Alaska is beautiful, what else can I say

I booked my trip to Juneau on a whim after finding a cheap ticket, it had been 3 years since I had been to the last frontier and I was eager to go back. With a friend living there I had a home base and was excited to go adventuring! It was a full day of travel from Billings, MT thus arriving late in Juneau I did not get to see much that night. The next day (Aug 19) I was lead to a nearby trailhead for Thunder Mt (apparently its name comes from the avalanches in the winter sounding like thunder), it was raining (not surprised since it is the rainforest!) Actually it looked like I was headed through a jungle walking on large wooden planks, but that didn’t last long, I crossed a small creek and the trail went straight up, over roots, mud bogs, rocks thus entering the never-ending muskeg. At that moment I was happy to have a nice rain jacket on, gortex shoes, gaiters, and trekking poles. I could check my steps with the poles before plunging knee deep into a mud bog, or scurry across a wet log without fear of falling off. The muskeg was impressive, the green surrounding me looked imaginary, I kept spinning 360 degrees to take it all in, that was a slow climb up the mountain! After 2 miles, I finally hit an opening which gave a glimpse of the trail leading to the summit, the low lying clouds were starting to pass and I may actually get a view, so I pushed on. Half way up the summit trail I finally got a view of the city and nearby glacier, it was beautiful! When I reached the summit the clouds were closing in on me and I didn’t get much more for long range views, thus learning to take a break when the views are there, they may not last long. On the summit I was greeted by several marmots, they were huge in comparison to the marmots I’d seen in Colorado, and these furry things were not afraid of humans at all. I walked a few of the ridge trails, which seemed to go on forever, so after a snack decided to turn around and head back down, I was expected back at the apartment in a few hours to go run up another mountain J There were some really steep parts of the trail coming up, and those were difficult going down, glad to have the trekking poles once again! Halfway back down the mountain I encountered a dog and his owner, they were both climbing up on all 4 legs/arms, ha, and that’s what happens when you don’t have trekking poles! But my fate would be dealt in the next 1000 feet as I descended one last steep section about 25 feet vertical height at an 80 degree slope, there was a rope there to assist, so I grabbed onto the rope with my left hand, and held the poles with the right, it was slippery! A few steps into it, I couldn’t turn back and started to slip, instincts kicked in and I stuck out my left hand, elbow nearly locked to catch my fall, and “pop, pop, pop, pop, pop” I can almost feel the pain all over again, 5 large pops coming from my shoulder! It was definitely out of place, and I was in pain, curled up on the mountain side, in the mud, with full body sweats plus I was starting to get cold. Not a great feeling, I stretched my shoulder a few times and successfully got it back into place, and continued my trek down. It was painful but I didn’t really have a choice, there was no one there to comfort or help me. Once I reached flat land I was back to the creek crossing, so I washed up a bit, extending my shoulder into the water did not feel good but I wanted to ensure it was indeed back into place. Walking back to the apartment I passed a school, there was a kid outside with his parents, I didn’t really look at them, but overheard a comment that made my day “look at that crazy guy”! After returning and changing out of wet clothes I was off for adventure #2, a 5 mile road run up eagle crest mountain with 3 other people. My shoulder hurt but I knew that running would get my mind off of it. I was quickly reminded how much I despise road running, and the pace of my fellow runners was dragging this endeavor out even more, so I decided to sprint up the inclines and walk any declines or flat spots, this at least kept my mind at ease. I hadn’t ran with anyone it quite some time, so I enjoyed the small talk while I could then realize how much stronger I have gotten since adventuring over the past 3 months. Running up that mountain seemed like a breeze in the end, I felt like I could have done that all day! And the rain was rather soothing, it rained harder as we climbed the mountain, I closed my eyes a lot and just took it all in with my other senses. It has been so dry in Montana, the change in climate was great, my allergies were nonexistent in comparison. At the top we were all soaked, more soaking wet than previously that day, and I wasn’t quite used to the cooler climate, thus started to shiver in the car and took a few cups of hot tea to warm up my body temp once we got back. The next day, it was raining hard when I woke up to severe shoulder pain. I struggled to put a sweatshirt on and decided to make it a reading and drinking tea day. Things happen for a reason, just accept it and move on. I was glad to have 12 days left to explore Juneau.


