Friday night. I drive past Pyramid Peak in Turnagain Pass looking casually up. I wanted to climb it all winter but my friends are snow snobs; they'd rather ski one run of good powder 5 times than skin up a wind hammered ridge. Now that it's spring they're all out doing spring things - like gardening and river rafting. For some reason I want to get one more ski day in. Looking up at the peak thoughts come and go; "Tomorrow should be an easy day. Almost too easy. I could climb Pyramid and then go ski elsewhere..."
I spend a lazy night next to a campfire watching the moon drift over the Kenai Mountains. Ranger hangs out next to me. He misses his old friend Pharaoh who used to chase him in circles when we camped. I miss him too. That night it freezes and I shiver inside my cheap flannel sleeping bag. Ranger, in his thin coat, shivers so hard he wakes me up so I dig out a jacket and throw it over him.
The alarm sounds at 6:30 am. I sleep till 8. Coffee follows and then I jump into the car and blast to the parking lot where I strap the skis to the pack and start booting uphill. Somewhere in the back of my mind it registers that there is no snow for at least 2000'. It also registers that there is brush for 2000' but I choose to ignore these thoughts.
The "trail" lasts for about 10 feet and then I plow through thick spruce with little undergrowth. It's easy for the first 15 minutes and I quickly reach an open meadow which I begin following hoping it will hook up with the upper slopes. The meadow is an open swamp complete with swarms of mosquitoes. Ranger hates getting his paws wet and he gingerly steps around the puddles. He is also a mosquito magnet and I look at him to see dozens of blood engorged mosquitoes clinging on his coat. Soon the swamp gives way to soft rotten snow. I follow Ranger closely trying to avoid stepping where he plunges in. But the post holing grows old fast - especially after I pitch through to my waist repeatedly. We veer off the meadows and opt for the direct route through the brush and trees.
The thick trees are now replaced with thick brush and dead fall. Ranger and I have to climb up and over numerous trees - with skis on my back I have to do a contortion of sorts; lean forward, jump and then arch backwards to avoid snagging them. Ranger, who is a pretty clumsy dog, dives headfirst over the logs. Sometimes he lands properly but more often he crashes on his head. This doesn't seem to discourage him though and he happily continues to trot uphill.
After a while we descend into a deep gorge, wade across a creek and then have to bear hug up a huge dead spruce. This is followed by a steep mossy hill that I actually front point up using my whippet for purchase in the moss. When I realize what I am doing and I give myself a moment's pause. "I've only devoted an hour to this," I think. "I could give up now, cut my losses and do something fun like ski Sunburst, go rock-climbing. Bike riding." I quickly push these thoughts out of my head and continue front pointing up the moss hoping that the entire blanket I'm on doesn't peel and send me tumbling.
Ranger and I fight for another hour. Soon the dead fall is replaced by a thick underbrush. Devil's Club, newly hatched evil. And I'm wearing thin tights. I bounce along trying not to yell as the spines embed in my shins, knees, thigh and crotch. Ranger squints his eyes and continues pushing through with the occasional yelp.
2 1/2 miserable hours later we finally burst out of the trees and collapse in the snow. Ranger belly flops into the snow panting and I peel off my shoes and socks in an attempt to dry them. After a short break I pull the skis off the pack, slap the skins on and start heading uphill. The snow is soft and it is HOT! Ranger drops to his belly and burrows his nose in the snow every time we stop. For some reason this dog cannot regulate his temperature at all; he seems to be either too hot or too cold. About the only time he's perfect is in the front yard on a sunny May morning. We plod slowly up to the ridge trying not to get over heated.
On the ridge there is not a lick of wind. We take another break and begin the final plod to the summit. The final ridge is spectacular; Turnagain Arm glistens on one side and the glaciated peaks on the Kenai mountains glisten on the other. On the summit I lounge around and soak up the views. It is perfectly clear and calm and I can see everything from Isthmus to North and South Suicide. I feel like I'm at a party where all my old friends are hanging out. Blueberry Hill, Byron, Carpathian, Wolverine, Eddies. Tincan, Pastoral, Sunburst, Petes. Every aspect brings back memories of days past with good friends and family. I savor the perfect day while Ranger catches a brief nap in the sun.
Finally it's time to go. I rip the skins off and point my skis down the South face. The ski off the summit is perfect. The corn is awesome - not to soft not too hard and I fly downhill laughing. Ranger follows having a hard time in the snow. I ski the upper bowl, wait for Ranger and then ski a little further. I wait for Ranger again and then ski a little further. I want to keep going - all the way down the south west face to Seattle creek but Ranger gives me a dirty look so I reluctantly put the skins on and ski back up to the ridge.
Once we reach the ridge I rip the skins and drop the east face. The snow is softer on this aspect. Slush turns; I sink up to my shins at times and Ranger has to wade downhill and he takes forever to reach me. His tail is still wagging though!
Eventually we reach the tree and I lash my skis to the pack and we begin plunge stepping down through the moss and soft snow. The thrash starts anew and we bash down through thick brush, devils club and dead fall. The descent takes almost as long as the ascent. While climbing out of the deep gorge to gain the lower meadows the moss carpet I'm front pointing up fails and I slide downhill and fall on my face. To add insult to injury my skis smash the back of my head.
After an eternity we see the road - but we're above a cliff and dead fall slows our progress. We traverse along the top of the cliff looking for a way down. Finally we burst through the trees and stumble out onto the road bleary eyed and bleeding. A passing motorist slows, thinking we need help; I wave him by. We're both limping. It has taken us 7 hours - 4 1/2 in the brush. Ranger can barely jump into the truck and I'm not much better. I'm trashed... We drive home. The skis are going in the shed.
Epilogue - Sunday morning. I wake up at 6am and jump into the shower. Big day today. The climbing should be good. In the shower I feel funny. I can't stand up straight and my legs are like jello. Closer inspection reveals dozens of cuts, scrapes and clusters of devils club spines. I climb out of the shower and limp over to Ranger. One eye is swollen shut and he has a cut on his face. I admit defeat and go back to bed. Today I'll spend some time with my friend Mr. Needle and try to get some of this devils club of my legs and Rangers face.
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