Who says there's not enough time to enjoy Alaska's great outdoors? And now that spring has arrived, it is the perfect time to explore those areas that normally only zoom past your windshield en route to other places in the state for business, pleasure, or whathaveyou.
Last Friday, I took advantage of the perfect combination of clear, pleasant skies and fresh, pristine snow to venture into the Kenai Peninsula's mountainous backcountry of Turnagain Pass. The catch was that I was supposed to be in Anchorage for business by mid-afternoon, and worried that stopping by roadside on a wintry day could turn into a day-long affair. Allowing between 2 1/2 to three hours to get from the Y in Soldotna to Anchorage, I decided the area we were going to -- Center Ridge, an area just behind the rest area at about Mile 75 of the Seward Highway, and across from where snowmachiners usually play -- was maybe about midway.
Last year, a trip up Mt. Manitoba for some (attempted, in my case) telemark skiing did carve about six hours out of my day, but on that occasion, I had planned for that much time and more, so it was no big deal.
But this particular day would require some thrifty time management on my part to get into the rough and back out again and up to the big city in time for my appointment. Leaving at 9 a.m. would put me at Center Ridge at about an hour later, which would give me two hours to play in the snow before having to haul the rest of the way north, check into my hotel, change clothes and be at my appointment.
I went with a friend who had skied the steep incline before and suggested that snowshoeing might be the ticket. The 12-mile trail obviously was not doable within the time constraints set before us, so we likely would have to forego the easier rolling slopes that followed the initial steep climb. We agreed to hike in for an hour and 15 minutes, then turn back, going faster downhill.
What is to follow can best be described as our schedule:
We strapped on our snowshoes and took the trail behind the rest area toward a bridge that was piled over with a narrow wall of snow that required near-tightrope walking skills to traverse. We then turned north and ran into a bank of trees at the foot of the incline.
Since there was fresh powder, we would be breaking our own trail and paused to make certain we were going the right direction.
After weaving through a maze of frosted birch and trying to banish the tune "Walking In A Winter Wonderland" from my head -- it was, after all, the first day of spring -- we turned eastward and began to climb. It wasn't long before I began to miss all that running and cross-country skiing I hadn't done during the winter months.
As out of shape as I was feeling, I was certain it was going to take a while for my breath to catch up to me. Little did I know that a few more hundred yards ahead (and a few hundred feet up), I wouldn't need my breath, anyway.
I wasn't sure how far above sea level we were, but we were halfway into our climb and, from the view, the parking lot and rest area already appeared to be significantly dwarfed. I had come out of one layer clothing and was greeted by a gentle breeze carrying snow that was light enough to let the sun shine through, but heavy enough to dust my shoulders and frost up the lenses of my shades.
To think I almost opted to miss this in favor of watching MSNBC war updates and adding more copy to my vastly expanding manifesto.
I actually remembered that I had a watch on my wrist, or that there was time at all. Of course, it took for me to inadvertently step on the tail of one of my long, narrow snowshoes and face-plant into some soft, deep snow. Once again we found ourselves weaving through the twisting path a cluster of unused Christmas trees had created for us -- one not necessarily conducive to elongated footprints.
While picking myself up and brushing off slush, I happened to notice my watch and that we had roughly 20 minutes left in the countdown.
11: 03 a.m.
The conversation turned from geopolitical contemplation and pontification to simpler things:
"Dude, how much time we got left?"
With 14 minutes we looked up to see that we were just minutes from the summit of the incline we were on.
"That might not be it," my comrade said to me.
Leading the charge, he decided to pick up the pace, however. What the heck. It was the last few minutes of painful bliss before my chronograph called time. So I shifted my DiGiorno pizza-saturated tuckus into gear and proceeded to churn the rest of the way through the thick powder to the top.
"This weather station's as good a place to stop," my comrade said when we reached the summit.
There he had a peanut butter sandwich and I had a banana and some cinnamon raisin toast and we silently watched the snow glide from a seemingly cloudless sky while listening to snowmachiners high-mark on the other side of the valley in front of us.
The jogging, sliding, hopping return down the hill was quick, taking just over half an hour and affording us the chance to stop and chat with some Anchorage skiers and jump start my car which I had allowed to sit with the headlights on (doh!).
And we made it to our destination with plenty of time to spare. So what's the moral of this story? You can never be too busy to get outside and enjoy yourself. And the conditions don't have to be perfect for you to have fun, either.
So don't blow off the chance to get out in the snow while there's still snow to get out in. Otherwise, why live here?
This column is the opinion of Peninsula Clarion reporter Marcus K. Garner. Comments can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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