Alaska

Seeing Alaska for the First Time

I didn’t realize that our trip to Alaska would open my eyes to all that I missed during my first visit to that beautiful state.

When I traveled to Alaska the first time, I came away remembering two mountains. I vaguely recall a mountain towering behind the Alyeska Glacier. Mayme explained that the mountain held the only ski resort in Alaska. For some reason, this fact amused me.

Marathon Mountain in Seward, Alaska holds a special place in my Alaskan memories because I climbed it with a friend. This event marks my first attempt at climbing a mountain. I remember our agony as we trudged up the trail to the summit of the 3022 foot peak. The path crosses numerous fields of loose gravel, and it seems as if each step forward resulted in sliding an equal distance backwards.

The spectacular view from the top didn’t seem worth the effort to my childish mind. When we finally reached the summit, I assured Jennifer that I would probably never climb another mountain.

I also missed seeing all of the glaciers—I came away from my first visit thinking that Alaska had two glaciers.

When Mayme took me to visit the Alyeska Glacier one cold summer day, I only glanced at the glacier. I may have said, “Wow!” before turning my attention to a goose and her goslings. I have twenty photos of the geese, and one of the glacier.

The pastor of the church I went to had his pilot’s license, and he took me up in his airplane for a look at another glacier. He landed the plane on the gravel bar in front of the glacier. By the time I recovered from the shock of landing in the bush, he told me we needed to head out again.

I would say that I enjoyed my first visit to Alaska, but I didn’t appreciate it.

The Truth about the Mountains

From the moment we crossed the international border into Alaska I had realized that Alaska had more than two mountains. Alaska has hundreds of peaks ranging in height from 3000 feet above sea level to the tallest mountain in the United States, Denali. Denali towers 20,310 feet above sea level.

As a kid growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I had skied on Mount Hood and heard Mount Saint Helens explode. I knew the names of a few other peaks, as well. But I had never climbed any mountains.

As an adult, I lived near the Bridger and Gallatin ranges in Montana, and had spent hours climbing nearby peaks. I even went on some crazy hikes in Grand Teton National Park and Glacier National Park. Maybe my hikes taught me to see and appreciate mountains more.

After driving back to Chistochina from Cooper Landing, we picked Sarah up and headed out to Valdez. We passed yet another giant glacier as we headed up a mountain pass in the late evening.

“Can you pull over in that parking lot?” I asked Pedro when we reached the summit. He graciously complied but didn’t want to get out because he didn’t want to get cold. I hopped out and took off running (both to stay warm and not inconvenience Sarah and Pedro with a long stop).

Wildflowers waved me down a path and I breathed deeply of their scents. The warm glow of the sun at my back threw my shadow down into a valley below me. The rocky foothills rolled towards the snow-capped peaks of a mountain range. Yes, I thought to myself, Alaska has more than two mountains.

Glacier Truth

AlaskaOf course, Alaska has more than two glaciers—thousands more, in fact. Glaciologists estimate that if you added all the glaciers together, they would cover the entire state of Maine.

A quick search online when we arrived showed hundreds of ways to visits the thousands of glaciers. Most of the ways cost money. We had already experienced walking on a glacier and seeing a glacier calve. But as we drove around Valdez I realized that we could actually drive our truck right up to a glacial lake.

And so we did. We parked, got out, and saw little icebergs floating around a small lake at the terminus of the Valdez Glacier. Sarah and I hiked around a bit and found a beached calf and watched the water melt in the sunshine.

To think that we could just drive up to the terminus of a glacier and watch the serene progress of icebergs as they floated across the small lake. I had seen the sight before—but from a ship or after a strenuous hike.

Remembering Our Journey

The sharp contrast between my memory and my reality made me think about the why. Why had I never noticed the myriad glaciers and mountains on my first trip? Perhaps because I had never experienced either as a 16-year-old. I had no appreciation for glaciers and mountains because I had never hiked to one nor climbed one.

I realize that the personal journeys in my life mirror my experiences with glaciers and mountains. As I have traveled through life and faced difficult times, disasters and catastrophes, I have a greater appreciation for fellow travelers who face similar circumstances.

Remembering my journeys also reveals to me God’s mighty hand in my life.

Beauty Tip #24: Take time to remember your journeys and reflect on the lessons you have learned.

Q4U: Have disasters and catastrophes taught you lessons that you would never exchange for an easy life?