Mary Catharine Martin stands toward the top of Mount Ripinsky, overlooking the Lynn Canal.
Story last updated at 10/9/2013 - 1:17 pm
Last Monday, after a little more than a week spent floating down the Yukon's Pelly River, my boyfriend Bjorn and I found ourselves happily stranded in Haines. Ferries to Juneau were booked, something the ticketseller at the terminal attributed, perhaps, to seasonal workers fleeing the end of Southeast Alaska's spectacular summer.
After a week bundled against the cold Yukon winds, I needed a good thawing out. My boyfriend was anticipating his brothers working him pretty hard on an upcoming mountain goat hunt. And, despite the general trend of weather in the Yukon being nicer than the weather in Southeast, when we crossed over the border and into Haines we saw blue skies, glaciers, and the craggy peaks of mountains usually covered in clouds.
We decided to hike Mount Ripinsky.
A 7.6 mile round-trip hike that begins a little more than a mile out of downtown Haines, Mount Ripinsky is rated on SEAtrails' website as "strenuous." It starts off 2nd Avenue at around 500 feet, climbing to 3,690 feet at the north summit, which was our final destination.
We started off right: with oatmeal we cooked at our campsite in the Chilkoot Lake campground and delicious sandwiches (anything involving pesto is a winner) we bought from Mountain Market to eat at the summit. Unfortunately (or, in that moment, fortunately) we were licking pesto off our fingers by the time we parked the car.
So, with packs full of water, extra clothes, and crinkled up food wrappers, we set off.
At its beginning, the trail is flat and wide, almost a road. It soon turns into something Southeast Alaskan hikers are more familiar with - a springy, muddy trail through spruce and hemlock, lined with sadly past-their-due-date admirable bolete and pacific golden chanterelle mushrooms.
While we were definitely breathing hard at times before we reached the tree-line, and our legs weren't used to carrying us much farther than between the canoe, the tent, and available firewood, we thought the slope was actually pretty agreeable for the majority of the hike. It was steep enough to get you breathing hard, but not so steep you found yourself wanting to take frequent breaks.
The trail is also very well maintained, with wooden steps covering much of the lower part, and little wooden stepping blocks so you could avoid getting your Xtra-Tuffs or Bogs too muddy in the more muskeg-y sections. Turnoffs for side trails were well-marked, and the route to the north summit was easy to follow the entire way.
About an hour and a half in, we emerged into the subalpine and encountered the only other hiker we saw that day. A woman sat with a dog that wasn't so sure about us, eating a sandwich and looking at the emerging view.
"Clouding up," she said. And it was, which compelled us to hike a little faster.
After that the trail got a little steeper, but we'll just say it was the consistently mesmerizing scenery that, despite my race with the clouds, had me stopping every few minutes and looking around. Once we got into the alpine, we had a clear view of the Chilkoot Mountains, the Chilkat River, and the Chilkoot Lake, as well as Lynn Canal and the Coastal Mountain Range.
About 20 minutes from the top, Bjorn turned from his spot on the path above me and gestured at a mountain goat about 200 yards away. It watched us for a moment and then walked around the side of the mountain. "If we hike fast, we can catch it," he said, whispering.
I nodded and tried to take fewer view-breaks, emerging at the top of the first summit a few minutes later. Bjorn was sitting, taking pictures of two billies resting a hundred yards away against the backdrop of the Chilkoot Mountains.
They looked massive in their thick winter fur. After a while, we continued to the north summit, our official, and slightly drizzly, destination, donning a few more layers and taking a few pictures.
"I'm back! I'm number one!" Bjorn chanted. He took several victory laps around the sign before we headed back down.
The trail seemed steeper than it had on the way up, but overall, we managed to complete the hike in around five or six hours, leaving plenty of time to eat another Mountain Market sandwich and to catch our ferry back to Juneau.
If you're in Haines and have a few hours, Mount Ripinsky is a hike I can definitely recommend - even if, several days later, my calves are still a little sore.
SEAtrails' website is a great resource on Mt. Ripinsky and other Southeast Alaska hikes: http://www.seatrails.org/com_haines/trl-ripinsky.htm.
Mary Catharine Martin is the staff writer for Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.