“I know exactly where we are, we just aren’t exactly where I want us to be.”
There are hikes that you plan in your mind for years; as you sit on one mountain, you look longingly at another possibility and imagine ways to bring the two together. Connecting the Dan Moller cabin to the bottom of Black Bear chair on Eaglecrest has been one of those elusive hikes, that is dreamed of, but never actually attempted. I know that in the winter the snowmachiners and cross country skiers make a track that connects the two. But over snow and less the leaves, they probably have a much easier time. But, adventure favors the strong of heart.
Our weather has been crazy warm and dry, a total flip from our normal temperate rain forest drizzle. I am already rocking pretty solid hiker tan lines, and my backpack rainfly has been used for glissading more than as an actual rainfly. Us ladies were sporting our short-shorts and running skirts, with sport bras and hikers. The hike up to Dan Moller cabin was uneventful on the boardwalk, with beautiful sun and good conversations.
Do you ever have those hikes, where you wonder why you never went further? Or you wonder why you always turned around and didn’t keep going? I am so bad about, ‘just around the next corner’, but when I get to a destination (such as a cabin), I tend to be content stopping. With the Dan Moller cabin, I wonder why I ate lunch on the front deck all those times and drank beer with my back to the better view. The bowl behind Moller is amazing. The boardwalk ends just past the cabin, and there is a game trail that takes you back into the bowl. The vegetation changes to be more alpine-esk than the forest before. The moss is marked with muskeg holes, and small streams wind along the sloping ground.
Once when I was a child I went on a camping trip where we stayed the night in the cabin, and then the next day we hiked up the ridge on the left and went (extreme) sledding down. So I know that as a child I was able to hike up there. But as an adult, I have just forgotten the feeling of bush bashing my way to the top of the ridge. I guess I have gotten so much more content with trail life – a nice path to follow, clear corners and direction, never questioning if I will find my way back in exactly these steps. And twice with deer hunting I have experienced the hesitation of not being on a trail, of not having a direction to follow. But you can’t really live life that way, always being afraid to hop off the trail and bash your way to the top.
I was in fine company for bush bashing, and except for our decision to sport as much bare skin as us ladies did, we were perfectly set for this adventure. We were sans doggies, and that was probably for the best. Kiska is on leashed walks because she took a chunk out of her foot, and really, she wouldn’t have enjoyed this adventure anyways. We headed up the ridge, which was actually really easy to do up the right side. We made very good time up there, and even had time to see if Matthew has good aim or not.
Turns out Matthew can actually throw a snowball perfectly through Tamsen’s arms, and peg me straight in the shoulder. Probably all those FPS games he plays.
We meandered over the knolls and around the thickest clumps of trees. Under the snow, we would see what looked like a real trail every now and then, but due to the spotty snow cover, there wasn’t anything good enough to follow. So, with a direction in mind, we headed east along the ridge and marveled in the saddles at the perspectives we hadn’t seen before.
Walking along the ridge was actually pretty easy. I look up at some ridges, and think how hard it must be to walk up there. And granted, some ridges are probably a lot harder than others, but I feel in the wide range of ridges, this is probably a pretty easy one. Our hardest question was how much snow did we want to avoid? There were a few spots where we felt that the way the snow dipped in towards the middle, there was probably water under it, so we walked around some snow patches, and just tramped right over others. For the most part, it was pretty dry up there. There were a few spots where we were thinking we could totally pitch a tent up there, that it was mostly flat, it was pretty dry, and still somewhat protected. I know one of my goals is to camp on a ridge, so maybe we will camp up there one of these nights. Up and along the ridge would have been very dog friendly. I feel Kiska would really enjoy herself up on that ridge.
Tamsen and I were the ‘leaders’, walking in front, and scouting out general directions for us to go. we ended up finding an odd area that was full of massive boulders, and walking along it towards the north, we came to a beautiful lake. We decided to stop here and have lunch, as it was in the sun, had plenty of nice big rocks to sit on, and offered a wonderful view of both Eaglecrest, Stephens Passage, and Admiralty Island. Of course we were all pretty well stocked in beer, so we passed our beers around, some people put on more sun screen, and generally we just sat around and bull shitted. It is always good to be in solid company when adventuring. If you can’t kick back and just enjoy being around each other with no distractions, then you really need to find better hiking friends. In life we are so distracted by everything – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Imgur, emails, articles and pictures about famous people: all of this background noise gets into our relationships with real people, daily. And it is so nice to be able to step out of all that and into a place with no service, and just kick back and talk about nothing and everything over beer and doughnuts.
