I arose this morning, checked my US for Palin news stack, showered and ran off to an early church service. Then, I went to my usual haunt, the Mocha Moose to have my usual breakfast. I returned to Carol’s Lake Lucille Bed and Breakfast to get ready for Flattop Mountain. I would be meeting Chuck Heath, Jr., then we would proceed direct to Flattop.
The drive to Anchorage was beautiful and I noticed that the fireweed had gone to cotton all the way down here. Winter is definitely coming. The air had a cold snap in it, even though it was summer. I stopped at the Chevron Station at 2500 Seward Highway. Sarah Palin’s sister, Heather Bruce is part of a group that owns this station. I did not know it at the time, but I had a feeling. After fueling up, I bought three one-liter bottles of water and put them in the backpack that I had borrowed, applying the lessons I learned at The Butte.
I met Chuck, Jr. and he drove me to the trail head, explaining how private property was so expensive here, because the federal Government had locked up all the land.
Flattop Mountain is a very popular destination now and we had to park in the overflow lot behind the main lot. Being part of the Alaska State Park System, you pay a day use fee of $5 by putting the money in an envelope and filling it out with your license plate number, and depositing in a receptacle. I set my camera with the 60-300 lens and left the rest of the camera stuff behind. My pack with the water and the camera would weigh around 20 lbs. I changed out of my walking shoes to the hiking boots I used on the Butte, donned the backpack, and we were off.
Flattop is 3,558 feet high, and the elevation gain by climbing is approximately 1,600 feet. To get a sense of Flattop’s height and terrain, imagine two of One WTC stacked atop each other. The trail head begins roughly around the top of the lobby of the second building in the imaginary stack. The trail is well-marked and traveled including switchbacks and stairs. Chuck, Jr. told me that just a few years ago, you could not come to Flattop without a gun, because the odds of a bear encounter were high. Since the mountain became a popular tourist destination, bears tend to stay away now. Unless bears are habituated to being fed, they tend to avoid people. The trail ends roughly at the spire basket on the top of the second imaginary One WTC – you then must scramble over the rocks for the final 300 feet – the height of a 30-story building. Only then, will you reach the summit.
About five minutes into the trail, I saw Mount McKinley and paused to take some photos. Chuck, Jr. told me if I thought the view down here was good, wait till we reached the summit.
We looked up as a para-glider sailed past us near the bottom of the trail….
And I swung the view to get the Alaska Range….
The summit is behind us and deceptively close. We were nowhere near it – still an hour away. I took frequent pauses to gulp water. I would finish two out of the three bottles by the time we reached the summit. Chuck, Jr. told me he had come close to dying of a heart-related accident at a hockey game. And, here I was with a twice-broken right ankle, 50 lbs. overweight and asthmatic. I quipped to Chuck, Jr. that we made a hell of a team…and we did. Chuck, Jr. knows this mountain like the palm of his hand, as he does all the mountains in the Mat-Su Valley. Climbing Flattop for him is like me walking on level ground.
Three women came down the trail – they washed out at the rock pile and did not summit.
The trail ended and thirty stories of rocks awaited….
In an act of kindness, Chuck, Jr. took my backpack. He had just told me about his heart. I didn’t want him to take the pack, but he would hear none of it. He sprinted ahead easily – backpack and all. I took each rock one at a time, sometimes using my little “sit and slither” method. What the hell? It worked. Chuck watched me with an eagle eye, but did not interfere. He wanted me to unlock my potential. He knew I could. When he shot the photo above, the summit was close and the people at the base of the rock pile below looked like ants.
Then…I saw it… a small pile of rocks with a 4 x 4 post in the middle. I knew what it was. I sprinted up past Chuck, Jr. and hugged that post like only two women in my life have ever been hugged. I made sure to stand on the top-most rock. I summitted and Chuck, Jr. joined me mere seconds later.
I stayed at the summit pile and swung three panos – finally – I started doing panos. You can see Chuck, Jr. in the second and third ones.
I got Mt. McKinley now from the summit…looking over 275 miles to it…..
Then, I took shots starting to the southeast and swinging north….
I was amazed at the jagged peaks behind us….
My swing started to take me out to Cook Inlet….
Then a back-swing…notice the fresh snow in the little basins behind me – and the set of power lines….
Now, we’re looking down as a para-glider sails below us.
The para-glider continued his descent….
Chuck, Jr. captured me looking down to the deadly mudflats below. He had written about it on his site some months prior. The mudflats are like quicksand. Step in them and you’ll sink, being held with a vice-like grip in the mud. A special rescue method using water pumps is required to extricate an unfortunate soul caught in that quagmire. From up here, they looked so beautiful, but stood as testament to how beauty can be deadly.
Chuck, Jr. got me swinging panos from the summit….
I got several shots of downtown Anchorage. I would be visiting Anchorage on Tuesday the 27th.
Now, it was time to leave the summit. I knew from The Butte that getting down is sometimes harder than getting up. I still had more lessons to apply. I used my “sit and slither” and took one rock at a time. About two thirds of the way down, I was on a rock, and felt myself slipping. The next rock was a big gap. I could not make it safely. Chuck, Jr. stopped and looked up at me. He did not say anything. I righted myself on the rock. If I made a wrong move, I could tumble into the rock pile below and that would pretty much be the end of the Ronmeister. In the war between flesh and bone and granite, the granite wins 100% of the time. I looked around. I found my solution and thought it through. I made it to the next rock below. Chuck, Jr. smiled and continued ahead.
I made it off the rock pile and caught up to Chuck, Jr.. On the way down by the stairs, we pulled off to let a group pass us. Then, Chuck, Jr. met an old friend – a 70-year-old man carrying a 70-lb. rucksack. A former Navy SEAL. He was going to summit.
As we neared the trailhead, we saw a woman running down the trail. Chuck, Jr. and I commented how foolish that was. She could have easily slipped and had a major fall. We saw an eagle above us but I could not get a decent shot. I had already packed the camera back and the iPhone was not going to get something that small that far away.
Chuck, Jr. went to pick up his wife, Abby and their daughter, Sophia and we ate at the Moose’s Tooth. It’s a well-known pizza place in Anchorage – regarded as one of the best – and it is a traditional place to go after climbing Flattop. Only in Alaska can you have your pizza covered with Reindeer Sausage. It was great!
From there, I would return to my base at Lake Lucille.
“There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs”