The trailhead at the Eagle River Nature Center opens the pathway to spring. As you set out down the trail, the sweet scent of fresh green pines baking in the sun is strong. It’s a unique alpine announcement that spring is in the air.
We all welcome summertime and the chance to get outdoors. At the same time, the variety of activities being offered bring with it the stress of fitting everything into our busy schedules. Salmon are running, the wilderness bids us to venture out and explore, the backyard hammock beckons on a sunny evening, and summer sports are in full sway.
Denali Ranger is an inspiring biography about a man who dedicated most of his life to North America’s highest peak, Denali, and the land surrounding it. In many ways, it is a love story. As a national park ranger on 20310-foot Denali for nearly 40 years, Roger Robinson became a major figure in the mountain’s history by pioneering a new environmental ethos in climbing management: removing waste from the slopes, or “cleaning” the mountain.
The snow on the lower slopes of the mountain had been packed hard by previous hikers and made the hiking easy, but the southeast wind was bone-chilling. I started the climb about 12:30 p.m. on April 30th, thinking this would be a nice Spring jaunt and another chance to test out my left knee that was replaced last year. Harp Mountain had other plans. By the time I reached the first big hump, at about 2,500 feet, the wind was gusting to about 40 miles per hour (mph).
In early May avalanches had become a danger in the mountains, so in an attempt to salvage the last of winter, I drove about 200 miles north while gaining two degrees of latitude. Recent snowfalls in the Alaska Range had blanketed the mountains and lowlands near the Denali Highway in pure white satin. On May 7th skies were mostly clear and there was hardly a breath of wind. But at mid-day, the temperature was in the high 40s. Was this winter?
Encumbered by my 48-inch long snowshoes that I’ve bragged about so often in this space, movement was painfully slow amidst the tangle of willows and hemlock trees. It felt like I was trying to steer two battleships through a jungle. Not content on Saturday, April 14th to ski 6-1/2 miles to the Kenai Peninsula’s Crescent Lake Saddle Cabin, I told my friends it would be fun to hike up through the low pass south of the cabin to reach a divide that surely would offer a great view of Kenai Lake.