Approaching 5,530-foot glaciated Split Thumb mountain. (Klas Stolpe)
Juneau, Alaska – From Egan Drive, one’s eyes are drawn to the Lemon Glacier, whether any cloud cover is present and if “hitchhiking” is doable that day.
I refer to Split Thumb, the 5,500 foot elevation granite slab looming over the Lemon Glacier, as my “Hitchhiker Run.” That’s because it is one I never do alone but always tag along on – put my thumb out, so to speak, and enjoy the ride.
I never attempt the route alone for various reasons.
One is companionship. Saying, “oh, Split Thumb is showing today” is more impactful if there is someone beside you in the shadow of said monolith instead of sitting in the passenger seat of a vehicle moving 55 along Egan.
Safety is another.
NO MATTER the length or difficulty, SAFETY should be the priority of any outing.
Safety involves planning, traveling gear, fuel and communications among other responsible considerations many of my friends might think I seldom practice.
Planning – Knowing what the route is and leaving your itinerary with someone who will know why you are not back at 5 p.m. AND not someone like Hendrick the Dachshund who is sitting by the door waiting to poop outside when you get home. Hendrick will just poop by the door and go sit on the couch.
Traveling Gear – Extra clothing, first aid, fire starter, shelter and other things that would be essential if a one-day outing unexpectedly turned into an inadvertent overnight adventure. You may be surprised at how light your pack or running vest can be even with such essential gear in it. Then again, sometimes the Swede in me adjusts my load to include my significant other’s extra gear. This is not ideal just for the fact that, hiking gods forbid, we become separated, dazed and confused.
Fuel – Food, snacks and hydration. The things you packed in at mile one do not taste the same at mile 15. However, the creativity of the hiking chef is on par with any commercially funded TV show highlighting gourmet gastronomics. Tip – ketchup packets. Yum!
Communications – A cell phone or personal locator beacon (PLB) or satellite messenger, to be used when needed, such as for help, not pizza orders.
Note – I do not pack climbing gear. I do not like outings that require me to rope in. Big heights scare me. I know my limits. I will pack a rope for rescues (or goat wrangling).
Recently, I took my preferred Split Thumb route along the Blackerby Ridge, over Cairn to Camp 17 across the Lemon Glacier and along rock spines and snow passes near Scorpion Peak to the base of Split Thumb and back in roughly eight hours. Granted, I was in the tailwind of an experienced and faster outdoorsy type so I was trying to move quickly… and we started later then desired… and we didn’t pack enough snacks… and my cell phone died… but I did tell my significant other and my hiking companion was in constant “work-related texts” and we both knew the route inside and out.
One can also, if you really hate yourself, access Camp 17 via the Lemon Creek Trail or, if you have the luxury of long hours of daylight, the Heintzleman ridge.
Lemon Creek involves mud and thorns and roots, oh my!
Heintzleman Ridge is just long, a roughly 2.5 mile trail to get up to the ridge itself which is then seven miles long at an average elevation of 4,100-feet with a precarious notch early and a dangerous glacial sidehill later as you exit below Nugget Mountain and it’s wondrous viewing vantage points onto the Juneau Icefield.
My preferred trip is one that uses the Blackerby approach, kisses the base of Split Thumb and wraps around it to access the ice field there and up to Nugget Mountain and Heintlzeman and home. In Swedish terms – “Uff da!”
Unfortunately, I have accomplished this just twice and remember little of the route except being tired, hungry and nervous… something one might expect when hitchhiking in the backcountry.
So pack accordingly, leave a trip planner with a reliable source and have fun.
Oh yeah… take Hendrick!