Saturday, June 16, 2012

Hiking Grace Ridge

The alpine ground is warm where it's free of snow, but two inches above it the wind blows steadily, sweeping the snowfields clean. We aren't very high -- about 1,500 feet -- but on these jagged, nascent peaks rising straight from sea level, it feels like being on top of the world. Wind is the only sound. Patches of light and shadow slide over the snowfields. Delicate alpine flowers seem to brace themselves against the cold, growing despite the wind, teased from the earth by the lingering sun. I sit on a patch of lichen-covered earth surrounded by hills of snow, while on another bare patch, not far away, a marmot suns himself, occasionally casting a glance my way. A pair of ptarmigan startle from behind a rock, explosions of white against the sky.

No matter the elevation -- 1,500 feet or 14,000 -- the alpine zone is hushed, reverential, a place you feel you ought to speak in a whisper; a place where miniature flowers withstand the harshest, most inhospitable winds but the single fall of a hiking boot may wreak irreparable damage.

"Truly, we live in those long-ago times people will talk fondly of." (John A. Murray)

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