Nov 18 2014

Finding Myself on the Kesugi Ridge

Experiencing the Kesugi Ridge is most easily a moment of self-discovery for me, I am always trying to see where I am headed whether it is a career, or learning about myself on the trail. For the time it is for self-discovery on the trail, and that trail was, is and will be the Kesugi Ridge. I was meant to travel this trail with a good friend, but that fell to the way side, but this trip is too important to me, to who I have been, who I am now and who I am to become in the future. This time it will be my great dog pal Equinox and myself that explore the amazing land waiting for us. This trail is so much just a trail, but what an amazing trail, it leaves me wanting to return now this very moment. The drive was painstakingly long, with Alaska’s road repair season in full swing and taking six hours for a four hour drive, it was crazy.

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From Byers Lake, I attempted to hitch to the Little Coal Creek trailhead but people frown on a weird guy with a huge back pack and a dog on the side of the road. Therefore, after standing on the side of the highway for two hours I changed the plan, hike into Skinny Lake set up camp, get up in the morning, do a day hike to Ermine hill, and go back to Skinny Lake celebrate the day and relax.

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The first couple of miles are a refreshing walk, wandering through the forest along the beautiful shore of Byer Lake and winds its way over small hills and ravines. The beginning truly feels like a warm-up for the climbing that was soon to come and when that first turn came, the trail abruptly turned and twisted its way into the sky. I was sweating like a freak, exhausted just as I have many times in the past so I was use to this. A couple of hours go buy slogging through streams running down the trail, tromping through unavoidable mud and lung searing steepness at times I finally made it to Tarn Point, a point where the Kesugi Ridge truly begins, the adventure that I was hungry for stared me right in the face.

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Passing by Mini Skinny Lake I was numb by the amazing simple beauty and if this lake area is this stunning what the hell was in store for me? The answer would come soon enough, as I crested a hill and descended into a basin I found Whimbrel Lake and I found heaven. Wandering around the lake, taking pause to savor every ounce of the land in front of me, I was numb. The water was like glass, the grasses rich and green, the few trees that dotted the landscape seemed as if they have been placed exactly where they are on purpose, it was truly amazing.

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The beginning of the day began in the sunshine but now clouds were beginning to close in, mostly to the west where the Alaska Mountain Range was getting hammered, but here it was still dry. After resting at Whimbrel Hill we set off again passing through rolling rock incrusted hills, the odd lake would fill in the gaps between low lying areas and the winding trail continued on explicitly through the most wonderful of the land in front of and around me.

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A lengthy arduous climb led to the top of Golog Point and with every darkening skies, I get the most amazing view of Skinny Lake and the region beyond, I feel so very small. I knew that I couldn’t make camp along the shore of Skinny Lake with its slopes either too steep or over vegetated, my goal was a much smaller lake sitting on top of a ridgeling about half a mile from Skinny Lake and would be much better to set up a two day camp. Dropping down the trail about a half a mile from Skinny Lake and a mile from my camp site the first drops began to fall.

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I hate setting up a tent in the rain. I am not bothered by hiking in the rain, running in the rain, anything but setting up camp in the rain, it sucks. I had still two muddy, steep, compressed, bushwhacking, stream filled ravines to descend into and climb out of before getting back to a normal trail before I have to again bushwhack my way up to my camp lake. Forget that this is huge Grizzly Bear country and the area I am thrashing through is the perfect habitat for these monsters. When I arrive at the small lake it’s sprinkling but not bad so I drop my pack and begin putting the tent up, it wasn’t a moment after I got the rain fly on the tent that the rain cut loose. I get all my gear inside, the dog in and then myself to relinquish myself of wet, muddy clothes and to get refreshed.

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Sitting on the shore of the small lake, listening to the rain fall on the land around me, splashing on the otherwise still water I feel like an observer not quite welcomed to be here, but being tolerated non the less. As I finished filtering water for tonight and tomorrow I stood up to walk back to the tent, it’s 9:30 at night and still very light out but as I raise my head I am startled by a moose cow and her calf standing there not fifty feet away. We stared at each other for a very uncomfortable period of time before out of boredom I believe the moose casually moved on. I love tent life, I hate setting it all up but once it’s done life becomes very simple. I settled in for the night and slowly drift off to sleep hungry for what is to come.

