Among Mountains

After twenty years of backpacking and hiking I think I’ve grown a bit soft. I’ve become a fair weather hiker. If the clouds swallow the mountains I don’t feel much pull to head into the backcountry, to endure rain. Once you’ve seen the inside of one cloud there really isn’t a need to look into another. However, one cannot sit around home falling into a depression because the sun refuses to shine. We resigned ourselves to the reality that the Yukon summer this year is a rainy one and that to hike this summer is to endure the wet. We traded backpacks for daypacks and spent the week day hiking one mountain ridge after another along the South Klondike Highway between Carcross and Skagway in the rain and clouds. After each bone chillingly wet day of hiking we returned to the coziness of our little red wagon (a ’93 Corolla wagon). It was a good combination of mountain adventure and comfort (if you are happy enough sleeping in the back of a wagon).

We hiked among the mountains, not up them. The peaks were cloaked in thick cloud but the alpine was brilliant despite the lack of sunshine. With all this relentless rain the wildflowers are bursting. As we climbed up into the mountains the smell of the land changed: alder and moss in the forest, devils club and valerian further along. Just before the alpine it was the alpine fir that slowed our pace, one of my favourite tree to pause before, rub its needles in the palm of my hands, to inhale its essence. In the alpine the mountain heather speckled the green alpine with its white blossoms. There is no way to describe the scents. Periodically the clouds would part, revealing mountain peaks blanketed with fresh snow. We used the snow to our advantage, to descend from rocky ridge tops back to the green alpine valleys below.

We spent the week following moose and wolf tracks through forests and up near craggy summits mountain goat paths guided us until their agility inevitably took them places we could not follow. When we could no longer follow we fell onto our backs in the wildflowers to watch the mountain goats maneuver terrain with an ability we will never possess.

Despite the gloominess of the weather our depression lifted, replaced with awe. No matter how much time we spend wandering the mountains, looking at flowers, listening to birds, we never get our fill. Fortunately we live in the Yukon and do not have to wander far from town to find wilderness, to fill our lives with unstructured adventure.