West Gully RouteOn Tuesday, August 1, 2006, I led another of my after-work MCA hikes. The destination of this one was Penguin Peak (elev. 4334, Sec. 12, T10N, R1W, S.M.), a nice steep hike that starts in the temperate rain forest and travels over alpine tundra and scree to culminate in great views of Turnagain Arm and Penguin Creek. Three other people showed up at the appointed time – Jennifer DuFord, Neil Murphy, and John Recktenwald.
We started form the Bird Valley trailhead about a mile north of the Seward Highway at the end of Konikson Road. The hike began on pretty level terrain by following former logging roads that are now used by all-terrain vehicles and we talked jovially among one another. But after about three-quarters of a mile we turned uphill on an old logging road to the east. And the conversation turned to huffing and puffing. After a few hundred feet this trail petered out into a thicket of alders that has thus far stopped motorized travel. A hikers trail led beyond. This trail quickly became steeper and the huffing and puffing of the party turned into grumbling. But soon the din of complaints became quieter as I had outpaced my partners.
Emerging from the brush, I sat down on the tundra and waited for the rest of the group. They came along shortly and collapsed beside me, panting heavily. After a short rest, I stood up, ready to go. But I spied some litter in a nearby snowfield and went over to pick it up to carry out. Well, the litter turned out to be three sun-bleached, but unopened, cans of Tecate beer. Having seen no other vehicles at the parking lot, I laughed and brought them over to the group.
The labored breathing instantly turned into a discussion of how to split three beers among four people. I solved this by informing the group that I didn’t drink. The grumbling complaints and plans to hamstring the trip leader were rapidly replaced by joyous exclamations and offers to accompany me on more trips as long as I placed similar ice-cold refreshments in advance.
Jennifer had the idea for each person to carry the beer to the summit and have a celebratory summit toast. We continued hiking at about the same pace as before, but this time I heard neither complaints nor threats of bodily harm. Finding the beer just might have spared my life and limb.
Jennifer had to turn around before we reached the scree so that she could pick up her daughters at the airport. We took a commemorative photograph and the remaining three of us continued uneventfully to the summit. Instead of the celebratory toast, both John and Neil opted to carry the beer back to the parking lot.
Beer is an interesting thing. It seems to reduce complaints despite adding weight to one’s pack. I don’t think I’ll figure that out, but one thing is certain – it can spare the life and limb of an overzealous trip leader. And that’s important to me.
For the record, I make no promises that future after-work MCA trips will encounter stashed refreshments along the route.