The morning was wet, raining and visibility is very low so I take my time waking up, enjoying an extra cup of coffee and eating a full and very rare breakfast before heading out. I was using my cell phone for all the pictures because it’s light, small and simple to use, but now with the rain it is worthless and heading out on the day hike to Ermine Hill I actually felt relieved from the task of recording the days events. The hike down into the valley 1500 feet below me was brutal and the hike back out of it really was a burner, thank god I didn’t have a heavy pack on my back.

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Though I pretty much never came into contact with any bears on the trip the moose population made up for it. The days ten mile hike to Ermine Hill and back was uneventful and sadly due to the weather the visibility was horrible, like walking in a cloud with about 500 feet of visibility but for some reason, still it was magical and I couldn’t stop smiling or speaking out loud about what I was seeing.

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That night in the tent I was exhausted, sipping my wine in the tent since the rain had gotten stronger I was elated and finally at truly satisfied with what I had achieved on this trip. The rain was a welcome constant tapping on the fly and with rock blues playing from my phone, a content dog beyond relaxed beside me I couldn’t imagine a better place to be.

In the morning the rain had subsided to a light sprinkle so I went for a walk, I found a large and warm pile of fresh bear scat not 30 feet from the tent. We had worn out our welcome and it was time to go. The hike back was an uneventful journey back through the memory of how I arrived here, retracing the steps I took a couple of days ago. Later that day the clouds parted and just as I hit Whimbrel Lake the sun was out in full force, then I knew the travel home would be magical and more importantly dry.

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When I reflect on what I saw, felt, wandered through and fell in love with. This could very well be the perfect trail that leads you through and out of steaming humid forests, up difficult climbs just to make you earn the right to be on the ridge. I thought I saw the land, the trail in a very special light, now I’m laughing at how naïve I was. The amount of rain that fell on me could have been a negative, but this is the nature of the ridge and being a part of what is normal here makes it so much stronger for me. The Kesugi Ridge challenged me to look at myself and teach me a bit about myself and I found more of myself than I expected. This was and is a place that forces the rest of your life into the back of your mind. I thought of nothing for three days but this trail, it invades your mind, your heart, your soul. This place is the definition of backpacking in Alaska, I thought I knew what love on the trail was, and I was wrong.

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Nov 15 2014

Last Chances Never Come to Late

20140903_114231NC!AMoments come to a person while traipsing through a world of boundless possibilities, mostly where that fine line actually lies and where we are limited by what nature has decided we are allowed to be a part. I am not a fan of restriction, of being told no, of being forced to turn away. I can’t accept the power of something else controlling my will and yet this was the outcome just a day ago. Parking the car under ever darkening skies, I put the pack on Equinox and then hefted my own pack. Crossing Nome creek was more of a challenge than it has ever been, swollen and angry it attempted to take out its vengeance on my dog and me but we pulled through. I should have known……….

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The trail began dry and pleasant, but soon after it turned wet and defiant. The land is in flux, some plant life accepting the inevitable have softly turned to a pleasant shade of brown gold. There were light drips on me as I hiked into the increasingly muddy and water logged trail, as each step fell away the water flowed more, the bushes and the stunted trees shed their water on me. I was soaked from head to toe before the rains came so it wasn’t a big change for me. I kept on and then it rained, it down poured, it hailed and the wind made sure I knew whom the boss was. I stood there for quite some time waiting out the driving rain and hail, turned away from the punishing sting of hail.

Once it faded, I moved on the trail now gone and the land begins to revolt against my will to proceed. I crossed a stream that I have known many times but today I didn’t recognize it was so angry, climbing above it I watched it over my shoulder as the next wave of rain enveloped me, and again I stopped, turned away and waited for it to let up. As the rain let up to a light spray a rainbow formed down and away from me up the valley and fell over the Nome Creek, it was beautiful. I went to pull my cell phone out to take a picture but when I went into my sealed gortex shell pocket I found that it was lying in a puddle of rainwater that had forced its way through the watertight zipper.

