MOUNTAIN ECHOES: President’s visit makes Lost Lake hike special

Wednesday, September 9, 2015 - 13:01
  • Fireweed leaves blaze in autumn glory above picturesque Lost Lake on the Kenai Peninsula. PHOTO BY FRANK BAKER FOR THE STAR

By early afternoon, the first stunning views of Lost Lake came into view as we hiked up through the hemlock forest and entered the green, rolling tundra where the trees were dwarfed and scattered farther apart. A gusting northwest wind sometimes made talking difficult. But above the wind was a deep and intermittent roar in the sky: aircraft, which we knew were part of President Obama’s air surveillance and security force. 

Hiking the Lost Lake Trail is always a special event, which previously in this column I named number one in a list of my top 10 hikes. But this day was even more special. The President of the United States was visiting close by to our location, President Barack Obama being only the second president to visit to the small coastal community of Seward. (The first was President Warren G. Harding in 1923).

When I was a child growing up in Seward in the early 1950s, the U.S. government in Washington D.C. seemed as distant as the moon. Alaska was still a territory. By law, Alaskans were not allowed to vote for the president in national elections. 

I recall writing letters to my grandfather in Pennsylvania, and on the return address, writing “Territory of Alaska.”

I’ve hiked just about every square foot  of the ground the president and his entourage were scheduled to see for the first time – in this case Exit Glacier, the town of Seward and Resurrection Bay. I experienced a strange sense of ownership, a kind of protective feeling that’s difficult to describe. Perhaps I’d come full circle. As a child, my world was very small, and as I grew up it became much larger.

On this day, the world once again seemed small. The leader of the free world was only miles away from where my friends and I were hiking.

The Exit Glacier area has received thousands of visitors from across the world,  from the lower 48 to Argentina to Japan to Iceland. I’ve met many of them on the trail. Countless eyes have taken in the splendor of nature’s handiwork. But the President’s eyes are powerful and far-reaching. When he and his office focus on something, it brings the world’s attention. 

Moving along the ridge above bluer-than-blue Lost Lake on this picture-postcard day, we wondered how the town’s residents were reacting to the visit. From newspaper accounts I read later, it sounded as if they welcomed him with open arms and even had some person-to-person time at one of the local stores.

Whatever one’s politics or stance on the climate change issue, it’s a significant event when the president pays a visit. 

Later that afternoon, as my friends and I plodded south along the trail with Seward and Resurrection Bay in the distance, we felt in a small way that we were taking part in this auspicious  occasion. We joked all day about being spied on by the President’s aircraft.  About eight miles into our hike, we ducked behind a small stand of dwarf hemlock trees for a bite of lunch.

“The cameras in their aircraft can probably photograph what we’re doing down here,” I said.

My friend Pete said, “On a clear day like today, one of the military’s satellites can take a photo that can tell what kind of sandwich you’re eating.”

By happenchance I trained my binoculars on a spot in the sky where I heard noise, and caught an unexpected sight: an aircraft refueling some jet fighters. By the faintness of the objects against a clear blue sky, I surmised they were at an exceptionally high altitude.

Maneuvering deftly in the wind, a pair of Bald eagles glided high over our heads. At first we thought they were part of the President’s air fleet. On a deep level it felt good to see part of the natural world completely detached from the day’s historic event.

We slowly worked our way down the trail and about 7:30 p.m. reached the southern trailhead near Mile 5, near the Seward Highway. We then drove to Mile 18 (Primrose) to get the second car. Not long after we arrived, a fleet of three Ospreys and two Blackhawk helicopters dashed overhead, headed for Anchorage.

One might think that longtime Alaskans would become inured to the state’s incredible beauty. But on exceptional days like this one, our eyes were wide like those of children. We didn’t want the day to end. We could only imagine how someone seeing it for the first time – someone like the President and his entourage – must have felt.

Frank Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River. To contact Frank:  [email protected].

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