Dusty gravel. Knee-deep mud. Thigh-deep snow. Piercing rain and wind that nearly knocks me sideways. Blazing sunshine so hot, I strip down to a tank top and roll the legs of my pants above my crusty gaiters, completing the dirtbag ensemble.
Welcome to spring hiking in Alaska.
As we transition away from winter, more and more of us will hit the trails to get our outdoor fix, whether that means biking to Powerline Pass, running to Eagle and Symphony lakes or hiking at Lazy Mountain.
You can tell who's stayed inside until now.
I see that longing for a golden summer in the pasty legs — my own — heading up O'Malley Peak. I sense an anticipation of the midnight sun in a stranger's eyes squinting at the sunset (10:30 p.m. and counting). I feel the fear of mosquito season at the sound of the year's first slap-and-scratch.
We're in this together. Which is really to say, we should all be prepared together.
How many times have you been surprised by snow on a hike? Or a torrent of spring melt that turns the trail into a creek? Or crisscrossing bear tracks on the tundra? Or a river of mud on Mount Baldy?
I'm a big believer in preparation, but being prepared doesn't mean bringing every piece of gear on every outdoor adventure. That's why I've created a map of trail conditions around Southcentral Alaska, viewable at adn.com/trails.
It's helpful, especially now in the shoulder season, to know where you still might need skis or snowshoes (Hatcher Pass for the avalanche savvy). You should always be bear aware, but knowing where there's been a recent bear kill would be ideal. Is Eklutna Lake clear for paddling? Is the Gull Rock trail in Hope bikeable? Yes and yes.
The map is simple to use. Just click on the trail you're considering for a brief trail report from within the last month and, often, photos.
As much as I'd like to hit up all these trails myself, this goes beyond the limitations of my time and my perpetually bruised and battered body, which is currently recovering from a tumble in a boulder field. I'd love to hear what fellow hikers have to say about conditions. I'm honestly thrilled to see what other people are up to in the outdoors.
This map isn't just for hikers: I'd love to add skiing conditions, avalanche observations, climbing routes, bike paths, wildlife sightings — anything that would make us all better-equipped trail users.
If you have a trail update to add to our map, email me at email@example.com with your name, the name of the trail, the distance traveled, observations and a link to any photos you feel like sharing.
Unlike all the hikes I've been doing lately.