More Setting the Scene: The Hiking

In the Field 2014

Crossing the run-off stream

Both last year and the first couple days this year, I described the hiking and the terrain – the rocks, the slope, the streams and how precarious things can be.  I even made a comment like “it is sometimes hard to find a foothold.” But I still just don’t think I have communicated it very well. It has even been challenging to capture it in the photos or videos.

Granted, I am far from a professional photographer, but as the virtual tour guide I want to do my best to help you experience this project along with us.

So, here goes…

For starters we call this a hike, or a day hike, because we come and go and don’t camp. But my connotation of a day hike is not this.  This hike is more than a moderate hike. I also wouldn’t say the whole thing is necessarily extreme either.  But, I discussed this with the guys.  (Who, by the way, I am convinced, are part Dahl sheep, or spider, or something that can crawl on vertical planes with ease. It is crazy.)  They agreed to compromise and call this hike a combo hike of moderate, strenuous and extreme depending on how far and where you go along the way.  (So that covers it, right?  Oh well.  They make this sound so easy. They refer to it as being “acclimated.”   Really, they are acclimated.  I don’t know how since none of them live at any unusually high or even moderately high altitude.  Either way, I don’t think I have seen or heard any of them even breathing hard, while I am panting.)

The “Day” Hike:

Over the past week I have become much more familiar with the 2/2.5 hour hike to and from the trailhead of Tattler Creek to the field site in the proximity of Sable Mountain that Tony and his crew have called their worksite for the past several years.  From a gear standpoint – a solid pair of hiking boots, two pair of wool socks (a thin liner and a thicker outer pair), hiking pants, several layers of clothing, gloves, hat(s) and as previously mentioned, rain gear (jacket, pants and leg gators).  After last year I decided to bring some trekking poles too. These have been very helpful!

Run off becomes a true stream

At the trailhead, the entrance to this creek valley is thinner than the rest and starts out as a gentle slope, at what I estimate to be an altitude of maybe 2000ish ft. (??).  The hike begins first over gravel and some patches of wild looking grass, and winds through willows and a trickle of a stream, which, after the fact, you realize is really not a stream but just one of the many small areas of runoff due to the wet weather. As the slope begins a more obvious incline we continue to wind over what becomes a combo of gravel and rocks and the run off becomes a true stream.

We proceed with more winding through more willows of all shapes and sizes and after fording yet another section of the winding stream, the berry bushes begin and, at this time of year, lots and lots of flowers – bluebells galore.

Photo Jul 15-11 27 19 AM six seven
Photo Jul 19, 11 22 06 AM eight.nine Photo Jul 19, 11 45 14 AM ten

The walls of the ravine begin to widen and present colors from grey to black and beige to rust and even some red.  Still the incline continues. The stream becomes a full blown creek and suddenly we are looking down on it as it rushes by some 50 feet below. This is the moderate part. By the way, this year we didn’t see any large animals thus far. So no bear encounters!  Only an occasional ground squirrel, a couple of magpies, an eagle or two, the cry, but no sighting, of a marmot, a small family of ptarmigans and, what I think may have been, an actual Tattler.  (We have seen some moose while driving but I am not sure that counts.) Photo Jul 26, 12 00 00 PM twelveNext, at what I guess is an altitude of 3500-4000ish ft. (??), and at about a little over an hour from our start time, we reach a quarry of gray rocks of all shapes and sizes near the base of where two medium size ravines and streams converge.  This is the location where we usually stop for a break, a bite and some water.

After our break (the times for these vary based on weather and objectives of the day), we head, what I will describe as, straight up.  This is our normal route.  By normal I mean the only direction we went last year and the main direction we have gone this year.  This direction leads to the main area of project focus.

Photo Jul 18, 1 38 43 PM thirteen

That being said, earlier this week Tony directed us up the left ravine for a change just to check it out.  (And, as you recall from that post, we found waterfalls and lots of tracks!)

So back to… we head straight up.  By this, I really mean up.  We follow the stream that is flanked on both sides by dark, muddy soil and the same type of gray rocks we sat on to take our break. The rocks are outlined by slopes of green grass and tundra dotted with flowers of pink, white and yellow.  We walk in, alongside and across the stream because the ravine is pretty thin and there is not much other walking space.

Photo Jul 18, 1 28 05 PM fourteenPhoto Jul 26, 1 55 03 PM fifteenThen we begin to veer to the right and away from the main stream and into the tundra that is like padded carpet to my feet.  And mushy.  The slope continues up and opens into a mountain meadow.  (This is the one that last year made me want to spin around and sing “The Hills are alive…”. You know the rest.)  Across the meadow the tundra converges into rocks and gravel and after an hour or so since departing the break location we reach the first ridge.

Sorry for all the movie and TV references, but it is at this point, as the view over the ridge comes into focus, that the theme song from the Big Valley TV show plays in my head. (Ok, I admit it, since those who know me know the truth, yes, I sing it out loud.  And, those who know Tony know that he shoots me a look.  But, he also has to admit he knows what I mean!) The valley is vast and green and surrounded with layers of a dozen mountain peaks.  Through the center what, from up where we are, looks like a finger of water is winding through the valley. It is called Big Creek.  On top of all this, at times the valley is clear and others it is filled with wispy clouds and the presence of rain that makes the whole thing look dreamy.  No matter what the entire scene looks so perfect it really should be straight out of a movie. (I know you are humming the theme from Big Valley now too!) I think we are now at an altitude of about 5000-5500ish ft. (??)

Photo Jul 15, 1 21 02 PM Photo Jul 15, 2 43 27 PM Photo Jul 24, 3 36 41 PM Photo Jul 24, 3 36 45 PM

Posted from Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska, United States.