The mountains call.
On what may be the last weekend where it was possible to traverse from Government Peak Recreation Area (GPRA) to Hatcher Pass Recreation area without crampons, snowshoes, skis, or some other winter travel device, my son and I and two dogs decided to give it a go.
I’d done the traverse — six-ish miles in the mountains with a balance of road miles, variable depending on where the second car is parked or where the pickup is picking you up — in early September and was sufficiently impressed with the route that I thought my son just had to give it a go. However, his cross-country season meant that we needed to wait.
This weekend we got the chance.
The weather was near perfect — in the mid-50s, sunny, and clear. Much of the snow on the mountains had melted off in the prior week, so it seemed much more doable than the prior week. Of course, we hadn’t been up to the pass in a while to see how much snow was still on the northern aspect of the mountains.
So we headed out at noon to drop one vehicle off at the 16 Mile parking lot, then caught a lift back down to Government Peak. It was 1:30 p.m. by the time we got out on the trail. The Government Peak race trail was in good shape, overall, with few muddy spots, not like the single track trails that are freezing each night and then thawing throughout the day to make for some nasty, greasy muddiness. The run up to the 1880 picnic table was comfortable and warmed us up nicely.
From the table to the peak we decided to just hike without pushing the pace too much. Just enjoyed the day. All told, it took us just a touch under an hour and a half to summit Government Peak.
We stopped, grabbed a snack, and then took a look at the route and noticed a few things.
First, there was a lot more snow than we expected. Second, some other adventurous soul had been out within the past week or so, so we had a nice route to follow, taking some of the mental processing off the books.
As we made our way down the first saddle off the back of the peak, my son asked me if I was going to put my pants on. “Naw, I’ll get warmed up again in just a bit and will have to take them off anyway,” I said as I postholed to my knees in some places — the snow freezing and cutting my legs and filling my shoes.
The route was snow-covered for much of the way. I’d say 95 percent of the traverse was through snow. This slowed down our progress quite a bit. And one of the dogs slowed us down even further. He’s a mutt with short legs and a long body and we’ve let him get a bit lazy lately. He likes to lay down wherever he is when he doesn’t want to go on. At one point, near the last peak before the decent to Summit Lake, we took a break so he could rest a bit. When we got up and started moving on he just stayed put. I almost thought we’d have to carry him the rest of the way out.
What I thought was funny, though, was that my son — 14 years old and super fit — was also ready to not move on. Indeed, he’d made a comment as we hit the half-way mark that he was really tired and went from his chatty self to being super quiet.
I was feeling like I could go on forever, myself.
Then I got to thinking about it a bit; thinking about how the endurance sports world is populated with older people who are super successful. I’ve read that a lot of experts think this has to do with the way an older adult views the world versus how a younger person does. The older one gets, the more there is the ability to see the long view. And there is the ability to understand that pain, tiredness, and boredom can all be overcome by just pushing forward.
When one is younger, one is prone to view all the negatives as insurmountable, thus removing the desire to continue on.
Of course, this is not something that you can tell a 14 year old: “Hey, buck up. You’ll look back on this later and see it’s a huge lesson in perseverance. It’s type three fun — you’ll laugh about it someday.”
No, you just have to hope that that’s what he gets out of it rather than just being turned off by long treks through the mountains. Though, with him, I don’t worry too much about that.
No, I think the bigger issue was that he was with me and didn’t have any friends along for the ride.
And the snow. Lots of snow. Wet feet. Cold. That takes its toll on anyone.
If you want to make the traverse: Place a car at your favorite Hatcher Pass parking area and get a ride back to Government Peak Recreation area.
Take the Government Peak Race Trail to the peak of Government Peak. From the peak, look to the north/northwest and you will see the ridge and summits to follow. From your first peak behind Government, you can head down the ridge to the right and down to the road.
From my understanding, there are some nasty willow groves and a couple of creek crossings this way. Head down the ridge on the left and follow it around the rocky summit. Following the ridge, you connect up with the April Bowl trail. Easy-peasy. Good times. Parking at the 16 Mile trail head results in a 10 mile traverse. Parking down at Gold Mint makes it 13. For the ultimate in bad-assery, forego dropping the vehicle off in Hatcher and just run all the way back to Government Peak.