Browsing Date

August 2012

Alaska, United States August 29, 2012

When An Alaskan Salmon Runs (or Why It Sucks Being A Salmon)

Anchorage, Alaska

I’ve decided that it sucks being an Alaskan salmon. It’s all because they taste too darn good!

(Seriously, I don’t know why people bother with their farmed counterpart, with meat so pale dye needs to be added to it.)

Delicious salmon cake from Marx Brother, Anchorage

Delicious salmon cake from Marx Brother, Anchorage

Being tasty is good, but then everyone wants to eat you. Everyone.

Being an Alaskan salmon means fending off the bears – both black bears and grizzlies. During an Alaskan salmon run, bears can be so spoiled for choice they’d only eat the best part of a salmon: the skin and the eggs, leaving the rest for other animals to feast on.

Then there’s the Alaskan people itself. What Alaskans like more than eating salmon (have you ever heard of salmon bakes?) is fishing for them. Even late in the season we saw people fishing for salmon in rivers.

But the main reason I thought that salmon lead a tough life is that they literally have to suffer and die to breed.

Salmon (like many other animals) return to where they were born to breed.

When they reach breeding age, a salmon would ‘smell’ its way back up its natal body of water. Some species can travel up to 900 miles, drawn by an inexplicable pull to return to where its life started however many years ago.

They swim upstream regardless of obstacles on the way: jumping over waterfalls and dams. They stop eating. Their bodies quickly deteriorate, losing their silver lustre.

When (if, assuming they survive the bears and the eager fishermen) they finally reach their destination, they would spawn and die, their bodies completely depleted of energy. Their decomposing bodies sink to the bottom and become nutrients to feed their hatchlings.

I was fortunate to see a small group of Alaskan salmons making this very death pilgrimage during my last visit to Alaska.

We stopped at a small parking lot with a view of a glacier. There was a platform over a nearby river when one can watch these fish during salmon run season.

alaskan salmon run

Sockeye salmon making their way upstream

In late August, only the Sockeye salmon remains. Some of them have adopted a bright, red color. It makes them easy to spot in the shallow stream.

A little further upstream there was a small rise in the river bed that the fish would have to jump over. A small group of people had gathered watching one fish after another makes a go for it, only to be swept away by the current.

Then another fish decides to try his luck. With a couple of strokes of his tail, he flopped and climbed its way up!

We all cheered when the fish made it through. Phew! I didn’t even realise I was holding my breath. It felt like watching the Olympics all over again.

I wish these salmon luck. I wish they’d spawn many, many more delicious salmon. There’s something poetic about this life cycle. I’m both fascinated and horrified.

And just a little awed.

In Alaska, it is easy to feel that you’re a part of nature.

*Thanks to Hilton Garden Inn in Anchorage for having us over as guests
California, Climbing August 13, 2012

Tenaya Peak – Everything Hurts and I'm Dying

Yosemite National Park

Tenaya Peak looms 2000 ft above Tenaya Lake in Yosemite. It had been one of the many peaks we’d wanted to climb this season. Finally last weekend, we set out to do just that (we even managed to talk another couple to come along – little did they know what they were getting themselves into).

Tenaya Peak from the approach

Tenaya Peak is the peak to the right in front of us

Failure to launch

The day started with a failure of scoring one of the first come first serve campsite in Tuolumne Meadows. It was followed by getting lost on the approach to the start. It takes a special talent considering that the starting point is somewhat obvious from the parking lot. Mine. (Why do my friends keep letting me lead the way? I don’t get it. Do they like getting lost?)

A supposedly 30 minute approach ended up being closer to 1.5 hour, bushwhacking through manzanita growth, foxtails, and other types of bushes with pointy ends.

But when we finally set foot on the granite buttress, it was glorious.

Climbing Tenaya Peak, Yosemite

The climbing was just as the guidebook promises: easy climbing on sticky granite. We simuclimbed the first half of the mountain. I realised quickly how out of shape I was. Pretending to enjoy the view (and what a view it was), I took breaks every 3 steps to catch my breath.

So much granite, Yosemite National Park

4 pitches from the top, we saw something that strikes fear to every climber’s heart: big, ominous, grey clouds that promised an incoming thunderstorm. Jack was yelling at me to climb faster.

I could understand his anxiety. Being out in thunderstorms in general is not a good idea. Being stuck outside during thunderstorms 2000 ft above the ground on a big, conducting lump of granite is asking for it.

Fortunately, the grey clouds moved further and further away. Dumping its content somewhere else in the sierras.

Finally. At the top of Tenaya Peak!

Tenaya Peak, Yosemite

We finally topped out sometime after noon.

The 360 degree view (and a swarm of flying insects) welcomed us at the top. High fives all around! Getting on top of a mountain always gives me a sense of accomplishment. We could see Half Dome and Matthes Crest (our next mission!) and a whole lot of granite in between. So much rock!

What a view!

The view from the top of Tenaya Peak

The 1000 hours descent – or so it felt like

Just like any activity in vertical direction, when you get to the top, you’re only half way there. After taking the compulsory pictures, we started to descent down.

The guidebook says the descent should take 1 hr – 1.5 hr. It felt like forever. We basically traversed the whole width of the mountain on loose soil, talus fields, and scary slabs.

I’m never the most agile on this type of terrain so I practically dragged my butt down the mountain. I got holes on my pants (my good ones too!) from scooting so much.

It’s hard to describe the feeling of wanting to be done with something so badly and seeing that the ground below was not getting closer fast enough.

The moral and daylight was low when we got to the car. Our knees were bruised and battered from the constant impact. To add insult to injury, as opposed to celebratory cold beers and dinner, we had to drive around looking for a campsite for the night.

(We finally found one outside of Yosemite Park)

But great stories are forged out of misery. Or so we’d like to think. I mean, there wouldn’t be much to tell if Frodo and Sam jumped in a car and drove all the way to the Black Gate, now would there?

The Cure

After climbing food orgy

The next morning we crawled out of our tents and slowly tested each joint. Everything hurts. I mean everything. From our necks all the way down to our toes. Apparently running up and down a mountain is a true all-body workout (and here I thought ‘all body workout’ was just a myth).

This kind of of emotional and physical pain can only be cured by a fast food orgy. We would’ve opted for an In-n-Out. But since Oakdale doesn’t have any (!) we settled for a bucket of fried chicken, fried cheese, and large root beer float from KFC/A&W.

For that reason alone, I’d do this all over again.

(No, not really)

Climbing Tenaya Peak belongs in our “Once in a lifetime” list (so does this – where again I destroyed a pair of pants and this). Because we’re glad we did it, but we’ll never do it again.

And here’s to a few more of these moments in the future.

What’s on your “Once in a lifetime (but never again)” list?