People say that Alaska is their backyard, their playground — that they know this or that mountain like the back of their own hand.
In such a wonderfully and terrifyingly vast state, how well can we really say we know our own surroundings? Really, how many corners of Alaska’s wilderness will be left unexplored by the time our exploring days are over?
I’m as much a victim of this circumstance as anyone. Having lived in Alaska five years now, I’ve seen embarrassingly little of it beyond the Southcentral region.
Besides the time and the means and the other everyday excuses, I must admit I find it hard to tear myself away from the mesmerizing views of Kachemak Bay. Sirenlike in their allure, the Kenai Mountains meander back away from the bay’s shores, communing with glaciers, and keep me questioning their depths, heights and secrets.
Why venture elsewhere when the most scenic view in all Alaska is at my doorstep? It’s a common Alaska trope — the equivalent of that guy at the party who won’t stop one-upping everyone’s story, but with mountain peaks and Alaska pride. Homer has the best coastal mountain views, period, unless you’re talking to someone from the Southeast. Their landscapes can’t be beat, unless Seward is in on the conversation.
Have you seen Resurrection Bay? The Mat-Su Valley resident will make an attempt to say something about Hatcher Pass, but will be drowned out by someone who lives close to Denali. Anchorage representatives will be sitting in the corner, knowing no one will take them seriously, even though the many hikes within a close distance of the city offer views as worthy as any.
What do we risk losing, though, if we value our backyard above all? What ascents could be taking our breath away, what ocean tides at sunset could be bringing a tear to our eye and what forest trails could be unearthing a new sense of wonder, if only we were to seek them out?
I’m glad to say I made a little headway in getting out of my own little wilderness bubble this season. We may be best advised to remain in our limited social bubbles right now, but one of the greatest things about Alaska is that it lets us cast that cooped up-ness aside for an afternoon or a weekend to get outdoors.
This season I did not hike a single trail I have hiked previously, save for the first section of the Resurrection Pass Trail on the way to Juneau Lake and the trusty (if ever eroding) Diamond Creek Trail right here in Homer. Every weekend, every trip with friends, every camping endeavor brought some new challenge and taught me something new about myself.
Across Kachemak Bay climbing Grace Ridge for the first time, I learned I do not like climbing very steep things, but that I can do it if faraway views of bears and a stellar Instagram post opportunity are in the cards.
Scrambling up Gold Cord Lake Trail and April Bowl in Hatcher Pass, I learned the comparatively “urban” valley has an intoxicating playground of mountaintops literally right at its fingertips. What this Homerite would give to be able to drive right into the Kenai Mountain range rather than catch a water taxi.
Trudging along a picturesque ridge at sunset and camping in the rain at Lost Lake in Seward, I learned true friends are the ones you want to have with you when it’s raining on your camping trip and when the trail doesn’t end when you think it should. Bonus lesson: Wild blueberries are life and always worth stopping for.
I got out of my bubble this summer, but not nearly enough. My running list of desired trails, peaks and public use cabins grows longer by the week. I could say it’s a good thing I have many more years of exploring ahead of me — but then again none of us truly know that, do we? I’ll endeavor to make a dent in the list, at least.
For now, though, I’ll cozy up to Homer’s autumn hills. I’ll watch the termination dust settle on Grace Ridge and Poot Peak and Sadie Knob, and revel just a little bit in my own backyard until it’s time to venture out again.