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Heitman Mountain First Ascent

By: Gretchen Powers

Before we moved to Alaska, Kaleigh and I made a toast at our wedding elopement
surprise dinner that had a particular line in it that bears repeating before I tell you about the time my friend Jada and I packed our kayaks on our backs and hiked up to a mountain lake on Kodiak Island to go for a paddle. I thanked our close circle of Maine friends for always being up for my crazy adventure ideas and down for the impromtu photoshoots that ensued.

When I followed my wife to Kodiak, Alaska last December when she was stationed here with the U.S. Coast Guard, I knew I had signed myself up for a heck of an adventure. Life would be both thrilling and boring, the weather stunning and wildly aggressive and there would be a lot of changes to our day to day. I quickly learned that exploring the island would be easier in rain boots, that you could never pack enough extra layers and I would quickly build unique relationships enriched by the tough nature of the landscape and the transient nature of one’s time on this island. Whether Coast Guard or fisherman, people come and go from this island at a pace that makes time both fly by and crawl on past.

I surround myself with people who are either adorably reluctant, and always give in or gregariously up for anything I suggest. Thus, when my dear friend Jada arrived from Maine (our first off island visitor!) I wasn’t entirely distraught about the fact that there wasn’t a single bright, shiny sun on the extended forecast on the weather app. Like me, she gets out and about on mountains in any weather and always seems to have energy for an extra mile I can barely muster the strength to complete.

The first time I climbed up to this mountainside lake was in the middle of winter and the lake was frozen and I turned to Kaleigh with a grin that’s been called devilish and said toher, “you know what I’m doing this summer? I’m coming back up here with our Oru kayaks”. Ever since I put kayaks on Tumbledown Mountain last fall I’ve been dying to do it again. Jada, who had to work the weekend of the Tumbledown expedition was stoked for the opportunity to put the boats on another mountain lake for a first ascent. Are we sure there haven’t been kayaks on this lake before we were asked? Well not entirely, but the proof is in the hike it takes to get there.

So, with a borrowed pair of xtratufs for Jada and a childish sense of enthusiasm for me we set off through the swamp on the ascent to Heitman Lake. The mud squelched beneath our boots and we felt like turtles with cumbersome shells as we tried desperately hard not to fall or get caught on the low-growing trees on either side of the trail. We sang songs to each other and to my pup Ella to alert any bears close by of our presence and I shouted encouragement at Jada and my quads as they burned on the steep upward sections of trail. As we sat with a snack at the edge of the lake we were given a very brief glimpse of blue sky and sunshine before the clouds collapsed back upon themselves and we were sprayed with stray rain droplets that hadn’t heeded our warning to stay away. Our fingers grew stiff with the cold as we put the boats together and excitement coursed through my veins.

This was the moment Jada informed later that I was at my prime. The moment when everyone starts suffering, when you get really uncomfortable, that’s when she sees a spark in my eye. I take joy in the challenge of the situation that other people often don’t find joy in. Not because they are potentially having a terrible time, but because of the added challenge of not only successfully completely the task at hand myself but getting everyone else through it as well. It gives me a little extra fuel to get through the nitty gritty nature of those moments and keep their spirits up and help them move beyond their comfort zone.

Jada had reached the edge of her comfort zone when I sent her with my handknit
woolen mittens to paddle around the lake and warm up while I finished putting together my boat. The brief paddle we shared around this mountain lake made up for the frozen fingers, chilled and achy bodies and mud soaked pants. Albeit brief, it is a paddle I’ll never forget, as it is with most dreams realized. Taking recommendations for other mountain lakes to put my oru kayak on at www.gpowersfilm.com


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