Living Granite Basin
I snuck away from the school just a few minutes early and began mentally packing gear as I cruised home on my bike. The turnaround time there was short because Corey was equally ready to get the weekend started. Thickening high clouds were heavily filtering the light from the setting sun as we started up the trail, and I wondered how it could be that my camping coincided with the only cloudy night in a near two week span of clear days (an absolutely remarkable occurrence for the month of September in Juneau). Still, the temperature was ideal for a moderate uphill hike, and the fall like conditions provided a unique twist on the extremely familiar Perseverance Trail.
We shared the trail with few other hikers and passed a single fellow camper about a quarter mile prior to reaching our destination in the heart of Granite Basin. Having grown accustomed to the lingering daylight of the Alaskan summer, I couldn’t help but comment at how quickly the light faded. Corey agreed, and though the amber grasses near our campsite seemed to posses their own luminosity, I realized my camera was not going to make a compelling visual record of the location until morning. Photography took on more of an experimental aspect, and I ended up burning a fair amount of battery life on a forty minute exposure while Corey and I watched shooting stars, satellites, and planes cross the sky overhead.
The table-shaped boulder we chose for the tent had ample room around our gear for us to lay back and converse on topics ranging from fall travel plans to the remarkable nature of starlight. The moon we never saw was casting enough glow onto the sharply pitched valley walls that we were easily able to transition to the tent late in the night after my camera was ready to be packed away. The flatness of the campsite was able to counter the granite hardness, and sleep was comfortable.
The time of rest was short though, and morning came early (considering proximity to the equinox) accompanied by clear blue skies. The new day comes to life slowly underneath steep slopes and watchful peaks. Between attempts at recording the spectacle, Corey and I meandered this or that way as if Granite Basin were our own private world. Sporadically splitting up and reuniting, we explored with our feet, our eyes, our souls. Eventually daylight beckoned us to the upper reaches of the basin, and climbing out of the shadows, we greeted the warmth of the sun.
The complacency spawned by the rising temperature was fleeting, and I soon continued upward toward a set of snow caves that continually caught my eye. Leaving Corey to collect low-bush blueberries on the gentler slopes, I ascended to the snow, and I marveled at its seeming permanence from inside its dripping caverns. Corey caught up with me shortly, and admittedly, that should have been the moment we turned back for camp.
Instead, the next hours were spent under the misguided assumptions that terrain would be more comfortable just above us and that a treacherous backtrack and descent is always to be avoided. Between deep breaths, whispered prayers, and decisions not to watch the rocks that fell after we pulled them away to reassure our tiring grips; we progressed to eventual safety. Almost immediately, the fear of epic falls and an embarrassing death faded into a sheepish satisfaction at having passed the self-inflicted challenge.
As it should be on one of the most glorious days for hiking in all of Juneau’s history, the path down the valley was choked with all manner of outdoor enthusiasts. Though the scenery was as priceless as ever and the sun was in perfect balance with the autumn breeze, the transcendent experience we were having seemed to fade in proportion to our increasing number of companions. The overflowing trailhead was a harsh welcome back to the arms of civilization, but…
Life is not all lonesome summits, nor should it be. Home, family, obligations, community, service; these are all materials that build a satisfying life. They make our wilderness adventures even more valuable and provide a framework from which to appreciate them. Granite Basin was more than able to live up to the hype I had built for it in the preceding weeks, and like those in the past, this visit will only serve to spur additional highly anticipated returns in the future.