Like most of Southeast Alaska, Kupreanof Island is a land of barnacle-crusted shorelines, moss-draped forests, squishy, flower-filled muskegs, and steep, snow-pocketed peaks. Our plan on the island was to explore the Petersburg Mountain trail. All we knew about the trail is that it began in the forest and climbed 2700 feet to the top of the mountain. What we might find along the way was a complete mystery.

We had seven hours to explore, discover, climb, and return. Maybe we would reach the summit, maybe we would be turned back. We were excited.

It was immediately clear that the trail was not heavily used. Skunk cabbage hung over the narrow planks that wound through the forest, adding to already slippery footing. Soon, we were scrambling around, under and over downed trees, splashing through water running across the trail, and trying to avoid the worst of the mud.

We slipped, we slid, we laughed. We helped each other, we took pictures and told stories, and we sang our favorite bear songs.

“If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise…

If you go down to the woods today, you better go in disguise…

Cause every bear that ever there was, will gather there together because,

Today’s the day the teddy bears have their picnic.”

And we climbed and we climbed and we climbed, as the trail wound ever steeper up the slope.

Eventually, some 2200 feet up the mountain, legs weary, spirits high, and bellies begging, we came across Phil––a giant snag of a once-mighty tree that we knew, immediately, was our destination. We left the trail to gather under this great relic, a standing shadow of what the forest once was and might again become. As we opened our lunch bags, clouds settled over us, giving Phil an even more ancient aura. Someone broke into a Grateful Dead song.

“Truckin’ got my chips cashed in,

Keep truckin’ like the DooDa Man

Together, more or less in line

Just keep trucking’ o-o-on…”

The summit would remain a mystery, and that felt just about right as we trucked on back down the mountain, imagining teddy bears peeking from behind spruce trees or picnicking behind the moss-covered boulders.