By Janelle Eklund
Sediment Creek runs between two mountains and out onto a gravelly plain. Just before it empties into the Tatshenshini (Tat for short) it braids into several small channels. To the south the Tat wound through a wide valley lined with mountain peaks on both sides. To the north the scene is similar with a sweeping valley spilling out of the northeast.
A black bear munched on high bush cranberries on the edge of the gravel plain close to camp. We observed from a distance through binoculars and cameras. A trail takes off from the plain about 700 yards up the creek. It meanders through a cottonwood forest for a short way and then climbs the hill to open alpine tundra. Four of us headed out to explore the treasures of the trail. Before entering the forest we saw a sow and two cub black bears near the trail on the tundra above us. All the while we yelled - 'hey bear, ho bear, eehaa!' Later the others at camp said they saw a sow with two cubs and several other bears along the creek bed. The sow sent the cubs scampering up a tree and then stood on her hind legs to get a better look at the campers. Maybe it was the same bears we saw.
We followed the trail up to the first lookout point where we sat and ate lunch enjoying the view. Transparent wedding veils of clouds moved along the mountain peaks, some of them releasing their moisture. At times the veil wrapped us in its shroud. We resumed our bear chant wading through thick wet alders and willows overgrowing the distinct worn trail. Raingear kept us from getting totally drenched from rain but not from sweat. Between the thickets grew small colorful meadow pockets of grasses and wildflowers - some as high as my waist. Geranium, monksood, false hellebore, lupine - the tallest lupine I've ever seen! The higher we climbed the more varieties we encountered - columbine, forget-me-nots, delphinium. And then as we reached the tundra above tree line, cassiopeia and moss campion. About three quarters of the way up we crossed a small scree slope that led to a alcove of rocks exposing naked time lines like those we saw in the river chutes - black, grey, orange. Plant life clung to the base of rock using its heat and energy for its own growth. As we wound our way up we reached the snow fields we could see from camp. The first one was short and we crossed it digging our heels in. We cautiously proceeded on the second steeper snow field. We kept in contact with our companions back at camp to reassure them we had no bear encounters. Rain was falling on camp and they cautioned us to return, thinking the weather was getting worse. But we had a ring side panoramic view and we could see the weather wasn't so bad. At times the sun gave us brief kisses. And after coming so far we were determined to reach the top.
The last section of trail was the steepest with nary a switchback. What we thought was the rim turned into a sweeping plain of tundra dotted with patches of snow. Snow covered mountain peaks began to rise above the tundra. At 5:00pm, after four hours of trekking, we were satisfied we had reached the top. Turning around to begin our descent we were pleasantly surprised to be given a rainbow show. The sun was reflecting off a distant cloud curtain shedding its misty coat. We were careful to make our way down the steep slippery trail. Tired of our monotonous bear chant we started singing bear songs and playing the alphabet game, which we would later perform for the group back at camp. With gravity in our favor it took only two hours to return to camp. Hamburgers and home fries tasted good after our work out with the massive hill. The night sky of parting clouds and rays of sun gave hope for a clear day to come. Tiny white dots of sheep precariously skirted rocky cliffs above the creek bed.
To be continued
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.