Friday, August 7, 2015

Deer Mountain Hike - Lucky to Be Alive

Sometimes I'm smart. Tonight was not one of those times. Sorry Isa.

The internet said the hike is 4-5 hours roundtrip. Which usually means I can do it in 3. Either way, you probably should start earlier than 6:20pm unless you're hiking on the Solstice. Not today, when the sun set at 8:45 and it's pitch black by 10pm.

Also, you should bring a flashlight. And maybe a hiking buddy, seeing as this trail begins and ends in the dump, which is where all the cool bears go to hang out and wreak havoc. And maybe a ride home, so you don't have to walk 3 miles to your apartment after you finish your hike.

At least I brought snacks and water. And I was wearing sneakers! Woohoo!

Anyway, the trail is relatively easy on a day like today - no rain so not slippery. Most of it was pretty gradual inclines with a few flat stretches. It was a lot more leisurely than the mountains in Juneau. About 30 minutes up I hit the first viewpoint.

Looking south toward Metlakatla and Gravina Island

Another 30 minutes puts you up to the second viewpoint, which is the first time you get to see Ketchikan.

Above this second viewpoint, the trees start to get a little thinner so you have more frequent views of the city and the valleys and mountains to the north. You never get above the tree line, which is weird because the tree lines in Juneau hover around 2000 feet, and this mountain tops out just above 3000.

By the time I got to the peak (about 1hr 45min up, which includes a small break to talk with some friends I saw on the trail), the sunset was in full swing.

The peak of Deer Mountain gives you great views of Ketchikan and the lakes and valleys to the north (the two pics above), but trees block your view to the south. So I had to climb a tree to get a good view.

I spent 35 minutes exploring the peak, taking pictures, and just being in the moment. If you're not keeping track, it's now 8:40pm. I'm at the peak of a 3000 foot mountain that empties into a bear playground, and the sun sets in 5 minutes.

Totally fine.

So I jogged down the trail, but then the clouds rolled in over Ketchikan and the valley and how could I not stop to admire and take a picture of this?

I honestly thought I had more daylight. So I stopped to take some promo pics for my friend Kim's company. She sent me these little shots of peanut butter energy that are great for hiking and I promised her pics but I forgot to take them up at the peak.

And then more of just the sunset and the silhouetted trees. Because yeah.

I was shocked at how quickly it got dark. It didn't help that the clouds rolled in and the forest got denser, both of which brought visibility down to a screeching halt. Right as I was entering bear country. Awesome.

This is with a 2-second shutter speed. Trust me, it looked like a Stephen King novel.
From here on, I couldn't see a thing. I was using the LED light on my phone, which isn't very bright. It also only stays on for 30 seconds at a time. So every 30 seconds I had to stop, click three buttons, and then start going again. Needless to say, I couldn't hurry down the mountain.

I'd love to make this story more interesting by saying I saw bears or stepped in mud or fell off a cliff or something, but no. I moved slowly and surely, shining my light on the next three feet and praying that I was staying on the trail.

It takes a lot to scare me. Not startle me, or surprise me, but make me genuinely afraid. But this did it. The sheer fear of knowing that bears are most definitely all around me, and there was nothing I could do to get out any faster, nor would I have any way of not running right into them if they were on the trail, because I wouldn't see them until they were within my light radius of 3 feet.

So I sang as I walked to try to warn the bears that I was coming through, and also to try to calm my nerves a little. And the first song that came to mind, which was very apropos for my current situation, was "Lead, Kindly Light." Here are the first two stanzas:
Lead, kindly Light, amid th'encircling gloom; Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; Lead thou me on!
Luckily, the guy in the song survives, and so did I. I made it to the trailhead at 10pm, about an hour after the last bus left downtown. So after a quick stop at a friend's house to check in and tell them I was still alive, I trekked downtown.

But I got lost and I ended up in City Park. And that's when I ran into a bear. Unfortunately it was too dark to get a picture or video, and honestly I was a little too close to think about anything but not moving. We looked at each other for a few seconds, I telepathically told him "we're cool, I love animals," and then he turned and walked away and down into the river.

My gps wasn't working (Alaska!) but I found my way back to downtown and familiar streets.

Who knew that was a neon sign?

I finally got home at 11:30, and I'm not gonna lie, I didn't write this post. I went to bed. (After saying a long prayer of gratitude.)

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