15 September 2008

To the top......of Mount Edgecumbe.

August 11, 2007
To the top......of Mount Edgecumbe.

We were indecisive about getting on the boat. We knew we wanted to go. But we were unsure if we had it in us to make it. Mountaineers thrive for opportunities such as on this grey dewy morning. We however remind each other if only with a sideways glance that we were not born such mountaineers. Rubbing sleep out of our eyes, sipping our coffee and making a mess out of our tea, we light heartedly endure the choppy ride to Kruzoff where the boat spits us out at Fred’s creek cabin.

The first man off the boat sinks his tennis shoes so deeply into the saturated sand, it makes the rest of us grimace. We bend over to silently remove our socks and shoes as we roll up our pant legs as far as they will allow. We can only imagine how the physical side of his hike will be beginning.

Once stable on the soggy beach, a gritty chill enveloping our toes. We wipe off our digits the best we can of scratchy particles and struggle to put our socks back onto our now clammy, sticky wet skin. Ooohh this should be lovely. We settle into smaller groups as we rearrange our packs and the first thing someone points out is the huuugge set of bear prints sunk into the sand just below the tide line. Fresh I'd say, and look there, baby prints not too far from them. Hehehehe did I forget to mention Kruzoff has more bears per square mile than most other southeast islands? Yep, if that wasn’t on my mind before....we have plenty to make noise about now.

We set off in a group of about 20 people. Through the spruce trees and salmon berry bushes that look inviting but I plan on savoring that idea for later if we have the time. Joanna and I very near the front of the pack as we pop out into the first pools of muskeg. The grass draping along the boardwalk dampening the fabric of our wear and I must say the tops of my socks! Although its not seeming to bother anyone else.

We bounce, step, trounce and lightly tread on the slender boards. The walk was built in 1993 by the Civilian Conservation Corporation. At 3,201 feet (976 metres) to the top, about 7 miles each way. With the last 10th of a mile of course being the most dificult to acsend. It is a fairly well maintained trail. One that you can really enjoy the heightened sense of being “in” the muskeg. The salty skunk cabbage air infiltrating your nostrils along with a somewhat humble feeling, even though a smell you most definatly don’t care to carry home with you.

An even more humble emotion enters the present state of mind as we individually pass over a very wet paw print so meticulously stamped on the boardwalk we are currently stepping over. If the bear could write a statement that we are not in our own territory and should make haste in deciding to press on, this is how it would be done. Bear language embossed with a kiss of moss and lichens, and sideways glances into the surrounding trees for watching eyes.

Im not claiming we are tough. Im sure we both have our kick ass moments, this turning out to not be one of them as we lose our forward momentum when we look up to the first set of grueling stairs. Yes the first of many. About three quarters the way up I realize my lungs are not fully awake yet. How can this be, the coffee seemed hot enough when I poured it down my throat about thirty minutes ago. I step off to the side. Only to see that Joanna has followed suit, taking a seat next to me on the log so rain sodden it looks as though it may never dry out. We watch as our mouths puff out moisture into the cool morning air until about half of our party passes us dispersing like the mini clouds of our breath. Well at least we are in this predicament together!

We trudge on, only to make it about twenty minutes and take another rest. A look around assures us that we cannot see a soul behind us nor in front. A silence I do not mind at all. I remove my shoes and shake out the sand which has accumulated. Ah now doesnt that feel better. Almost like that feeling that if you never knew about life would surely continue on, but because you are aware of it makes it that much sweeter. Hmmm a feeling much more difficult to explain than to simply experience. I demurely think about how to put this feeling into a few simple words while I rummage in my pack between my legs and start to munch on one of my peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwiches.

I sit here and think about the focus of our friendship. Over the last year we have grown apart, distant in our methods of communication. Being here, precisely in this moment where we are forever gazing dreamily toward our futures while moving in our own stubborn directions. Love and friendship is slightly similar to working towards the summit of a mountain. Perhaps our friendship is in need of redefinement..... would that quench the immensity of why we feel adolescence has drifted away. We are adults, when did this happen!?!

If she needs time away I will not ask her to stay but I do not want to lose this woman. Underneath it all we have been through nearly fourteen years of learning together and our grip on this should be tight. I do not plan on ever letting that go. In our own paces we cannot be less confident, successful, or beautiful. And my only hope that we can be no less than a role model for each other. Learning as we go that whatever may be thrown our way, is to never let go.

May we live thousands of miles apart I know I could still sit down with her and begin to giggle over our youthful encounters with our furry button eyed stuffed animal creatures we commanded once upon a time. It is not lost. It is right where we left it. Sitting on the beach in our minds only we know of in southeast Alaska.

This excursion together could be the bridge to the gap which can only be fixed by awareness and will. Alot like while stumbling up this next flight of steps of being strongly aware of the weight of an apple redundantly bumping into my lower back, step, step, bump. Step. step, bump. Persistent in asking to be eaten. Must be patient and wait for lunch I remind myself. Just as patience will be necessary to smooth out our minor inconsistencies, much like my misbehaving strands of hair or the dirt which is acquiring beneath my fingernails.