First view of the city
Thunder Mountain and basin


Friday Aug 21 I was still in pain so took it easy in the morning, but the sun was shining and I knew it was time to go explore. So I started at the Thunder Mt trailhead but instead of climbing up there, I ran on the relatively flat under thunder trail for 2.5 miles until I intersected the east glacier trail (lot of tourists on this one, but I was the only one running). About a mile into this trail I intersected another called Nugget creek trail, it was unimproved or not taken care of so this intrigued me and off I went up the valley. There was obviously a lot of gold mining in the area at some point, leaving behind cables, iron pipes, and some shelters, being a geologist it made the hike even more intriguing, I just wished I would have brought my gold pan with. There was a lot of bear scat on the trail, more than I’d ever seen in one day, thus I was very cautious, moving slow, ears and eyes wide open. Sometimes I made noise, other times I was hoping to actually catch a glimpse of a bear. The trail was hard to follow at times, climbing across ridges through bushes, but someone had recently been out here, so I had some tracks to follow. It took me 2 hours to reach the end of the trail about 2.3 miles in according to the Forest Service sign. At the end there was also an old ‘A’ frame shelter, another glimpse into the mining history. Nugget creek itself was a powerful geologic feature with many waterfalls, I couldn’t get very good views of them but the sound alone was soothing. The return hike, back to east glacier trail only took an hour now that I knew the trail and just made a lot of noise hoping to scare any potential bears off the trail. East glacier was less populated with tourists as it was later in the day, so I continued the loop and ended back up at under thunder trail and ran back the way I had come. In all it was an 11.5 mile day in 5.5 hrs, I didn’t rest much since it was slow going at times, so was tired when I finally got back to the apartment. Saturday ended up being another rest/rain day. Went shopping for collagen, mct oil, tea, and arnicare to assist in the shoulder healing. Then we cooked a bunch of food and starting the process of building a custom wakeskate, good times!
Nugget creek



Sunday Aug 23 I hung out and read until late afternoon, then was dropped off at the Treadwall trailhead on Douglas Island, across the inlet from downtown Juneau. I had caught a glimpse of this trail while running up eagle crest a few days earlier and it looked to be nicely finished with gravel, so I thought perfect I’ll run the 12 miles in a few hours. However I was back into the rainforest after a mile or 2, and happy that I had my pack with full of gear to survive just about anything! I had my Enos on instead of gortex shoes, so that was a disadvantage, but I did the Centennial trail (black hills) earlier this year in the same kind of shoes so not a big deal, I’d just have to deal with wet feet as I had to cross several streams with bridges that were out. Some streams were moving rather rapidly and was a bit intense being alone, without trekking poles this time. There was a sign a few miles in that said to follow the flagged and signed trail after mile 3 to avoid a washout, I probably should have taken a picture of this as a reminder as I saw a flagged trail going straight up into the muskeg I thought well this must be it and started to climb. The flags were near each other to start but then were more spread apart, and I hadn’t found a nice topo map of the area yet so I was on an adventure race without a map! I made it quite a ways up the mountain, and hiking through the muskeg was a treat, felt like I was in a fantasy land. However the flags were getting hard to find, after crawling through a rock cave I found another flag, then insisted on thinking like the flagger, so I may find the others. Skirted another big rock, found the next flag, but then was lost could not find another flag, I looked for 30 min and realized if I didn’t turn around it would be dark and I didn’t have a headlamp either, guess I wasn’t quite prepared for anything. Upon turning around I got a bit disoriented and the lost feeling started to take over, it’s good for the mind and body to get lost from time to time, I just had to remind myself of that, take a deep breath and start descending the mountain. A few hundred yards down I found a flag, and it was easy going after that. 30 min later and I was back on the Treadwall trail. Soaked and starting to get cold I had no idea how long it would take me to continue north then west on Treadwall, so I decided to head back the way I had came, I knew this would only take 2 hours and I’d be done before dark, so off I went back through the stream crossings eventually reappearing at blueberry hill where the journey started.




