I climbed my share of mountains while living in Alaska. None of them had spectacular names like Denali or St. Elias. In fact, I don’t recall any of them having names at all except one. It was only by fluke I ended up scaling that peak.
I’ve never been a person seeking to climb a mountain or traverse a glacier just because they are there. Putting my name to a list of thousands having climbed Mt. Denali is not my cup of tea.
Whenever I climb anything, it’s because I’m searching for something like an old mine, antique bottles, or gold nuggets. Often times I only want a better vantage point for photographs.
One sunny July day nearly 45 years ago, a friend called asking if I wanted to go mountain climbing. Our expedition was to start the following day. I had absolutely nothing planned so I agreed.
“What do I need to bring?”
Jeff told me to wear jeans and good hiking boots, plus take my backpack with plenty of food and water. We weren’t overnighting so a stove and tent wasn’t necessary. I tossed in my camera and a light jacket just in case.
My pal picked me up very early the next morning. We would be climbing in the Chugach Mountains, so it didn’t take long to get to the base of the mountain.
We made sure we were sufficiently hydrated beforehand by drinking plenty of coffee. I had a chilled can of Pepsi wrapped in my jacket. I planned to use it to celebrate when we reached the summit.
It had rained for days previous so the going was tough. Several times I slipped on wet rocks and had to catch myself. Jeff took a deathly tumble but didn’t get hurt other than a bruised finger. We slowly made our way upwards stopping every so often to catch our breath.
There was light fog in the air as sun warmed the morning dew. At this point we removed our jackets. I was glad I’d brought one along. Jeff’s coat was made of Gortex thus it stayed dry. Mine on the other hand was manufactured of nylon. It looked like a wet puppy. Perspiration along with early morning moisture completely soaked it.
Taking a break on some rocks Jeff pulled a small thermos out of his backpack. He poured himself another cup of coffee. I decided to tap my can of Pepsi, regardless that we hadn’t reached the top. I still had a canteen of water. The sweet taste of soda was even sweeter at altitude. Something about the beverage always gives me a peppy feeling. I would need such for the final 300 feet.
With additional zest in our systems we pushed for the summit. It didn’t take long to reach it. Looking around we were stunned at the view. It was unbelievable. We could see Sleeping Lady Mountain across Cook Inlet through gray mist. About that time a recognizable scent struck us both.
The delicious aroma of frying bacon permeated the morning air. Looking perhaps 200 feet to the right, a man was sitting beside a small orange tent with frying pan in hand. Gazing around we saw more of the colorful tents.
We instantly hiked over to see what was going on. A church group had overnighted on top of the mountain. They were just waking up. The man frying the bacon told us more of his gang would be coming up later that day.
Jeff and I were somewhat stunned by this. We expected to have the peak all to ourselves. This definitely wasn’t in our game plan. We made the most of it.
Finding a dry place to spread our tarp we sat down to eat our grub. Jeff’s cold pizza and my peanut butter and jelly sandwich were glib compared to what the others were enjoying. They invited us to have some of their hot breakfast and we eagerly accepted.
We chatted with them a bit before kicking back and taking in the unusual sights. A hippy soon arrived carrying a boom box. A gal with braids sat beside him with her guitar. Another guy showed up with a portable xylophone and a small dog. They quickly started making music.
By noon there must’ve been 30 people sitting amongst us. The scene was reminiscent of a city park on Sunday afternoon. Several of the climbers looked to be in their late 60’s or 70’s. There were small children scurrying about.
Packing up our duds, we decided to head back down the mountain. People were still trudging up the hill. Arriving back at Jeff’s car, we noticed folks having a hard time finding a parking place. Most were using the side of the road.
“I’m sure glad we came early.” Jeff mused. This place is worse than Leroy’s Pancake House on Friday night!”
I was glad to have made the trip. I knew I wouldn’t do it again. Asking Jeff what the mountain was called, he said he didn’t know. Someone at East High School had told him about the place.
“I think they call it Flattop Mountain. I’m not really sure?”
I told Jeff if anyone asked, maybe we should say it was Mount Fujiyama.
“That sounds more gnarly than Flat Top mountain!”
The way I saw things back then, fishermen often stretched the truth about the size of fish they caught. What difference did it make if 2 Alaska mountain climbers chose to stretch things a bit regarding a mountain they climbed!
Thankfully or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, no one ever asked.