Frank E. Baker

The eagle circled below us and quickly gained elevation, then soared deeper into the narrowing valley. Within minutes, it disappeared behind a mountain ridge near the base of 6,821-foot Calliope peak, a snow-clad mountain visible to anyone hiking South Fork (Eagle River) Valley in Chugach State Park.

 I was certain it was a golden eagle, which I’d seen before in this area. Its head was not white, but the bird was too large to be an immature bald eagle.

On the Parks Highway headed for Palmer, Wasilla, Big Lake and farther north; or points along the Knik River if you turn right onto the old Glenn Highway, we’ve all passed by the shoe-shaped, tree-covered knob at Mile 29.6—a unique feature that nearly rivals the “Butte” in distinctiveness.

With this warm tail-end to winter, I should have expected the creek would have a lot of open water. Bordering each side were thick ice slabs, or ledges. Some of the ledges were nearly four feet above the creek and often slanted downward toward the water, making traction difficult.  My Kahtoola micro-spikes wouldn’t fit over the feet of my Neos waders, so traction was sketchy as I slowly made my way upstream.

Sinking into the snow with each step, I didn’t know which footprints to follow March 3rd as I started up 5,001-foot Harp Mountain in South Fork (Eagle River) Valley. There were about four sets of tracks, but they dipped several inches into the snow and none seemed very good.

I was suddenly reminded of the highly-charged political campaigns for the office of U.S. President. If people remained on the same trail, I thought, maybe a good one would emerge. But instead, there is a major divergence – creating several trails ranging from mediocre to poor to abysmal.

 

After weeks of relative calm in and around Eagle River, strong gusting wind, on Feb.17 caught Pete Panarese and me off-guard.

As we reached the 3,510-foot summit of Flattop, we dashed for shelter under a large rock, where we regrouped for the second phase of our climb. Then we set out along the ridge, to the southeast, toward Peak 2, and then possibly, Peak 3.

 I quickly pulled a balaclava over my head, turned up the hood on my Gortex jacket and put on warmer gloves. We had a quick snack and some water before continuing our hike.

It doesn’t matter who we are or where we live, we are drawn to nature because we are nature at the molecular level, or as the late astronomer Carl Sagan opined: “…our bodies are composed of the same elements in stars …we are essentially star stuff.”

I stood on the edge of Matanuska River for a long time deciding whether to cross. It was March 9, 2014, and the weather had been relatively cold during recent weeks, with very little snow. I could see the remnants of snow machine tracks on the frozen river, so I decided to go.

Clip and snip, snip and clip…there’s something deeply rewarding about making modest improvements to a trail that one frequents, a trail that doesn’t seem to receive attention from park authorities or anyone else.

Budgets are strained these days, and it seems that if we wait for agency to work on trails, it just doesn’t happen. Organized volunteer groups such as the Boy Scouts are

excellent resources for proposed trail projects, but then the question of liability arises and the best of intentions often falls by the wayside.

Impatience works peculiar quirks

In the minds of restless men;

they’ll venture forth in the frigid north

Again and again and again.

— Anonymous

While the verse above might sound like Robert W. Service, they were actually written by me, but since I don’t credit myself with being much of a poet, I’ve tagged it “anonymous.” The lines popped into my head as I recollected a ski trip into South Fork’s Eagle Lake on Jan. 14 of this year after a light snowfall that might have been too light.

The swishing of skis on the frozen lake’s thin layer of sand-dry snow and the click of ski poles against the ice were the only sounds as I worked my way across Eklutna Lake Jan. 20 under a three-quarter full moon. I’d brought a headlamp, but with the high-angled moon reflecting off the snow, it wasn’t needed.

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