Up until this part, the hike had been pretty easy: nothing too technical, nothing too strenuous. Just kind of going along and enjoying the views without really having to be too mindful or cautious. But, all good hikes can take a turn: our turn happened to be a turn too early.
As we hiked along, Matthew had made comments about how this was such good deer hunting practice: bush bashing our way along, not following a trail, just going across the ridge, finding random critter trails to follow. And we all agreed. But the conversation generally changed from ‘this is so awesome’ to ‘this really hurts’ and ‘we should have worn pants’. We ended up cutting across the face in a spot that was steeper than we were expecting. For Tamsen and I, this wasn’t really a big deal, and kind of a fun break from the usual plodded trail. But for a few of our comrades, it was not a pleasant experience, and one they probably don’t ever want to have again. The vegetation gave way from short stumpy trees, to lush bushes and blossoms. I was greatfull for the bushes, as they were perfect to grab a fist full and hold myself closer to the face. If anyone ever calls you a tree hugger in a negative way, just know they obviously haven’t hiked on steep mountains or taken a tumble – because then everyone will hug any and every tree they can find!
I always bring my trekking poles, mostly for the downhill, as my left knee is stupid and hurts often. Also, in the event that you ever have a broken limb, trekking poles can be extended or shortened to accommodate both arms and legs, and tree branches aren’t always easy to find. So in trekking poles you also carry your emergency braces with you. Being that mine are super light weight, it’s silly for me to not bring them on hikes even if I don’t really plan on using them. But for this part of the hike, I busted them out, and used one for my downhill side, and passed one back to another hiker to use as we crossed the face. We did come to one ‘sketchy’ part, where it was a little rock slide area. But really, even if you did slide down, you wouldn’t go very far. Tamsen and I waited at the bottom on two huge boulders jutting out of the dry ground, while some of our group crossed above. If they had really sent a rock slide down to us, we had enough space and plenty of time to get out of the way, and the boulders that we were standing on weren’t going anywhere even in the event of a small slide.
Our pace slowed quite a bit as we traversed the face. After the rocks, there was a substantial amount of salmon berry bushes and Devil’s club, all sporting their nice new thorns to welcome our bare legs. I like to think of hiking as helping me to keep control of my emotions: when you are scared you have to logically think through you actions and find the safest solutions, you have to calmly evaluate the situation. When you are overly excited, you have to make sure that in your exuberance, you don’t accidentally take a wrong step and get hurt. When you are tired, you have to keep your whits about you and still try to think critically and not let fatigue over power you. There is the saying that “fear is all in your head, but danger is very real”. And that is true. Keeping control of your emotions can help you to see that distinction, and hopefully keep you out of dangerous situations. This also includes overconfidence, which might kill more people than danger. It is always better to take the humble road, than the e-vac road.
Tamsen and I were scouting routes the whole way, and from the face we knew we wanted to head towards a patch of snow, and what looked like some flat gourd (sweet flat ground!). We waited for the group to catch up, then we cut through probably the worst of the thorns. It was an exercise in emotional control to not give into the painful burning of our legs, and to just wipe away the blood from our scrapes and cuts. But, we forged on, and as we came to the snow patch, we crossed over some large boulders, and sweet Jesus we found a legit trail! My definition of ‘legit’ is very loose by the way, as judging by the amount of deer tracks, I would just say that our four legged friends are maintaining this trail, but from what we had just come across, it may as well have been paved. We yelled back to the group and happily all met on the flat, beautiful, trail. We compared cuts, Matthew ended up ripping his sock, and we merrily marched on. After about five minutes it emptied into a meadow, and jokingly, our trail was no more. But, with the open meadow and sparse trees, Tamsen and I lead us in the general direction of Black Bear, and every now and then through the woods we would find other game trails. We tried to aim for bright patches of light amongst the bows, hoping that would mean more open meadow. In one spot, it also meant a river and a ravine. But, heading to the left, we hiked down and around it with the sound behind us.
Twice we saw pink flagging topping trees, but I’m not really sure what it was marking. From the tape, I couldn’t see other tape. Tamsen thought that maybe hunters had marked their routs, and it wasn’t really for hikers. That’s possible. When Tamsen and I lead us out of the woods, we happened to be right by a sign that said some kind of loop trail. So it’s possible there is a trail back there that neither of us know about, and isn’t really well marked. When we came out of the trees on our final muskeg where we could see the chair lift, we were over joyed! Not that we didn’t enjoy our hike, but sometimes it’s just nice to know that you won’t be cuddling thorny bushes, getting hit with tree branches, having oodles of pine needles stab you in your boots, and not slipping down anymore wet grassy hillsides.
Also, it was nice to actually be exactly where we wanted to be.