Mud, Sand & Scaups

In early April, I started running every morning. I felt that I was losing stamina on my hikes, and needed to do something about it.

It’s amazing, now I am in the habit of it, how easy it is to keep it up. Mind you, I only run for 15-20 minutes.

Besides getting fitter, it is wonderful to see the same places every morning at around the same time.

First I ran on the road, but now the snow is all gone, I run to Moose Skull Lake and back.

In the beginning of May, finally, there was open water in this small lake. And sure enough, this morning two swans joined a pair of Barrow’s goldeneye ducks. On some days there are a dozen of lesser scaups.

Back in the groove again, I went on an exploration hike along the Takhini River. I went with a friend, who noted that I was like a forging dog. I love it when I am so driven to get somewhere and my body cooperates.

The river ice was gone and the water still at its low level, exposing mud banks and sand flats.

When my son was little, we loved to spend hot spring days on the exposed river bed. There is a great spot on the Takhini River Road, right where it comes out by the river and follows the river upstream.

At that time, I was living close to the hot springs, Now, living in Mendenhall, I have found a spot right by Mendenhall Landing. A little downstream, there is a fantastic island, now surrounded by sand flats, with a little pool in the middle that warms up, just right for a swim when the weather is hot.

You can easily reach it by following the far bank of the Mendenhall River and then fjording a small channel of the Takhini River.

Over the years, I have tried to follow the exposed river banks along the river, which always was fun. But this seasonally created “beach” isn’t a solid strand along the river.

As the river meanders, the outside turn might have a nice long stretch. The inside of the turn can be high clay cliff, or just a jumble of trees.

Before this year’s outing, I consulted Google Earth and found that, close to theKusawa Road turnoff on the Alaska Highway, there are two nice long and wide bends in the river, each almost making a half circle.

We parked on a piece of old Alaska Highway right by the turnoff, and crossed some of the typical woods here. Burned over 50 years ago, still the forest is sparse, mostly small aspen and a few spruce. On the ground, there is lots of silver-grey deadwood.

The spiralled trunks tell us that it might have been a pine forest growing here before the burn. In the literature, I read that it used to be a spruce forest and what’s growing back is pine…

Anyway, soon enough we came to a small ridge that led us to the river. The first bend turns in such a way that we are on the outside of the bend.

We came out on the top of a clay cliff, where the banks are constantly eroded by the river. We looked over the edge precariously, as the edge is often undermined.

Below us, there was no place to walk. No birds on the river, either. It might have been the wind. The wind was fierce, often blowing up swells of gritty clay. We laughed and cussed as we were sandblasted.

On Google Earth, it all looked very logical, and when we walked the high bank, the next bend seems just a little ahead of us, but endlessly so.

There were a few gullies we had to go around. After an hour into the hike, I started to wonder which way we were actually turning. Finally, after what seemed a long way, we were led lower down and at river level a mud bank appeared.

I wished it had been sand, but the sand was mostly on flat islands in the river. But lots of good mud! More cussing and laughing.

With a little effort, I found places where it was hard enough to walk, some stretches of gravelly sand. This bend also seemed endless in the same way. By the mountains and some development, we tried to guess where we were (we are from the pre-GPS era).

Later, at home, we saw on Google Earth that we had really hiked only part of the second bend.

We stopped at an old beaver lodge, and they served tea and cookies. Just kidding. We had our lunch on a grassy bank close by beaver trails, leading from the forest to the river.

On the way back we had the wind in our face most of the way, but then we knew where we were going, it seemed much shorter.

We did see a few water birds that day on the river, but I got a real treat last weekend: a kindred spirit, being also a muddy-beach lover—a great blue heron. My husband spotted it at the Mendenhall Landing.

As our riverbank hike seemed endless, so does this spring, which started in the beginning of April.

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