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Joined: 23 Mar 2004
Posts: 118

PostPosted: Thu Jun 10, 2004 7:21 am Reply with quoteBack to top

Do you wonder what we do with all that extra daylight up in the Arctic? Some days we use as much of it as we can. One example is the after dinner hike we took this week. About 7:15 PM anyone who wanted to hike met by the parking area for the drive to Slope Mountain, which is a mountain that is about a 25 minute drive north of Toolik. Hahn and I joined six others from camp to go up the Dalton Highway and then off to the left on a small road. We parked close to a small stream. To get to Slope Mountain we had to walk under the Trans Alaska Pipeline, and cross another stream that looked more like a river. From that vantage point we could see a few white dots on the mountain which we knew were Dall mountain sheep.

We walked around to the back of the mountain to start the climb. We walked over tundra and through shrubs, with no real paths except sometimes caribou trails. For awhile we climbed in and along a mountain stream. At three places on the hike we found bird nests with eggs in them. The first was on our hike up along the stream; it was a redpoll nest in a willow shrub. The second was at mid-mountain; it was a hawk's nest. The nest itself was on a rock ledge that jutted out from the rock wall. There were three eggs in it. Two adult hawks circled the skies while we took careful looks at the nest, reassured only when we were on our way. The last nest was found on our descent; it was the nest of a cliff swallow with six small brownish eggs. It was tucked in the rocks on the steep slope.

We found other evidence of animals, like the skull and horns of a Dall sheep and a few scattered caribou antlers. Footprints of caribou were in places that had dried mud, and there was lots of caribou scat. The best find of all was the skull and huge rack of a caribou. There were even several vertebrae connected. We also saw a lot of very white, coarse fur that was being shed from the Dall sheep.

It was a long climb to the top, but the view from up there was worth it. To the south we could see all the way to the Brooks Mountain Range. We could follow the Dalton Highway south by the dust clouds rising from the big trucks. Along the road the pipeline snaked south as well. Towards the east we could see clouds forming far below our level over a lake. After a snack, a rest, and some pictures of the great view we started our hike down the front of the mountain. Even though it looked like about 5:00 PM, it was actually about 10:30 PM when we started down Slope Mountain.


The hike down was one I never would have done on my own, but thanks to the patience, encouragement, and coaching of my hiking companions, who were much more experienced than me, I made it down. There was also the motivation of not wanting to be left on the mountain to become some animal's next meal. So we scrambled over chunks of rock and climbed down hundreds of feet that were so steep I was afraid to stand up. I kept concentrating on the next step, and tried not to look down too much. Hahn was able to keep up with the hikers in the lead! There was one short section that reminded me of the climbing wall I had meant to learn how to climb back at my school's gym; it took a lot of coaching to get this white-knuckled, scared-of heights climber down that section. There really were no other alternatives, so I took it one small step at a time. As we climbed farther and farther down the mountain I stole a look to see how close we were to the bottom. My legs felt like jelly, and I didn't know how much longer they'd carry me. To my dismay we were still above the low clouds that were moving ever closer; that helped me move a little faster!

In the end we all made it back fine. The large stream that seemed so difficult to cross on our way in didn't look quite so frightening. It was really cool to be on the ground walking through the low cloud. We didn't get back to camp until almost 1:30 AM, but of course it was still light. Several of us went to the dining hall for cereal and hot chocolate. I knew the next day I would have a few muscle aches, but I also felt that I had made a big accomplishment. Surrounded by people who knew what they were doing I was challenged and yet felt support. Sometimes we have to take a challenge (in a safe way) to do something we didn't know we could do; it builds confidence. How will you challenge yourself this week?

More Slope Mountain Pictures are in the Album.
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Toolik Field Station Lena River, Siberia Svalbard, Norway Summit, Greenland Prince Patrick Island, Canada Healy Icebreaker Caribou Poker Creek Barrow, Alaska