Kat Sorensen (left) and Elizabeth Earl rest on a snow-free patch of rock overlooking Skilak Lake on March 18 in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. (Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion)

Kat Sorensen (left) and Elizabeth Earl rest on a snow-free patch of rock overlooking Skilak Lake on March 18 in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. (Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion)

A walkthrough of a first Alaska hike

It turns out there are over 9,000 steps to taking your first Alaska hike.

Step one, two and three led me to the trailhead of Skilak Lookout Trail, a four-mile round-trip hike in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. I was sporting secondhand hiking boots with brand-new snow cleats strapped to their soles and many, many layers of clothing.

It wasn’t long, around steps 200, 201 and 202, before I realized I had never been on a hike before. The boots showed signs of use, but I was new at this.

I now firmly believe that calling anything in my home state of New Jersey a hike is a misnomer. The day before I left for Alaska, I “hiked” in the woods to go fishing with a friend. We circled lakes while hopping over fallen branches, but never once met an incline or even a hint of snow, and 45 minutes later we were safely back in our car without breaking a sweat.

Once I was staring up along the first steep section of the trail, I realized why my hiking partners, Elizabeth and Ben, told me to get snow cleats. I found myself calculating each forward movement, thinking two to three steps ahead to make sure I wouldn’t slip down an incline or fall off the trail into a snow bank. I would like to repeat, I’m new at this.

At steps 676, 677 and 678, I started to sweat. The trail gains elevation gradually, but my heart rate was climbing exponentially. I shed my scarf, my hat, my gloves and my jacket. Don’t tell my mother I was out in 20 degree weather without gloves, that’s unheard of in New Jersey.

I found my stride around my thousandth step, about a quarter of the way through the hike, and felt comfortable taking my eyes off of my feet. I looked forward and saw Ben and Elizabeth ahead on the trail, and then I looked to my left.

The most important moments in your first Alaska hike are the ones that happen in between the steps, when you turn your head and realize that those mountains you’ve been driving through for the past few weeks are more than a fleeting scene in your rearview mirror and that you are hiking along the side of one right now.

It’s in between the steps that I would catch my breath and find myself saying “Wow,” over and over again, calling to Ben and Elizabeth to wait up while I stopped and stared.

I took a lot more steps, climbing up along the trail and through the Hidden Creek burn (and learned what a burn is while I was at it), and I took many more moments to look out onto the mountains.

Then we stopped and the trail had ended, just like that. There is no, “Congratulations, you did it!” sign, like I had imagined — specifically around step 1,790, when I didn’t think I could finish a particularly steep section — but there is a flat rock. I stepped onto that rock and sat down next to Elizabeth and Ben and we looked out at a panoramic view of the mountains and Skilak Lake. I managed to hold a conversation in between the gush of emotion I felt as I looked out at the vista. I took my first Alaska hike and was rewarded with my first, up-close view of Alaska’s breathtaking scenery, and all I had to do was take a few steps.

As for the way back, steps 4,500 to 9,000 were a breeze. Any thoughts of my earlier struggles left my mind as we traveled down the mountain, and were replaced by future plans for my second, third and fourth Alaska hike.

Kat Sorensen can be reached at kat.sorensen@peninsulaclarion.com

The sun shines on a snowy slope facing Skilak Lake on March 18 on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. (Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion)

The sun shines on a snowy slope facing Skilak Lake on March 18 on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. (Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion)

More in Life

A sign points to the Kenai Art Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Sunday, May 9, 2021. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai Art Center accepting submissions for ‘Medieval Forest’

The deadline to submit art is Saturday at 5 p.m.

People identifying as Democrats and people identifying as Republicans sit face to face during a workshop put on by Braver Angels in this screenshot from “Braver Angels: Reuniting America.” (Screenshot courtesy Braver Angels)
KPC lecture series to feature film and discussion about connecting across political divide

“Braver Angels: Reuniting America” is a nonpartisan documentary about a workshop held in the aftermath of the 2016 election of Donald Trump

Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion
This basil avocado dressing is creamy, sweet, tangy, and herbaceous — great for use on bitter greens like kale and arugula.
Memories of basil and bowling with Dad

This dressing is creamy, sweet, tangy, and herbaceous

Photo courtesy of Al Hershberger
Don and Verona pose inside their first Soldotna grocery store in 1952, the year they opened for business.
Keeler Clan of the Kenai — Part 5

By 1952, the Wilsons constructed a simple, rectangular, wood-frame building and started the town’s first grocery

File
Minister’s Message: Finding freedom to restrain ourselves

We are free to speak at a higher level of intelligence

Dancers rehearse a hula routine at Diamond Dance Project near Soldotna on Thursday. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Moving into magic

Diamond Dance Project all-studio concert puts original spin on familiar stories

Orion (Jacob Tremblay) and Dark (Paul Walter Hauser) in “Orion and the Dark.” (Promotional photo provided by Dreamworks Animation)
On the Screen: ‘Orion and the Dark’ is resonant, weird

Fear of the dark is natural, not some problem that Orion has to go on adventure to overcome

This beef and barley stew is both comforting and nourishing — perfect for when your fingers are frozen and your cheeks are chapped. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Drape yourself in warmth with comforting stew

Nourishing beef and barley stew is perfect for cold days

Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: Hey Boreas. Knock it off. You’re flash freezing my karma

For the last few weeks, we have been hosting Boreas, the Greek god of winter

Members of the Keeler family and some Anchor Point church members get a ride on Jimmy Elliot’s “mud sled” on the way to services at the Elliot home, circa 1956. Lorna Keeler is sitting on the far-left side of the sled. April Keeler is the middle girl of the trio sitting in back, and Larry Keeler is standing behind those girls. (Photo courtesy of the Pratt Museum)
Keeler Clan of the Kenai — Part 4

Lawrence and Lorna Keeler and their family moved from Oregon to Alaska in June 1948 and began building a new life for themselves

File
Minister’s Message: Redrawing the boundary lines

Dark forces have made their way into the world ever since the time of Adam and Eve and now Jesus shows up to redraw the boundary lines

A copy of Jennifer Brice’s “Another North: Essays” rests on a desk inside the Peninsula Clarion offices on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024 in Kenai, AK. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Off the Shelf: Meditations on middle age

“Another North” shares lifetime of experiences through personal narratives