It is Wilderness Out There

At 7:40, I set off on foot through the woods towards the highway. At 8:00, Mary Whitley picked me up. She had already plucked another friend from the highway.

We were going on a hike following Quill Creek on the Haines Road. We had heard that part of the bush road going northeast at Quill Creek had washed away. We planned to go southwest—off to the mountains.

But not the top, Mary assured us.

Quill Creek looked gravelly as ever. We could see that the water had receded after recent heavy rains, but also saw the results of a storm a few weeks earlier.

We planned to follow the dirt track by car for a kilometre, but were stopped by a blown-over spruce tree. We checked to see if we could remove it, but it was still rooted in the ground.

We parked right there and started hiking into the spruce forest. We quickly found a few yellow mountain avens, a sign of many more to come.

Soon enough we came out by the creek. On the gravel bars of the swift blue creek lay carpets of aven, the yellow petals just peeking out of the buds.

The river was a beautiful grey-blue, the water evidently coming straight from the glaciers in the Kluane Mountains.

As the creek soon touched the forest, we had to locate a trail in the forest. There were several—moose trails, judging by all the pellets.

Where storms had blown trees over, we had to forge ahead without the trail we had chosen, until it appeared again. Our indistinct trail wandered in and out of the forest onto the wide, flat, gravelly creek bed.

I love how every lake or waterway has its own kind of pattern in the stones.

All of us are rock hounds, but not so much that we still fill our backpacks with them. Parzival had the beautiful habit of picking them up, owning them for awhile, then placing them farther upstream, from where they might have come.

After two hours, Mary suggested breakfast beside the creek.

Now we could see where we were going. In front of the big mountains of the Kluane Range, we saw where the creek had gouged a narrow path through a moraine.

After a breakfast washed down with blue mountain water, we hiked on and, once we came up to that place, climbed up on the south side. I was whistling a birdsong, trying to remember the song of the thrush that Mary had pointed out to me.

We went up a little creek bed, the walls of rock narrowing in on us, a trickle of water soon turning to blackened snow.

Suddenly, Parzival screeched out in delight. Mary and I thought he had found yet another beautifully-patterned rock, or another glorious, new-to-us flower. But it was another kind of treasure… a big piece of sheep horn.

We inspected it and marvelled at how heavy it was. Beside it was some porous white bone, the piece of skull that had held the horns.

I couldn’t believe how light it was. How could it hold those big, heavy horns?

Later, we saw two live sheep high on the mountain. As always, the discussion went, “Are they white rocks? Are they moving?” Then, they did move. Sheep they were.

We climbed out of what I thought of as a moat around the castle and up the steep, gravelly bank to get on top of the moraine, the flowers more abundant as we climbed.

Finally, we stood at the edge of a big expanse. As we entered, we heard and saw the rumble of a small avalanche high up in the mountain

We were in a bowl, mountains of gravel, ice and snow towering up on three sides. And the expanse we are on was filled with every colour imaginable, a carpet of flowers!

We lay down to take it all in. We might not have been on top of a mountain, but we were on top of the world, a place where we wanted to be.

There were bees and birds and all was glory. And yes, here we spotted the sheep and watched them move along the steep mountainside, totally undisturbed by the tiny humans way below.

After a quick lunch we were eager to explore the seemingly flat expanse, which was still an incline, with hills and crevasses. We took lots of pictures, our conversation becoming more philosophical in awe of it all.

We were drawn to the edge, to a moat in front of the mountain on the far side. Flowers bloomed wherever they could. At the end, when were walking on only rock, they looked their very best, healthy and prolific—the poppies most profusely so.

Like us, they obviously loved it here.

At 3:00 in the afternoon, it was time to return. Looking back, I wonder if it was my longing to stay out in the open that led me to make some errors on the return trip that caused some trouble for me and the rest of our party.

Back on the gravel flats of Quill Creek, I didn’t want to go back into the forest to walk the still long way to the car. But that meant I had to cross the creek.

I figured I would stay in sight of the others, who chose the path that would wind in and out of the forest.

My first error was crossing the creek quite unprepared for the strength of the current. I barely managed to cross.

While almost being swept away, I remembered a rafting lesson from years back, which I had put to the test after falling out of the raft: put your feet downstream while sitting in the stream facing forward.

Luckily, I didn’t need to do that. I kept my footing.

My next error was not talking to the others. I should have told the rest of the party what I was thinking. I thought no one will follow me, so I’d better find a better place to cross back.

I never did find a better place. The creek didn’t widen out, but braided into more channels.

Finally, I did find a place that didn’t look deeper or stronger than where I had crossed previously. Now I made sure the hiking pole was longer, and placed it firmly downstream in the creek.

I am sure there are different ways of crossing such creek. I did it one step at a time, fairly straight across, using the pole as a third leg, making sure two points were firmly planted in the stream before moving the third one.

This time, I made it across a little more in control. On the other side, I started looking for my companions, staying in the open so they would be able to spot me also.

But I didn’t see them, or they me.

We didn’t meet until the end, near the car. Only then did I realize the full extent of the agony I had put them through. They had been worried about me, and I was truly sorry.

An ice cream at Frosty’s in Haines Junction calmed our nerves and we all felt good after another wonderful hike.

On future hikes, though, I will focus more on communication… those “in case of” type talks.

Because it is the wilderness out there!

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