The days are getting fuller as my residency is approaching its end. Today was a day for a long stroll. The canyon between Deep Lake and Happy Camp is open now, the trail skirting the river still choked with massive snow-bergs. Oh my! The snow! Deep does not describe it. Arctic might come close. It is not quite glacial, but the fissures penetrating into the mysteriously blue interior whisper with unseen currents and aspire to that ponderous word. Blocks of snow collapse into the water, moving slowly down river, dragging their toes against the bottom until they bump into the downstream traffic jam.
And then the people. Today is a 46-er: that is how many people will cross the summit today. I will pass them all as I backtrack to the pass, but first I run into the late risers from Happy Camp. A group from the Hawaiian Hiking Club greet me with “Aloha” and I chat with them a bit about the difference between hiking in Hawaii and Alaska (there are many differences).
The nice thing about hiking against the stream of traffic is that people notice you! I talked to nearly everyone coming down from the pass – the group of high school girls with red white and blue fireworks and star spangled banners tattooed on each cheek; 75 year old Frank hiking the trail for the 5th time with his daughter; two dudes from Spokane; a slightly grumpy family from back East. And it gave me great joy to hear that many of them had written postcards at the summit, despite me not being there to cajole them. By the time I pass the rearguard of the entourage, I could see the pass and I figured “Why not?”
Headwinds and a barren landscape make me very aware that I am now alone. It is cold, but I sweat in my down vest, striding over snow churned to a buttery consistency by many feet. The pass seems to stretch away over each rise. Finally, I reach the bottom of the last steep pitch. This hill that we slid down in 30 seconds seems to last an eternity. At last, the shelter! And food and postcards! I flip through the stack as I munch tortilla and peanut butter, once again astounded at the range of thoughts filtering through my hands. But it is a long walk home and I don’t linger long. I slide down the steep snow hill, thinking how perfect it would be to have a toboggan and glide out across Crater Lake at breakneck speeds. And then more snow. I’ve been walking on snow forever! Eventually I start looking for detours on the rocky outcrops just to give my muscles a break. But the whipping wind is in my favor now and the sun hits the slopes farther down the valley drawing me on. I stop only briefly for a few photos, breezing through Happy Camp with its 46 tired residents, through the ice-choked canyon, up, over, down again to Deep Lake and break camp. Only 3 miles to go, thoughts of dinner and that double sleeping bag at Lindeman arguing with my sore feet and tired legs. After a 20 mile day, I finally feel some solidarity with those tired people at Happy Camp.
More pictures and drawings on Flikr: The Chilkoot Trail – an artist’s journey
Read More: Trail Journal Day 11