I had been invited by the International Thomas Merton Society (ITMS) Anchorage to deliver a paper on Thomas Merton and Boris Pasternak (this being the 50th year since Merton gave his final retreats in Eagle River-Anchorage and Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago was published in English and won the Nobel Prize for, probably, one of the finest novels of the 20th century). I did, though, want to do a trek when in Alaska and David Stevenson kindly offered to take me into Chugach State Park and do an afternoon ramble in the Flattop environs.
David has published two superb books on mountaineering that step far beyond mere recounting of trails to summits, peaks bagged and ridges raced across. There is nuance, soul insights, probes into the tougher questions and layered levels in David’s books that make for and invite many a meditative read. Letters from Chamonix: Stories and a Novella (2014) won the Banff Mountain Book Award in 2014 and his equally competent and compelling read of a book, Warning Against Myself: Meditations on a Life in Climbing (2016) takes his writing to yet a higher level, including the undercurrent of the death of his son, Macklin, in 2015. There is both a passion in the book for the ancient spires but also tentative probes into various motivations for taking to the time tried cathedrals, many a trip amply and aptly recounted—each article is a beauty not to miss. David’s most recent bounty of a book, Forty Crows: A Novel (2017) highlights, in an unmistakable way, David’s range of literary taste, palette and abilities.
I was most fortunate, though, when David picked me up on September 27th, the cloud ceiling scarcely above the rock rims and peaks, a cool wind afoot and rain ever present and we headed to Chugach State Park (on the outskirts of Anchorage). We headed up the more popular switchback pathway to Flattop Summit, but, at the col, took to Peak #2, threading our way, around rock spikes and a thin trail, views into the valleys on both sides, sheer gems not to miss. We dipped down to the col between Peaks # 2 and #3, many an engaging conversation traversed, eventually back to the parked vehicle, a most delightful afternoon (now tucked well into my memory). We then did a drive round the mountain and did a short meander on a pathway with fine views of Anchorage below, the waterways like veins on the terrain and the Alaska Range (Denali the reigning monarch) off in the distance as the lamp of the day illuminated the white glacier peaks in the distance. We ended the day as most good rambles should by taking to the pub (Midnight Sun Brewing Co.) and downing some fine ale.
It was, indeed, a few days not to miss in Anchorage at the Merton Conference, trekking with David in Chugach State Park and weaving our way between 2nd and 3rd Peaks near the much-travelled Flattop Mountain—we two, almost, the only ones on the mountain on such a blustery yet pleasant Alaskan autumn afternoon.