Not the Last Hike of the Season

I always keep hiking until the snow becomes too deep. On October 18 it was snowing.

The previous day I had gone for a full day hike. Was October 17 the date of my last full hike of the season, deep in the Alpine?

The week previously, someone commissioned me to paint the fire lookout tower on the mountain right behind my house. When you drive the Alaska Highway around Stony Creek, look north and you might spot the vaguely pagoda-shaped building. I have hiked to the tower or in that general direction quite often. I even have started a trail towards it. Still, to get there is mostly uncharted bush.

I am ready to go at 8 a.m., but it is not light enough. I made the trail by marking a route for the first kilometre. Even in daylight it is hard to see the markers, but it makes the hiking a lot easier. I leave alone today, but coincidentally a most delightful group will accompany me half way into the hike.

I bike to the head of the trail in darkness and start hiking at 8:20 a.m.

I promise myself to return at 1 p.m., at the latest, because I do not want to be caught in the dark on the way back.

After my trail peters out there is a jungle of bogs and some alder patches. In general, uneven ground in-between raised land with poplar and spruce forests continues for a few kilometres before I come to the base of the first mountain peak.

The lookout tower is on the fourth peak.

The section at the foot of the mountain is full of alders and giant spruce trees — a wonderful dark world if you like to get lost. I wish I had time to find a route through that, to come out exactly by the big pile of talus. As luck would have it, I do come out at the talus. I love the fragrant ferns that grow there abundantly. I pick some dried fronds and stuff them in my backpack. They make a lovely potpourri.

But I need to move more quickly and circumvent the first peak. That is when I hear ravens. Two arrive and check me out, circling. It’s amazing how fast they fly. Even in the alpine wide-open spaces, they will disappear in the far distance and appear again. Higher on the third peak there are four of them.

I hike in a dusting of snow now that had been around for a while and encounter many tracks, fresh porcupine and older moose tracks, as well as bird and other little critter tracks. On the third mountain, which is a ridge leading to the fourth peak, I follow fox tracks.

The ridge is long and glorious; the views are fantastic.

Taye Lake and Kusawa Lake are not quite frozen, and the St. Elias Range is incredibly clear.

I saunter towards my goal in delight but realize I am not going to make it, even when I speed up.

I take many pictures from where I am, to paint them later at home. I find a rock formation protected from the wind in which to have lunch, which is where the ravens treat me to an aerial acrobatics show.

Another gift from the mountain is still to come, though sitting down I am not aware of it until I stand back up. When ready to leave, gathering my belongings, I realize I was sitting with my back against a large vein of crystals in the granite outcrop. I wonder if it is a quartz-calcite vein and whether this then indicates a possibility of gold and/or gemstone beneath? Next time I will bring my rock hammer to investigate more.

So many gifts.

On the way back, I pick the worst route imaginable and am sure I am lost, only to come out right by the end of the trail I marked. It’s good to kind of know your way even when you don’t.

The weather keeps handing out surprises too. Two weeks later, I am still doing alpine hikes.

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