Thirty minutes later, we take yet another pitiful rest on our achy legs and claim that we are really taking a picture break, and oh my look how far we have come already!!!! Then our excitment drops a few degrees as we turn and scope out the progidious hill before us and exclaim, oh but look how far we have left to go!! The landscape is diverse. We have been through valleys, and hand built bridges over streams, been engulfed in muskeg and hidden ourselves in the dense alpine, and the day isnt half over yet. What will come next? The sun is shining brilliantly, a better day could not have picked, in fact a little trickle of sweat is playing delicately at my hairline. Are we going to make it to the top? We have made it this far with plenty of huffing and puffing, and know there will surely be more to come. We converse for a moment about what each of our expectations are and its pretty clear that although we would love to make it up to the very top, we first are going to make it to the tree line then decide if we continue on. If we dont make it today we dont want to crush our hopes of ever attempting this feat again.

A journey such as this one to the top of mount edgecumbe is not an extremely difficult one, definatly not a trek to killimanjaro. This hike takes a good eight hours, and the average hiker would have minor trouble, and we are feeling a little run down. We have been inclining about 4 hours now and the tree line is within sight, in fact we spy between a clearing in some trees ahead a few indistinguishable bodies. Some of our party? Perhaps, although it looks to be about 20 agonizing minutes ahead of us. Well what do you say we end our mini break and make it up to our first goal? But first... let us take a picture of our progress. Three pictures later and we are laughing so hard my eyes are watering. We cannot keep our eyes lids open long enough to take a successful picture in the bright sunshine, but we are in great spirits and the one we finally got shows our true ability to take something we are struggling with and still be able to laugh and have a grand ol time together.

As higher and higher we step towards the top, the clouds surrounding Kruzoff seem to be dispersing. Making the day clearer and my face becomes even more red by the second. Is it warm for Sitka? I think its much too warm. I yank at my already rolled all the way up pant legs and sigh wondering why I didnt think to bring shorts. Take a sip of water, and laugh at Joanna as she slumps half heartedly against a tree. What an actress, I snap another photo.

FINALLY we plant ourselves on the warm ground just past the stone marker at the very spot our goal was centered around. The elevation rises to 3,201 feet (976 m) above sea level, seven miles steadily rising til you get just under the tree line. Then not so steadily increasing until every measly step becomes work on your lungs/calves/thighs/body. The marker had some important information and some history on Mount Edgecumbe which not so surprisingly my tired brain cannot remember while I sit here contemplating this. Does this mean there will be a return trip. Too soon to tell.

Here how about a fruit leather, would you like raspberry or peach? Voices we hear and we turn our heads to the direction of the sound and approaching through the trees is Cara and Elsie with their familiar faces. Don't stop now ladies, Cara says, not much farther! She keeps trudging on, I look to Joanna who is already looking at me, chagrined smile playing at her lips. Tiredness, eagerness, maybe a little of both. Too hard for me to tell. The sweet smelling, inviting, earthy grass which in every essence is saying: stay, take a breather, a little snooze, you have time. But really I know we do not. If we are going to do this.... so I push and stand up on legs that are already quite hesitant about this instantaneous movement. But really they have no choice, I am right now picking my options, drilling into my tired head that I will make this summit today.

Joannas legs seem to not be telling her the same things, she hops right up, or at least that is what my mind is deciphering. Chatting away with Elsie, who falls back easily into our pace (maybe her legs are groaning/whimpering just a smidgen too?) And we begin our final trek. A 10th of a mile of what already seems like HELL!!! So we work out a system, a method more like it. Every ten steps we take, we earn a break. Yes earn, I remind you I am now attempting my best to trick my legs and feet to continue with their forward momentum because somehow my oxygen deprived brain DOES want to reach the top. Now more than ever.

Wooden poles have been pounded into hill to line the path all the way to the top, but wait a second, the hill is so round you cannot see the top, the poles just seem to...dissapear. When you are done scrambling to one pole another pole kind of just pops into the last ones existence! It is like the neverending story my mind screams! I look over my shoulder and sure enough it is not straight down in some places we are actually crawling up the rotund side of the mountain. My anxiety grows thinking about the trip down.

I have now lost count of the tedious poles who just stand there looking at us as we scramble up the scree. You would think they would offer us a rope or SOMETHING! But the sign on the way up asks that you do not follow any one path to extend the life of the plants (what plant wants to live on the side of a volcano) so do not follow the person in front of you- even though that is exactly what your tired brain wishes to do. We spread out and weave back and forth on our separate treks, 10 steps at a time, until the grass thins out and now our shoes are looking for traction in the loose stones. So much of it goes rolling out from beneath us that we strain to look if there in any bodies taking the brunt of the flying pumice beneath us.

