I dropped my backpack at the door, tossed my keys on the counter and flopped onto the living room couch, which released a long sigh as I sank deep into the cushions. As an RN (registered nurse), my 14-hour days are a blur of monitor beeps, IV tubing, medications, injections, bodily discharge, alarms and phone calls. Today was no different. I was especially exhausted.
I closed my eyes hoping to indulge in a sultry late-afternoon snooze, but immediately a soft, wet nose tickled my face. Major -my lean black lab mix dog -squirmed inches from me, squeaking an anxious plea. ‘Let’s go!’ I could imagine him saying, with his enormous chocolate eyes doing the talking. I groaned as I peeled myself off the couch. ‘Alright, let’s go,’ I muttered as I laced up my x-talon 212s, grabbed a can of bear spray and set out on the 10 minute drive to the Chugach front range – a band of jagged mountains rising skyward from Anchorage’s eastern border.
It was 9.30pm as we cleared the tree line, with the sun still hanging high over the Tordrillo Mountains to the west. Darkness would not fall until well after midnight. This reassured me as I peered upward to the summit of Hidden Peak. There were miles to go before we slept.
A comfortable silence fell as we made our way across the Alaskan tundra. I scrambled upward on moss-covered rocks and over sparkling alpine streams as Major glided gracefully ahead, his nose alert for ptarmigan and ground squirrels. A small lake lies at the bottom of Hidden Peak and the evening sun sent a spray of golden light across its silvery surface. I tossed a loose bit of shale into the middle of the water and Major charged in as I turned towards the summit; I would need the head start.
My hands pushed on my knees as I began the ascent. The tread of my running shoes dug deep into the loose earth below. Major tucked in behind and together we picked our way upward 3,000ft, avoiding the long scree chutes carved into the face of the mountain.
It took two hours and an exposed ridge line traverse to reach the summit. Major is as sure-footed as a mountain goat and frequently assesses my progress from perches high above. The midnight sun cast beams of red light from the western sky as I shared a morel of moose sausage with my dog.
Enormous volcanoes loomed in the distance across the Cook Inlet, while mountains stretched on infinitely to the east. To the north, Denali rises 20,000ft into the Arctic sky, piercing the heavens like a ragged, snow-capped spear. I stretched a wool hat over my mess of caramel hair, pulled my dog in close and together we gazed toward the setting sun. And to think… I could have been napping.