Taking a short break from writing about Indonesia, but there is still much more to come. For now, enjoy the next installment of my Alaska adventure. This post is a follow-up to “Blue Lake Pt. 1.” Part 3 is still to come. Thanks for reading!
Stepping into the cold wet air and gazing into the valley blanketed in fog, I felt both alienated and alive. The rim of the valley was a hazy silhouette in the distance, the ice of the lake an unnatural neon blue. We left the cabin just before noon, bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, queasy from hastily prepared Spam and rice, our clothes heavy and damp from yesterdays’ hike. We ambled over mossy boulders slippery with morning mist and across the ice field toward the northern rim of the valley, the base of our next climb. I was leading and Angela followed close behind. We had a fight that morning and were hardly speaking, encompassed in our silence, the gray-white ice at our feet and slate-gray sky above. Everything was an uneasy stasis, as if time had stopped moving, or forgotten all about us.
The climb of the valley’s northern lip was slow and laborious. Trail markers dotted the hillside while the path beneath our feet was always on the verge of disappearing. There was certain a mirth to the climb; a bad omen, if you will. I grew impatient quickly, abandoned hope of following a path and decided to make my own instead. I grabbed a rock above my head and a screaming streak of white flashed before my eyes! I yelped and nearly lost my balance. A white ptarmigan had burst from within the rock like a ghost, fluttering its wings in a terrified stupor, landing on a rock to my left and resuming its pecking and bawking stupidly at nothing. I cut my hands on roots and rocks, shimmied around boulders, traversed swells and divots before reaching the coveted trail marker at the top of the hill. I grasped the rusted pole as if to throttle it, panting, sore, triumphant. The cabin at Blue Lake a tiny dot in the valley below. The wind whistled in my ears, I felt close to the clouds. Angela appeared on the west side of the hill a moment later, her steps slow and measured, her face flushed at the cheeks. She too grabbed the trail marker for support and through her heavy breathing said, “This is the trail, “ pointing to where she’d just come from. “It was hard to find…but I found it.”
Over the peak of the adjoining hillside the trail again grew hazy. A layer of snow, white and smooth like frosting, smeared the ridgeline below, pine trees poking from beneath like green candles. We slipped over flattened grasses and dead flowers into a light mist. Our boots squeaked in the mud, blending with the quiet moan of the wind. Farther and farther I moved down the hill, and up above Angela was shrinking. Her short, nervous gasps and the slipping of her boots on the grass were barely audible, like the soundtrack to a dream.
I waited for her at the bottom of the hill, contemplating the ridgeline, the snow, rising and falling in a smooth arc, dropping off on both sides suddenly to a frozen valley hundreds of feet below. When Angela was again beside me we discussed the situation briefly. I was beginning to worry, but I didn’t want this to show. She was winded, but was holding onto her determination, which I envisioned as a cinder block where her heart was supposed to be. We decided it best to take the ridgeline in the middle, and take it slow. What other choice did we have?
We kicked our boots deep into the snow to create footholds. Progress was slow, but I was relieved to find our boots held decent traction. The fog had cleared some on the ridgeline and the sky was a patchy blue. I remember the intense quiet, the lonely wind whistling through the pines and the crunching of our boots in the snow. A bald eagle soared over a distant peak and dove back into the valley. For a moment, I could glimpse the beauty of the mountains, the calm emptiness of nature, the serenity that comes from living without rules, but only for a moment, and then my fears returned.
And then the ridgeline ended, and the trail reemerged from beneath the snow like a child playing hide-and-seek, overgrown
with yellow grasses, sloping upward steeply, swallowed by rocks that rose nearly vertical from the ground.
We, again, grew separated, as if the mountain were looking to keep us apart. My legs quickly grew weary from supporting my body and backpack, and I was forced to pull myself up by my arms. Everything was about The Next Move. Left hand to outcropped rock. Right boot into divot in the rock. Don’t lose balance. Don’t look down. The trail dead-ended suddenly at a massive boulder.
Then I looked down.
A drop no less than fifty feet, through crooked branches, over pointed rocks, into the frozen valley. I had a moment of genuine panic. “If I fall, then I’m dead,” I thought. A lump rose in my throat. My whole body tensed. I clung to those loose rocks with every last vestige of my strength, proving nothing against the fear of falling to my death. I glimpsed myself from afar, realized how insignificant I was clinging to the edge of an abyss, then was overcome by a strange fury, sending a surge of power through my veins, hauling me over the boulder and pulling me up the remaining cliffside to the peak.
A steep grassy slope flattened by mountain goat footprints. I took my pack off and lay on the hillside, closed my eyes and listened to the wind, sensing the vast space in which it moved.
One minute passed, then five. Where was Angela? I inched my way to the edge of the cliff, worried my boots would slip on the grass, tried to catch a glimpse but could not see her.
“Angela!” I yelled, my voice echoing tremendously against the faraway mountains.
I called again, my voice mirrored and thrown back at me.
Had she fallen? Gotten hurt?
Then, very faintly, I heard her voice floating from far down the mountain. “I’m here!” she yelled.
Intense relief swept over me. “Are you okay?” I yelled.
“I don’t know where to go!” I could sense the same panic in her voice that I experienced during my own climb and figured she too must be stuck at the boulder.
“You need to haul yourself over!” I yelled, hoping my voice was clear amongst all the echoes, the false voices that blurred to a mocking laughter. I sat at the edge of the cliff, hugged my knees and waited. I cannot recall ever feeling so afraid for someone else’s life.
She finally emerged, tugging at clumps of grass, then stumbling to her feet and breaking into an awkward run, collapsing beside me.
Sweet, syrupy relief.
I pulled her to close me, hugged her and kissed her cold cheeks. She was limp as a rag doll.
“You’re alright! I’m so happy you’re alive!”
“I’ll come to you,” she said, “I’ll always come to you.” Her voice was faded and distant, as if it had come from below, swallowed and inverted by the frozen valley, cut by the jagged rocks and spindled roots, threaded with a hollow triumph and edging despair.