Last summer Althea Rogers, Kate Rutherford, Madaleine Sorkin, and I spent three weeks in southwest Alaska, near the headwaters of Bristol Bay. Supported by Mountain Fellowship and McNeill-Nott grants from the AAC, we established new routes on 400- to 900-foot granite domes south of Tikchik Lake. I wrote a feature article for Climbing magazine that has just been published in the July 2009 issue. Here’s another moment from the trip.
Propped up against a tundra tussock, I dug my bare feet into tiny, smooth, black beach gravel. Wind and water lapped the beach, chasing mosquitoes away. A loon call resonated across the lake, hauntingly beautiful and bizarre. The rest of the crew was still asleep, and I was up early, drinking coffee and reading Steinbeck’s first novel, Cup of Gold, about pirates. In the tattered margin, someone had scribbled the definition to my new totem: Morass, a bog, marsh, entanglement, something which confuses or impedes, a quagmire.
Our adventure here in Tikchik was many-themed: Bushwhacking, battling mosquitoes, swamp tromping, vertical gardening, and messing around in the lake were a few of our favorite activities. The morass here was scattered with tiny tundra flowers; gentle, blue-hued granite domes; cold, clear lakes, and distant, glacier-covered peaks.
The previous night, after Althea and I’d managed our second rambling, crumbling, vegetation-encrusted route here in Tikchik, we’d run off the top of the 500-foot-tall dome with lightning encroaching. We hopped between alpine grasses, laughing and enjoying the bug-free moments. When we entered the thick underbrush, it started pouring. Following a trail of fresh moose scat between a bog and the water’s edge, we sunk knee-deep in black mud. “Hey MOOSE!” we yelled, unsure if this tactic scared ungulates away the same way it did bears.
The lightning faded, and we launched our blow-up kayak, paddling ten minutes across the lake in a downpour. It was midnight when we beached the boat, and our group tent glowed in the dusky summer night. The rain had calmed to a gentle patter, and we could smell something delicious. I unzipped the screen and saw white fish meat cooking, lit by Kate’s headlamp and specked with curry, simmering in a fry pan. Another mystery pot steamed in front of Madaleine. We stormed in, peeled wet clothes off, and they handed us bowls of soup.
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