Muskeg wandering

Mon Aug 24, I decided to play tourist and checkout downtown Juneau. I biked from the valley to downtown, about 10 miles one way. There was a bike lane or path the entire way. Was a bit surprised to not see more bikers and less cars with the nice infrastructure. The motor vehicle drivers etiquette towards bikers was impressive, they all seemed to take their time and allow me to cross intersections or waited behind me if they were turning, it was a nice feeling at least compared to my daily close calls living and biking in Grand Forks, ND. Downtown was filled with people, at any given time there is 3 or 4 large cruise ships in the bay, which can hold approx. 1500 people. The cruise folks get about 8 hours to explore Juneau before they move on to the next town. Many asked me directions, guess I didn’t fit the typical tourist norm. I enjoyed some fresh salmon at a restaurant, then wandered to find some book stores, eventually finding a nice waterproof topo of the area and a few Alaska adventure books to keep me occupied on rest days. I enjoyed a king crab leg at another outdoor restaurant and chatted with a few folks that were traveling on the cruise ship. I get a lot of good ideas and places to travel when I mention my nomadic plans, most people still remain supportive in our overworked society. After enjoying a few Alaskan beers I rode bike to the local rock climbing gym (Rock Dump) to meet up with friends, and sadly watch them climb, with the shoulder injury I didn’t want to push my luck and rather keep what strength I had left to do some more hikes.
Downtown Juneau, with Mt Juneau in background

Tuesday Aug 25, I biked downtown again, but this time decided to hike up Mt Juneau which overlooked downtown. In my mind I wanted to run up the mountain trail, this was a great trail compared to others I had been on, but my body didn’t want to cooperate, not sure if it was the beers and fish day before or the hiking gods just weren’t with me that day. Took 70 min to climb the 3 miles and 3500 feet in elevation. After reaching the top I was amazed at the views not only of the city but the inlet bays, several islands with mountains on them and the endless ice field made up of mountains and glaciers. There was a nearby shack and gold mining equipment so I spent an hour exploring that, chatted with a few fellow hikers, and hiked part of the ridge going back into the mountains. I later found out that this ridge hooks up with another trail approx. 3 miles in, which would have been a good hike! Upon reaching downtown again, I  indulged in Indian food with masala chai before catching a ride home and sleeping shortly after.
Downtown Juneau as seen from top of Mt Juneau

Gastineau Channel

Mt Roberts (right) Sheep Mt (first snow covered from right)

                                     
North side of Gastineau Channel
Wednesday Aug 26, I was picked up by another unemployed adventurer, he was a Juneau local thus had an idea what we were getting into that day. Our plan was to hike to the summit of Mt McGinnis, the highest mountain in the vicinity of Juneau that has a decent trail all the way to the summit. We started out climb at 9:30 am it was supposed to take anywhere from 6-9 hours to complete the 11 mile trek. It was nice to have a hiking partner, it had been nearly a month since someone was on the trail with me in Glacier National Park, while I thoroughly enjoy hiking alone, it is nice to have some company now and again. We started on the west glacier trail which was fairly flat and rocky, bridges over some the streams, until we hit a ‘T’ continuing east we would reach the ice caves, which are washout areas underneath the Mendenhall glacier, and turning west we would continue climbing switchbacks on our journey towards the summit. The trail suddenly got a lot harder, no more bridges over streams, some bouldering over large granite outcrops, places where roots and mud were a bit overwhelming, waterfalls to enjoy, and blueberries to pick and eat! Each clearing provided a nice view of the glacier, getting larger as we climbed. The terrain changed a lot which was entertaining. At one point the trail was a straight vertical climb with tree roots and random rocks to grab hold of. We rounded up onto a false peak which was green, full of rock outcrops, and had ponds from recent snow melt. Finally got a glimpse of the summit from here it looked close, we were 5 miles into our hike already, however it ended up taking another hour to get to the top. The last 1000 feet of trail to the summit over the pyramid shaped peak was very steep, it felt like gravity was pushing me off the mountain. Once on top the views were incredible, we were at 4200 feet elevation. Mt Stroller White was directly to the east of us and climbing that would provide an uninterrupted view of Mendenhall glacier hooking up to the ice field. However getting to that summit would require climbing gear and an even earlier start to the day, definitely added to the wish list for future adventures. Out to sea, we could see the entire Juneau valley, Gastineau Channel, Auke lake and Auke bay, and the various yet substantial islands going out into the ocean. On Glacier Bay island there were three large Mt peaks all covered in snow. The middle one was Mt Fairweather its peak at 17,000 feet!! Lunch break on Mt McGinnis summit was beautiful soaking in the sun, I didn’t even need to put on another layer for warmth (it was 81 degrees in the valley!) Could see Mt Juneau, Mt Roberts, Sheep Mt, Mt Jumbo, and Mt Thunder, essentially all the summits that have trails in the Juneau area. After an hour had passed we decided to start our decent, it was treacherous! I took out my trekking poles for assistance but had to take it easy and concentrate on the task at hand, trying not to let my mind wander. I strained my shoulder a few times and grimaced in the pain. It took a long time to go down the 2.5 mile vertical descent but felt accomplishing once we were on flat(ter) land again. I was getting a bit fatigued and leg muscles were tired but nothing compared to a long endurance event. This was ideal training for upcoming 12 hour bike (END-tombed) and 12 hour run (END-trails) races which are 2 months out. In all, the hike was 11 miles round trip and took 8 hours with a one hour summit break, up 4000 ft and back down 4000 feet. The beer tasted great and was well deserved afterwards!

