The images of Crow Pass, a 26-mile trail through the Chugach Mountains in Alaska, scrolled by while Bob Dylan’s “Shelter From the Storm” welled up from speakers; a random confluence of memory. The effect was powerful.

Even those little photos on a laptop screen conveyed the gigantic beauty of Alaska, and that particular trail will bring everything Alaska has to throw at you: Scree fields, footpaths along ice fields on 60-degree slopes where one bad step means a terminal whoosh to the bottom – hundreds of feet down.

There are crevasses in ice revealing torrential water flowing through ice caves; one more chance to never come back. There are also marshes, swamp and muskeg, mosquitoes so thick it’s hard to breathe at times, and a river so cold it hurts the way needles do.

If you don’t ford the Eagle River, which flows from the visible Eagle Glacier, at the right spot and in the right way, you’ll slip and fall and maybe drown and most certainly sustain a level of hypothermia.

There are moose, bears, and large areas of matted grass that announce their activity. We saw three moose and a black bear on a trip there once. One Bull Moose was so close and so very still, standing right on the trail that I thought he was a statue installed for the Eagle River Nature Center, which marks the end of the trail from Girdwood. That is how new I was, that I thought a moose would be a statue. Of course he moved, and I was alone, having moved ahead of the group, nearing the end of the 26 miles. So I gave him a very wide berth, detouring through Alder and fallen Spruce.

At the end, we were exhausted, filthy, sore and happy. I took that hike my first week in Alaska, leaving a pizza delivery job in favor of the trip. To think I almost didn’t go.

It’s interesting how powerful a trip like that can be. To see the images shook loose some memories and some feelings from that time. And that I believe is the value of back country hiking: that you’ll see things that you would never otherwise see, and the experience will change you, though you may not notice until 12 years later, when some digital images and a random song bring it all back again.

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons