Fall colors were absolutely hyperactive in Donoho Basin, and I was similarly hyperactive with the picture-snapping. But truly, there are few places that get lit up in the fall like Donoho Basin, and so I returned with a smartphone packed with pics.
At a certain point, though, I have to just force myself to stop taking pictures, let go, put the camera in my pants pocket, and just enjoy.
After crossing the glacier, I emerge on the ridge line of Donoho Basin, and on the one side there’s the glacier that I just conquered, and on the other is a mess of bush and brush.
Last year I was the fearless leader and led our crew toward the general direction of the trail. Or so I thought. In reality we wound up bush-whacking it for like three hours to get to one of the lakes. Had we taken the trail, it would have been like a half hour’s hike.
I met Aline this summer. She’s a like-minded adventurer who really squeezed the most out of her first summer in Alaska, spending almost all of her free time hiking and camping and exploring the mountains and trails around McCarthy, AK. She’s also from France, originally, though she’s been in the States for quite some time now.
She read some of my posts on capitalism and socialism. We were eating together, outside on a sunny afternoon in July, and we started talking about it all. Aline’s perspective was international, it was interesting, and I’m still mulling it over.
Basically Aline’s main point (or at least the one that really stuck with me) was that she appreciated American mobility, the kind of uniquely American ability to be transient. We talked about it, and Aline expressed a good deal of sympathy for my pro-socialist and anti-capitalist writings, but said that there were many things about American individualism that she appreciated, and she wondered if we’d lose some of these things, were America to embrace socialism. As a quasi-nomad, I immediately understood her point. Read more
Last year I hiked to Donoho with four friends: Anna, Alecia, and Irish Paul, a photographer who came to visit Alaska from Ireland. Paul came to McCarthy to visit for a few days with his friends, at the beginning of the summer as they road-tripped Alaska, but when it came time for them all to pull out of town, Paul decided he would stay on for the summer and camp down by the river in a cheap Costco tent. The tent washed out in a flood, but Paul proved more resilient, staying on until the end of the summer.
I closed out my Alaskan hiking with an epic day hike to Donoho Basin. A trip to Donoho is always rewarding, but the fall colors make September particularly brilliant.
Getting to Donoho means hiking across the glacier, which isn’t easy. The glacier rolls up and down, with pools and crevices that require careful footwork as well as patience. The crooked path is the way, the better to navigate around many potential hazards. Most tourists wisely hire a guide.
McCarthy Alaska is the kind of place where pretty much no matter where you are at a given time, you can find a bush or tree to duck behind and take a leak. I generally don’t piss in town during the summer tourist season, simply for sake of preserving some small shred of professional dignity, what with my role as accountant and all. Even so, after Labor Day we start winding down, eventually bathrooms get closed down (pipes winterized), and I find myself enjoying the simple pleasure of peeing in the wild, even when I’m in town.
I’m not certain if it’s the pleasure of peeing outside or the joy in knowing that I’m remote enough to be able to do so, but either way it strikes me that this ability to pee outdoors may be something of a litmus test, some sort of (strange) criteria for me, in terms of picking a place to live. In short, the best places to be seem to be places where you can pee.
It always seems to me that it’s about a month, between the time when I start noticing that most of the leaves have started turning bright colors to the time when the trees start shedding their foliage. The leaves are starting to drop, now, and in a week or so I expect the trees to be bare.
Only a week back, I would walk right past this place, with no visibility of what was beyond the trees. Now the view is picturesque:
I was in my office last week, stressing a little bit about how much work I had to do in order to close out the books for the Lodge. Then I got a call from my friend Kris. She lives in a cabin and also works for the Lodge.
“I heard it again,” she said, the stress in her voice. Read more
As far as I can tell, I’m not coming back up to Alaska next year. Of course, I said the same thing last fall. In any event, I thought I’d post a couple of landscape pics from the last few years, by way of more Alaska nostalgia, amidst the hustle and bustle of closing up the Lodge.
It’s gotta be all shut down and winterized in just about ten days, so it goes fast. You might find yourself peeing in the restroom and hear a knock on the door: “You almost done? We gotta shut it down!” Read more
This bad ass truck has a hellacool license plate: MXY AK. I’m not sure who’s truck this is (though I should probably know) but I’m wondering if I might be able to steal that plate number and put it on a California plate. I can almost guarantee that if I’m driving around Cali with an MXY AK plate, there will be someone, somewhere who will know at least a little something about McCarthy. At the very least a McCarthy license plate would help me deal with Alaska nostalgia.
“Can I have that one?” I ask, pointing to number 8031.
“Thirty one is kind of my lucky number,” I say, a little embarrassed, feeling the need to explain.
The truth is, I’m anxious, and I feel like I need all the luck I can get because I’m about to begin a half-marathon, a 13.1 mile race, and my prior two half-marathons had ended in major injuries to my back and joints.
For those two races, I’d been training, running distances that at least approached 13.1 miles. Coming into this race, though, my running had been zilch. In fact, I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d “gone for a run.” Read more
I’ve always been interested in all of the nuances of working summers up here in the Great North. The novel that I am working on explores some of these quirks, one of which is referred to as “Angry August.” After working and living together for several months, tensions often build to the boiling point. By the time August rolls around, the shit hits the fan. People fight, they quit, and some say “fuck it!” and head home. Read more
Mid-August brought a snap of cold that hasn’t quite let up. It isn’t cold, really, it’s more like that persistent fall chill that turns the colors of the leaves.
This evening I’m sitting on a ridge above McCarthy Creek, where it’s eight in the evening and the sun is setting. Only two months ago I could stay out all night and it would never grow dark. Things change so fast here in Alaska, which I suppose is what I love so much about the place.
Ah the joys of spending the summer in a place where you can hike to a mountain peak and swing by an ice cave on your way back. It was a great end to a hike up to Bonanza Mine, my favorite hiking trail, and definitely one of the tops for this area.
The ice caves here, as elsewhere, glisten a beaming, bright blue. I set my black backpack down and watch as they shimmer and they shine, almost oceanic, and I find that I just sit there and stare at them, just like I can at the open ocean. And I can sit and ponder because there are no tourists here. I can sit and relax, listening to the rush of water from Jumbo Creek.
And so I sit. As I contemplate the ice caves I begin deliberating about whether or not to leave. Mostly this involves calculating how much time it takes to get back to the shuttle, which leaves every half hour, taking me from Kennicott to McCarthy. My calculations, however, are interrupted by the sound of falling rock. I look up to see that my black backpack has been pelted by stones. I cover my head. The stones have rolled off of the glacier. I step back and make the decision in an instant, considering it an omen that it’s time to move on from my reflective little spot in front of the blue ice caves. I’d like moments like these to last forever, but on I walk.
The California Honeydrops were rocking it out at the Golden Saloon in McCarthy on Wednesday night, and it was a blast.
For me it was a little strange to hear a Bay Area band in McCarthy. I haunt the Bay Area, during the cold winter months, but even so I’m usually still something like three hours away from the buzz of the San Fran scene or the East Bay (Oakland, Berkeley) action, and without a car, well, I rarely get out to these cultural Meccas. Lucky for me, The Honeydrops came to me, this time around, all the way up to the end of the road to our little bush community in the middle of wilds of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.