Mesmerizing Mendenhall Glacier
Summit of Mt McGinnis
Mendenhall Glacier

Mt Stroller White
Mendenhall Lake and glacier

Thursday Aug 27, was a rest day, I was sore from the climb up Mt McGinnis and it was raining really hard, a downpour that I hadn’t seen in Juneau yet. I finished reading the ‘Golden Spruce’ and drank a lot of tea. Friday, I hung out and read most of the day as well, it continued to rain but I was itching to get out. So I took the bike for a ride towards Mendenhall Glacier, the shoulder was pretty sore so I returned after a 7 mile ride and went out for a run on the under thunder trail. Decided to make a high intensity training run out of it and pushed myself until I almost left my lunch on the trail. I was cruising over the slight up and down hill portions, passing a few folks out walking their dogs. After 5 miles running I was tired, went back home, took a hot shower and continued reading the evening away. Saturday, I had an invite to hike Granite Creek trail, woohoo more hiking buddies! It was raining again, but we went anyway, it was a nice gradual uphill hike with lots of good conversation on the side. The Granite creek valley was beautiful, full of waterfalls coming down the side of mountains, and one large waterfall on Granite Creek itself. We reached a remnant of a glacier at the end of the trail took some photos, then with a chill setting in decided to turn back and go back down. We hiked 8 miles roundtrip in about 3 hours. Saturday night we went downtown and enjoyed some live music. The first band was really good then they progressively got worse (in my opinion) I thought it should be the other way around. So we retreated to the wharf for beers and laughs. Sunday was feast day, I made myself breakfast in the morning, then we went to a friend’s place for brunch (which was planned from the night before), followed by grocery shopping and more cooking later that afternoon, needless to say I was in a food coma before long. Instead of feeling miserable we went to play disc golf in the rainforest, what a cool course, going up and down through mud over logs and into the muskeg. Great design and challenging course. Monday, guess what it was raining again, the 3 days of sunshine last week were the last I was going to see. I was tired of the rain at that point, and really had no motivation, I was still stuffed from all the food we had ate on Sunday and made another reading/journaling/tea day out of it. Tuesday morning I had to fly back to Montana, prior to entering the airport I looked back on Mt McGinnis and Mt Stroller White they were both covered in snow, we picked the last day possible to make that climb!






Large waterfall on Granite creek
Granite creek
Disc Golf in the rainforest

Comments

  1. Great Blog..Jason! Thanks for "friending" me on Facebook and I wish you well on your ventures. We loved our motorhome adventure for 13 years which included short hikes, ATV and jeep rides in different States. Your Aunt says "Go for it" while you are young! Stay safe!

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