The hike to Rabbit Lake isn’t a particularly long one, and it’s quite easy as Alaska hikes go, therefore it’s extremely well traveled. I’m old enough to remember the time when you had to cross a chunk of private property to get there and sometimes the property owner would chase you with a shotgun. Maybe that’s why I got used to having Rabbit Lake to myself whenever I’d make the 5 mile trek out there.
In recent years, the state, some nonprofits, and private donors got together to purchase the 320-acre parcel from the landowner. Bet THAT person is living fat and happy somewhere awesome right now. Homesteading really can pay off. In any case, the land is now public and legal to use, and is gaining in popularity because of the relative low level of difficulty of the trail. I can really only think of three trails in the Anchorage area that are anything close to “flat” and one of them is an hour’s drive away. Even though the trail to Rabbit Lake gains some elevation, it does it in a more gentle fashion, with a long slow climb punctuated by a few gentle grades. Just to remind you it’s Alaska, though, once you turn around for the “downhill” trip you still have to climb two steep hills. But they are short, and for the ol’ AK, this is an easy trail, and the destination is stunning – glistening Rabbit Lake snuggled against the two boldest peaks in the Chugach front range. North Suicide and South Suicide Peak look intimidating, but really, they are easy walkups by Alaskan standards once you know the route.
So now, the trail to Rabbit Lake is swarmed all the time. And pretty well trashed by the end of the summer, with errant campsites, garbage, and improvised open pit toilets dotting the landscape, streamers of used toilet tissue the closest thing you’ll find to prayer flags in the Alaska mountains.
We struck out before noon on a Sunday, taking a somewhat leisurely morning but hoping to beat the afternoon crowds. We did pretty well, meeting only two parties of hikers (one group laden with camping gear, delivering ominous warnings of “water hazard!” “The trail is WET” though they all sported dry boots and the Rabbit Lake route doesn’t typically feature any nasty Alaskan mud bogs. We never did figure out what their deal was. The other group was a logo-and-spandex-clad Super Family out for a ten mile mountain run, indoctrinating their 8 year old kids into the racing mindset already). The weather has been hothothot lately (in May, in Alaska. Weird. Remember my post about raining in January?), for us, so we were pleased at the stiff breeze that cooled us off as we climbed up towards the lake. The hordes of campers haven’t descended on the lake this early in the year, so we never even encountered the scent of human excrement wafting on the breeze; quite uncommon for this route indeed. It was proving to be a pleasant day out.
Once we descended the final hill down to the lake, Alaska bit back. The breeze strengthened into a full-on gale, not gusting but steady, with the full force of the chill from the snowy peaks around us behind it. The pass between the Suicides is known as Windy Gap for a reason, but this was a rare occasion on which the breeze originated from the northwest. No longer a lighthearted spring waft of air, this wind was an icy knife from which there was little escape. We darted around a corner along the shores of still-frozen Rabbit Lake and climbed up a steep little crag to take refuge against the rocks, which, warmed from the sun, provided a nice little lunch spot. We had Rabbit Lake to ourselves for at least thirty minutes, a rare treat.
Soon enough, lunch was done and it was time to brave the wind and head back. It had strengthened significantly while we were tucked into our nook, and my exposed legs and hands were instantly numb. Lulled by the 70 degree Alaskan spring, I’d not bothered to bring my customary hat and gloves. Kakiko stopped to put on his puffy jacket and I tried to wait for him as per our custom, but the wind was too cold. I kept hiking in an attempt to crest the hill that was accelerating the wind down towards the lake, and he caught up with me on the flats. Two teenagers in running shorts raced by with reddening legs. “This is BAD.” one of them chattered as she abandoned ship.
We retreated up the valley a few miles and the wind lessened and the sun had heat in it again. Passing lightly-dressed hikers pooh-poohed our warnings about the cold and we had to laugh a little. They’d find out soon enough.
That’s the thing about Alaska. It always gets its own back. Need a cooling breeze? Well, have one, more than you want. A mild winter is always followed by a brutal fire season. Hot sunny days come with absolute clouds of huge, relentless mosquitos (and so do cold cloudy days). Dying for relief from the heat? Okay, have two weeks of freezing cold rain and dreary clouds along with your mosquitos. Like a little cooler weather for a long mountain trek? Well, enjoy the low lying fog banks that come along with it and test your white-out navigation abilities. Like seeing wildlife? Our wildlife comes with teeth, claws, and stomping hooves. Enjoy the unmatched wilderness access in Alaska? Well, so do the other billions of people on the planet so watch it get slowly eroded by human presence. Even the mighty Last Frontier can’t eat people at the rate they are eating it.
Living on Ground Zero for climate change you’d think would convince anyone that we’re approaching, or even past, the tipping point, but we in Alaska certainly still have our share of clueless anti-intellectual politicians swearing up and down (and using their denial as a political platform) that the glaringly obvious evidence of altered weather patterns is just a blip. It’s not. We can see it happen every day, changes that aren’t just freak occurrences but ones that mark a steady but sure change in the status quo. As Colorado steadily builds suburbs on its foothills and California sucks up the West’s water, as golf courses still exist in the desert, green and glistening with the millions of gallons of H20 required to operate them, as China dumps so much pollution into the air that it can be visibly seen in Anchorage, Alaska is rapidly melting out from under us. It’s hard not to revel in a rare, actual “spring” with ten days above 70 before Memorial Day, but the undertones of the weather pattern are more chilling than that blast of icy wind that nearly pinned us down at Rabbit Lake.
Eventually the Earth will get its own back. We probably won’t destroy the planet, just its ability to house humans. Once we’re gone, the Earth will heal, its wonders restored. Few human eyes, if any, will be around to see them.