I am one of those people who always believes I've fully recovered from a hard effort long before I actually have. I don't know why. I guess slumming just doesn't suit me. I take my fatigue and perceive it as laziness. Then I rally until something simple takes me down hard, and the process begins again to a lesser degree until I finally am fully recovered. I know the 24 Hours of Light was no Iditarod, but it wasn't a Sunday stroll either. I wish I thought about that before I set out today on a 12-mile hike with lots (LOTS) of steep elevation gain.
(Yes, I totally took a self portrait at the peak with the giant cup of Diet Pepsi I had been suckling all the way up. I do loves me a tub o' caffeinated beverage.)
Hoofing up Mount Juneau felt pretty good. I wasn't moving very fast, but then again, I haven't done all that much hiking this season to be in great shape for it. And anyway, Mount Juneau is a mean one - gains about 3,000 feet in two miles. Half the time your nose is nearly touching the trail, your palms are embedded with sharp rocks and you forget what it's like to walk bipedal. So of course I was going to be tired at the top. That's no reason not to keep walking along the ridge.
A cold, hard crosswind needled through my meager layers as I made my way down the peak and across the first of many snowfields. After crossing the second knoll, I looked back and realized that the terrain I had tread just minutes before was nothing more than a snow bridge - a steeply overhanging one at that - along a cliff that plummeted hundreds of feet down. That discovery made me feel a little sick to my stomach, and I started making more effort to go around the snow on mud and rock. But often that was as good as Class 3-plus scrambling, and I started to feel the effort of the afternoon.
As I picked my way along the rock outcroppings, I hoisted myself onto a boulder just as a loud, piercing screech erupted right in front of me. I looked up as the bald eagle I had nearly stepped on spread its giant wings - a span as long as I am tall - and lifted into the breeze. Without even flapping its wings it swooped over my head and rode the wind's current on a graceful arc into the distance. One more screech cut short by the blasting wind, and it was gone.
Over the next knoll the rain started to come down, suddenly, with driving force. That and the howling wind left me feeling spooked out. I don't think thunderstorms even happen in Southeast Alaska, but I have spent enough time above treeline in Utah to be sufficiently scared of them. The ridge started to narrow, and I could see a point where I would have no choice but to cross a steeply slanted snowfield. I had hiked far enough that going forward on the ridge was shorter than turning around, but as I looked down into Granite Creek Basin, all I could see was snow, snow and more snow. It seemed I was facing a precarious crossing on a knife ridge followed by miles of trudging through slush. So I turned around.
Feeling my way back was when I really started to crash. I ate the Pop Tart I had carried with me, but it didn't help at all. What I really wanted to do was lie down and take a nap, but I was already partially soaked and stopping in the wind wasn't an option. My caffeinated beverage was long gone. I heard another screech and looked up to see my bald eagle circling the perch I kept so rudely interrupting. Watching it soar effortlessly over my snow-choked obstacle course filled me with a sense of peace, and even as I was wet and exhausted, I was happy to be there.
But the hike down was brutal, and by the time I made it back to the Perseverance Trail, I was weaving all over the wide, smooth path like a drunken bar hag. I couple of times I leaned against the side of the cliff just to "rest my eyes" for a bit. I really did feel like I was falling asleep, even as I plodded down the trail. I had to laugh at myself, how wasted I felt, because Juneau Ridge is really not that hard or epic of a hike. It's pretty mellow, actually. But I was completely cooked. I came home and had a good dinner and now I'm back on the caffeine, trying to rally to go catch the midnight fireworks, but I have to say, my bed is right over there, and it is (nearly) July 4, the biggest celebration in Juneau all year, but I'm just ... so ... tired.