NOLS Alaska Mountaineering – Day 25
Hello from my small group!
Today was one of the hardest but most awesome days ever. Just to give an idea, it’s 9:45pm and we just set up camp. That’s the great thing about Alaska though, you can keep chugging along since the sun never sets. Anyway, I’ll start from the beginning.
So our re-ration came an hour earlier than we expected, so I woke up at 7, jumped out of bed and ran with everyone to the airstrip just in time to see our pilot using the trees to slow himself down enough to land. I re-filled the spice kits, got a new camera battery, and we each got one GIANT chocolate bar, courtesy of the NOLS rations staff. I’m hugging them when I get back to the branch… that made my day!
It was then decided that me, Emil and Eric should share the new 3 person tent, mainly since it’s 2lbs lighter than the four person tents, so I can carry more parts of it. Breakfast was grits and then our instructors gave a speech about taking care of each other while on our own in the wilderness. By 10:30am we put on our packs and set off.
The plan was that all 12 of us students would self-navigate to the toe of the Susitna glacier (the river was uncross-able by foot) where we’d then turn south and head over the pass, meeting up with the instructors one final time 4 miles later. What actually happened was us students found a perfect spot to cross the river roughly an hour from the glacier’s toe, and right across from the pass we’d be heading to. The crossing took some time, and our feet got so could we couldn’t feel them, so after we crossed we took a break and dried out our feet. We then broke up from the 12 students into each of our 6 student small groups, and decided to leave for the pass 30 mins apart. Our group went first, and the small student expedition had begun!
Getting up the pass was incredibly hard with a full pack, but I managed it and my small group was really nice about waiting up for me and Emil, who was also having a hard time. We made it to what we thought was the top of the pass, only to realize we had a ton more uphill hiking to do. So we got started.
It was beautiful, and along the way we saw a lot of birds, ground rodents and caribou. The hike was challenging, but we followed a nicely sized caribou path so all was well. At one point we had to scramble up about 200 ft of loose rocks, and I almost fell. It was scary, but I stopped, took a deep breath and moved on.
Finally around 5pm we made it to the meeting spot. We couldn’t see any trace of the other groups, so we pulled out some food and made dinner while we waited for them. My tent had our favorite potatoes with cheesy broccoli, and I chowed down. About 45 mins later, the second group showed up trailed by the instructors. The other student group thought it was a good idea to eat dinner too before moving on, so they sat down, but the instructors decided to keep going. We said our farewells until the 17th, and off they went. It was so exciting to realize that it’s all us now, and the instructors have taught us enough to live and travel in our groups of six in the wilderness.
Around 6pm we decided we should get moving too since we still had five miles of hiking to do, so we said goodbye to the other student group. Little did we know, while we were eating, Johnny and Evan (Tex) stole our group’s ramen packages from our food bags (realized that at dinner tonight… bastards!). Hopefully that’s all they took!
Off we went to our first campsite as a student group. The hike wasn’t quite as hard, but boy was it long! The scenery was stunning – there were huge mountains, some with snow, pristine lakes (hence the name Clearwater Mountains!), and we could see another glacier off in the distance. About two miles before where we planned to camp, we came upon a lake, and who is sitting next to it but our instructors. We chatted for a few minutes about hour hike, and pretended to try and steal their pizza!
Finally we walked off to our campsite next to a different lake and put up the tent while Emil cooked us some delicious pasta with red sauce. This campsite is so gorgeous! Oh and on top of beauty, the birds here haven’t seen humans before. So a couple of them flew up to me, checked me out for a while, and then lazily walked/flew off. Later while we were eating dinner, Geoff suddenly got quiet, and motioned for us to as well. Then he pointed to the side where he had been looking, way across the lake, and off in the distance there were about 300 caribou! I couldn’t get a good picture because they were a bit too far away for my camera to make out, but it was so cool to watch. I love the wilderness.
I’m really proud of myself for hiking those 10-11 miles today with a full pack. I realized if I stay hydrated and sing a little to keep up my spirits, I can go much farther than I thought!
Well now it’s midnight, so time for bed! We get to sleep in until 9 tomorrow which will be nice, but still, I need some sleep.