By Janelle Eklund
It stopped raining in the night and we woke up to broken clouds and some sun. We filled our packs for a day hike and headed back down the Goat Trail. Fifty caribou grazed right by the trail near the lake in the middle of the pass. As we got closer they moved to the other side of the lake and up the hill. A group of mountain goats still wandered around the rocky cliffs above. We hiked about three and a half miles from camp until the trail dropped 1500 feet to the river bed. The trail was pretty distinct once we got through the pass. It meandered across rocky slopes and crossed small streams that fell from glaciers hanging high overhead, or seeped directly out of the heart of these rugged mountains. These seeps emerged to give life to mosses of vibrant dark green, lime green, and brilliant rusty red hues. Directly above us a giant jagged peak loomed - a beautiful rugged beast we gave homage to.
The clouds and mountains played their endless games, making rain showers and then wearing themselves out. They only anointed us with a few splatters as they swept by in transparent sheets. Crossing one rocky slope we found a rock shelter with four sides right beside the trail. It would be a welcome reprieve in a heavy wind/rain storm. A short distance beyond this were a couple of nice sheltered benches where people have most likely camped. At 11:30 we decided to turn around but not before taking a rest and absorbing the view of the Chitistone Valley. Chitistone Falls was still 4-5 miles down the valley. Before reaching it the trail crosses high rocky 80 degree scree slopes. Carrying a heavy pack one needs skill and dexterity - and no fear of heights.
On the way back we found a nice comfortable place on the tundra between two rocks to sit and have lunch. It also had a spectacular view of a receding glacier, the Chitistone River and Valley. We ate most of what we’d been grazing on the last few days. Back at camp we broke it down and packed our gear for the trip down the 1,000 foot decent.
As we started out we met 15 mountain goats. We may as well have been a ground squirrel because they let us get within thirty feet before they moved off the trail and up the slope. Of course it is their trail. We were just visitors.
We found our route down the last 500' and zigzagged straight down. Using our aluminum walking sticks we stepped slowly and surely. The climb down seemed a lot easier than the climb up. A light transparent rain shower swept across Skolai Valley. The sun danced on droplets creating a brilliant rainbow. Truly the gold here is what you see, what you experience in all its relentless fury.
Small creeks only one step wide braided across the rock fields before reaching the airstrip. As I stepped on the edge of what looked like a stable rock the ground went right out from under me and I ended up with my soft pack between me and the jagged rocks, none the worse for the wear. I must be getting hardened and tougher...tough country makes one tough. Paul was way ahead of me. I managed to pick myself up and continue - with a little more respect for boulder fields!
At the airstrip we finished dinner under a good hard rain shower spit out by the seven sister peaks right above us. Each of these peaks nestles a glacier. It reminded us of what rain is all about.
The next day our journey ended as we climbed aboard the small plane to head back to McCarthy. It buzzed over the Goat Trail giving us a different perspective and reverence from the air. It’s hard to describe the beauty endowed in this strong rough hewn landscape of glaciers, peaks, and braided rivers.
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.