"I dream of a hard and brutal mysticism in which the naked self merges with the nonhuman world and somehow survives...Paradox and bedrock."-Edward Abbey

01 July 2014

Alpine Seduction

Argentine Peak as seen from the Santiago Mine. In the distance is Square Top Mountain...

Part of the ridge of McCellan Mountain looming above the ruins, a corner of bunkhouse roof in the upper right...

I have mentioned the short sweetness, which is mountain summer. Up on the tundra, it's doubly so. It is said for every thousand vertical gained in the mountains is equal to traveling six-hundred miles north in latitude. Another factoid that fascinates me about this place; walking the world and its different environments just by climbing.

At twelve-thousand three hundred, the wildflowers were already in bloom. The sky was that shade of blue and fluffy cotton candy clouds drifted slowly overhead. Sometimes, the wind would kick up, almost Tibetan in its ferocity, reminding us it was a good idea to have jackets.

I really do dig the alpine. The grand panoramas and imposing peaks, so different than the wide open spaces of nowhere of which I grew up on. Its severity, in any season. The type of place one can disappear, whether intentionally or not, and never be heard from again. I find an odd sense of poetry in that.

The mill, the whole excuse we used to get up there, had survived the winter well. We delighted in the hubris of a jeeper bogging down in a field of dirty ivory below the ruins. One of our lot, the former dogcatcher-"animal control officer, get it fucking right!"-a man I think of as the Spider Jerusalem of the county, what for his personality and dysfunctional acts of simple humanity, guided a few travelers around the old buildings. I wandered amongst the rocks and wildflowers. It was a good day.

Although some of my wanders promise to take me above the trees, there is a certain comfort that'll I'll be up on the tundra on a steady basis this summer. I even have something of a base camp. The fact I may have to provide a history lesson to random people in four by fours, dirt bikes, and ATVs is simply the price of admission.


  1. I also think there is an odd sense of poetry in a place that you could disappear, as so many have. And I think it's cool as hell how for every 1,000 you go vertically, it's like you're traveling 600 miles north in latitude. No wonder there's so much snow on those peaks even in summer!

    1. It is an interesting bit of trivia. One of the nice forest rangers at we encountered around Mount Evans recently mentioned how being up on the summit-over fourteen thousand-was much like being on the Arctic Circle in terms of vegetation and climate. This was something I'd never really considered, even though it makes sense.

  2. Further evidence is the treeline altitude; the further north one goes, the lower the treeline in altitude. Where I live now the treeline is around 9,000 ft, in Alaska it's around 3,000.
    Nice pictures, Robbie. Our mountains still have a fair amount of snow, boding well for streamflows next month and September.
    We hit 75 yesterday, and today is projected to be over 80, the first 'hot' day of the summer.

    1. And when I used the descriptive of dirty ivory, that was me avoiding the snow word for you ;p. At the mine you can't even go into the tunnel-an ill advised practice anyway-what for all the snow piled up to the front. I can see where an avalanche happened over winter on McCellen. Our impressive snowpack has blessed us with a lower fire danger this year.

      Your right about treeline. I believe I read somewhere that at the equator treeline is fourteen thousand.

      We had our first eighty degree day Sunday. We're in a bit of a heatwave. I've been keeping weather records the last three years up here, and the hottest it's gotten up here is eighty-eight. I tell my daughter I want an air conditioner for days like that and she glares menacingly at me. My father says when he was stationed in Anchorage in the Air Force it hit eighty once and the older folks were dropping dead of heat stroke.

    2. Ah, he was at Elmendorf AFB, just outside Anchorage.....I was first there for 2 hours christmas eve, 1967, a patient on a C-141 on it's way to Scott AFB and then to DC.

      The next day was in 1973, August sometime, with my two nephews, on a road trip. It was 87, hot hot hot. There long enough to do a load of laundry, then down the Kenai peninsula. I assumed the summers in Alaska were like the period of a week we were there. Moved back then next spring, found out that that was the hottest day then on record for Anchburg.