I took advantage of this summer without a triathlon on the horizon and did a popular local hike that I had never done in the 14 years since moving to Juneau. (Yes…I could hike and train for a triathlon, particularly the way I train and what my goals are, but I didn’t. I didn’t even hike that much here in Juneau prior to triathlon training as I always let other things take priority).
The hike, usually referred to as the Juneau ridge hike, first climbs Mt. Juneau, then continues along a ridge, before descending down into Granite Basin and out on the same trail that you started on. I knew little else before setting out.
I woke up about 4am, not an uncommon time for me. Knowing that heat was coming fast, I wanted to get an early start. Figuring I would be quick to get ready in the morning (which has never actually happened except when I was in middle school and wanted to get first chair on the ski lift), I hadn’t prepared the night before. That slowed me down considerably since I hadn’t used the gear all season. I brought my running pack in case I wanted to run on the easy areas. First, I had the wrong water bladder. When I found the right one, it didn’t have a nozzle. Fortunately I found one that would work and eventually I had everything else together that I needed plus a little extra. We were off.
Sophie (my dog) and I were on the trail about 6:20am.
Not 20 feet into the trail, I was glad that I had put Sophie on a leash.
I was soon reminded that climbing mountains is nothing like a gentle trail or run training. When I train for triathlon, I base it off of time. Thus, even if I were to throw in some hills, I know I will be done at about a certain time. Since I don’t know the time when climbing, I use my eyes as a guide. Looking up at a mountain is always daunting. How can I possibly climb that high? Then, as you near the top, you inevitably think you are at the top at least 3 times.
We made the top of Mt. Juneau in about 2.5 hours. Steep climbs wear me out, and I was already tired, but figured the hard part was behind us (spoiler alert…it wasn’t). We stopped for a quick bite and continued.
My eyes continued to deceive me. I kept looking up at the mountains ahead of me and thinking – there is no way that I can hike over or around that. Too steep. Too rocky. I kept reminding myself that I was fine where I was, and I just needed to keep moving and following the trail. I was heading the right direction and it would either take me on a safe route, or I could turn around. This is a very popular route that many people do regularly, and chances were pretty good that it would take me a safe route despite what my eyes were telling me.
And so it did. The trail went up and down. I naively pictured a nice easy walk along the ridge after topping Mt. Juneau. Sometimes I forget that I live in Alaska, where there may be no nice easy, grassy, calm, ridges. It continued to be very slow going, and I managed to lose the trail a couple of times. Once due to snow, and once because the terrain just didn’t seem to hold a trail. Both times were pretty easy to find, and all in all the trail is really quite fine to navigate.
I kept thinking the terrain would get easier, but it really didn’t until the very end. It seemed to drag on and on with slow mileage. It was a gorgeous day (hot, but lovely) with streams and pools and snow to play in. Unfortunately, I’m quite horrible at stopping to just enjoy myself. I also realized quickly that the trip was going to take longer than I had anticipated and we had to get back to let our older dog out.
Fortunately, there was one stream on the way down that I stopped to take shoes off to cross. When I was putting them back on, Sophie enjoyed laying in the stream and getting some much enjoyed temp regulation.
We plodded along, picked up pace for the last couple of miles, and finished our hike in just under 7.5 hours.
Sophie is an incredible little dog (when not barking at everything that moves) and navigated the terrain far better than I did – including hopping rocks and crossing streams. A couple of times I picked her up, but I suspect that only made me feel better and she would have been fine jumping up or down on her own. She was tired though! For a short period…and then she was ready for more.