Summer is here.
It arrived with cool breezes and bright sunrises in the early mornings of May. Last summer the ice and snow didn’t melt from the Chugach Mountains until the early/middle of July. This year the sun has swept the mountains; the rivers and streams run ramped with the eager thrill of melting winter. I started hiking up the snow banks on Flat Top the first week of May. The snow was soft and compact leaving enough grip to make it to the top and enough cushion to slid down the face of the mountain in snow pants. In my eager excitement to indulge in what seemed to be an early summer, Chad and I took a canoe out of town to Lake Eklutna .
Lake Eklutna is about 35 miles outside of Anchorage; it is the first place I saw the Northern Lights ripple in their green dance across the sky. Lake Eklutna , encapsulated by rocky shores, wooded trails, towering mountains and glacier water heads, opens the eyes of us city dwellers to the reality of just how close we are to the pristine.
once we arrived, I pulled my Chevy around to the trail
head, and Chad and I made our way down the loose gravel on the hill that spilled into the rocky, snow littered shore. We had about an eighth of a mile to carry the canoe. There were about a dozen people spread across our side of the shore and not a single kayak or canoe in the lake. The center of the lake was still frozen and the breeze rippled the surface of the water rigorously. The wind was rustling through the unzipped coats and loose strands of hair that dotted the shore. Though the sun was out, the wind was quite brutal and chilly.
Along the shore where the greening Cottenwood trees met the rocks, all eyes gazed with tight hands on dog leashes and children collars. A black bear was weaving in and out of the tree line less than 100ft away. He scooted and hopped along on his way and most of the feet on the beach ran to catch a glimpse of him at the next trail head. This was my first bear experience in the wild, though it did feel more like an outing at the zoo.
Chad and I went back up
to the Chevy to unload the canoe. After I parked, Chad said that he turned around to see the bear cross the trail 12 feet from him. The herd of people followed at little distance.
The trek down to the lake was a muddy mess. Chad wore his brand new shoes and was almost in tears at their mucky state. A nervous passersbyer asked us if we were experienced. Chad had grown up canoeing across Alaska and I had my fill of canoeing the rivers and lakes in Tennessee. The passerbyer looked at us doubtingly and gave us advice on where to paddle. “If you go up wind first you may have enough energy to get back to the shore. You wouldn’t want to carry that thing on the ice.”
Chad and I looked at each other. “Yeah, I think we can manage it,” I said trying to convince myself more than the concerned stranger.
“Alright,” he said not sure whether to believe us or not.
After we got the canoe in the water, Chad started giving me the pep talk, now trying to convince himself that this was manageable. The water jumped and splashed on
the muddy shore as my feet sank in waiting for us to launch. After we pushed off, breath held tight, all of our fears settled into the slow current whose top layer was only flirting with the volatile wind.
Though there was little risk of flipping at this point, the cool thing to do in Alaska is wear your life jacket. Sure you may not look like a bad ass that can swim, but if that boat tips over and your body freezes in the glacier lake, at least your head is above water!
We followed the current away from the beach and along the ice bank of the shore. After a while we paddled into the center of the lake where the frozen sheet of ice rose and fell with the breath of the wind. In the stillness we pulled in our paddles. The mountains towered over our heads on three sides, leaving us feeling smaller than ducks in a puddle. Out in the center of the lake, the ice was melting. As the wind brushed the pieces of ice along the current; their collision made the subtle tinkling sound like tiny glass wind chimes.
followed the bed of ice until the frozen lake met the shore a few miles down. After an hour or so, I was shocked to see how far we had come. The haul back was a test of our deepest compatibility. The wind was now against us and we dug our oars into the water and pushed ourselves forward. There was no stopping, or the wind would blow us back. After our arms tired out on 20 separate occasions of not stopping, we made it back to the shore and jumped out, my feet hitting the cold lake and mud to pull the canoe to a rocky shore and salvage what was left of Chad’s new shoes. Somehow had enough strength to bring that canoe back across the rocks and ice up the hill.
Windows down, and canoe on top, Chad and I made our way back over the 8 mile winding road back to the highway. We were off to our next great adventure…the Cabin Tavern.
Chad and I have a friendship made up of few words and intense understanding.There are few people who you can share the fullness of moments without words and both be embracing
the same concept, making trips like this ideal.
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