I continued, I knew that my pack held dry and warm clothes so I ferried on. With each step I moved through the mire of mud and water. However, looking around at the world outside of the hood of my shell it was so very beautiful and the smells were amazing! There then was the half way stream, a stream generally easy to bound across was a stranger, defiant and way over loaded from the recent rains. The couple of braids that made up the stream had been completely overwhelmed and the gentle rest stop stream I knew so well was a hungry thing that did nothing to soften the realization that this was where my will to finish what I started would end and nature had had enough of my intrusion. Sometimes we have to swallow the ego, the will to go through so many barriers and realize that you can only do so much before it is just stupid to continue on, but then there was that moment just before the first drop of rain hit my head…………….

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As the seasons pass from one to another, summer to fall, fall to winter the land itself slowly melts from one form to another and here I find myself again at the trailhead, preparing to cross a much more subdued Nome Creek and taking advantage of a last chance to travel back to the world I love the most. This late in the year it’s early October and I’m treading through the landscape and feeling the soil harden, the streams freeze up and the wildlife going silent I have become numb by the beauty, the temporary transition that I am allowed to wander.

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A land in flux, a life transitioning from one form to a larger understanding and continuing to grow and become more of itself than could ever be understood, has in fact become a stranger to those who thought they knew what it was all about. This is a season that hasn’t quite been normal, a season that has decided that the things of the past aren’t truly what are meant for today or tomorrow.

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Transitioning from one point to the next, following a trail through the hills, across the mountains, fording streams and finding yourself in a land rarely witnessed and most dreamed of, watching it change from what I have always been most comfortable with to a land of unidentifiability is the land that I have lovingly wandered into. The newness of change is always exciting, new and the results are never what we thought they would be, the challenge the evolution of our minds follows the season and with the season we grow and change, growing leaving behind the ashes of yesterday.

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Nov 13 2014

Running the Rich

People pass through places they see all the time viewing the world through the windows of their cars as they drive along the road. More often than not, people rarely stop and explore that amazing land that caught their attention in the first place. It caught my attention as I bid my time and waited for the right time to see a fantasy, a daydream come true. In 2004, I first drove the Richardson Highway to shoot black and white photography of a land that is pushed up against multiple mountain ranges, I was staggered by the immensity and beauty that I had immersed myself. The area was completely obscured by smoke from the worst wildfire season Alaska had ever experienced so I never realized just how incredible the area is. Having returned the next fall, I had a better view of the area, getting amazing photographs of the landscape and still thought very little inclination of how this place could affect me.

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At the time I had no thought of running the road, the highway, instead I was more intrigued with hiking the area, and in time I did do that and the only time I savored the area was in passing, heading to further destinations such as Valdez or to drive the Denali Hwy making this place a passing fancy. Ten years later, this place the Donnelly Lakes Region of the Richardson Highway was my destination and running the highway for the almost 5-mile stretch of road was my mission.

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Stepping out of the car and into the warm sun was electric, the normal wind was an afterthought and the clouds evaporated leaving the unspoiled land to dry out and absorb the rays of a sun that is fading slowly into fall. Running along this stretch of highway, I could feel every footfall land silently on the asphalt with every twist and turn of the road. I kept smiling as I travelled along the road even the climbs couldn’t diminish the pleasure and sense of freedom I was feeling inside of me.

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The air is different, things seem simpler, life back there in worker/personal life world doesn’t matter, don’t exist for the moment. The contrast of the black asphalt against the rich green grasses that line the road and fall away to the many ponds and marshes in the area accent the slowly yellowing leaves of the birch tree woods that compete for beauty with the spruce trees.  Feeling the energy of this world creates a newness within myself and evaporates what was, and created a newness that I have craved for a very long time. This place holds a magical key that opens your/my mind to what is possible in the present and in the future. This amazing place, so full of life, beauty and an ability to let me see within myself as my feet fall on the road show me how to see the growth inside me and where I am aimed to be.

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