With nearly 24 hours of recovery after the Chachani climb, Forrest and I headed to the bus station in Arequipa at 6am to spend most of the morning on the bumpy and swervy roads to the small town of Cabanaconde on the lip of Colca Canyon. Once we arrived, we figured it was too late to head down into the canyon for a day hike, so we checked into a hostel right in the central plaza and went for a hike around town.
The next morning we packed up and made our way into the canyon expecting a long and hard day of going down and coming back up the 1000m under the pounding sun. Little did we know there was a great place to spend the night down along the river at the base of the canyon. We were happy to take our time and lounge around the spring fed pool, sleep in grass huts and make the steep and long ascent in the relatively cool hours of the morning in the shade of the eastern wall of the canyon that we were climbing.
Finally, I made it to Alaska. For some, it’s hard to believe that I had never made it to our northern most, largest and most remote state. After being up there for two weeks poking around, it was hard to think about leaving.
My first adventure was a bit impromptu. I drove the Steward Highway and found myself going on a day-hike along side of Exit Glacier. The notable point however being that I was carrying a backpack with overnight equipment. There was a rumor of a small storm shelter somewhere up there near the Harding Icefield. Nevertheless, I was prepared to camp in the snow or tundra or on the rocks if need be.
Just rounding the bend in the road and catching your first glimpse of the glacier is impressive. A huge tongue of white rests in the steep hold of rocky ridges on either side. The base of the glacier tapers to a gentle rounded point, constrained by the gray piles of lateral moraines. A cloudy gray river flows out from the blue cave and twists through the ever changing channels of the broad outwash field that resembles a broad riverbed. In a way, it was once a river bed, for a river of ice. The glacier is indeed flowing down, but the terminus is steadily moving closer and closer to its source. Along the road and the trail leading right to the toe of the glacier are year markers showing how far down the river valley the white tongue used to reach.
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Six days – five days of climbing and acclimating and one day to get down.
Kilimanjaro has no technical aspect to it and thus enters the debate of being labeled either a climb or a hike. If I had my way, it would just be called a hike, but “climbing Kilimanjaro” has a better ring to it than “hiking Kilimanjaro.”
Regardless, in the end you still end up at 5,985m (19,341ft) atop Uhuru Peak amongst the receding glaciers and upon the highest point in Africa, not to mention, the highest free standing volcano in the world.
I just wrapped my two months at Gray Knob cabin and I’m already looking forward to returning for another stint in the White Mountains (if the RMC will have me). I hope to experience each of the seasons in their entirety although I suspect autumn will always reign supreme in my view.
I almost didn’t come down before this last stint. When I woke on the morning of my day off, thick clouds surrounded the cabin and I thought nothing of it as I recorded the weather and suited up to head down. Just as I started on the trail a gap formed in the clouds revealing a glowing golden morning sun and blue skies scrubbed by a just-passed storm. Pink and purple halo hues lined the edges of the clouds and reflected in the soft fresh snow. I paused and debated returning to the cabin to get my camera but continued on, expecting it was just a sucker hole and the clouds would reclaim the view by the time I climbed back up. But it persisted. I stopped again but thought if I turned around I wouldn’t get out that day. Mike and Bill were scheduled to fill in and I opted to not rattle the plan.