An Independence Day Summit of Carlo Mountain
DENALI, ALASKA- There's a peculiar satisfaction in coming home to sleep in your own bed after climbing a mountain. The opportunity is at your fingertips, inviting you to come play when you have the chance. Like anything, the allure of the endless draw will fizzle with time, but it's an intoxicating feeling to be surrounded by mountains, and have the opportunity to climb many of them.
To celebrate July 4th, I decided to attempt a “midnight summit” of Carlo Mountain, the peak just behind Creekside with a few friends. Matt and I left with our gear early in the day so we could set up camp on the plateau. Colton and Dylan would meet us up there.
The hike to the plateau is usually just that—a hike—but it is much more difficult when you’re lugging a 25 pound backpack with your gear in it...a good warmup, shall we say. Once we set up camp, we took off past the plateau, which is mostly unexplored terrain for us. Only a half-mile in, and we come across a large, dripping pile of bear scat. Exchanging hesitant glances, we shrug and keep going. We’ve all got bear spray, and I’m confident I can outrun Colton. Soon after, the trail ends, and we find ourselves with a decision to make. We'll be bush-whacking from here on out, but to choose the path of most resistance would be…annoying, to say the least.
There’s no way to tell if our path is the easiest, but it still has us scrambling through waist high grass, jumping across a steep mountainous stream, and hacking our way through thick trees that could easily conceal any number of natural obstacles. This part is not fun. What keeps me going is the knowledge that we will eventually break free of the flora and reach the rocky outcrop of the base of the mountain, where there is nothing stopping you from reaching the summit except a desire to avoid marching up the equivalent of a building a hundred stories high.
Soon enough, that point arrives, and we stare up at the next phase of our climb. The evening has taken a hazy turn, and we can see clouds gathering. Ominous, but not threatening. Casting a pall over the climb, since we hope to see the sun set from the top—if we make it there in time. From here on out, the climbing strategy is what's now called “moose mode”—a slow, plodding march forward, concentrating on putting one foot ahead of the other. It’s not a particularly difficult climb, but it is a monotonous one. Scrambling up rocks, large and small. Small and large. Rocks, rocks, rocks. Up, up, up. The peak almost within sight. I’m in the lead, and I can reach it first. Huffing, pushing, and knowing that I want to beat the others, I power-up moose mode, and crush through the final few feet to make it to the top.
Disappointment. Surprise. Resigned reconciliation.
This is not the peak. Carlo Mountain, as it appears from Creekside, is two humps sitting side by side. These were the peaks, or so we thought. Choosing the right hump, since we though it to be the bigger one, was inconsequential—the true peak lies a few hundred feet up, out of sight from the base, or really, from anywhere not the summit.
Gassed, I take a moment to catch my breath and let the others reach the top, where they come to the same annoying conclusion as I. We have some work to do if we want to get to the summit before midnight. Other Matt quickly took off, and Dylan, Colton and I began plodding forward. If you notice a common theme from this climb, it is that we plodded. The rocky faces were so uniform, that it was the same motion over and over. Couple this with my hesitance to turn around (I wanted to save the stunning view for the top), and you can see why I plodded the whole way.
I usually have pretty good stamina for long-distance activities, but I was wearing thin, and there was no way I was going to catch Matt as he neared the peak. What kept me going was the sun dipping in the sky off to our left—I wanted to sit on the peak to watch it set. At this point, it was 11:42, and I had another few minutes before reaching the top. The sun set at 11:55. Plod, plod plod. Plod, plod. Scramble, plod. Run. Spring, sprint, spring. Deep breath. We had made it.
Made it in time for the sun to set at midnight. It was an incidental accomplishment, but one of the most fulfilling of the summer. Sitting on top of the mountain as the icy wind whipped past us, we reflected that we really we in Alaska, and there was no better place to celebrate independence.