Blinded, alone in the wilderness

The weeks have been blending together. Not getting off property has been a chore.  The feeling of being stuck have been brewing for some time.  With all the freedom of not having a vehicle and a house provides, it can be a bit restrictive without a car. I’ve been growing fonder of doing the tours. The best part is meeting the guests and finding out where in the world they are from. Having a platform to introduce myself and how I came to Alaska is a perk. My guests listen intently as I talk about my dog sledding experience before transitioning to backpacking and then to my employer.

I’ve managed to get into the park to hike a bit.  Most notably was my hike up Mt. Fellows, my two day venture was not without incident. I set out from the Grande Hotel and down the trail. My legs and body missed the trail. I was singing and literally dancing as I moved along the well worn trail. Floating on air as I went by the day hikers, looking at me with confusion, with just my short shorts, shirt and pack. I must have looked like some mythical forest sprite skipping with a huge smile.  Onward I made my way to my staging cabin 2 miles away. It went by in a flash, I was walking so quickly that I was there before I knew it. Setting up camp for the night I tucked my self in and fell asleep quickly. 

Waking in the morning I Mae breakfast and set out full of piss and vigor, ready to conquer the day.  I knew I had a few stream crossings to look forward too, what I didn’t know was that it was more like a dozen and there was no point in trying to stay dry. The mosquitos were bad so I was forced to keep moving. The trail went from a well used trail to a game trail over a few feet. I spent more time trying to read the previous foot steps than anything, tracking the last person from their shoe prints. By the time I had reached the base of the mountain, I had had enough of the thick brush and decided to abandon the conventional way.  I just turned right and started right up the side of the mountain.

By lunch I was about a mile from the summit and sat down to enjoy the view. High above the tree line, I made a small camp in the tundra and looked back into the valley I had climbed out of. The sheer beauty and vastness was evident from my location. I sat there for quite while watching the cl9unds roll by, casting shadows across the mountains, like ghosts sneaking from one hiding place to another. I was high enough up that when a helicopter tour came through, I was eye level to them.  Waving as they went by, I took a few more photos of the pristine wilderness and packed up.  Back 9n my climb I got closer and closer as I traversed the steep side of the mountain.

The clouds grew darker and darker with each step I took, as if to say I dare you.  Growing darker and darker, I thought for a moment about my situation, I was above treeline, solo, enough gear for the night, but without cell service. The smart move was for me to abandon my ascent and head back for another try another day.  Just as I verbalized the “Oh well, another time”, the sky opened up and soaked me in an instant.  I headed straight down the mountain and back into the valley. The thick alders tangling my steps, reached up like a million hands trying to drag me under the ground, hoping to trip me up. Dawn, down, down I climbed back into the trees.  Lucky for me the trees offered some cover for the rain, unlucky for me they offered cover for the mosquitos too.

I was instantly swarmed, I picked up my pace as they bit throuh my clothing.  I had left the bug spray back home since it was nice earlier, I thought about it for just a moment as my hand swatted them off my legs, neck, arms, killing 5 or six in one slap.  I was being torn up by them as I picked up my pace.  Looking down I noticed a change in the trail, there were a new set of footprints that were on top of mine and they went human.  Instantly judging by the size, there was a grizzly bear close to me his prints cover mine and had me on alert.  I watched the ground and looked everywhere as I continued down the trail.

Disaster struck I was looking left when I turned my head, then it happened in just an instant, I was screwed.  I took a branch right in the eye, the pain seared throuh my face as it drug across the surface, blinding me in an instant.  I was royally in a world of hurt; the physical pain aside, I was now blind and I had a bear in the area.  Swelled shut, I could no longer keep my left eye open either.  I couldn’t look around with my left eye without moving my right one being the lid, the pain was excrutiating.  I had but one recourse, to close both eyes and hike out blind.  There were 5 miles or so between me and parking lot.

My 14 mile weekend had gone to shit and I was in trouble. The only thing I could do was open my eye for a split second memorizing the next thirty feet or so, before closing them and walking more.  I trusted in my feet more than I had ever before, I needed to rely on my ability to remain calm my steady footing to get back to safety. My ears were on high alert, I played music to make my presence known. I wasn’t worried about the bear anymore, my stumbling, by no means was stealthy. I had to make it out without getting injured further. So it went, from snapshot to snapshot, the trail slowly fell beneath my steps. By the time I reached the first of the many stream crossing, I had become fairly effecient at navigating with just an imagine in my head.

The streams proved to a formidable adversary as I strained to keep my eyes open.  Tears streaming from my eyes, defying the huge urge to blink, I forced my eyes to stay open. The air stung and seared my eye as the breeze blew by.  My footing remained steady as I crossed the stress over and over, I had but two more miles to go as I stumbled into the cabin.  I filtered some more water and flushed my eyes of any debris, the water relieving and stinging me and the same time. The coolness felt so good in those short moments. Picking up my gear I headed back out for the last mile or so to the road. 

Making my way off the hillside I finally reached the road.  Walking another half a mile to the clinic, I found it closed for the night. I would have to wait till morning to receive any help.  It was going to be a long day I thought. By the time I made it back to the homestead I could no longer open my eyes.  My coworker help dme into bed as I tried to sleep the rest of the day.  I would have to go to the clinic first thing in the morning. What I day I thought, no victory, no summit, yet I had been victorious in a way.  Blinded I hiked five miles back to safety and managed to not get injured any further.  I was humbled and proud of myself at the same time.  It’s a good thing God sought to give me a spare.

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