Monday, July 20, 2009

Silence in the Clearwater

Mark and Sky descend a mountain pass in the Clearwater Mountains

We finally settled down and started to cook dinner around 1 am under the dim twilight. It was noticeable that the nights were gradually getting darker as time slowly slid away from summer solstice. The two of us perched ourselves on a cushion of tundra overlooking a glassy alpine lake as we devoured our warm meals from the self contained aluminum bags.

Mark was the first one to notice it. I had sensed that something was different but no conscious thought had surfaced until he pointed out the obvious. It was completely silent...dead still. There were no birds, not a single movement of air to rustle the miniature leaves on the surrounding sedges -- but this place was void of something more prominent. Bugs! There was no incessant buzzing of mosquitoes. We had been so accustomed to a constant hum in the atmosphere this summer that the lack of sound felt strangely discomforting.

This was our last trip together before Mark heads back to his home high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and tends to more important things like high school and cross country running. Mark was eager to do a multi-sport trip which would combine hiking, boating, and cycling. We decided to explore the Clearwater Mountains: an accessible subrange in the greater Alaska Range along the Denali Highway. A very well maintained road and network of 4-wheeler trails lead to the tundra in the Valdez Creek mining area. We followed one of these paths until it spit us into the alpine. From there we hiked about 18 miles to Clearwater Creek, dropped our packrafts in the water and floated 15 miles to the Denali Highway, and then biked 35 miles back to the truck. A complete 70 mile loop which can easily be completed in a 3-day weekend.

We scrambled up a pass above Grogg Lake en route to our put-in on Clearwater Creek.

A dense population of caribou in this area have developed a well worn web of trails through the lower elevation brush. This made for easy walking as we dropped down into the Clearwater Creek drainage.

We put in on Clearwater Creek at the confluence with a tributary which contributed enough water sufficient for floating.

The creek was almost entirely Class I water with a short stretch of rocky...non butt dragging...Class II riffles with some boulders to dodge.

The take out at Milepost 55 Denali Highway. I was skeptical about floating this river when I saw the low volume of water flowing under the bridge. The trip was surprisingly nice with plenty of water to keep the boats afloat.

Heading west on the Denali Highway and back to the truck.


Eric said...

damn Ed, you are on a rampage!

Anonymous said...

gorgeous pics, lovely to see you all looking so well, have fun in NZ, wish I could meet you all, take care xxx

Roman Dial said...

That Clearwater area is full of horse trails, like the one in your photo, 'cause it's anon-motorized hunting area.

Another classic Plumb picked by Ed.

Unknown said...

Looks like another beautiful trek Ed! Can't wait to see you in Ontario! Not long now!

See you soon and keep smiling....


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justanothertragedy said...

such amazing photos and adventures. thanks for sharing :)