According to the government, the season of Spring replaced Winter last week. Ads that accompany the national news on TV push purchases of gardening supplies or Easter candy. Last night the temperature dropped to below freezing, like it has done every night for what seems like months. This morning snow is falling through warming skies. Soon it will turn to rain. Clouds block our views of local mountains. But there might still skiable snow near the Mendenhall Glacier.
Aki, our other human and I drive out to the glacier in hopes that the snow covering the lake’s beaches hasn’t softened to mush. We find it perfect for skiing. Recognizing that we have finally gotten a break, we use our cross country skis to work along the beach and bays. No people, birds, or bears share the lake ice with us. In no time we make it to the Mendenhall River and ski down it to where it almost touches the campground ski trail. We will use that trail to return to the car. I am once again disappointed not to see the swans that normally feed in the river this time of year. Perhaps, they are waiting for Spring to finally appear.
We are skiing. At least Aki’s other human and I are skiing. Aki is stalling, at least until we are almost out of her reach. Then the little dog fires up into a trot to catch up with us. The snow storm that has dumped on us all night briefly stops. Sun shine starts pushing through the clouds then disappears. The snow storm returned, dropping even more precipitation. This reduces our vision almost to zero. We have just enough vision to find our way back to the car.
This morning, after looking out the windows, I expected it would be a day dominated by snow. Low snow clouds hung over the house. Our weatherman promised that the temperature will rise well above freezing so the snow should melt as it hits our driveway. Winter seemed to be slipping away without giving the dog and I a chance to ski across Mendenhall Glacier Lake.
I was more surprised than Aki when sunshine started flooding the neighborhood with light. We needed an open, skiable place to enjoy the light. By checking the ski club website, I learned that Mendenhall Lake was finally thick enough to set up a cross country ski trail on its ice. Aki’s other human and I ate a quick breakfast and drove with the little dog out to the trail head. We slipped onto the lake ice under blue, sunny skies. There was beauty to digest any way we looked. I took a few photos and followed Aki and her other human across the lake. The sun disappeared when were almost to the other side of the lake.
A mixture of hail and snow soon cut off our views of mountains and glaciers. This didn’t disappoint Aki. She ran up to every dog she saw to say “hi” or sniff. Sometimes she would just stop to roll in the new snow.
Aki’s other human brought her skate skis to the glacier campground. They would have been ideal for moving around the set track. But that was being heavily used this morning by legislative aides and their guests. So, we switched plans and used our skis to trace the edge of the lake. It turned out great.
Last night well, well-below freezing weather hardened the border ice around the lake. In an hour or so, it will soften in the sun, making it difficult to travel on using the light weight skate skies. But now, the snow still supports us and offers the perfect surface for slashing with skate skis. We make it to the mouth of Mendenhall River in record time.
Aki is taking this cross country ski trip seriously. That’s probably because was are being joined by her other human. The little dog watches the road carefully as we drive out to Skater’s Cabin. That’s where we will start skiing around the shore of Mendenhall Lake. It’s suppose to be snowing but none falls on us as we walk to the lake shore. Instead we have to squint because no clouds block the sun.
It’s 38 degrees and the temperature will rise before we finish. The snow, hardened by last night’s cold weather, is firm enough to keep us above the snow’s surface. Aki follows us onto the lake, across a small bay, and around a snow-covered point. When I stopped on the lake ice to take a picture, my ski poles slide easily into the ice. In a half hour my skis would be sinking into icy water. But we have just enough time to fly over the top of it, high and dry.
My dad grew up in a very rural section of Montana. It must have rained or snowed often there because he used to tell me if the sun shined on a Sunday he’d go fishing. I have thought often of the little story this winter since snow and clouds have dominated our winter weeks. It popped into my mind again this morning when I spotted rays from the rising sun lighting up the Mount Juneau ridge. But this evening we would again be hammered by snow.
Leaving earlier than usual the poodle-mix and I drove north out of Juneau to Eagle River. No clouds blocked our views of Lynn Canal and the mountains that line it’s east side. Last night slick ice formed on the road, slowing down our efforts to reach the ski trail. We saw few cars on the road. Only one rig sat in the trailhead parking lot when we parked and that one was covered with last night’s frost.
