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Opinion

Halibut, the universal name for a life changing hike

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May 4, 2012

Our captain was a young woman, fair in beauty and seemed groomed into the family business. A Dutch couple Hank and Marianne, and a German woman Olena were being dropped off at Halibut Cove with me, but they were only going for a half-day hike to the Grewingk glacier. My destination was 40 miles to the other side of the bay at Haystack rock. Naturally, our company converged off the boat into the wilderness.

Muted stones of dark blue, khaki and burgundy that fit together like dishes in the kitchen sink filled the beach. Fish bones stuck out of the rock crevices next to the tide line of dried tubular seaweed. A deep, but narrow, river passed along the backside of the beach with icy-coldness. The glacial waters had a creamy taste that was just as distasteful as drinking saltwater.

A large cairn of rocks marked the trail to the glacier as I followed behind the others. They were domestics that liked the feel and touch of nature. They were all on long holidays and sought out Alaska to get back to the ruggedness and natural beauty that had left their countries bereft.

However, they were afraid of our culture of guns and Olena piped up about the possibility of bears. I told them about the large grizzly that was rumored to be in the area of the river, but that I had some bear mace just in case.

A liberal girl with a high forehead at the cannery told me about how bear mace was allowed on her campus—it’s illegal to use on people—though guns, tasers and pepper spray are banned.

Just like them, I bought into this fear when hiking in Glacier National Park and purchased my bear mace there. During our walk, I daydreamed of running into a bear in the wilds by myself; every scenario showed me standing on top of a dead bear pumping my fists. It was always dramatic and I was always victorious.

The dirt trail had the consistency of a dugout canoe with pine needles scattered over it. It was single-file wide and the glacier loomed through the evergreens that descended into its melting bowl.

The glaciers look blazingly white from the airplane, but at ground level, it was different looking up into the ice. Light refracted through the ice in a blue that I had only seen as a kid crawling through snow tunnels we made from the snowplow. The ice boomed and shook the lake in its cracking.

Our single-serving friendship splintered as I left them at the Lagoon Trail. A feeling of melancholy lingered at the beginning of the trail as I pushed through a big bush at the trail’s entrance. Then there were more bushes. These bushes held large maple leaf-like leaves the size of Frisbees. Thorns stuck out from its limbs, the trunk, and underside of the leaf.

My boots struck dirt, but my arms and legs absorbed hundreds of scratches that looked sacrificial. The guidebook I purchased in Homer mentioned that this trail was primitive and had some fallen down logs. This trail felt like it only existed in my mind and that I was plunging through the forest blindly. It was more of a suggestion, if anything.

Christopher Pagels is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.