We approach every river with caution this time of year when ice thinned by mid-winter thaws may or not may not hold our weight. Today no ice covers this portion of the Mendenhall River where greenish water runs almost free of glacier silt, sliding around snowcapped boulders before entering a channel still covered with ice. Sticky snow slowed our progress across the moraine so I am surprised when just a few feet from the river’s bank it suddenly releases my skis to glide quickly toward the water on a downward slope. Aki watches passively as I manage to just stop in time.
Turning up river I use the now cooperative snow to slide along the bank and drop down onto firm ice covering a calm portion of the river. Knowing that only inches of water separate the river bottom from ice I enjoy skiing over the smooth surface with its thin covering of last night’s snow. Aki skirts the ice, trotting through the deeper snow above the river bank. I soon join her and move along a portion of the river where the current boils and sings out a warning.
We reach a place where the trail offers a narrow and uneasy passage between fast water and an impenetrable willow thicket. Even though a confusion of small boulders fills this tiny space between river and forest we could ski through it on a quickly disappearing blanket of snow. Twenty minutes more would take us to the lake, now covered with thick fog. Looking down I see that Aki has no heart for it today’ so we return to the moraine to find that the skis now slide easier in warming snow.
I don’t long for sun on these gray days until light breaks through to ramp up the contrast and amp up the earth tone colors of winter. When it happens at day’s end the sun can flood our cloud cover with warm pastels before letting night settle things back to winter normal.