By Janelle Eklund
Last night's nightly journey outside the tent was a wonderful experience. The sky was clear and the mountains reigned in the Alaskan summer twilight. Off to the east, over the Russell glacier, a lone star shone bright defying summer light and hinting the clock is ticking toward winter nights. By the time we got up in the morning the mountains had already been busy creating more clouds. They were the friendly sort that let the sun shine through. This country has many moods and the weather can change every few minutes.
We had our daily breakfast of oatmeal and packed for the steep climb up to Chitistone Pass. We were only on the trail a short ways before it petered out. Then we just took short switchbacks up the first 500'. The hillside was vegetated with rocky outcrops and about a 70% slope. Watch your footing, lean into the hill, take slow steps, rest often. I’m almost certain this was the center of the earth where gravity was born. Weight always seems heavier going up or down hill - things you carry as well as your body. Although my body weight must be getting smaller. I’m on the last notch of my belt - it’s never seen that notch before! We wore light shirts and sweated as we trudged up the steep slope. Wild flowers greeted us at every step in all their many hued colors. Deep pink-purple dwarf fireweed laid a velvety carpet in rocky draws. Yellow saxifrage, pink bistort, yellow arnica, blue forget-me-nots perfumed the air and made the steep climb pleasant. Once when we stopped to rest we watched some ground squirrels - a mom and two pups. The pups seemed to be older. They were trying to nurse but mom wasn’t too interested. They’d stretch their little legs on her tummy like they were begging and try to suckle but she’d shoo them away. One of them decided the begging wasn’t going to work so started feeding on vegetation. Mom started rolling around with the other one till they tumbled down the other side of their home.
The second 500' was much more gradual and a pleasant break. We found a nice seep and filled our water bottles and tummies. Nearby was the trail and very distinct. A little further on, just before Chitistone Lake we stopped to eat lunch behind a rock, out of the chill of glacial wind. Our delightful lunch consisted of beef jerky dipped in almond butter, crackers, cheese, dried fruit, cookies.
We left our packs and found a place off the trail and made camp. A gourmet dinner of Mediterranean black beans and fusilli mixed with the left over tuna/chicken dinner from the night before delighted our palates.
Two hikers from L.A. said they saw a grizzly and two cubs down the trail. As we stood talking with them the sinking sun spotlighted the mountains drawing out their tones and hues. Castle Mountain showed a mellow mood of soft subdued blues and yellows streaked by its own shadows. Looking through the binoculars can bring you into another world - up close and personal - with these regal mountains. White capped peaks that run for thousands of vertical feet gleamed in evening sun. As I scanned the pass, surrounding slopes, mountains and glaciers with the binoculars I saw many beautiful sights. A vertical rock wall loomed into view and it wept with the most fine and delicate waterfalls. At the base of the mountains between the second and third glaciers to the east a band of about thirty caribou grazed and rested. Beyond them where the trail leaves the pass the sow and two cubs appeared to be bedded down for the night. Another day of awesome views and incredible weather.
From my light to yours-
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.