17 September 2007

Alaska: day 3

No crescent moon on Friday morning (or at least, I didn't see it). Breakfast and a dog walk--'course the dog and I were in for a big walk later on. I packed a sammich--homemade bread, mustard, havarti cheese and leftover salmon. The dog and I set off around 9:00--the Mt Marathon "falls trail" (meaning the backside trail, not the crazyass front side trail you can see in the photo below) trailhead was just a short walk away. The first bit was steep, and the trail was wide (would easily accomodate a truck and rutted) but not unlike other hikes. About 100 yards in, we encountered one gentleman who greeted us, and then about a quarter mile in, we came across another two fellows, one of whom informed me that they had seen two bears less than half a mile up the trail, and that I ought to watch the dog. I'd be lying if I said that the bears didn't concern me a little, but I had gone over with Dear Friend what to do incase of bear (brown bears were not at all likely, but black bears are common in this area), including what the dog would do, and what I should do with the dog. We covered moose encounters too, just incase.

The trail narrowed and flattened out right where we had bear sighting number one. I think the dog probably saw the bear before I did, but by the time I saw it, it was running away from us. It was a small black bear, probably still learning how to manage on his own.

The trail crossed a handful of small streams (the kind you just step over, no fording) and then turns abruptly uphill to follow one of the streams to a saddle. In addition to heading more or less straight uphill, the trail surface turns to loose shale, where you plant your foot and immediately slide a few to several inches downhill. Frustrating, but it's so beautiful, you don't really care. You care the next day though (and in my case, about three more days after that) when your leg muscles are sore. So sore).

the trail...

the saddle...

At the saddle, the trail completely peters out and you're left in a huge, majestic bowl, in my case, with two bears, roaming the hillsides for food. There were berries everywhere, so I don't think they were too interested in me, and paid the dog and me no attention, so far as I could tell. We stopped for lunch, but got moving again before my body temperature dropped too much. It was cloudy almost the entire time, but I was comfortable in my hiking pants, capilene t-shirt and baseball cap.
panoramic view from the saddle....
The next bit was a classic example of believing you're looking at the summit and hiking to it, only to find out that no, the summit is actually the next bump ahead of you. I did that four times. There was essentially no trail, so I did my best to stay off the vegetation (impossible for most of it). There were no plants taller than the tops of my feet at this point, but what there was was gorgeous. The bearberry was fire engine red, and my camera didn't capture the color as well as I had hoped.

At one point between the saddle and the summit, I noticed the dog had gone ahead a bit and was staring straight down the frontside of the slope. Something about his stance told me that he was staring at a bear, though I couldn't see it. I was relieved to have the dog's name to call and let the bear know I was there. I moved sideways towards the ridge to see if I could spot the bear. I got just a glimpse of his black ears and tan face peering at me just the way I was peering at him over the ridge before he ducked and ran away. I suspect this was the same small bear we had encountered earlier -- small and timid and on the same slope.

Looking back towards Resurrection Bay provided some stunning vistas, even with the substantial cloudcover. Of course, without the clouds, I wouldn't have what is probably my favorite photo: sunbeams on the bay....

And more neat lighting at the top once at the top.... if you were to walk on this ridge-top trail away from the camera, you would end up walking (sliding on your butt, more like) down the frontside "race trail" that you can see in the first photo.)

The view was magnificent, and I followed the dog's lead and lay down in a patch of green fuzzy groundcover and enjoyed the moment and sense of accomplishment. When I opened my eyes, a bald eagle had appeared and was casually chasing three ravens. As if all that wonderfulness wasn't enough, when I finally decided that it was time to head back, there was this:

I'm not sure it gets much better than that.

1 comment:

matte said...

thanks for such a nice writeup of the hike, and can i tell you for a fourth time how much i like the photos?