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> Hiking on the Ridges around the Atigun, A big Sunday hike I
post Jun 27 2005, 04:42 PM
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27 June 2005

We decided we would call the hike 15 miles even though it took us 12 hours to complete. It really was uphill both ways and by the time we were done 15 people had made it over countless ridges to a lake and finally back to the trucks. We had collected lots of antlers, blisters, sunburns and pictures and for me it was a great final Alaskan hike

As with last week the hike was planned by Cody Johnson and Ken Fortino. Their plan was to make it back to a lake they had sampled a previous year by walking along the Atigun Valley on a high ridge beside it. It will be important for you to remember that that the time they had sampled it they had flown in most of the way by helicopter.

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We began by walking across the mushy tundra and immediately started to ascend. For me it was strangely difficult because the hillside was covered with the squishy tundra rather than heath, which is usually hard and dry. Walking over soft ground with tons of give is really hard especially when you are going uphill. The best analogy I can think of is if you tried to walk on a trampoline but the trampoline was tilted uphill. By the time we did reach the harder ground my achilles tendons seemed about ready to pop off. Then we got to a spot where we really had to go up.

A steep shoulder with some grass but mostly steep enough that none could grow. To get to the ridge we had to go up. I’ll tell you that the rock in Alaska on the sides of mts. is usually loose and sometimes when you step on even a large rock it can tilt or begin to slide. Unlike New England things haven’t come close to their final resting place yet—the rocks are very much on the move. We started up and I set a pace for myself that I thought would be one I could keep. In about 200 meters I looked up, realized I was still very close to the bottom and adjusted my pace to a much slower one. I kept going, as my feeling is always that I will have to climb up anyway I might as well just keep going and do it in one shot. We must have climbed for at least 15 minutes and finally crested out to a grassy area that looked big enough to land a plane. It was odd that there could be a spot so flat and so green this high in the mountains.

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Some people briefly and quietly discussed a turn around given that they were almost wiped out by the hill and about 6 miles away from the talked about lake. Luckily everyone decided to continue. I wasn’t feeling that well yesterday and if people would have turned around I would have considered following them—the hill had crushed me. We continued on along the ridge and very soon all thoughts of fatigue left us as we took in the amazing views of the valley below. For miles we walked along a knife edge ridge with sheer drops to either side. The tundra below looked like a grassy field rather than the swampy, tussock filled ankle wrenching surface that it actually is. We could see the mountains on the other side of the ridge that we were walking on—mirroring what we were doing. It was incredible.

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There were ups and downs as the ridgeline changed in spots but for the most part we remained high up, walking in the sky for what seemed like hours. We had lunch on a high perch that seemed almost unsafe and then continued on. There were brief sections where if I looked down I began to feel a little dizzy. Just for a second but enough to realize that it was a big drop off that I didn’t want to go down. Eventually we came to the natural end of the ridge and Cody pulled out the map to pinpoint the location of the lake. Most agreed that if we crossed two more saddles, meaning up and downs through valleys, we would be at the lake. And unlike last week this lake was promised to be there, be large and be deep.

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After going two saddles and looking down into a valley filled with a dry creek the map was consulted again....

Have to go to work—I’ll get to the conclusion of this tonight.
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