By Janelle Eklund
The hawk stood silent perched on the cliffs below camp contemplating the magnificent clear day. All of a sudden, as if in adoration, it took to flight, did an arabesque, then disappeared behind the mountain we will get acquainted with today.
We took advantage of the Dall sheep trail to climb down the hill to the ravine where fresh clear water flowed out of the mountain. It was very tempting to wallow in it but we’d already put sun block on for the day. We crossed the next dry drainage and hooked up with another sheep trail that traverses the hillside where another population of orange poppies makes its home. The hillside was a patch work of vegetation and small bolder fields where sheep hair clung to rocks. Walking was much more stable than what we encountered yesterday. Yellow cinquefoil, bluebells, white saxifrage and many other species dot the hillside in splendid color. The further we went the terrain got steeper but still stable.
I feel good in this fresh sun drenched mountain air. These exhilarating days take off the pounds and brings lightness to the heart.
Our tents were dwarfed against mountains and valleys as we looked back across the drainage to camp. We stopped about 11:30 to take a GPS and had a bite to eat. On up the ridge we stopped at a nice lush carpet of vegetation to take another GPS.
A little higher up the Mary found the slope she thought the poppy would be on. So down we went onto another scree field. The rocks were bigger here. Part way down we split up for a little bit and Mary checked out one part of the slope while I looked on another. Crossing over the slope was a little scary. You could hear looseness of the rocks and feel it underneath with every step. It was imperative to step very careful. I was also uneasy because Mary had started to cross way below me. I had awful visions of me stepping on the wrong rock and the whole slope giving way into a slide. I froze in place until she reached the ridge on the other side of the scree slope and then finished crossing without incident. We started climbing back up in a more stable spot with solid ground beneath us. This ridge looked into the next scree slope. Mary had binoculars but the poppy was hiding well and not to be found.
We got back to the main ridge top where it felt like you were on top of the world. Instead of traversing we headed straight down to the creek bottom below camp staying on the vegetated areas except when we had to cross a few scree fields. Gravity took over and it felt like my toes would go through the end of my boots. One rock seemed to leap up and put a lump on my leg - hah! But none the worse for the wear.
The cool clear water of the creek lured us. It was invigorating and refreshing to sit in one of its shallow pools and splash icy cold water on our sweaty bodies, gasping in the delightful shock. Three days of sweat floated away. Emerging we grabbed our towel - the sun and the wind - enjoying being patted dry as they sang through our bodies. Mary found the perfect deodorant - sage. We dabbed it under our arms and let its wonderful scent filter through us. Refreshed, we took the sheep trail up the hill to camp.
We enjoyed our supper of left over's and sweet potatoes. A poem about our adventure formed in my head. We shared some good laughs and explored the inside of plants with hand lenses.
From my light to yours-
By Janelle Eklund
I obviously didn't pick the right spot for the tent. I woke with a stiff neck from a lumpy bed. First thing I did after I got up was find a flatter spot and move the tent. I'm not sure if it was the lumpy bed or the walk we took last night that triggered vivid dreams of boulder avalanches. The mountains were breaking apart and huge boulders tumbled down toward us. We kept moving to avoid them. One just missed someone.
The weather is still mostly clear and beautiful. Some clouds came in last night and it looked like we’d get a bit of rain but they went on their merry way. Just a few scattered clouds all day and almost clear tonight.
Today we hiked up the slope behind camp to about 1,400'. It was slow going which was fine with me. Mary looked at different species of plants on the way up. It was nice to go a little way, stop for a bit, and then go a little further. When we got to our destination we had a bite of lunch enjoying the magnificent view. After lunch we tackled the first steep scree field to look for the elusive orange poppy. Mary had been here before so the poppies had been mapped. Unfortunately for us this beauty of a flower refused to grow toward the top of the ridge where it was not so steep. They like being a third of the way down the unstable scree slope, happily living with the rocks, using their heat energy to survive. We found a good population of them but a lot of the capsules had been chewed on by something. Mary took lots of seed samples in hopes of getting some good ones to examine. After getting samples by balancing on the steep slope I went back up the hill where we left our packs and took a siesta in the sun. Mary tagged some of the poppies and took a GPS reading, which took almost an hour. It felt good to nestle down with the grass, the slope and the sun. The richness and warmth was lulling and peaceful.
We followed the ridge line up and then back down toward camp. As we meandered through this vast kaleidoscope we encountered another population of orange poppy halfway back to camp. Again, something was hungry and did a good job of chewing on the capsules. We got some samples anyway.
Back at camp Mary made curry couscous with carrots and cauliflower, which was very tasty. She pressed some of the other plants she collected and keyed them out. A beautiful night in the vast mountain peaked valley. The scene out our camp window frames distant white peaks skirted by closer peaks dressed for summer, cascading into a valley floor where the mountains spill a gleaming ribbon of a river. A half moon decorates the sky above. The sound of the river lulls the still sunlit night. A ground squirrel tells me it’s time to retire to the tent so he can retreat to his nearby house.
All is well and good. Peace envelopes the land.
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.