Getting Out

Late November. Gray sky, chance of snow, high twenties. We lose four minutes of precious daylight a day.

Two voices argue inside my head. One says: stay inside, read, eat cookies, and take a nap. The other says: get outside now while there’s still a sliver of daylight. My healthy angel wins, so Jim and I grab our cleats and winter gear and drive to Chugach State Park.

Cars and trucks, hikers, sledders, fat-tired bikers, and dog walkers beat us to a crammed parking lot. While the trails in town offer nothing but lumpy ice, here we find hard-packed snow.

At the crest of the first heart-thumping hill we are rewarded by a rare sight: Denali, suspended like a mirage in a strip of pale blue sky. A gift!

We descend to the stout wooden bridge over Campbell Creek. Black water roars beneath us. Ice shelves jut over the banks, and icy mushroom caps sprout from the tops of exposed boulders. We detour from the main trail to a favorite loop that parallels the creek. Last fall, this trail was impassable, water flowing over it from weeks of rain. Now, the spikes on our boots scritch, scritch across frozen overflows and weak ice that sometimes breaks through to watery muck. More water rushes through the forest than we’ve ever seen this time of year. Deep narrow channels, gushing springs, flowing ponds.

In my childhood, we could rely on winter. Snow fell before Halloween, stayed until April. Occasionally, a January Chinook would blow in and melt the snow, but another blizzard would lay the blanket down again. Now, there is no normal. Freeze/thaw. Snow/rain. April blizzards. October rains. We can only adapt.

Up and over the undulating landscape, the trail is busier than usual. People and dogs. We greet each one with equal joy.

After an hour, we’ve climbed back to the main trail about a mile from our starting point. By the time we’ve sprinted back to the bridge over the creek, the sun is well on its slide below the horizon and Denali hides behind the clouds.

Back at the car, we’re warm, foot-sore, and weary, happy we broke free of our cocoon. Thankful to live in a place where wilderness is just within our grasp, if we just take the time to reach for it.

Blog: Getting Out