Remembering Alute: A guest post by Jim Sweeney

Tonight (September 17) at 7 pm, author Jim Sweeney will speak on “No Higher Ground,” the first Reading & Craft Talk of the 49 Writers fall season at Great Harvest Bread Company. A veteran Alaskan mountaineer, Sweeney (Alaska Expedition Marine Life Solidarity, The List)
will talk about how he drew on his experiences in the Alaskan
wilderness to create his compelling stories and the memoir of his
near-fatal expedition in the Alaska Range in the spring of 1989.
Here, Sweeney talks about a recent trek loaded with memories.

I’m alone on my bicycle at the Devils Creek Trailhead and
it’s not raining. My friend Nick let me out here on his way to Soldotna. My
plan is to ride up through Devils and Resurrection
Passes and then down to Hope. It’s
about forty miles.

My summer construction job in Talkeetna ended twelve days ago. I
did my last presentation for the tourists at the Talkeetna Denali Lodge and
sold a few books. My dog, Alute, died in Talkeetna. I couldn’t grieve there
and I’m not sure why but the loss of her hit me when I left. I got myself to Anchorage
and Alute’s ghost was everywhere. Six of the eight years that it took me to write my two books, The List and Alaska Expedition Marine Life
, we spent together in Spenard. I must have cried fifty times in the twenty four hours I spent in
town. I wrote my first story a couple of days after getting her and never wrote
one without her.
In the morning, I don’t have a ride to Hope, so I pedal to South
Anchorage. I don’t plan on riding down the Seward
Highway. My friend Doug Pope, also a writer,
offered to let me stay in his place in Hope before my presentation with
the 49 Writers on September 17th and one with the Mountaineering Club of Alaska
on the 18th, after which I leave for California. 
I ride across Anchorage
determined to get to Hope in one day. If I can get a ride to Girdwood, my friend
Gail will drive me to Hope. I ride down the Seward
Highway to Potters Marsh near the gun range, where
I lean my bike against a pole and hitchhike.
Everything blurs, cranes fly overhead, two swans on a pond. Less than three minutes pass before a light blue Subaru with a bike rack and rocket box pulls to a stop in
front of me. A young athletic man hops from the front seat and tells me, “I can
take you to the Hope Junction.”
“Cool, I’m going to Hope. I can ride my bike from there.”
Andrew drops me, my bicycle, and five bags of food I bought
at the Merc in Girdwood at the Popes’ place in Hope. It’s right at the edge of
the grasslands looking out the Turnagain Arm. The picture on the cover of my
first book, The List, was taken from here. It’s a special place and I realize
how lucky I am to be here, but as soon as Andrew drives away I have to deal
with Alute’s ghost. 

I head out on my bike as soon as I put my groceries in the
fridge. I’m staggered by Alute’s ghost as I wobble around Hope and it’s hard to
breathe in a bucket of tears. I can’t bring myself to go into the Seaview Bar
or the library or Tito’s and say hi to old friends. I point my bike towards Palmer

At Devil’s Pass, I take a picture of my bike with the sign.
I recite one of my stories I’ve memorized while stretching and in less than
five minutes I’m back on the trail. I pass a couple of lakes and the valley is
wide with not many trees or bushes. A long rocky section of trail has me
switching my bike shoes for running shoes after falling over two times, but I
keep moving.

Devils Pass
trail starts with a downhill but is followed by a long steady but not too steep
of a hill. The wind blows the leaves shimmering green and silver. I sing loudly
to scare off any bears. The mountains feel good and only a big hill can sooth
how I feel about Alute.
In less than an hour on Devil Pass Trail I break free of the
bushes and swathes of red tundra sweep up the mountains. No bears so far and
the only sign of game I see is the horseshit on the trail. I keep the hammer
down. My focus is on the trail.
I’m excited to speak to the 49 Writers and the
Mountaineering Club of Alaska. I’ve been thinking about my craft talk a lot and
I don’t plan on doing my standard survival presentation for the
I have to breathe climbing up Palmer
Creek and don’t think about Alute
and it feels good. I like the way forest passes by. When I crest the switch
backs, a cow and two moose calfs snarf at the alders and don’t seem to worry
about me but something is up. The momma keeps looking back and when I pass them
by around the corner a brown bear prowls the side of the road. I wave my arms
and it scampers into the brush.
Alute’s ghost isn’t at the end of Palmer
Creek. Nor is she where the Devils
Creek Trail runs into the Resurrection Pass Trail but I still miss her madly.
It only takes me a moment to turn around on the Palmer Creek Road and to find a
little sign up in Resurrection Pass with arrow pointing north next to the word

1 thought on “Remembering Alute: A guest post by Jim Sweeney”

  1. Sorry to learn about your loss of Alute, Jim. I recall crossing paths with you and your husky several times and your clear love for Alute. I wish you the best with your presentations.

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