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> Sunday hike Part II, what happened?
post Jun 28 2005, 06:23 AM
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Sunday Hike Part II

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Well we didn't find a lake in the valley but we did find this awesome caribou skull complete with antlers still attached. We all gathered around and took pictures and wondered how it had met its end. As with all things in the tundra it had begun to sink down in, or the tundra had begun to grow up around it and when someone did try to pull it up it was stuck. Better that way though--maybe another group will get to run upon it someday. The thing about hiking in these mountains is that there are no trails so no one might walk the exact same way again for quite a while.

But back to our tale;

Cody stood in awe looking at the map and said, "It should be right HERE!" Not angry just sort of a comical disbelief. Ken Fortino, Ken Turner, Matt, and Jay Zarneski all gathered around the map and tried to figure it out. Every once in a while one of them would point at the map and then at the hills saying, "That (point to map) is that (point to hill)." It was fun to watch and it was also clear that they had enough cooks in that kitchen.

Finally a route was decided and we hiked along the contour of a steep hillside across rocks the size of bowling balls. Hard to walk on and they made hollow almost glass like sounds as people would knock them free by walking on them. We crested a valley and Cody pointed and said, "I'm sure it is over that next shoulder."

I was excited so I moved quickly and in the lead. I just wanted to get there first and see it and jump in. I scrambled around a countour line on a hill steep enough to make my boots kink and bend painfully into my ankle. As I neared the edge I saw that it was a deep cutting valley. I imagined a narrow lake and deep lake hemmed in between the steep walls of the ravine. But when I finally could look down I could see only a dried up stream bed. Probably something that runs strong in the snow melt and during a hard ran but not at any other times.

When I yelled back to Cody that it still wasn't our lake he said something to the effect of, "You've got to be kidding me." The group of 15 met up again and there were some faces that seemed to be saying, you have one more chance and then we are turning around. Matty finally noticed a spot on a far hillside and said that it was a sinkhole that he remembered seeing from the lake when they had been out sampling it.

Again I moved ahead my excitement pushing me forward. It was hot and my feet were burning and I really wanted to find this damn lake. I walked through a valley and 1/2 way through realized that the willows were waist high and that we had seen a lot of bear scat along the way. I made some non-descript noises at the same time wondering what I would do if a bear did pop up out of the little stream. Soon I was across though and hurried to see what was down in the next valley.

After cresting a steep but short grassy hill I looked to the left and saw a small pool with mud all around the edges. Looking to the right I saw what looked like a stadium with rocky hillsides for seats and an opening where the end zone would be. Through this opening you could see all the way out to the far mountain range that had been paralleling us as we walked along the ridge. And down where the football field was a crystal clear blue lake. Almost as a big as a football field and rimmed with inviting grass. I could tell from the way it faded from blue to dark, dark blue that it was plenty deep for swimming. We had made it.

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I walked down and set up a spot where we could sit and jump in. I happily removed my shoes and went to wade in the water waiting for everyone else to make it down. They waited on the ridge taking pictures for quite a long time but finally they all came down and we had a swim. The lake was deep enough that there were even places where you could dive from the shore. After our swim we had a 2 o'clock lunch and slowly people laid down and fell asleep. I heard some talking as I tried to stay awake but eventually faded off even though I was sitting up.

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The return was uneventful compared with the approach to the lake. We took a lower route and it was nice and a great day to walk with new friends but the climax of the hike had been getting to the lake. A relaxing walk out was fine with everyone.

A politician from Alaska once called ANWR something like a white wasteland. That may very well be in winter but my first hike, just into the edge, was anything but a wasteland. I have no doubt that it is a bleak place that few people go to in winter. In summer it is a place of unspoiled beauty and stunning views. A place where you can walk and see Dall sheep every time you are there. A place where you can see caribou and as you walk along nearly trip over their old antlers. A place without marked trails where you must navigate by topo maps, sometimes getting lost, but also always experiencing a completely different hike. It is hard to explain in words the beauty of the place. I can tell you that every step I took on that ridge was the best hike I had ever been on. Each step revealed a new view and I literally could have taken a picture at each step. In the end I took over 120 pictures of the hike and most of them could be turned into posters--each view is that good. This Alaska is an amazing place that never stops impressing me. I'll have to come back some day.
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