenly pop out into the amphitheater, you’re greeted not only with a close-up of Ribbon and an easy boulderhop over to the base, but you’re also looking out at El Capitan and across the Valley, level with the top of Bridalveil Fall.

This experience was beyond beautiful. I wouldn’t need a reason other than that to go back. But I do have one: completely forgot to seek out the bell that’s supposed to be mounted on a pine tree up there in memory of someone. Another day…

I love that, even after more than four years of living in Yosemite, I still have new places to explore.

of ribbons

of solitude

Three days. Thirty-three miles. Wet shoes. Mountain lion tracks. Snow, swollen creeks, flooded meadows. Did I mention the wet shoes?

There’s no better place to spend a long weekend than in the backcountry. I’ve been logging a rather ridiculous amount of hours at work lately. The reasons behind that is a whole other story and not nearly as fun as the upside of taking the occasional long weekend to compensate for too-long workweeks. The first and only choice for my latest three-day stretch off was the wilderness.


No phone. No people (well, a solid 25 hours of no people). Just me, some mountain quail, a bear, and a whole lot of solitude. As I told my friend who’d recommended this loop to me, this trip was more about solitude than scenery. I wasn’t disappointed on either count.

I hiked a loop north of Hetch Hetchy. I’d never backpacked in this area of the park before. Definitely recommended for those seeking solitude and navigational challenges. Rather than walk you through the experience, I’ll just list a few notes on random specifics…

  • Tiltill Valley is flooded. This good because it means there’s water out there. This is bad because it means shoes are likely to get wet. …Beehive Meadow is also flooded.
  • There’s snow out there still. And, in some areas, a lot of it.
  • The creeks are swollen. Some of them are really cold. The rest are just plain cold. There are no footbridges. Frog Creek is waist-deep.
  • Don’t expect to find those awesome orangey-red tree tags to help you find your way in a recently burned zone. Actually, don’t expect much to help you find your way. Except your compass and map.
  • Do expect to find signs of humanity in the most unlikely of places. Like balloons. In trailside shrubberies. After so many blissful hours of forgetting the rest of the modern world exists.

Yeah, hiking in wet shoes isn’t the funnest (so grateful for Neosporin). Yeah, being even a little lost in the backcountry is melodramatically frustrating (so grateful for topographic maps). But the freedom from reception is worth it (I only used my phone for the occasional picture). And the freedom from life’s background noise is worth it (when was the last time you were really, truly alone?).

It was difficult to jump back into this hectic pre-summer swirl after that dose of loneliness. But I did. And I’m already counting down the days to my next adventure in facing the great unknown, well-equipped and on my own two feet. Having access to these experiences is what balances my summer. They’re what make me feel alive. They’re the reason that I choose to live in this place, of all places.

of solitude

of musings

Springtime is tricky business. It’s the season of flux. The world is reawakening, stretching its limbs, breathing alertness and light. The stark contrast to winter’s inert dormancy is shocking. It’s enlivening, but I also find it overwhelming. It’s, to be quite honest, not my favorite season. I prefer autumn with its setting of summer’s best – and its beautiful state of exhaustion – into a quiet, crisp reprieve.

I’m overwhelmed by desires to run and grow and stretch myself without the energy built up to do it. And so, I find great need to find time to cultivate this reawaking, physically and emotionally. And I find this to be consistent within myself even though this year is truly unlike any other year.

While exploring new-to-me poets in honor of national poetry month, I have discovered the writings of Rupi Kaur, and specifically this bit wisdom:

rupi love

As an unattached woman who is still squarely on that slippery slope of recovering from being attached in a beautifully intense relationship, these words couldn’t have reached me at a more timely moment to inspire a feeling of deep, personal empowerment and resonating food for thought.

Recovering from the loss of what no longer is to be present in what now is and to move boldly into what is coming into being requires great dedication and strength. That courage and confidence comes from quiet spaces and untouched solitude. I find that most intensely in nature. Getting out into the wilderness alone, for me, is like getting a concentrated dose of energy and renewal and perspective.

And on that note, I embark tomorrow morning on a three day solo backpacking trip. Embracing the lonely solitude of the wilderness, practicing silence, observation, and exertion. I’m pretty excited about my itinerary; details coming on the flip side (I still remember all the middle school internet safety lectures). New realms beckon and I turn an anticipatory ear and hungry heart…

of musings