It goes without saying that this summer has been a considerable challenge for outdoor recreationists.
First we had the relentless smoke from wildfires that ruined our bright sunny days for part of June and throughout July and August; and then the onset of monsoon-type rains in September—as if nature were trying to make up for the summer’s extreme drought.
But for avid, obsessed recreationists who I need not mention by name, the dreary summer was interspersed with some short weather windows that allowed an occasional respite on a trail or up a mountain.
During what seemed like an endless July and August, winds would occasionally shift and blow the Swan Lake fire smoke back toward the Kenai Peninsula, temporarily clearing our air. And during September’s rainy days, there were the odd “partly cloudy” days that would offer a bit of blue sky and sunshine.
It’s probably a futile activity, but I study weather forecasts with the tenacity and laser-focus of an archaeologist searching for artifacts. Throughout the smoky summer, using both Weather Underground and the National Weather Service forecasts, I determined that going to the southeast was the only recourse for finding clear skies; which meant driving hundreds of miles to the Nabesna area north of the Wrangell Mountains, or south toward Valdez. In frustration, I was prepared to drive 600 miles to Haines, or even farther, to Whitehorse in the Yukon Territories.
Rarely have I ever been able to beat Mother Nature at its weather game.
But on September 17th of this year on a trip to Curry Ridge in Denali State Park, I came as close as I ever have. I scanned weather forecasts for the area for more than a week, which is foolhardy because in that many days the forecast inevitably changes multiple times. But in mid-September the forecast for “partly cloudy” remained constant for several days. On the 17th the forecast was for “partly cloudy in the morning and increasing clouds in the afternoon.”
So on the 17th I rose at 5 a.m., got on the road at 6 a.m., arrived at the Curry Ridge trailhead (In Kesugi Ken Campgound) at 8:30 a.m. and began hiking. The lofty giant Denali was obscured in clouds, as it is about one-third of the time. But at 9:30 a.m. the clouds lifted and there it was, brightly lit in the rising sun in all its glory. I snapped several photos because I knew it wouldn’t last. And it didn’t. At about 10:30 a.m. Denali other peaks in the Alaska Range were blanketed in clouds. For the rest of day as I climbed to the ridge, Denali was out of sight.
Mount Eklutna jaunt: On the drive back from Anchorage early in the afternoon of September 19th, I could see some blue sky above the Chugach Mountains to the north and east. I say “some blue sky,” because with our recent South Pacific Monsoon weather mode, it hasn’t taken much of a weather break to capture my attention. I was at the Peters Creek trailhead and hiking by 2:30 p.m., reached the top of 4,065-foot Mount Eklutna by 5 p.m, and was back to my car at 7 p.m. when the rain began in earnest.
“Just under the wire,” I thought, hopping into my car.
It’s happened that way a few other times over the past few months. I see the weather window, perhaps for a hike in South Fork and near Eklutna Lake, and spring into action—which is possible when one doesn’t work full time. And it helps being obsessed.
After a prolonged period of griping and complaining to my friends about the weather, and suggesting buying a plane ticket to Kauai, I noticed some Eagle River folks biking in the rain. Later that day I saw people walking their dogs in the rain. Clearly, they had accepted our weather fate and weren’t going to be deterred.
At that moment I experienced a sort of epiphany. “That’s the way I should be thinking,” I told myself. “Rather than contemplating driving hundreds of miles or taking a commercial flight out of state. I should accept our weather situation and go with it.”
(The old adage is “rain is liquid sunshine, and skin is waterproof.”)
But whenever and wherever I can, I still seek out the blue sky and sunshine, no matter what time of year. And what fun would life be, if we couldn’t complain about the weather? (My friends would probably answer: “a lot more fun if he didn’t complain all the time.”)