Oh my, what is that. A boulder. Or a rock but the size of one that has a grounding on semi flat looking surface. Thank friggen heavens because my legs are so tired. WE MADE IT!! TO THE TOP!!! I feel like I could scream, but we make our way over to the few other people who are eating their lunches and collapse on the ground that isnt in an upward slant any longer. We dig through our bags, and eat, and toss items to each other because nobody wants to give up their sitting position for the time being and chatter away about our fortune with the weather. One of the people in the group calls time and temperature and relays the information that it is 72 degrees!! It is a bit windy now that we are on the summit but did I mention how we could feel the heat on the way here?

I pull on my longsleeve shirt, although for how windy it is I realize it is much too thin for the top of a volcano. We eat all that we can of our heavy items as we desire not to have to carry them back down with us, look into the crater where a pool of water is lounging at the bottom. A few people have chosen to hike around the rim of the crater- which takes about half an hour. We go to the far end of the summit and take a few photos of "the other side of the mountain" which we dont get to see everyday but appreciate all the same.

We dont have long up here when we notice everyone is kind of assembling into a group, we approach as people begin to trickle back down. We hold back a few minutes and Joanna gives us a demonstration of some rarely seen mountain pole dancing, yes she is swinging and smiling and gyrating and being her goofy old self as we all snap some photos to black mail her later with. Then our turn to descend is at hand and so we begin with timid steps. We are not built to be mountain goats! Then some sliding. Then some out of control sliding that I do not relish one bit. What will happen if my body cannot withstand this movement. I would rather be going up- yes it was difficult but this is three times harder on my legs!!! Every step pounds my feet harder into my shoes. My toes are crying and I still continue to pick my way down. I tell myself it will be over if I can just make it down these forsaken tumbling stones- logic dont you think!?

We reach the grass but still find minimal traction, and begin to slide on our butts because although we are aquiring grass stains, our legs decide they are exhausted, wobbly and sliding is easier to manage. It is a timely method and seems to be working well, until one of the party who is sliding in this manner realizes there is poo all over her hands. Ugh, deer poop in fact! There is still some snow off to the right of us and as I look over a few people are sledding down. But in my opinion much too fast!! Zip, there they go already at the bottom where the trail dips back into the trees.

As we are the last to come down off the scree everyone has assembled into a long line as they wait for everyone to get down safely. Finally I plop down and rest my poor limbs. But not for long because we start off to the trail once again as we have spent 5 hours here and have to meet the boat back at the cabin in about 3 hours. So here we go- AGAIN.

This time we are in the front of the group as we thin out into smaller packs. Joanna and I making good time as we look around and realize that there is one more pair of feet marching back to the beach with ours, much to Joannas dismay. She has only known this person a short time and some of the actions remind Joanna of a younger version of herself which she understands only a little too well. A level of uncomfort that you peel away in your teenage years like an aged yellow onion, some of the memories stinging your senses, not too mention some which made you cry.

Restimulation in its ultimate form of middle school self awareness, confidence levels, and many social anxieties that as you grow you learn to leave behind. In my mind I think this is good for Joanna but I dont tell her this at the time. As she sits here reading that now I remind her that she one of the bravest women that I know because she gave this aformentioned person a chance and I believe they get along quite well now..... see it WAS good for you!!

We come to the 3 sided shelter which marks the halfway point (about 3.5 miles from the beach) and decide to take a bathroom break, there are signs to a "toilet" but I figure what the heck are we not in Alaska? While to other two use this so called "porta potty" (which is just a hole in the ground which never gets emptied) I pick my way around twigs and bushes to a place between two trees and relieve myself there. Just as good. There are pesky gnats or "nosiums" hovering around our heads, they were not a bother on the way up but now they seem to be very very hungry, I think as I swat one away from my face. Its the 72 degrees I tell ya!

Trodding heavily we begin to recognize the path as we near the shore line and dip into a more brushy area (where the grizzlies like to hang out) and emerge 30 minutes later to where the trail starts right behind the cabin, ah relief. We drop hard onto the beach where a few people have already staked out thier patch of sunshine, but we soon realize that as the sun goes down and the boat is still not here to deliver us back to town, we must follow the sunlight down the beach to stay warm now that we are no longer moving.

I remember the berries which looked so enticing on the way up, but can not talk myself into another adventure for the time being. At last the boat appears and because of a higher tide than the morning can get closer to the beach, they drop the gang plank down and we file one by one back on board. There is not much talking. We are that exhausted.

We are also hungry. The moment we get back into port we go to pizza express. I ravenously order a delicious cheese burger and french fries but by the time it gets to us, I am not so hungry any more. I pick at my fries but end up taking my burger to go. Maybe I will save it for breakfast. I do not think Ive ever been so exhausted than I am too tired to eat!!

The next day I did eat my burger for breakfast. Cant complain because my limp body did not wish to fix anything, in fact I was sore for 4 days, grumbling and whining, and barely able to pull myself into a truck, but talking about our trek to everyone I ran across nonetheless. It was well worth it and must secure another nice day in the undetermined future. Im still not claiming we are tough but damnit we did just climb 3,201 feet and back in 8 hours!

There are too many good mottos in life to pick just one, but the moral of this particular story: Get out of the bars and GO CLIMB A MOUNTAIN!!!!