Mt. Jumbo Photo Journal
I’d like to start by introducing my favorite mountain in South East Alaska. Mt. Bradley, locally known as “Mt. Jumbo”, located on Douglas Island across the Gastineau Channel from the capital city of Juneau. This magnificent peak rises 3,337 feet over the icy cold waters of Stephen’s Passage, famous for summer cruise ship voyages. This was my first foray into Alaskan hiking and it has everything that makes the Tongass National Forest and SE Alaska a remarkable and unique location. At nearly sea-level off of 5th street in downtown Douglas, boasting only a meager brown sign to mark the trailhead, the trail winds past the remnants of the upper portion of the Treadwell Mine. Through forest thick with moss and “Devils Club”, a spiny plant I was warned would stab you and stay in your skin for quite some time. The trail meanders lazily along old ditches covered with rotting planks of wood made to funnel water from snowmelt creeks down to the mine itself near the town of Douglas. Once you reach the waterfall it opens up drastically across muskeg swamp to display the behemoth rock face of Mt. Jumbo itself towering more than 2,000 feet above. Planks of wood lead through the swamps and quickly the trail becomes quite steep. Rising out of the trees within about forty-five minutes, the ridge line leads even steeper up towards the peak. Along with this ridge in early spring there will almost certainly be snow, and depending on the snowpack could offer some glorious opportunities to glissade on the way down. The trail continues along and around the back (south side) of the peak and rises once again, even more steeply to the peak itself. Extraordinary snowfields and wildflower-filled meadows await. 360-degree views of downtown Juneau, Douglas, and adjacent Admiralty Island, known for the largest per capita Brown Bear population in the world. This trek exemplifies the diversity which can be found throughout this wonderful region of Alaska.
On my first attempt to hike “Jumbo” I met up with a couple of workmates and we embarked around 10 am. I had a day pack with my lunch (a sandwich and hot Cheetos), 3 liters of water, a couple bottles of Alaskan Brewing “Icy Bay IPA”, and my trusty Nikon D600. I would later find out that carrying cans of beer to a summit is much nicer than descending with bottles clanging around in your backpack. Either way, I was set to bag my first Alaskan summit! As we set off along the winding lower section of the trail I quickly realized that I was not as fit as I had previously thought. Who knew that partying in college and not hiking whatsoever could make it really difficult to hike up a mountain?! Anyway, I took plenty of water breaks disguised as photo opportunities to make the most of my meager pace. After huffing and puffing my way up to the peak more than three hours later, I found my coworkers lounging lazily and napping in the afternoon sun. I must say that the peak of Mt. Jumbo is a really great place to nap as during the spring it is covered in tiny shrubs, alpine flowers, and lichen which make for nice impromptu padding. We must have spent at least two hours exploring the huge area around the peak, taking photos, eating lunch, and having a couple of well-deserved beers. Although I was out of shape, this hike was well within my abilities, and during my first summer and subsequent return the following summer I ended up hiking Mt. Jumbo on five separate occasions.
My favorite experience hiking Mt. Jumbo was actually a last-second decision after work one day. It began with a simple remark from a coworker about how the Aurora Borealis, more commonly known as the "Northern Lights", would be really going off later that evening. Typically on the Aurora forecast website for Alaska, the lights are rated as a 2 or 3 out of 9, but the forecast for that night was a 5. I had seen the Aurora numerous times the previous summer as well as photographed it, but I had not yet captured a time-lapse that I was really happy with. As the workday came to a close I decided that if I wanted the most expansive view I could get with downtown Juneau in the foreground I would need to go to the peak of Jumbo, set up a tent, and wait for the Aurora to hopefully show up. Although I was already tired from working all day I rode my bike feverishly back to my place in Douglas and packed everything I thought I'd need for the night's adventure. Luckily for me, the trailhead was only four blocks up the road so I made it in record time that evening. From the start of the hike until I hit the summit it had been just over two hours, a personal best time. As day hikers were descending they gave wary looks as I set up my tent at an outcrop on the cliff face of the mountain. I knew I had made the right decision. Laying in my tent I sipped a cold can of beer and waited for the lights to arrive. At nearly 10 pm I caught the first flicker of Aurora on the horizon and rushed to turn my camera on to capture the show. By 10:45 pm the sky was alight in a blaze of green and blue, and I sat staring in awe at what my life had become. Alone on my favorite mountain, watching the best Aurora I’d ever seen, I resolved to spend as much of my time in the outdoors exploring and capturing these spectacular moments as I possibly could.