Aug 20 (day 12)
People are up and moving about early this morning, after the early night last night. The kitchen tarp is set up again, no worse after last nights pulverizing. After coffee, granola and muffins, we roll out. The sky is gray my mood is black, some definite tensions developing within our small group. Again, we spread out, moving loosely down stream… Although slightly too narrow in width for my gait, the caribou trails offer the path of least resistance. I follow them between ancient willow groves, the bleached branches reaching to grab at my clothing, pack. More antlers and white fur washed up on the shore of a small lake.
This lake presents somewhat of an obstacle, lined with steep cliffs and only a narrow band of shoreline. Due to either inertia or laziness, we opt to stay on the south side of the lake to avoid crossing the river. Much to my chagrin, we are soon forced into scrambling over rock boulders on hands and knees. I note animal droppings lodged between the rock cracks – it’s obviously easier to balance on four feet instead of just my two. But the rocks prove too much of a challenge, I take my boots off, don sandals and wade through the clear cold water. Lovely calm lake, first time my feet have touched water in five days…feels good on the toes.
Beyond the lake, the valley explodes into a highway, ten parallel caribou trails fan across the valley floor. Bones from jaws, antlers, leg bones, vertebra lie scattered like rabbit pellets, an antler rack with long vertebrae still intact. We walk along a flat terrace with sturdy solid footing. The lake has contributed to the river size, the width has increased although rock hoping is still possible in certain places.
The noise of the river is surprising. For such an insignificant looking stream, the volume seems out of proportion. Perhaps my ears are becoming more sensitized to quiet sounds, now weaned away from overt city blares and blasts. There are few large stones but lots of gravel beds and the sandy banks catch the water as it rides by, riffling its skirts. Fish splash when my shadow darkens their sky, darting away. David is anxious to fish and we agree to stop. It’s a scenic spot: across the river, Stecker Falls plummets down 1000 feet.
While David fishes, the rest of us ford the river and hike towards Stecker Falls. These falls are one of the few named features on the 1: 50,000 topo maps – it is an outstanding waterfall, rivaling ‘the tall bride’ along north shore Nachvak Fiord. One has to walk up past the first terrace for the best view of the double drop, not evident from the valley bottom. A few birds twitter deep in the willow thickets, a fresh pile of bear shit (loaded with blue berries) are the only signs of life.
Back at camp, there are three fish waiting to be eaten. Delicious pink flesh, occasionally riddled with long white strands – worms? Hopefully, they die when cooked. The black flies are annoying in spite of the breeze and cool temperature. After dinner, I stroll along the river, looking at rather fresh bear tracks. I wonder about storing the left over fish in a pot under the kitchen tarp so close to our tents. Camping deep inside the valley, the moon will be hidden until much later – my eyes are already heavy, the bugs encourage me head in to the tent early.