AK 2010, Day 44: Hike to Crow Pass
Compton (my college rugby buddy) and I are 45 minutes outside of Anchorage, headed toward her family’s vacation rental home in the ski resort town of Girdwood. It’s a gorgeous day, the sun reflecting brightly across the mudflats of Turnagain arm. We drop our bags at the house and head for the trail, just six miles down a seasonal gravel road in the Chugach National Forest. Tall, wide spruce trees drip with fog and a bright green layer beneath reminds me we’re back in the coastal boreal forests of the Pacific Northwest. The smell is invigorating.
On our way out the door, I take note that Compton’s wearing running shoes, shorts, and a cotton t-shirt. Later, she’ll throw on a light long-sleeved layer. She told me to dress for a run, not a hike, so I’ve skeptically put on my skin-tight black running pants, a 50/50 shirt, my Patagonia fleece and a neon pink “tech top” (as outdoor gearheads call them) to cut the wind, and my Nike’s. We’re going on 7-miles of “single-track” (a fancy way of saying “narrow trail”) and we’ll gain 2,000 feet in elevation in the first half of that. It’s a “warm” and clear day, but I get cold easily. To me, if I stop moving I’ll freeze. To Compton, this is a balmy 45-degree day.
To Compton, the Crow Pass trail is also a walk in the park. Last summer she placed in the top ten in a 32-mile single-track race outside San Francisco that gained 6,000 feet in elevation. Two summers ago, she placed 2nd in the Juneau marathon. When I ask her about distance running, she says “After a certain point you’re just running off the hay you already have in the barn.” Fair enough. She’s at her best when running downhill on single-track alpine trails with loose shale, a racer’s number pinned to her back and blowing in the chill breeze. Comparatively, I’m at my best when lying on a couch reading a book.
[She’s just taken a handful of snowmelt and scooped it into her mouth, dousing her head with the rest of it. In the next second, she’s upright again and crossing the waterfall with ease. I wonder what it would feel like to be able to move so adeptly? Later, when I ask her how much time she spends looking where her next step will be and how much she spends taking in the views, she says about 90% is on the views. “I grew up walking on this kind of terrain,” she says, though she has no ego about it. I’ve noticed that about hiking with lots of Alaskans…they don’t seem to slow down even if the terrain is rocky, willow thickets, or high bush cranberry. They just keep going, eyes up, ever the outdoor enthusiasts.]
Still, we make good time up the pass, waving to day hiker’s who have taken the parallel trail down in the valley below us. There’s ruins from Monarch Mine, waterfalls, and up top a tarn (glacial lake) and Raven Glacier. We pass two Forest Service cabins, one for an employee and one for rent. The employee cabin looks shut down for winter, but I peak inside and see an open box of Triscuit crackers and a bottle of Chalula hot sauce on the table. On the way back down, I take a few snapshots of the valley views and we make it back to the car just 20 minutes before needing headlamps. A good, fast, chilly adventure—or a walk in the park—no matter how you look at it, I’m glad to be in the Chugach with my friend, seeing new terrain and getting a few more miles under my feet.