In Alaska, scores of miles are reduced before your eyes. It doesn’t help that most continental maps of the U.S. shrink the state to make it fit. Tina-Fey-as-Sarah-Palin’s infamous “I can see Russia from my house” statement almost seems plausible–until you actually do the math.
Photos hardly do this landscape justice, either. Everything is so massive that scale is all but incomprehensible. When I first studied the Kenai Fjords National Park Topographic Map (different from the online maps you can view here), it seemed useless as a hiking guide. Only a few of the many trails were indicated because it encompasses so much area, over a thousand square miles. However, this map’s utility becomes evident when you reach a certain altitude, high enough to see all the peaks in one dizzying, full sweep of the horizon.
Standing atop the ridge in the tundra section of our hike to Lost Lake, with snow and glacier covered mountains beyond alpine meadows and temperate rain forests, I felt both large and small. The town of Seward nestled between Mount Marathon and Resurrection Bay below us. So many fathoms farther lay the Gulf of Alaska and the Pacific Ocean. Although it was a clear, sunny day with great visibility (the edges of mountain peaks appeared as crisp lines against blue sky), the bead on the bay was fuzzy, thickened by the miles of air between here and there.
With packs heavy on our backs, we neared our destination at 6:30pm after four hours of uphill hiking. We took the right fork onto Primrose Trail and soon found our own little lakeside campsite. Carelessly stepping off the path while taking in the view, my left ankle rolled into one of the many little depressions on the hillside. As I winced and crumbled to my knees, I added another item to my mental checklist of forgotten gear: the Ace bandage and tape for precisely this occasion. (My first aid kit has since been updated.)
Thankfully, my twisted ankle wasn’t too bad. Just to make sure, I unloaded my pack, tightened my shoelaces and hiked around for a better view of our campsite. I returned in time to pitch my tent before enjoying a hot dinner just as the sun fell below the mountain to our west. Though the sky and peaks to our east were still bright, the temperature on our shady hillside plummeted quickly. After eating, I bundled up to wash dishes in the cold lake, reserving a thermos of hot tea to enjoy inside my tent.
After a few hours of darkness, I gradually awoke to the glow of the eastern horizon. When the sun itself came into view, I was immediately bathed in warmth. The morning air was completely still. Ellen snapped a great photo of Rick standing in front of our reflecting pool. Ground, water, sky and man were merged into one beautiful vision, perfectly capturing my mood on this hike.
The hike back was spectacular and quicker by a quarter. As I said at the top of this post, I knew that photos would fail to do justice to the scene all around us, but I gave it a shot anyway. To get the full effect, you’ll have to come see for yourself!