By Janelle Eklund
Got up in the night to water the bushes and it was as if there were no mountains - the clouds encased them all. No rain all night but a few sprinkles after we got up.
We hiked to upper Skolai Lake. The trail was intermittent but it was no problem finding our way. There are no trees in this high country. We saw a Wilsons Warbler in its bright yellow suit. Our route tomorrow or the next day stood across the valley in all its steep glory. We glassed it many times looking for the trail. We’d think we’d see it but then not so sure.
As we continued we lost the trail almost as fast as we found it. We traversed the mountain side, and upon reaching a small saddle the trail appeared above us. We followed it down the hill through some willows yelling “Hey Bear” all the way through the thicket. This hillside is the balcony view of the Russell Glacier and upper Skolai Lake where mountains rise in great columns behind and around it. Glaciers hang in every valley and in every cirque, frozen in time yet moving in grunts, groans and water flows. This country is rugged beyond belief. The trail brought us down to the bottom near Skolai Creek skirting the foot of the hill. Here is the birth place of Skolai Creek, born of ice from the Russell Glacier. It begins its life as many channels, braiding in silty patterns across this gravely plain. We made our way over to a cabin that stood at the base of the mountains. Silt was reclaiming its stake on the land here as about a quarter of the cabin was lost to the visages of time. The door had long been gone and a few boards were missing on the back and front walls. It had a good tin roof and would be a welcome shelter in any storm. Recent trash littered the dirt floor. We proceeded to do some house cleaning. Paul dug a fire pit and we burned all the trash except four blazo cans, three tin cans, a glass jar and two metal handles. Paul gathered his carpentry tools - a rock and a Leatherman - and proceeded to repair the holes in the walls. He did a mighty fine job considering what he had to work with. It looked pretty spiffy by the time we were done. After washing up and having lunch we walked over to upper Skolai Lake and admired icebergs that resembled birds with long beaks and table tops on pedestals. Miles of ice lay ahead of us.
On the way back we stopped at the cabin and put the fire out and buried the ashes. We followed the intermittent trail back to camp. On the way we watched a plane land and leave two people. They camped on the hill across from us, above Skolai airstrip. We took a much needed dip in the frigid glacial water of Skolai Creek. It was short but sweet. It felt good to get the last two days of sweat off our bodies. After a good taco dinner the skies cleared and the sun came out. It felt so good we decided it was nice and warm enough to rinse out our hair and stinky shirts. When you hike every day, sweating, etc., you get pretty rank after a few days. I was starting to notice a bad odor in the tent last night. Went for a short walk down the creek to see if we could see the fox, but no activity. Watched some shore birds and saw the lesser sandpiper.
Another beautiful day ending with the sun gleaming off white peaks and casting mellow shadows on mountains creating patchwork hues. Goodnight to the sun at 10:00pm!
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.