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Published: September 29th 2009
Excursion Ridge, it looks so close. On a clear day you can see individual trees quite well from Gustavus. “Let's go there! How hard could it be?” Turns out it can be quite hard. Getting to the top of Excursion has a local history of colorful tales of slow uphill struggle and overnight bivouacs on steep wet slopes. There's no trail but there's nothing technical. It is more like bushwhacking at the edge of “Why are we doing this???” Imagine standing on a steep wet slope, reaching your arm straight out and your fingertips just touch the soil that is the slope you are trying to climb up. Now imagine that slope covered with a dense thick of thorn covered shrubs all pointing down slope, straight at you. Now go... and go. Leather gloves help a lot.
But the world changes. In 2004 one thousand acres of land was removed from Glacier Bay National Park for a hydroelectric project to power the town of Gustavus. The access road to the power facility creeps uphill towards the base of the ridge and creates a route that gets you a lot closer. And then came Google Earth and good GPS units that
work in the trees. In Google Earth I look for the open glades we call 'muskeg' - mossy fens with a few stunted trees, easy walking. By stringing together as much muskeg as possible you can reduce the struggle in the forests. It's tougher to identify the steep slopes of shrubs higher up - you can't be completely sure what the vegetation will be like until you are there...
So when we started up Excursion I had two routes loaded into the GPS. One looked a little less steep but a bit longer. The other was less certain. We've found that a GPS alone is a lousy way to navigate in these forests. The vegetation and terrain slows progress so much that GPS navigation doesn't work so well - I've gone in circles trying to navigate with just a GPS in our forests.
Nate led the way with compass in hand. I'd read out the GPS bearing to the next waypoint and Nate would sight the compass and plunge forward. We meandered from muskeg to forest to muskeg to forest for a while. Then into the trees and up up up. The route broke out onto the open
ridge with only a short stretch thought nasty shrubs. It was my first Excursion climb but both Nate and Kim deemed it the easiest up they'd ever had, by far.
On the ridge the views were spectacular. I took a zillion photos and even got a panorama or two. We camped on a soft bed of heather and woke to find the ponds frozen at the surface.
We decided to try the other route down figuring the steeper route would be a doable. In the steepest part we chanced on a wide moose trail - deep ruts in the organic soil headed straight up the mountain! I didn't think of moose as mountain climbers until that day.
We talk of 'discovery' here at Glacier Bay - the chance to venture out in a wild place full to the brim with unknown and uncertainty. Where you walk on trails maintained by bears and eroded by the hooves of moose. Where a 'campsite' is a rough piece of flattish ground where no-one has ever camped before. Where you go out for a week and probably won't see another human being. In a place where the maps are archaic and
the landscape is ancient.
In this blog, in all my Glacier Bay blogs, I try to straddle the line between just enough and nothing at all. Just enough to spark interest, to make folks appreciated and value this place, maybe even enough to inspire a few folks to go. But not so much as to dampen the sense of discovery and challenge. No explicit directions, no 'highly recommended' targets. Just some inspiration, and maybe a few hints here and there to get you started.
Go for it. It looks so close, it is so close...
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