Aki charged down the trail, still firm with last night’s ice. I had to struggle to keep my skis moving forward. Shafts of morning light enriched the yellows and greens of moss covered tree bark. After a bit of a struggle we reached the parking lot for the campground. The little pooch chose an exposed spot in front of the manager’s office to push out a bowl movement. It took me ten minutes to pick it, bag it, and carry it out to the campground garbage bin. Aki used the time to sniff and pee her way around the parking area.
I was pretty grumpy when I lead Aki onto the ski trail and started back toward the car. Only a small number of people were skiing. No one had ventured down a little side trail that delivered Aki and I to an Eagle River sand bar. There we viewed reflections of sharp-edged coastal mountains reflected in the calm river waters.
Aki and I were both a little tired as we drove out to the glacier. The little old dog whined a lot as her other human and I spent time shoveling new snow off the driveway and car. Three of our next door neighbors helped so it didn’t take an unusual amount of time. Aki disappeared into the house of our next door neighbor, where she told one of her favorite other humans how frustrated she was having today’s ski adventure delayed.
At the beginning of the ski run, low snow clouds blocked any views of the glacier, most of the trees, and all of the mountains. This didn’t bother our little dog, who cheered up when a dog friend popped out of his family car. Even though she only weighs 10 pounds, Aki is treated like a princess by most of the dogs she meets. She acts accordingly.
While Aki and rode out to Mendenhall Lake, I expected the trail to be soft. If there is still any sign of the ski trail, it must be flushy and shallow. But while warmish air was quickly melting snow near our downtown home, the air was well under freezing by the glacier. This allowed the volunteer trail guy to create a great, well-formed ski trail this morning.
On a good ski day like this, this is one of Aki’s favorite places to visit. The well packed trails help her fly toward the dogs of other skiers. She dashes up to them, engages in a quick exchange of sniffs, and trots back to me.
When we get close to the river that drains Mendenhall Lake, Aki and I leave the ski trail and walk over to the water. We do this on every Mendenhall ski on the chance that we will see a family of swans. It doesn’t happen on this visit. I think back to the story in the Juneau Empire describing the capture last month of an injured swan. It happened on this little river stretch. Maybe things will change next month. The injured swan might be reunited here with her family, or the little river will fill up with other transit swans.
Aki turned 14 last Fall. If she were a more normal dog, she would act like she was almost 100 years old. Most folks think she is still puppy. All I know is that she hasn’t started to slow down yet. Today, her other human and I are crossing Mendenhall Lake using cross country skis. The little dog trots just behind me, her little tail beating back and forth like a metronome.
The last time we visited the lake it was several degrees below zero F. Today the air is just below freezing. The air is flat calm and no clouds block the sunshine. We first planned on taking a harder to find, lesser used trail for this morning’s ski because of all the cars parked near our usual trailhead. But the recent sub-zero weather solidified the lake ice. That opened up a path along the lake’s Southern shore.
We never met any other skiers during most of our ski. We saw more tracks left by wild animals than those left by people and their dogs. When checking out one photo after we returned home, I noticed the solo tracks of a red fox left it left while leaving the woods to cross the lake last night. Closer to the start of Mendenhall River, we had to ski over heavier tracks left early this morning by what might have been a lynx.
Seeing the wild animal tracks made me understand better why Aki stops so often to check out scents on the trail—even on new trails like this on lakes that have been used by few dogs. She always wants to know who else is passing through the neighborhood. More than once she had barked discouragement to chase off another wild animal I could not even see. She treed as least four bears. But she seems open to hanging out with other animals. She has even placed herself none-to-nose with a prickly porcupine. Another time, she even dashed across softening lake ice to visit with an otter.
A new snow storm moved over Juneau last night. This morning, it blocked our view of mountains, islands, and clouds. But I was ready to accept what we could see—clouds of snow flakes clinging to the neighborhood spruce or fluttering to the ground.
It took an hour to shovel out a path for our car to reach the street. From there, with care, we were able to creep down the steep downtown streets and work our way out to Montana Lake. We normally head out there on sunny days when we can see the glacier and its surrounding mountains sparkling with sunshine.
We push ahead though the forest on a newly laid ski trail. It’s a time for enjoying the simplified view. Any thoughts or concerns I carried as I stepped into my skis disappeared a-half-mile down the trail. From there I just enjoyed the ski’s rhythms, stopping for time to time to look at surprising designs in the trail-side alders that were almost over-burdened by the fresh snow.