“The mountains are calling, and I must go.” – John Muir
I don’t know how to fully describe the feelings I get looking up at the mountain peaks here at sea level. Seeing their snowcapped peaks in spring, knowing the wildflowers are a rainbow carpet abuzz with bees in the summer, and the ombre of fall colors; I feel a longing I can’t quite describe. Part of its allure is the challenge in getting to the top – pushing myself to get there physically some days, and mentally on some others, and encouraging others as well. The views at the top simply cannot be done justice on a screen or film, the depth of field is lost and the true colors are never represented, let alone the smells and sounds. Whoever said the ‘woods are quiet’ never spent time in Alaskan woods.
“Who chirpeth at the dawning?”
“It is I.” said the varied thrush.
“Dude, it is 4 o’clock in the morning!”
Once I tried to change my Facebook status to ‘in a relationship’ with ‘Mt Jumbo’, and having it be ‘it’s complicated’. Mt Jumbo is like an amazing boyfriend: always listens, always there for me, pushes me to be a better person, challenges me physically and mentally, is consistent, rewards my good behavior, and gives me and my friends memories that will last my lifetime (or until I get Alzheimer’s). What more could a girl want in a boyfriend?
Mt Juneau is the sister mountain to the rugged and scruffy Mt Jumbo in my opinion. Why the ‘sisters’? Because, damn, she looks good with her classy switchback lines, and her beautiful face. Juneau starts off on one of our historic mining trails, actually the first road ever in Juneau to get to the Perseverance mine in Granite Basin. After one warm-up mile on the Persy trail, she cuts up through some trees and full flora, gives you a moment of respite in the shade of some trees before you start out on to the face. There are several smaller waterfalls for the dogs to drink from, and one larger waterfall to cross. In the fall her trails are lined with bushes bowing under the weight of salmon berries and blueberries. She provides.
Like life, as long as you acknowledge that you will, in fact, be hiking quite a bit of up and it will be a challenge, this is a wonderful and rewarding trail. The old trail was recently changed (love you Trail Mix!) to be switch backs across the face, instead of a goat trail straight up the mountain. Over the past decades, several Juneau residents have hiked up Mt Juneau, but were never able to hike out. She also takes away.
Persy was clear of snow, we knew from hiking three weekends ago, and as we have scouted several other mountain trails, we knew we wouldn’t hit snow until the last bit of the face. Hiking up Mt Roberts we have peered across to Juneau to see how much of the trail we estimate is still slumbering under snow. The fiddleheads are up and uncurling at lower elevation, the pink salmon berry blossoms accent the new leaves, and the brown is gradually giving way to the green. With our recent streak of sun, we knew we would be baking in the direct sun for the last few miles of the trail. So we reveled in the last of the dappled light of the trees before we headed out to burn.
Kiska took advantage of several of the small streams we crossed, as I can lead her to water but I can’t make her drink. I filled me 3L Platypus bladder, to water Kiska, myself, and Tim when he ran out of his 1L. The nice thing about a bladder is that with Matthew pushing on my backpack, I can squeeze the mouthpiece and squirt water into Kiska’s mouth, which she has actually learned to do pretty well. She looks at me, I put my mouthpiece by her face, and she either starts licking the air to ask, or she turns her head away to decline. Don’t judge, it’s our system and it works for us.
But mom can judge us for crossing the snow bridge over ‘the’ stream across the trail. This is the biggest one, and when it’s raining it can be pretty full, and during dry spells it is not a problem to walk across. Knowing that we started the trail at 1120, it was cooler from the night and only had a little bit of direct sun. There was a distinct trail across the snow, but there were also a few holes in the bridge, and you could tell that the spray from the waterfall hitting the rocks was melting the snow. You always need to have your dog obey you, for their own safety. Kiska started across, so I called her back, and made her ‘close’ (heel) next to me as we crossed. We crossed one at a time, and all made it across safely. You would only drop about 5 feet into the shallow river, but with the rocks, it would be easy to break an ankle, hurt a shoulder on the snow, or stumble under the bridge in the water. Looking from the waterfall side, I estimate it is probably only a foot thick at its thinnest point. Is that enough to support our body weight and traffic, I don’t know, but it supported all of us. I was nervous about coming back when it had time to warm and soften the direct sun while we hiked.
Why we always seem to do Juneau on blistering days is beyond us, but we were happy to finally hit snow around the last few switch backs towards the top. Kiska took herself sledding, per the usual. We lost the trail under the snow, as expected, so we decided to just head up, in the general direction of where we knew we wanted to end up. The true summit has a saddle that then connects to the ridge that winds along and drops into the back of Granite. We cut straight up the mountain, making foot holds in the snow, and cutting across the moss where we could. I lead, wearing my OR short gaiters to keep the snow out of my hikers, then Matthew lead up to the saddle, and lobbed snowballs down on us.
There was a small group of three at the top, and they were kind enough to take a picture of our group and give Kiska some pets as she trolled for treats. Jonathan estimated that it would take us 1.5 hours to get down, even cutting down the mountain and crossing the snow bridge. We drank some beer, ate some doughnuts, and meandered down. The way down was a breeze, with trekking poles to save my grandma knee. Kiska trotted along, snowballs rained on us from behind. The snow bridge was still there, even after several people crossing it during the day. We crossed one at a time again, careful to avoid the snow closest to the waterfall, and not loiter in choosing our steps. The shade was just as welcomed as on our way up, and getting to the Persy trail was a welcome cool down.
It actually took us one hour and twenty minutes to get back to our cars.