Sunday, May 19, 2019

A SOLSTICE TRADITION

On one of the last, long days of spring the evening light splashed over the ridges and valleys as the winds above south Anchorage hurried the clouds above.  Beneath those clouds a long line of hikers weaved their way up the west ridge of McHugh Peak.

This hiking group, the Reformed Sisters-In-Sloth, hike every Tuesday night during the course of the summer, but the Tuesday of the week of the Summer Solstice has turned into a tradition. On that Tuesday they climb McHugh Peak.

Though not the tallest mountain in the Front Range of the Chugach Mountains above Anchorage, McHugh Peak can easily lay claim to the title of most massive mountain. Its broad base, covering more square mileage than any other peak in the range, stretches from Turnagain Arm to the south and Rabbit Creek to the north and from Bear Valley to the west and Rabbit Lake to the east. This geography results in a variety of routes to choose from when climbing it—up to five or six if you know the mountain well. And those who own property anywhere along the base of the mountain can usually include at least one more option.

One of these private property options begins in the backyard of two long-time members of the group, Clarence and Maureen.  Their private trailhead, beginning on the slope in their backyard option marks the beginning of this yearly Solstice hike.

At 6 pm, the usual departure time for all Tuesday-evening hikes, the group began filing up the trail. Before long the group of some 20-plus hikers, along with numerous dogs, formed a long line along the trail. Some moved small clusters of four or five hikers. Others moved up the mountain in singles or pairs. Once above tree line one could see this long colorful bead of hikers stretching up the ridge as the wind moved the light across the landscape about them.

After about an hour some begin to turn around.  Others linger in small groups, deciding how much farther to go. Nor does it matter how far anyone goes. Everyone just goes as far their ambition carries them.

As the first “sisters” returned to the house, they settled into the annual barbecue capping off this annul hike. As people ate, the beer and wine ran freely while dogs looked on longingly. Those lucky enough to wander off-leash even managed to scrounge some tidbits.

Unfortunately, one hiker ankle broke during the climb but fellow “sisters”, including a doctor and some members of a ski patrol, got her down safely and saw her off to the hospital.

Near 10 pm the last three hikers, some of the few that had actually climbed the near 2,500 feet up the ridge and across the plateau beyond to the summit (4,301 feet), join the party.

By that time the partying had reached only its halfway point. Not until well after 11 pm, with the broken rays of the sun still streaking down through the gray ceiling over the outer edge of the Anchorage peninsula Cook Inlet beyond, did the party dissolve. Then, with final adieus, the last of us parted in the dimming light of the descending short night.

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