It's been a long time since I've stayed at a place with a shared bath. Fortunately, my single room at Qupquigiac Inn was just adjacent to one that's spotlessly clean. As nature has intended it to be, my bladder woke me up sometime at 1 AM. In my half-asleep-half-awake state of mind, I opened the door to the loo without knocking. It wasn't locked. And there sitting on the throne was a woman staring back in horror at me. "Hi . . . I mean, sorry!", was all I could say. Not the best place for backpacker's introduction eh?
|breakfast spread at Qupquigiac Inn|
Just before 8 AM, I went to the communal kitchen where a simple serve-yourself breakfast of cereals and brewed coffee was waiting. It was a quiet morning but I was expecting the woman to barge in and slap me in the face for interrupting her call of nature earlier. But she was nowhere in sight, most likely already checked-out. Sharing the table with me instead was a couple from Connecticut (who also arrived the previous day like me), making frantic calls to their airline for their missing baggage. Not the best way to start a trip no?
Promptly at 8:15 AM, a white van came. Out of the driver's seat emerged Dave, who was to be the guide/cook/driver for this "Mountains & Glaciers" multi-activity trip organized by Get Up And Go Tours. Dave has the best of both worlds in North America, spending summers in Alaska and winters in Florida running kayaking trips. After brief introductions and an outline of what we will be doing, I finally met the people I will be traveling with for the next six days: Dmitri from New Jersey, Sherry from Texas, and childhood buddies John, Russ and Nick from Chicago. We were all visibly excited at what Dave had in store for us right that first day - a day hike to a glacial tarn.
We drove out of Anchorage via Glenn Highway and bought more provisions at a huge grocery store in Palmer. We climbed up towards Hatcher Pass and into a dirt road with a stunning view of mountains all around. At the trailhead, no signs of civilization can be seen except for other cars parked roadside. The day was splendidly sunny and as Dave pointed out, it was a great day for a hike. With our daypacks and packed lunch, our 3 mile hike up to Lower Reed lake began, deep in the Talkeetna mountains.
But first, let's dig some history. Only 143 years ago, this beautiful view I saw including all of Alaska was still part of the Russian empire. Managing a distant property however became a liability for the empire that in 1867, Tsar Alexander II authorized its sale to the United States. For only $7.2 million dollars (about $113 million today) the United States gained an additional 586,412 square miles of territory. Despite the bargain price, there was public opposition to the sale, deeming it a waste of money for a property so remote.
However, the Klondike Gold Rush in 1896 changed the American people's view of Alaska from wild wasteland to wild golden dreams. Thousands of people went up north, in this new territory, into lands that were inhospitable yet utterly rich, in search of that shimmering, shining gold. The Russians must have been shaking their heads in disbelief. The gold rush fever caught on in many other parts of Alaska. Today, remnants of this gold rush can be seen at many abandoned, crumbling mines and huts.
|guide Dave checks out an abandoned miner's hut while munching on energy bar|
About half an hour after our hike to the Lower Reed lake began, we came to an abandoned hut, part of what used to be the Snowbird mine village. It looks so lonely being the only sign of civilization in the whole valley. While gawking at this rotting hut, I was curious how people in those days must have endured long winters with no electricity and certainly no Internet.
Past the hut, we crossed a footbridge over a raging stream. The trail turned into a steep switchback that got us sweaty until we reached a small waterfall. We took our lunch break here, a much-deserved break just before negotiating the most challenging task ahead - scrambling over an expansive field of huge boulders. A stream ran underneath these boulders which made it more intimidating. For almost an hour, hopping from one boulder to the next became a strain to my poor knees; I was ever mindful of my footing - one misstep could lead me to a serious injury.
The path thankfully was easier once we passed the boulder area. Other hikers weaved in and out of our view, a few of them walking with their dogs. We followed the course of the stream, past a small lake with a soggy shore. Those of us behind somehow didn't follow Dave who was already walking on the opposite side of the lake. Dmitri and Nick merely took off their shoes and waded into the freezing water. Since the prospect of hypothermia wasn't appealing to me, I found a way to hopscotch across a series of rocks and voila, I made it without getting wet.
Almost 3 hours since we started, we finally reached Lower Reed lake. Glacial silt has turned the lake's color into turquoise. The water is frigid but that didn't stop three of the guys in our group to jump right into it. As for me, I was happy just lying there in the soft grass, remembering how this stupendous view of a lake hemmed-in by granite peaks reminded me of Chile's Torres del Paine.
After a short rest, we hiked again on the same trail, back to the punishing boulders, into the switchbacks, past the abandoned miner's hut and by 4 PM - or a total of 6 miles - we were back into the van. Considered moderately challenging in terms of difficulty, the hike to Lower Reeds lake was one one of the most exhilarating and scenic I've done. If only we had a longer time, I would have wanted to go up further into Upper Reed lake and even into the wreckage of a B-29 Bomber which crashed on a nearby glacier in 1957.
We drove for another hour into King Mountain State Recreational Site, a campground nestled beneath King Mountain and right next to Matanuska river. We set up our own tents while Dave got himself busy preparing our dinner. Over a crackling bonfire and convivial conversation, we capped a really long day feasting on wild Pacific salmon. Who says hikers eat only energy bars?
(Note: Trip was arranged by Get Up and Go!, a locally-owned adventure tour company based in Anchorage, Alaska)