Saturday, September 22, 2012

Anniversary Adventure

There is a special place up on an alpine ridge above Granite Creek basin. When I sit there, I feel as if I am at the center of the world. I can look around and see two of my favorite ridge hikes – the Gastineau-Roberts-Sheep ridge and the Mt. Juneau ridge. I can look up at Mt. Olds on one side and Clark Peak on the other. Hardly anyone comes up here. It’s somewhere I can always go when I want to enjoy the mountains and have them all to myself.
Scott and I sat on this spot 32 years ago, after hiking up Clark Peak on a sunny day in July. The weather was so nice that we sat there and rested for a long time, soaking in the sun and talking about our upcoming marriage.  We’d just survived a three week climbing expedition to the Mt. St. Elias range earlier in the summer, involving terrifying avalanches, collapsing snow cornices, and a raging snowstorm that trapped us at 13,000’ for five days. Sitting in the sun on a quiet ridge filled with green fragrant heather with no one else around seemed like heaven on earth.

We decided to return to that very spot for the last hike of the summer and to celebrate our 32nd wedding anniversary. We were married on the autumnal equinox, so we were celebrating one day early on the last day of summer. But the forecast and our work schedule dictated that this was the day we needed to do it.
After all the miles we’d already hiked this summer, we had to add on a larger goal than just our little spot, so I threw out a suggestion for a place that I knew Scott had never been – Twin Summit Ridge.
I first hiked this little known route in 1975, when I was 22 years old. My journal entry read very simply “Twin Summit Ridge via Granite Creek”. I went alone with my dog in mid-July, probably wearing jeans and a t-shirt and my heavy, leather Galibier mountain boots (now on display at Foggy Mountain Shop along with wooden snowshoes and other antiques). My pack was an old red LaFuma rucksack, my “hydration system” was a nasty old plastic water bottle. I’m sure I didn’t eat much more than a peanut butter sandwich and an apple. My protection against the weather might have been a wool halibut shirt and a 60/40 jacket (who knows what either one of those garments are – raise your hand!). But off I went into the mountains, and I can remember parts of that hike as clearly as if it was last week. I’ve even had dreams over the years about one particularly steep section of the ridge that I had to help my dog across. The poor mutt was never as excited about traveling in high places as I was.
Scott was curious to visit a part of the local mountains that was new to him. Almost no one goes back in this area, as evidenced by the complete lack of any sort of trail or even the faintest of paths along the ridge. I’m not sure how or why I discovered it back when I did, other than the fact that I lived downtown, and spent much of my free time poring over USGS maps, then walking the trails and exploring the mountains that were accessible from my house at the top of Main Street.
After a fun mountain bike ride up Perseverance Trail and an easy hike into Granite Creek Basin, we reached our “spot” up on the ridge by way of free form scramble – Scott chose one route and I chose another close by – and we met up on the ridge. We quickly found our favorite place and took a short break, toasting our anniversary with sips from our Camelbaks and a bit of food. Then it was on to higher points.
As soon as we started, we knew it was going to be a special day. The sky was blue and cloudless, and there was almost no wind – a perfect end of summer day to be high in the mountains. As we crossed over the ridge below Clark Peak, we got our first view of Twin Summit Ridge, and it was breathtaking. It’s hard to imagine just how many mountains are hiding behind the ridges that circle downtown, but the possibilities to hike and explore are seemingly endless. We could already see some of the big peaks on the icefield on one side and could look all the way down to the waters of Taku Inlet on the other.
Here is where the memory of my first hike along the ridge in 1975 fails me a bit. I think I must have been dazed by all the mountainous country that opened up around me. But I can vividly recall one section of the ridge that might keep many people from going back there, the one that made my dog nervous. Luckily for us, the steep, almost vertical heather and rock slope was very dry, and we were able to find a few mountain goat steps to pick our way up. After our Observation Peak adventure last month, the steep section didn’t seem quite so intimidating, but it still took some careful maneuvering to safely gain the ridge.

Once we were on the ridge leading to the summit, we still had about three quarters of a mile to travel and 700’ elevation gain to climb. We moved steadily up, keeping quiet for the most part in case we could spot a mountain goat or two. A goat did appear ahead of us, poised on the edge of a snow cornice. He let us watch him for a short while, just enough time for Scott to get a photo of him, and then he jumped right off the edge of the cornice and down into Gold Fork drainage. He scrambled to join another goat and we could barely make them out across the valley, running together up to the next ridge.
We finally reached the high point on Twin Summit Ridge, which is only 3,780’. But we had traveled almost 7.5 miles, about half of which was up and down across unmarked mountain terrain. We took in the views, looking over into Taku Inlet and across to the entrance to Turner Lake. To the north was Thoroughfare Mountain, and beyond that were the peaks of the Juneau Icefield. We tried to identify and name as many of the mountains, valleys, and ridges as we could, but at some point it became overwhelming. If our favorite spot over by Granite Creek Basin was the center of the world, this area felt like the edge of the universe.
We were reluctant to leave, and stayed to soak in the view as long as we could, but we knew we still had a good hike to get back. A long walk down the ridge, a careful descent of the one steep spot, and a climb back up to the pass below Clark Peak brought us to the point where we had to say goodbye to Twin Summit Ridge. I actually turned and waved and called out “Good bye! – I’ll be back!” knowing that no one could hear me except Scott, who is pretty used to my craziness by now.
We paused again at our anniversary spot, and noticed that our perfect summer morning had turned into a fall afternoon. The clouds were gathering and the sky turned gray. By the time we rode our mountain bikes back down to Basin Road, we felt like we had traveled straight through from summer into fall. The whole day had been perfect timing and a memorable anniversary celebration.

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