Darkness on the Granite Tors Trail
Darkness comes early in Fairbanks. We’re 6 miles from the truck, looking for a snow covered trail on a mountain that’s completely white. We’re not lost but the trail is gone, at least for the moment. We know it’s somewhere on this ridge, and walk back an forth looking for signs of it. No worries, the main road is below in the valley so worst case scenario we trudge through the thick alpine forest. Not ideal, but possible.
I’m with my friend Liam. We met at the rock gym and on his day off we decided to go enjoy the mountains. We started hiking the Granite Tors Trail about 11am I guess. Compared to other parts of Alaska this trail isn’t much to look at, at least if you’re expecting real mountains and iconic views. These mountains are giant hills, rightfully called domes. The hills make the landscape seem somehow less threatening, but walking on them has proven that looks are deceiving. They make the giant granite boulders seem minuscule in the wilderness. The scene doesn’t do them justice in my opinion. They are giants resting on giants.
Everything is further than it appears. Earlier, I asked Liam if we were going to hike by some tors up ahead. He informed me they were a actually a few miles from the trail and by the time we were close enough to decide if we wanted to hike to them it was already getting dark. Maybe another day. It’s weird how close they looked.
Taggish and Sheba have joined us. I left Bobby at Barbee’s house and it’s good thing too. He would be hating me right now. The wind blows snow dust in our face. Every thing looks….I’m on my back in an instant. Everything looks flat, but clearly it’s not.
Hiking in the daylight was hard enough. The trail quickly disappeared in the rock gardens and shrubs. Even then we still questioned whether we were on the path or not. Liam knows the trail though, and the snow makes it just as easy to walk off trail. It’s in the forest where we need it, and we’ve found it every time thus far.
The dogs had been enjoying themselves. Now they are cold and ready to be in a nice warm truck. Earlier they were trying a catch a squirrel who just kept goading them. Up and down two trees he ran, in a loop cleverly designed to keep the dogs guessing. They didn’t even see the grouse in a nearby tree.
I try to get back on my feet. It’s a little awkward with snowshoes. I push down with my hands and sink to my shoulders. I use my poles and sink to my hands. In the end I’m not real sure how I got up, I was beginning to think I was going to need some help. I’m up now.
We’ve been able to walk with out our headlamps for the most part but our down hill route through the forest is quickly approaching. We turn our headlamps on in hopes to catch a reflection of one of the markers scattered along the trail. We didn’t do this earlier because our eyes were so adjusted to the darkness. After a few minutes a silver reflection catches an eye and we know we’ve found the trail.
In the forest the trail is a giant white line and easy to follow. Three ptarmigan fly straight up. They look like ghosts. I wish I could show you a picture. They are so bright against the black sky and our head lamps light them up like silver. It’s nice to be on the trail, I was really dreading the idea of walking through the woods.
We’ve seen a bunch of ptarmigan today. They are strange birds, waiting until the last possible minute to fly. I hear the rush of wings. A white ghost is flying at me. It flies into my legs and I let out a “whoa”. It flies at me again. Into my hands this time. I push it to the ground where the ptarmigan sits exhausted. That just made my night! If I only hiked 15miles to experience that. I’m grinning from ear to ear when Liam walks up and sees the bird just a few feet away. The dogs don’t even seem to care now.
We make it down to the car around 9:00pm. It feels good to sit down. The hike was been fantastic and regardless of the darkness we were both very comfortable with our circumstance. That’s the kind of thing that happens on a trail and you have to be ready to deal with it. We’re already planning the next trip when it warms up. Next time, we’ll hike the opposite way, so that we can spend more time exploring the tors. We’ll set up camp and spend a few days climbing the granite! It will be much warmer too, and then Bobby will be able to come!