Trek in the snow

Just got back from our scout monthly overnight camp out. A 3 mile uphill hike to John Muir Cabin, a forest service cabin. The day started on a sour note. When I arrived to pick up Sam, noted evader of all things work, was still in bed. Didn’t “remember” there was a hike that we’ve been scheduling all winter at scout meetings, or the text I sent him the night before. His dad hadn’t read the email from a week earlier about the campout. So home he stayed. When another scout hadn’t arrived by 1015 – 15 minutes past our assigned meeting time of 10 am, I called his dad. “Yes, we’re on our way. Meeting time is 11 am, right?”  Apparently, scout camp out emails are not must see tv.

We had borrowed a bunch of snow shoes for the kids from Dirk, an elementary school teacher who strives to get his kids out doing activities Juneau has to offer. I had been putting together what I thought was a fool proof ski package instead of snow shoes, so I was the only one without snow shoes. Big mistake.

We started up the trail, which is 3 miles to the cabin at 1700 feet. The first 3/4 mile is the steepest and then the trail goes sideways and gradually uphill. It’s a long 3 miles, trust me.

When we had gained elevation and got out into muskegs, there was at least 3 feet of snow. The cabin and trail is well used, so it was packed down from snow shoe traffic. I put on my skis with skins. And the skins would not bite going up hill. Downhill, they would. And no, they weren’t on backwards – there’s only one way to put them on.   So, any place I had to go uphill was a struggle. Slip and slide backwards, then fall down. And when I’d put out my arm to break my fall, it would simply plunge up to my shoulder, when my body would stop my from plunging further.

I’d take the skis off and walk. That was okay, but not great. It’s sort of like walking on a log over a creek. I had to try to stay right in the middle of the snow shoe trail or risk post holing up to my thigh. The rest of the troop pressed on in their snow shoes and arrived in 4+ hours. I was more like 6+ hours. I kept in touch with the scout master by phone so he didn’t have to worry.

It was a blue bird day as we moved up the mountain. Blue sky and the temperature about freezing. I was sweating buckets but every so often the snow on the spruce bows would give way and douse me, and it was actually refreshing.  As I trudged on, I thought about the arctic explorers that would pull 100 lbs or more sledges across the ice after having to eat their dogs to survive.   I would make it to the cabin  It was just gonna take awhile.

As I neared the cabin, the snow got much more grainy and did not pack well from the snow shoes. After a lot of post holing, I put the skis on after pulling off the skins, and the fish scales on the bottoms gave decent traction.  On I went. I could hear voices every now and then. I think after I first heard them, it was still and hour more of hiking. The cabin isn’t visible until you are almost right on it. Sighting the brown metal roofing means I’d made it.

By the time I got there, the scouts had already had something to eat and drink, and got their second wind. They had their tents sent up in the yard outside the cabin in a neat little camp site. They’d first tramped down sites for their tents with snow shoes, then made little walk ways to each other’s tents and to the cabin.  Some of them were already out exploring on their snow shoes.

For me, it was recovery mode. I stripped off my we gear and hung it over the propane cabin heater. Then I got out my jetboil and collected snow and started some coffee. I settled into the bench next to the heater, already dreading the hike back, but knowing from past experience that that hike would take care of itself.

The kids floated in and out of the cabin to warm and gossip. By now, they are well trained to put masks on when they get inside, and take them off when they go outside. It’s become second nature.

Keith and I chatted as I drank very weak hot coffee and rejuvenated.  It was a long hike, and I was tired, but not too sore and no cramps. A year ago, I had a random encounter with the pharmacist in Craig when I had a prescription renewed there, instead of here in Juneau. She suggested I take CQ10 with the prescription, and it seems like that cured the aches in my knee and elbow joints that I had written off to getting old. Almost a miracle.

The scout assigned to cooking started getting her pots and stoves and food together, and Keith gave the kids a demonstration of the different kinds of stoves we had. Soon the first batch of tortellini, basil, and sun dried tomatoes was started. Then a whole pot of hot water and tortellini fell to the floor. I was about to grab the scout and get her hands out into the snow, and was relieved to hear her say she was okay and wasn’t burned. Lessen learned about small stoves with a large pot on top that’s top heavy. Keith’s dog had a field day cleaning up the tortellini.

The kids filtered in around the table as dinner was cooking. I took out a jar of prized Yakutat smoked sockeye salmon from Nevette, along with ritz crackers and some sharp cheddar cheese. I put it out on a plate for the kids to try. It did not last long. Only one kid rated it as “just okay” and he soon had another piece in his mouth. And still another, as it must have grown on him.

Keith brings the adults a meal. This time it was pad thai and chicken, which we both enjoyed, even with some chewy noodles. Some of the kids tried the pad thai and Keith and I sampled the tortellini. Not a drop of either left.   Big hikes = big appetites.

The kids went upstairs in the cabin, and we could hear their continued gossiping of all things junior high and early high school. Keith and I swapped stories about fish and game work.  Shortly after dark, the kids drifted out to their tents, and I headed to the loft, where I guessed it would be toasty warm. I was not disappointed. I hardly remember sleep when I’m camping out. I’m not sure if remember is the right word, but I’m constantly waking up and shifting on my air mattress to another position. During these times, I can often hear Keith in his bunk or tent doing the same thing.

We were up at first light, and the kids started drifting in one by one. The cook made oatmeal, and everyone ate until it was all gone. I headed out early while the rest of the troop broke camp. I fell within 20 yards of my start, and the kids started my way to help me up. I told them I was okay and I needed to be sure I could get up myself with the ski set up I had. I rolled over, got my skis downhill, and took off my pack so I had something to push against else my arm would just sink to my armpit again. Keith harassed me from the cabin window. I had to put the skins on.

Once I got the skins on, I could see that might work. I got a little further down the hill and fell again. It was gonna take a little practice, but it would work. After that, I was off and feeling pretty good. Slow steady ski walking with the skins on. I could see some deep post holes that I skied over, and knew that walking wasn’t a good option yet.  The screws holding the binding down on the ski with my bad foot loosened, so I got the Leatherman from my pack out, tightened the screws, and put the Leatherman in my hoodie pouch as I’d guess I’d need it again, which I did a few more times.

I got down the trail a mile or more. By this time, the troop had already caught up to me and passed me by. My feet were kind of hurting as they didn’t stay in the bindings just right and so my right foot, especially, was pressing to the outside of the ski and increasingly uncomfortable. I saw there weren’t many post holes the lower elevation and so took off my skis and tried to walk. Good move.

There was a light rain falling after the snow had firmed up overnight, and now the trail was solid. I started walking and didn’t stop til I got to the parking lot. Keith and the kids were surprised to see me. They’d only arrived 10 minutes earlier and were milling around waiting for parents to show up.

We’ve got a couple brothers in the troop that moved here from Chicago a year ago. They help the rest of us get a better sense of how lucky we are to participate in scouts here where we live. With communications so simple now, they constantly relay photos and descriptions to their scout friends back home, and the kids there can hardly imagine the experiences we have here as they are largely limited to car camping there.

We piled all of the snow shoes into my car for their return, and the parents showed up to collect their kids. I duffed my pack and put it in the back seat, put my skis and poles in the roof rack, and looked forward to a hot shower and hot coffee all the way home.