Fiddle head ferns stretch curled green whorls up from the earth. Devil’s Club shoots pale jade nubs out of last year’s dry thorns. Snows linger on the high slopes in thinning streaks, and gray scree mottled with brown grass shows through. Someone has strewn straw along the steep, muddy path, and I dig in with the tips of my boots, my heart pounding with each step. I hear a soft huffing behind me and turn to see a bare-chested man padding up the trail in bright orange sneakers. He thuds past me, sweat glinting off his skin in the sunshine, and disappears around a curve into the trees. I am not a trail-runner today.
I reach the top of this slope and find a panoramic view of the Matanuska Valley, white peaks all around. The silty river winds in wide gray swirls below and wraps around Palmer’s little dotted townscape. Pioneer Peak rears a double crested outline against a pale blue sky, and my eye follows the ridge line of the Chugach until it slopes away where the Knik’s slow gray wash meets Cook Inlet.
The crags beckon, the sunshine warms my skin, and the air is crisp and cool up here. I want to go further, but decide to stop here for today. I will come back. It is only May in the mountains.