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Opinion

Alaskan mountain dominates its climber

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October 28, 2011

In my glossy brochure of the trails for Kachemak Bay State Park, it said the Poot Peak trail leads to the top of the mountain, but there is a snag, or lack thereof, “climbing the 2600 foot peak is hazardous due to shifting scree and rock.” Pish posh I thought to myself. If I could survive the Lagoon Trail, which was nothing more than a suggestion, then walking up this should be a delight.

A couple days prior I had hired a water taxi to get me across the Kachemak Bay from Homer to the park. The bay was relatively calm that day while the inboard motors and the keel broke the cerulean glass. The female captain slowed the boat to no-wake around Gull Island where thousands of seagulls and white and gray maritime birds squawked in a din of competing voices. This jagged rock resembled a sea stack that had an arch near the eastern tip. The captain sped away, once again drowning out the sanctuary. They dropped us off; a Dutch couple, a German woman, and me, on the Glacier Sandbar. The Europeans were only there for half a day while I would venture on for another three, well that
was until I encountered the suggestion that is the Lagoon Trail. The brochure said that the trail was “primitive.” Like a safari, the adventurer slashes the vegetation ahead of himself, bushwhacking his own path; this was not unlike the task I endured. Maple-like leaves with five lobes and a circumference of a Frisbee was spiked with thorns on the underside, limbs, and stalk having left hundreds of red scratches along my hairy arms. After four miles of the trail, I slept in a white sandy area just before the rain kicked in and slept for 14 hours.

When I reached the Ranger’s station the next day, I planned to call the water taxi at the top of Poot Mountain for a change in itinerary. My body admitted what my ego could not; I was not in prime shape as I had been last summer while hiking the Appalachian Trail. In my defense though, I felt confident in my skills, all of which I would need when I came up to the scree. The Poot Peak Trail is overgrown but as one of the Ranger’s said, “When the superintendant hiked this trail a couple of years ago with his grandson, he said
the hike was so terrible that our first priority was to clear the brush on the trail.” As I walked, the peak would flash under or over the bingo wing sagginess of the tree limbs of the thick forest. My Trekking poles kept me propped up like an inept spider.

The trail only led up to an arm of the mountain, not the true summit, my constitution would not allow such a fake summit. It was as if I needed to keep my honor, as if a white glove challenging me to a duel the white snow above the arm stood as one last stronghold beckoning me not to be a wimp. The angle of the mountain, cast in front of a spotless blue background, radically turns into a 50-60 degree slide, with the scree as a slippery foothold. Veins of these auburn/grey rocks were separated by a minefield of light green mossy tussocks, good for handholds. Mini avalanches sent me to slide several feet down, I quickly lay my body closer to the Earth. Bushy trees in the distance offer one more toehold of stability before I boulder up giant slabs of table rock. Several times in my life, I have put myself in the same position of life and death where I treat risk as a luxury. This was a tightrope; one wrong move would send me down a few hundred feet buried underneath the rubble I had unloosed. Death and burial would be solved at a moment’s notice. This is one of those things a mother does not need to know.

The top was the trickiest because the accomplished feat clouds the mind’s judgment. I was doing something I called “bouldering at its finest” as I tried to hoist myself through a deep cut that attributed to the vein of rocks that came down to the arm’s fake summit. A fine meal of gravel laid in wait for my impending fall that never came. On top of Poot Peak, my mind became a dried out sponge dunked into a bucket of water. I saw the Homer spit jut out like a thin whip in the Kachemak Bay as the focus behind of a volcanic mountain range drop back. My eyes made up the gap of the Cook Inlet by the continuation of the mountain range on my side. Clouds were marching from the northeast to the brown mountains, some tipped in white still holding glaciers from the Ice Age.

The only way to escape the southerly wind was to duck into a crevice, but this eliminated the bars of coverage on my 2007 Nokia cell phone. That’s right, mountains are perfect for cell phone coverage. So it was that I was able to call the taxi for the new arrangements. The peak was an island compassed about by a brown mountain range a crescent to the northeast to the southwest, the Cook Inlet surrounded the rest with a volcano that taxed the end of my sight due southwest from Homer. In this rocky perch, several small flowers bravely sprouted from the cracks in yellows, deep purples, and turquoise. The climb down would be hardest; jumping would be easier.

Christopher Pagels is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.