Contributor ~ Chris Jones, Board Member, Community Volunteer, and Trail Advocate
It was a lazy gray day as I loped down one of the lesser used (but steeper) trails that lace their way up and around Lazy Mountain. The clouds were high overcast but visibility excellent with Sleeping Lady dozing placidly far to the west. Across the valley Pioneer Peak loomed jaggedly upward into the mist, the trademark skyline framing the beautiful vista laid out before me. It never fails, the view from Lazy Mountain in any direction is magnificent but, ah [sigh] the Matanuska-Susitna Valley far below always seems to catch the eye first. And it never disappoints.
Looking out across the valley, I recalled a hike with a couple of long time valley friends several summers ago as we hiked up adjacent Mat-Peak through a bank of low hanging clouds that covered most of the valley. Undeterred, we emerged from the clouds above the McRoberts Creek hydro-box and found ourselves sandwiched between two layers of clouds. It was, well, pretty darn cool. And a little damp, but not uncomfortably so. The cloud layer above us obscured our final destination point, 5760 foot Mat-Peak, some two and half miles up the trail of our four mile climb. A cow moose and calf across the vale caught our attention as we climbed, but were far off and grazed peacefully on paying us no mind.
Unsure of the weather further up we trudged on into the clouds and eventually emerged out of the second bank of clouds to find ourselves in brilliant sunshine! Sunny Mat-Peak sparkled still half a mile away or so up the final approach. It was gorgeous! We looked down upon the layer of clouds below. The view fabulous, the valley radiant. In the sun our spirits soared as the clouds below began to burn off and reveal a 360’ panorama of not only our beautiful valley but the Chugach Range and Pioneer Peak to the southwest, the Talkeetna mountains to the north, the Alaska Range far beyond Sleeping Lady in the west, and to the east? Bluebird skies, fresh snow capped mountains and glaciers as far as the eye can see. Wow. Where else can you find something so grand so close at hand. In your own backyard. We felt truly blessed.
But back to my lazy lope down Lazy. It was fall, the leaves had fallen as well as 4-5 inches of snow the night before mid-way up the mountain. The first of the season. I had micro cleats on, and footing was awesome as I descended having a frolic-kingly good time, bouncing off tussocks, quasi pole vaulting with my hiking poles up and over this hob-knobbed winter wonderland. When bam! I almost collided head-on with a young cow moose ambling up the trail. We surprised each other and reacted simultaneously as both of us leaped to my left ending up in a Mexican stand-off, about 20-25 feet apart. A large alder bush (fortunately) separating us. She was obviously agitated and, like me, unsure of her situation. We stood for a long moment looking stupidly at one another when I began talking softly causing her ears to twitch as she raised her lowered head. H-mm? So I started singing. “Sweet Baby James” –James Taylor. The stand-off lasted five minutes or more until she eventually got bored (or couldn’t stand my singing) and moseyed off down the mountain. Yeah.
I headed on down the trail, slip-sliding my way along. I pondered the wonder that is Alaska, and the wonderful Matanuska-Susitna Valley. My home(s) for almost sixty-years. Of the gazillions of outdoor opportunities that abound here: miles of trails, lakes, lakes, lakes, rivers and streams. And mountains. And I thought of safety. Of how my moose encounter could’ve easily gone sideways, of how I could’ve gotten seriously hurt. I had my day pack, phone, extra layers, med-kit, water, and other necessary trail items with me whenever I’m out in the wild on my own. I haven’t always, however, but have learned the boy-scout motto over the years, no longer depending on luck alone. Always be prepared. One of the times I was less prepared (but got lucky…) I was coming down Pt. Hope mountain by myself, across Cook Inlet in Hope. Of course. I got treed by a black bear. I sang to that guy too. I had my phone, trail sneaks, shorts, and a t-shirt—but nothing else. In that situation being unprepared is a feeling that lingers a long time.
So, we, the valley folk and benefactors of this magnificence have a responsibility to care for it and its inhabitants and nurture it as our own. And to be safe and teach others how amazing this treasure truly is. As long as we take care of it. The trails funded by the Mat-Su Trails and Parks Foundation are key in this cooperative preservation process. I’m proud to say I am a board member and your partner in that process. Trails don’t fall from the sky but they provide access to everyone and therefore must be managed and maintained for the benefit of all. Contributions from the trails and parks foundation and people like you and I make this valley the great outdoor attraction that it is. Our volunteer hours and dollars are quite literally the heart and soul of the miles of connections to valley trails we and future generations enjoy–from Lake Louise to Talkeetna. I can’t say enough about how important this is to valley communities and the level of contentment brought of it. The trails need us just as much (or more) as we need them. See you on the trail.
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