The Mountains Win Again

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For the most part, I haven’t really explored the landscape of Alaska since I moved here beyond what I can see from Anchorage.  I am sure someone (possibly me) someday will call this a travesty.  Truth is, I hadn’t the desire to do so.  Don’t get me wrong, if there is something that trips my trigger is landscapes.  You can point out any eagle, any moose, and bear you want – but when I stare out a window, the topography that get me.  So why haven’t I gone beyond Anchorage?  Well … let me give you a little tour.

First of all, grab yourself a map of Anchorage – like hit Google Maps, and look up city.  What you see is that Anchorage sits on a plot of land that looks like a triangle, with one edge moving north-south on the eastern side and heading to a point on the western side.  The point reaches towards the Cook Inlet, with the Mat-Su Valley to the north and the Turnagain Arm to the south.  You can’t really see the mouth of the Cook Inlet from Anchorage, but that’s alright.

It’s what I can see that amazes me.  Looking due west from Anchorage and some 100 miles away you can see the Aleutian Mountain range; at least the start of them.  They continue right on out the Aleutian islands to where its so far west, its east.  Reaching up to as much as 10,000 ft, these have always appeared to me as snow covered, and I bet its mostly glacial over there.  Rainy and grey days, they can be hard to see, but on a day like today they shine back at us brightly.  The only thing stopping us from seeing all of them is the “Sleeping Lady”,  or Mount Susitna – a glacial formation similar to the drumlins of Wisconsin, except this one is 4000 ft high and miles long.  It’s grass covered landscape hasn’t seen any of the higher elevation snows yet, so when looking west out from here, you have the strong contrast between the brown smooth Mount Susitna in the foreground and the white majestic views in the distance.

South of town, you can see the Kenai mountains in profile.  They run south-southwest with only the flat marshy land of Western Kenai peninsula between it and the Cook Inlet. The closest are just about 20 or 30 miles away as the crow flies, but a good hour’s drive to just get to the first set of them.   Because they are on a profile to Anchorage, I see them more as rolling hills running off into the distance.  They have their moments, like during yesterday’s snow they caught the early morning sun and stared back at me like a slap in the awesome.  They are there, and they are nice, but if mountain views had a competition up here, sadly they would be in last.

Winning the “Coolness” battle has to be the Alaskan range to the north.  They are the hardest to pick-up, because the day has to be pretty clear to see them.  The nearest of the mountains are 150 miles away and there are low lying hills blocking more of the smaller peaks form our view.  On a clear day you can see them, and see them well.  What makes them so cool you ask?  They’re the big ones.  They are the stars of the show.  The go from Canada to 2/3 the way across the state and include peaks like Mount Foraker and Mount Hunter.  If the Alaskan’s are the cool kids in school, shining above them all is the captain of the cheer squad.  Denali (aka Mt Denali, aka Mt. McKinley, aka … yeah THAT Mt. McKinley) is the tallest mountain in North America rising up 20,320 feet (that’s 6,194 meters for you Europeans and ‘real tall’ for you Southerners).  Denali is actually bigger than Mt Everest from base to tip – rising up 14,000ft from its surroundings.  The peak is cloud covered more times than not, and we need a pretty clear line of sight to see it – but when you sit in an 8th floor office like I do and the sun comes out, you can’t help to shake your head and marvel that there in front of you is Denali.

But like school, there are the cool kids – the ones you would love to hang out with but they & you keep your distance – and then there are those that are closer to you and mean more to you.

For me, that’s the Chugach Mountains.  Many of the peaks visible from town range between 7,000 to 9,000 feet; but they top out with Mount Marcus Baker at 13,176 feet.  They were grass & tree covered when I first arrived, but had dustings of snow on and off until recently when they got their “termination snow” (snow that signals the termination of summer).  After yesterday, they are very white and nicely snow covered.  They are the battle ground for weather systems in the area, as anything from the west rolls up their hillsides, and anything from the east spins and swirls off their peaks.  I enjoy watching the clouds off of them as much as peering up at those hills.  They have lakes, glaciers, rivers, valleys, peaks, and plateaus.  What makes them special to me is like any good friend would be special to me – they are the closest.  The Aleutians are a plane ride away, the Alaskans will take 3 hours to get near, the Kenais will be time.  Anchorage isn’t just close to the Chugach Mountains, but parts of town are on & in the Chugach Mountains.  If you read earlier blogs … Flattop is a Chugach Mountain, Echo Bend winds through the Chugach Mountains, Hillside is better called Chugachside.  On the worst of days in Anchorage, they are there; and on the best of days they are there in spades.  They are what I do on my days off, and they are what I missed when I was gone.

I catch myself so many times just staring out the windows at work.  Up on the 8th floor of the BP tower, we have the ability to see the full panorama of Anchorage.  Early on I felt odd about doing so, but long time Alaskans are stopping by just to stare out the winds themselves.  A day will come when I get out and enjoy all of Alaska – I still remember the adventure of 2006 when I came for a vacation and was floored by the scenery.  But for now, the view from home is well worth the view.

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