Friday, June 17, 2011

The Climb

Yesterday I had the pleasure of going out with a group of students from St. John's Lutheran Church of Palmer, AK. The camping trip took place at Eklutna Lake. This was my second time visiting Eklutna and this time it was more foggy, and rainy. Upon arrival we set up our tents and then hiked down to the lake. It was here that we enjoyed skipping rocks.

Tierra skipping rocks.

 After exploring down by the lake we hiked back to camp where we enjoyed roasting hot dogs over the fire followed by dessert: S'mores! mmm! I mastered the art of the perfect marshmallow, it involves patience and proper rotation, but it's well worth it.

   In Alaska it is common to bring one's dog to events. For the camp out Jamie (DCE from Palmer), and Sarah (Chaperone from Palmer) both brought their dogs. Jamie has two dogs Burt & Kena, and Sarah has a Golden Retriever named Rosie. The dogs slept in the tents with their masters. Sarah had her own one person tent, Burt slept with Philip (Jamie's husband), and Kena slept in the tent with Jamie and I.

Burt (the blur) and Kena (black lab)

We stayed up until close to midnight and had to turn in as the rain began to move in. It was strange sleeping in a tent when it was so bright outside. It was light until 1:30am. I was glad to have a sleeping pad because the ground was cold, very cold. It rained at a decent pace for most of the night. The dog Kena must have been anxious about something because she kept moving around throughout the night. I must admit having the dog Kena in the tent was good as it kept me warm.
     Midway through the night I felt my side getting wet. It was light out and I looked at my watch, 4:15am. There was a river of water running through our tent. What happened is we had put down tarp on the ground, and part of the tarp did not get fully tucked under the tent. The water had gotten trapped on top of the tarp under the base of the tent. I re-positioned myself on the sleeping pad to avoid getting wet and returned to sleep until around 8:00am.
     In the morning we had breakfast; cereal, and pop tarts. Then Sarah asked if I was coming along for the hike. I had no idea what she was talking about. 
"We are going hiking up Twin Peak's trail" she explained.
I had not planned for a hike I thought we were simply camping.
"How difficult is it?" I asked
"It's not that bad" 
Jamie then chimed in to explain that Sarah is an intense hiker and what is "not that bad" to her is more difficult to most. I was unsure what to say and I felt obligated to be back in the office as I had told Pastor Steve that I would be back late morning.
"Sure, why not?" I decided.

     Jamie did not go on the hike so she lent me her Camel Back water backpack. We left the campsite and drove to the trail head, little did I know the adventure that was ahead.

    While we waited for the rest of the group to arrive I read the sign posted at the trail head about all the hiking trails within Eklutna Lake State Park. It had a ranking and a brief description of each. I read about Twin Peaks...It's rating: Difficult. There were only two trails in the whole park with a rating of "Difficult" and this was one of them. Regardless, I was bound and determined.
       The total length of the hike is 3 miles and a 3000 foot elevation change! It is 2.4 miles to the overlook to see Twin Peaks, and another .6 miles to the top to look over Eklutna Lake and the whole valley.
    The first mile went well. I could feel the burn in my calves from the continuous incline of the slope. We stoped at the bench at mile marker 1 to take in the view as seen below.

The view from one mile up
So far so good only 2 more miles to go...
As we continued to hike I could really feel my body becoming upset, I was pushing myself as I was determined to keep up. Sarah stopped to allow me to catch my breath which was nice. We continued the climb and I was encouraged when we passed a man who we later asked and discovered was 71, and he was on his way back down from the top.

 Pretty soon we made it to mile marker 2. At this point we stopped to look for sheep. Sarah said they are usually out on the mountainside but there was none to be found. It was interesting because at 2500 feet up the trees disappeared: We had made it above the tree line.
  With the trees gone we could see further than ever before. The Twin peaks were visible and it seemed we were standing at eye level with them. At this point the official "trail" ends and what the park considers the hike is over. We however continued off trail to the complete top to hike over the ridge to see the other side. The trail we hiked is called "Twin Peaks Trail" because it takes one to see the Twin Peaks, we however hiked an additional mile to the top to overlook the valley.
    The final mile was very difficult. I had to stop every 10 feet or so to catch my breath. The trail was gone and I was following Sarah's made up path. The slope had increased from a nice slope to having to climb and at some points I resorted to crawling on all fours, literally.
   FINALLY after four hours of hiking we made it to the top. I was SO glad to have made it and the sight was a beautiful one to behold. As you can see from the pictures below we were quite high up, up in the fog...the fog that from the lake seems to sit on top of the mountain, because it does! I WAS IN THE FOG!
At the top! Fog and all!
Tired but smiling, I made it! The CSP Golden Bears EXTREME shirt is very fitting.
Click on the video below to see the panoramic view from the top!

     I was looking forward to the hike back down thinking it would be easy. Well, it was not. The first mile was the most difficult. Just as I had to crawl and literally climb up so I had to slowly meander back down. Since it had rained the night before it was very muddy and this made for a slippery slope.
     I know my mom is reading this, so don't freak out but I must tell you about how I fell! T'is a great story and Sarah said that it was epic being my first Alaskan fall...
      I was hiking down, still on the most strenuous part the first mile and Sarah pointed out the clouds that were lifting over Twin Peaks, I looked up and due to the non-linear landscape I lost my balance. That combined with the muddy slope and very steep incline resulted in me to first slide and then roll. I seriously thought I was going to continue to roll for a while BUT I threw my hands out stopped myself and landed softly in a pile of weeds.
    I glanced up at Sarah and Rosie (the dog) quickly came to lick my face. I was fine and I started to laugh. At that point Sarah laughed to. It was scary for that moment but looking back it was funny. I lost my balance because I glanced up at a mountain while standing on un-level ground, looking at un-level ground. I got back up, mud on my shirt and pants but in good spirits.
    Sarah and I continued the hike down, and we continually re-enacted my fall laughing about it, nothing hurt but my ego :)
    We made it to the bottom in a little over an hour. The hike down really made my quads feel the burn. By continually planting my feet and having to stop the shock is absorbed in my quads and today I still feel it. My toes were pressed up in the front of my hiking boots due to the slope which resulted in blisters, BUT it was an AMAZING hike. Would I do it again? Yeah, but I think I'll wait a week until my legs recover :)

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