The van is parked, engine still hot from the ride through the mountains. We are at the backside of Hatcher Pass, at the feet of the Talkeetna range. Beyond the historic center where gold mining once thrived and far past the day hikers routes is where we start to assemble ourselves. The sun rise was bright and vibrant on the way over. Hidden behind alpine views, it now creates a halo over the sharp peaks nearby. Gathering our bags we switch from the comforts of cotton into synthetic layers. After triple checking our packs, some of us try to shake the car ride nap with another swig of coffee.
Our breath hits the air, creating spirits of swirling mist. The air is quite chilly in the shadow of the mountains. Some of the crew have decided to be bold and start cold, keeping their heavier layers in their backpacks. It isn’t long into the steep valley that the less bold need to stop and shed layers. The sun makes a bright and warm appearance only briefly, but enough to encourage the start of a sweat.
As light changes and distorts through the day, so do the colors of the alpine lakes.
Elevation keeps gaining as we find hand holds in large rock, pulling ourselves and our large packs up. We sigh with relief when we hit the plush tundra. It seems to encourage our bodies to move forward with each spring board-like step. We have reached our first alpine lake.
The lakes breath matches ours as steam rises off the surface of the water, evaporating in the morning sun. The light on the water reveals deep blues. The vapor distorts the reflecting alpine views from high above, mirrored on the water. With an organic slowing of speed and mind, we take the time to indulge in our snacks.
After partaking in some morning stretches, we’re ready to get back to pace. We take one last look for any strewn items before taking off again. The climb continues with the warm morning air much more inviting than the sharp cold that came with the sunrise. We bound across the flat terrain of a bench. We praise the terrain for the brief rest from consistent elevation gain and saunter along as if walking weightlessly under water.
Our steps lead us into a field two weeks too early for wild blueberries. Soon the small sweet berries will cover the whole side of the mountain. Not to far out of eyesight, as if from a fairy tale, a once stationary rock dappled with dried moss, starts to rise. Alas, this is no mossy rock, but the bright speckled marks along the back of an adolescent caribou.
Caribou have adapted to be resilient to predators by traveling in large herds and trying to keep their young more elusive. They do so by camouflaging themselves as lichen covered rock look-a-likes when they lay down. In some instances, the herd moves on and the young ones lay behind, camouflaged, until danger has moved on . The young will catch up with the heard again or the mother will come back to retrieve them once it is safe. Upon our close proximity, the small animal leapt gracefully over the heather. They sped to the direction of what we could only assume and hope was their herds new location.
Leaning into an Experience
Above the clouds in the Talkeetna Mountains
With the early morning start, the afternoon arrived at a head of exhaustion and hunger. After some group encouragement to rise over another saddle, it was time for our nights’ resting spot. The rise brought sight to a small alpine lake fed by a crystal clear stream. Packs drop to the thick tangle of cushion plants. We looked out over valley confluences that glaciers had carved over millennia with back drops of blue bird skies. Laying back onto the lush ground, we soaked in the alpine views. We began discussing how wild it was to be experiencing something so monumental.