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 old mining equipment and the day hikers routes. The sun rise was spotted on the way here. Hidden behind alpine views, it now creates a halo over the sharp peaks. 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 chilly to say the least. Some of the crew have decided to be bold and start cold. It isn’t long into the steep valley that the less bold need to stop and shed layers. The sun making a bright and warm appearance only briefly but enough to encourage the start of a sweat.
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 that encourages our efforts 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. Now in full sun, revealing deep blues, the vapor distorts the reflecting alpine views from high above. With an organic slowing of speed and mind, we take the time to indulge into our snack bags.
After partaking in morning stretches and yoga, its time we get back to pace. We take once last look for any strewn items. 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 that will soon cover the whole side of the mountain. Not to far out of eyesight, as if from a fairy tale, a rock dappled with dried moss starts to rise. 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. The 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 pop up later rather than sooner to rejoin with the herd. Upon our close proximity, the small animal leapt gracefully over the heather as it sped to the direction of what we could only assume and hope was his herd.
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. We laid back onto the lush ground, enjoying the alpine views and discussing how wild it was that we were there in that moment experiencing something so monumental.