Endless beautiful days

Jun 11, 2015 | 0 comments

After days of sunny, 75-degree weather, we’ve finally started getting some rain. And of course sun + rain = lots of wildflowers! Denali has way more wildflowers than I saw last summer, and almost as many as I remember from Bering Land Bridge. I spent a decent amount of time last week walking the trails with a wildflower guide trying to learn all the varieties. 
Saxifrage, with alpine arnica in the background
I’ve gotten pretty good at recognizing the genuses, but narrowing it down to species still confounds me sometimes. For instance, the saxifrage pictured above — still can’t decide if it’s tufted saxifrage or yellow-spotted. Either way, it’s gorgeous so hopefully it doesn’t mind if I just call it saxifrage for the time being. 

Dandelions under the railroad trestle

Dandelions are an invasive species in Denali, but they are still beautiful.

Forget-me-nots bringing color to the rocky slopes
And Forget-me-nots might just be my favorite wildflower yet. It is impossible to capture the brilliance of blue they display to the naked eye. Even adjusting the colors of my photos will never do it justice (though I can get it pretty close!). 
Rain turns to snow in the upper elevations
I had yesterday off from work, so I signed myself up for a Discovery Hike, which is a program offering in Denali that takes visitors on off-trail backcountry hikes throughout the park. In my opinion, every visitor to Denali should do one of these hikes — it’s one of the best and safest ways to get into the backcountry for a day and get a real feel for the vast and varied land that the park encompasses.
Cathedral Mountain

The hike I went on was rated “strenuous” with an over 1,000′ elevation gain and 3-4 mile route around Igloo Mountain. Probably because of the difficulty rating, we had just a small group of 5 people including the ranger, and it turned out to be one of the funnest days I’ve had here yet!

Hiking down the side of Igloo Mountain

Although the weather threatened ominous rainstorms at the entrance of the park where we left from, further in, it was sunny and gorgeous, though a steady, cold breeze kept it from being too warm. The shuttle bus dropped us off on the side of the road, and after the logistics and safety briefing, we bushwhacked our way up to the foothills of the mountain, crossing a shallow stream and scrambling our way to get above the willows.

Along the way, we stopped to identify wildflowers and scat, edible plants and rock formations. Though a steep climb in some places, we kept a relaxed pace, and after having lunch on the ridge below the peak of the mountain, we hiked around the back of it and then eventually doubled back to return to the road.

On the way back, I tried “skree skiing” for the first time. It wasn’t quite real skree, but it was close enough. Skree is loose, fine rock that is extremely slippery, often found on rocky slopes around the park. Rather than trying to fight your way down it without slipping, the best option is really to slide with it, and with my trekking poles, I got up some pretty good speed going down! Unlike real skiing however, you will find yourself covered in a layer of dirt and dust when you reach the bottom. It’s all part of the fun! 
Dude mooses.
On the way down, we also spotted a pair of bull moose about 300 yards below us in the river drainage. My first bulls of the season! Their antlers were still pretty small, and quite velvety.  Even from far away, the moose looked huge — I’ll admit I was glad to be such a long distance away.
Photo by Cassie Anderson

When I’m not filling nearly every free moment of my time with exploring around or working, often my time is spent around C-Camp, where I’ve settled in quite well. There’s a very dedicated (and totally goofy) group of us that play volleyball in the evenings when the weather is nice. My friend snapped the photo of some of us, above, which I think captures well the spirit of the group. Despite the fact that I had never really played volleyball before and am extremely terrible at it, everyone is incredibly kind and forgiving, and extremely encouraging, so it’s always a blast.

The pipes around camp were finally un-frozen a couple weeks ago so it’s been pretty luxurious to have running water again! Unfortunately there’s no hot water in the cabins, so dishes still need to be washed in the showerhouse, but even having water at all has been revolutionary in terms to being able to brush teeth and wash hands and cook more readily.

Greenhouse back in early May
In addition to all the other things that fill up my free time around C-Camp, there’s also a fully-equipped greenhouse for us to use. I managed to snag the last open plot, and planted myself some bush beans, shell peas, basil, spinach, and tomatoes. I don’t expect them to grow super well, but the though of having even just a few of my own fresh greens and veggies this summer is quite exciting!

My plot about a week ago
So, between volleyball and socializing and gardening and hiking and working and cooking (shoot! I still need to post some of my recipes!), the days are flying by. I can’t believe it’s already mid-June, nearly summer solstice and I have just 3 months left out here. It feels like I’ve only just begun.


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