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> Atigun Valley, The Sunday Hike
Tom_Crumrine
post Jun 20 2005, 03:51 AM
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19 June 2005

The views from Toolik might be over for a little while. Scientists arriving to camp last night said they had come through areas where the flames from wildfires were as high as the van on both sides of the road. They said that there were points when they were extremely nervous. This morning I awoke to fairly clear skies to the north but with some clouds over the mountains in the south. Those clouds turned out to be smoke and by breakfast everyone was asking, Do I smell smoke?

We had planned on a hike for the day and decided to go anyway. It made for a seemingly cloudy day but we had pretty good views most of the time. Five of us drove down the Dalton Highway about an hour to the beginning of the Atigun Valley. From there we hiked East up into the valleys of the Brooks Range. Leaving the Dalton we hiked through tussock tundra which is wet and very mosquito infested. As soon as we began to climb, though, things dried out completely and we had great views of the Dalton and Galbraith Lake. As we continued up we left behind views of things like the pipeline and began to feel quite remote. The steep walls of the mountains were dark grey in color from the shale scree covering them. Where the slopes were less steep the tundra grasses and flowers covered the way.

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The flowers of the tundra have been one of the most amazing things that I have seen. I got to talk to a botanist from the Carolinas and she said that many of the flowers were related to more southern varieties. The thing about the tundra flowers is that they are all super small. I havent seen many that are much bigger than the head of a quarter. In a way this makes them beautiful because they really are miniature flowers. Like so many things in the arctic they have found a way to survive.

The wind picked up considerably as we climbed and when we stopped for lunch we put on our stocking caps. We were joined at our lunch spot by a herd of about 40 Dall sheep. These are all white sheep that are another of the hardy organisms of the tundra. They loose their thick coats this time of year so we had been finding tufts of the coarse white hair the entire climb and were glad to see so many of them when we caught up.

From our lunch spot we headed down and up another valley towards our goal of a lake. When we crested out of the valley Ken, the leader and planner, pointed out the stream we needed to follow and said, That will lead us to our lake. Even though it had been chilly we were warmed up and in the windless valley we were all getting excited for a dip in a high arctic lake. When we arrived we were glad to see water but were a little surprised by the size. The lake was about 15 feet in diameter and much of it was filled with run off snow from the hillside. It was like a drink with a big ice cube sticking out and over the rim.

As many of you know Ive always been one for cold water. So I got down to my boxers and waded in. It was cold but tolerable since it was only up to my calves. The water was not deep and I wanted to dunk myself but it was going to be tricky. Basically I wound up doing a sort of water push-up and then standing up and shaking to try to remove the icy water from me. I even walked over to the ice and walked up on itit is always fun to swim in lakes where you can swim out to the ice and even though this one was small, I still enjoyed it. The others decided that after my display of unclear thinking that they might as well go in to and we all had a mid hike swim.

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From that point it was an uneventful 2 or so miles out to the car. We did see some bear scat and that reminded us to make lots of noise through the valley but no sign of the bear. With the midnight sun and this great hike I think Ive had a pretty good day. Im starting to wish I didnt have to go home and put a roof on my house. I could stay in Alaska for a good long time.

Quote of the day: I always like it when a nice warm wind blows in from Canada.

Also--Congratulations to the teachers at Concord High School--today was their last day.
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