It’s been nearly a week since I’ve arrived in Alaska and it has been a roller-coaster of excitement and adventure already, but the past day and a half, everything has come to a slow halt. It’s mid day and I’m laying in my tent listening to the rain land and bounce off the fly and the nearby gravely ground. It’s calming and soothing to listen to as I read Call of the Wild by Jack London. However, no matter how pleasant and relaxing this is, I’m not content. I can hear the wild lands of Alaska calling me to her trails. Waiting for me to try and test my metal against hers. I contemplate putting on some rain gear and going out. My better judgment convinces me other wise.
Now it’s 16:00 the rain has stopped and I can’t contain myself anymore. There is a trail, nearby that I’ve been itching to try. So I pack my daypack and I’m out to try and conquer the trail. It’s a mile away from my tent, but it goes by quick. The road to the trail head is easy and not very traveled so there is nothing to slow me down. In no time I find myself at the trail head. A wooden sign surrounded by quarried diorite leads to the trail. First I’ll have to follow a service road for a half mile, and then the real trail will begin.
Even though this trail is a stone’s throw away from the airport, you wouldn’t even notice it was there. Only two commercial flights fly out of the airport each day. Any other smaller aircraft traffic is minimal at best. The road stretches out through the muskegs, as spruce saplings rise up from the mud, trying to claim it’s own niche in the world. I’m surprised by how well the trail is marked. A bright blue arrow points it out, as it could have been easily passed if it had not been. I half expected to see a cairn, and while I’m tempted to make one, I know it’s already 17:00 and I need to hit the trail.
The trail is a row of boards, or like a really long plank that leads through the muskeg. The boards have fish net on the top, and this helps get a good grip, because I imagine that with all the rain and mud it would be slippery. This kind of trail is alien to me. I’ve never encountered such a trail in all my travels. If you are traveling with a companion you would have to travel single file as there is only room for one on this trail. There isn’t even enough room for trekking poles on the board, it’s that small. Soon I exit the muskegs and enter the forest. It’s a surreal experience, the vibrant greens, and stillness, and the way the light peaks in through the branches. It’s more than what I expected.
Soon I come upon two hikers a man and women, both appear to be in their mid twenties, and both are very friendly. Luckily we came upon each other at a wide part of the boardwalk (the only part on the whole trail). The woman asks where I’m headed, and I tell her I’m going to the cabin at the top. She informs me it’s not at the top, and the man confirms. They tell me once you summit you will follow the path down further and onto another peak and that is where the cabin lays. After exchanging more pleasantries we are both headed on our paths in separate directions. I had no idea this would be the only human contact I would have on the whole trail.
As I enter the thick part of the forest, the boardwalk disappears, and I finally feel like I’m on a real trail. It’s muddy, and rooty and if you don’t keep your wits about you, and mind your footing, it will cost you. I almost catch a face full of Devil’s Club as I was watching my footing. Luckily my spider sense kicked and I ducked and narrowly avoid an unpleasant encounter with the thorny plant. The trail starts to get even harder, I think of all the challenging trails I’ve done: Mt. Wilson, Mt. Baldy, Bright Angel, Angel’s Landing, I think I’m prepared, that I can handle it, that it won’t be that bad. While I was prepared, I underestimated how strenuous and challenging it would be.
Soon I’m gaining a foot of elevation with nearly each step that I take. The trail has round logs that sort of make a steep staircase, and I do mean steep. At times it felt like I was climbing more than stepping. To make matters more difficult the logs and trail are all muddy from the recent rains, making the trail more difficult. After a mile and some change of mostly steep elevation gains the path begins to even out and soon you reach the peak of the trail. Most trails peak to barren rocky tops, but not this little mountain. It’s covered in muskegs. I try not to linger as the standing water attracts the mosquitoes, but I notice the sun is low in the northwestern sky. I decided I’ll press on for another 20 minutes and if I don’t reach the cabin I’ll head back.
I move as fast as I can on the slippery boardwalk through the muskeg and brush, and after 20 minutes, the cabin is no where in sight. I pause for a moment. I check my map, I can’t be too far from it now, but then I realize the light is getting dimmer and I still have some thick muddy forest to traverse. So I head back. I’m really rushing now, as I do not want to get stuck in that forest with no light, because even with a head lamp and flash light I know the trail could be difficult to find. As I enter the forest, my fear comes to realization. It is much darker in here than I anticipated, and like I feared the trail is hard to see even with my headlamp. I try to pick up my speed but soon I slip and nearly fall. That slipped would of cost me dearly had I not been using my trekking poles. I slip again, and again, and finally I let the trail win. This will not be a speedy decent. I will have to take my time and watch my footing.
I make sure to make noise and bang my trekking poles together every few steps. After all this is bear country, and I do not want to surprise one on this lonely trail. I nearly go off trail once as I was following mud tracks and broken vegetation but I stopped and looked around and knew this wasn’t a trail. I had to back track several feet and luckily I spotted a blue diamond telling me which way to go. I count my lucky stars as an off trail adventure in this forest in the dark could cost me. I won’t lie and say the thought of getting lost in here didn’t cross my mind, or that I wasn’t afraid. Fear was with me, as I descended, but I used it as a strength. After all fear is a super power. It can make you stronger, run faster, jump higher. Adrenalin is like rocket fuel and it will course through your veins making you think faster, make it seem like time slows. How could you do the impossible without fear?
Once I reached the boardwalk I feel a little relief as I know the worst is over and and soon I’ll be back on the service road. I make haste on the boardwalk, as I still feel uneasy being on this trail in the dark. The good part though, was that there was more light on this part of the trail, due to less dense vegetation. It isn’t long before I’m back into the muskeg and the service road is in sight. Once I take that first step onto the road a big sigh of relief let out. Still I knew I had a half mile of service road through the muskeg to be really in the clear. Once I’m back at the trail head and reach the main road, I feel immediate satisfaction. I made it. I just did an intense trail, got caught in the dark and I still made it.
Looking back on this adventure I will admit that I was foolish for trying to accomplish this trail so late in the day. Or underestimating the trail. I didn’t have enough respect for the trail when I started, but now I’ve learned. Now I’m wiser, and now I realize just how wild my future adventures in this land will be. Also you will pleased to know I ran into the nice couple the next day on my way to the Laundromat. The woman explained how they were worried about me venturing out so late. It was good feeling to have, and we were all happy with the outcome.