17 August 2005

Arctic Trek II

I think I left off on my second day of hiking. I'd just spent the night at Glacier Pass on the rocks above the moose filled marsh. In the morning I spent a long time getting out of bed and packing my stuff. I was too lazy to cook myself a hot breakfast, and took off a little slower than the day before. I was low on water, so that was my first priority.

My maps indicated a small lake just a half mile down the slope from my camp, and I set my sights on it. It also looked like a good way to cut some time off of my route, shooting through a gap between hills and then down into the Glacier Valley proper. I still hadn't had a good view of the valley, and I was eager to see the long view.

At first the travel was no problem through thin spruce forest, but I quickly found my way into thick tussocks. I should have stayed on the
wide winter path that I had followed across the pass! The last 1/4 mile to the lake was grueling. I was thirsty and the lake was so close, but the tussocks made every step a struggle.

When I finally got there and sat down to filter some water I realized that I hadn't put on any mosquito repellent. A horde descended but I was quick and went for my insecticide before they could eat me alive. It was a frantic action hurried by the pressing fear of itch, the buzzing and swarming mass producing a mild hysteria that could only be cured by the cessation of the threat. I struggled to pull the repellent out of my pack, but got i
t and dowsed myself before I lost too much blood. With the mosquitoes circling at a safe distance and my body covered with corrosive chemicals, I started pumping water. When I'd got a couple quarts I stopped and drank it all. I was so thirsty.

This second day of hiking provided the best weather of my trip. The clouds parted enough to let a good amount of sunshine filter down, and as I moved along out of the morning tussocks I saw the broad valley open up before me. The peaks were not enormously high, the valley not so steep. The topography was broad and open. It was like a lot of places that I've been except that there were no people. As I hiked along moose and bear trails, and disturbed the nesting sea-birds that had no doubt flown from some great distance to be in this solitude, I began to feel the loneliness of the place. In this twenty-five mile long valley I was probably the only human. And probably the first to travel this way for quite a while. If this valley were anywhere else in the world it would be developed and inhabited.

The east side of the valley was my intended route. Jack had told me about a flat bench running along that side for quite some distance that would provide better hiking ground. As long as I stayed in the trees I'd avoid most of the tussocks, he'd said. And always look for the white lichen on the ground. That indicates harder substrate. I tried to follow his advice but somehow I kept finding meadows full of the damn tussocks.

I struggled with the little bastards periodically as I moved along. I hadn't figured out how to spot the easier terrain, so I would come out of forested and easy areas into great stultifying tussock fields. In an effort to avoid the difficult hiking I dropped down off the bench and onto the valley floor. I'm not sure if that was the right move or not, but I was able to find animal trails that helped my passage a lot. Down in the valley bottom I found a group of small, shallow lakes that seemed to be a haven for birds. There were a lot of very noisy sandpiper-like fellows that would follow me around, yelling at me and telling me to go away, and occasionally I'd see a an owl circling above the meadows, hunting in broad daylight. The arctic is strange indeed.

I only made five miles or so before I was pretty exhausted. At the river's edge I found some bear and wolf tracks in the mud and made camp on a gravel bar not far from them. To the west was Swede Creek, and up the valley I was beginning to see the higher mountains that were my goal. My feet were sore from all the tussock hiking of the last two days, but I was excited and ready for a new day.


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