The Mountain that Was Almost a Cloud

Posted by: Molly Herber on 6/24/15 8:00 AM

By: Miranda Perrone, NOLS Instructor

Miranda Perrone reflects on a journey in Alaska

mauricio-clauzet-nols-alaska-camp-mountain Base camp. Photo by Mauricio Clauzet.

After three days of solid drizzle, downpour, and skies so thick that the view may as well have been Wisconsin for all I knew, we reach Blackstone Bay. As the light begins to slowly fade, changes made incremental in the haze, I've succeeded in drying myself out enough to be fit for my sleeping bag. It's 10 p.m., 40 minutes before low tide. Turning for a farewell glimpse of Blackstone Glacier at the far end of the bay, I see a ridgeline! From behind that first range of mountains, a contrasting golden light reaches delicately upward before disappearing into the slate fog.

After a moment's hesitation, I change course to head toward the light—eager to enjoy some splash of color. Hand-sized birds speckled in brown and white hop ceaselessly between my feet as I squelch along the shoreline. Together, we delight in the freshly exposed intertidal zone, albeit for different reasons (food versus an escape from snow). Down the shore, I cross an outlet of braided snowmelt covered with hundreds of seagulls, all jawing incessantly in what strikes me as a very enthusiastic marching band composed entirely of oboes and utterly lacking any sense of rhythm.

As kelp squishes and shells crunch beneath my feet, the light across the bay begins to expand to include a mesmerizing rosy hue, and I wonder for the umpteenth time at the profound effect of light and weather on my state of mind.[pullquote type="right"]After a moment's hesitation, I change course to head toward the light.[/pullquote]

Suddenly, a shift in perception and I see that what I had been observing as a cloud is really a snowcapped peak swirling in mist. Ah, Alaska! The play of color and shape around it—now highlighting, now obscuring—is the enthralling dance of light I never tire of watching. Across decades and continents, the play of light never fails to be supremely captivating and deeply relaxing.

Hoping to approach Blackstone Glacier before the tide comes in, I continue. I pick and leap my way across silty strands of tinkling water until one winds its way over my shoe, crushing my heart as it inundates my laboriously dried sock. Nonetheless, when I return to camp some time later, I am at peace: even in the midst of a week-long weather system, one wet sock feels a small price to pay to catch a glimpse—in that incomparable arctic twilight—of a mountain that was almost a cloud.

matthew-mcpheeters-alaska-bootprint-beach-flower Shoreline reflections. Photo by Matthew McPheeters

Find your own journey with NOLS Alaska.

Original article from the Spring 2015 Leader.


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Molly is a NOLS instructor and writer. She loves the smell of her backpack and does her best writing before 7:00 am. When she's not scouting the next post for the NOLS Blog, she's running and climbing on rocks in Wyoming. Follow her on Instagram @mgherber