|New York City’s Four WTC at 977′ superimposed over the 875′ Butte for
perspective. The Butte is larger than it looks from a distance.
Standing at 875 feet AGL (Above Ground Level), The Bodenburg Butte or simply The Butte is 102 feet shorter than New York’s Four WTC. I had never climbed any significant mountains or hills before. If I could do this, then I would climb Flattop Mountain, which was part of the plan for this trip. If I failed to summit The Butte, I would not even bother with Flattop, for it would be pointless. The trail I used to The Butte fronts Bodenburg Loop Road and is around the bend from the Reindeer Farm. I emptied my camera bag except for D-50 body the 60-300 lens, and secured the rest of the stuff in the car. I had no water with me and no backpack. I donned my new never-before-worn Rocky 8-inch hiking boot and paid the $3 car use fee by shoving three singles into the payment receptacle. Any experienced climber will immediately be able to point out the three rookie mistakes I made before I even entered the trailhead. Now, it was time to do this thing, rookie mistakes and all.
I entered the trailhead and began the steep walk up, stopping as needed to catch my breath. I knew enough to take my time. I wasn’t going to get a medal for rushing and I knew that rushing usually brings ruinous losses. The trail would go straight, then cut to the right. About 100 feet or so up the trail, I heard the Sarah Alarm go off on my iPhone. Facebook. I went straight to work – right there in the middle of The Butte. The signal was poor, because I was in the lower section deep in the trees. It took a little bit of moving around, but I found a sweet spot and let Dance to Bristol rip. I always get Sarah Alarms in all manner of strange places. I got Noam Chomsky published while photographing Fireweed, and the DHS hate site publisher in the middle of the Alaska Museum. Stopping to get the post online helped me relax a little catch my breath….but now it was time to do what I came here to do…
I followed the trail’s 90-degree turn to the right and was out in a more open area now paralleling Bodenburg Loop Road. By now, I had to be 300 feet up. I still had close to 600 feet to go. The trail would continue like this for a while then turn inward. I was already thirsty….
The summit appeared deceptively close. In reality, I was nowhere near it. I turned inward and continued the climb up. Then, I came to the rock face and froze when I looked up. I’d have to scramble over the rocks for 100 feet – the equivalent of a 10-story building. I steeled myself. This is what I came here to do and I was going to do it. I was not going to turn back after going this far. No way, no how. I slung the camera bag around my back and started scrambling. I had to catch the bag several times when it swung around directly at the rocks. “MO-ron!” I thought. “That’s why they make these things called knapsacks.” No harm was done to the camera, but it was a lot of added stress worrying about both the swinging bag and myself. Finally, I made it past the first set of rocks. This was followed by more trail and more rocks to scramble. After that, there were still 100 feet left to go. Finally, I saw it….
I went to the absolute top of the rock pile, which does not have a summit marker. I had read once about a climber who went to Kilimanjaro and made it to the top, but he did not stand on the rock pile or touch the marker. He was too tired. He returned to the mountain a second time and did the entire climb over again, because he did not feel he truly reached the summit the first time around. I agree with him. If you do something, you do it all the way. The summit is the absolute top of the mountain and not one inch less. A kind stranger took my photo. He had moved to Anchorage 40 years ago.
I could clearly see the Knik Glacier to the east, southeast and enjoyed the panoramic views. I didn’t think to use the iPhone’s pano feature. Aaargh! I was switch-hitting between the D-50 and the phone. I was on the summit at least a half hour, maybe more.
The other tourists told me about a trail they used which had wooden steps. I had no idea this existed. It was on the opposite side of The Butte from where I came in, so I had to go back down the way I came up. I started down and got to the rocks. That’s where I quickly learned that going down is harder than going up. I un-slung the bag and laid it on a rock. I’d sit on a rock, then slither down to the one below, retrieve the bag, and repeat the process till I got back to the trail. Going down the trail, I could feel my big toes slamming into the fronts of the boots. I walked sideways on occasion to try to mitigate it. The boots felt good in the store, but a store in Staten Island is not a mountain in Alaska.
I made it back to the car, doffed the boots, put on my regular sneaker type shoes and got my camera bag back together. I hit the porta-potty across the street, then returned to the car. I needed water badly. I stopped in a roadside store and bought two one liter bottles and quaffed them in no time flat.
Driving back along the Old Glenn, I processed in my mind what I had just done. I’m still 50 lbs overweight and fighting my Battle of the Bulge. I’m asthmatic. I broke my right ankle not once but twice – in different places each time – the second break being three years ago. My right ankle is very good at predicting rain and snow.
I would confirm later that there is indeed an easier trail to summit the Butte. It’s on Mothershead Lane. Yes, I did it the hard way. In retrospect, I’m glad I knew nothing about the easier trail until after reaching the summit. Nothing worthwhile is easy or comes easy. Because I climbed the Butte the hard way, I knew I was ready for Flattop and ready to apply the lessons I had learned here.