Photo Essay: Away on Business, But Not Without PleasureFirst posted in May, 2005
Amazing mist on the river this morning, lulled to sleep last night by rain on the tent. It has been an excellent but full week. Not really quite so full that I couldn't keep a journal, but that seems to be what's happened. We arrived by helicopter seven days ago. Last Friday was a day of sling loading gear and supplies along various segments of the Chilkoot trail. Though it was not my first time working with helicopters, it was my first time unhooking incoming sling loads beneath a hovering ship. Lots of safety issues to keep in mind, but it wasn't as difficult as I had anticipated it would be - though I suspect that is due, at least in part, to the amazing level of skill with which our pilot was able to place the loads.
A quick sketch of the view
from the ranger station
The Sheep Camp ranger station is in a lovely, flat spot. It's incredible to think that a century ago, on the opposite side of the river from where I sit now, was a community, albeit transient, of 5,000 to 8,000 people. This past week I've hiked to the Scales twice - a somewhat daunting experience, particularly since I'm not accustomed to snow travel - and though I didn't even ascend the Golden Stairs to the summit (yet), I gained an appreciation for what the gold rushers endured; an appreciation in theory only, despite hiking there and seeing the area first-hand, because I didn't climb the Stairs, and even if we'd have had time to do so, I wouldn't have been nearly so heavily burdened with gear. The average person seeking gold in the Klondike who crossed over the Chilkoot Trail would have carried forty to fifty pounds in an uncomfortable wooden box strapped direct to their back, and would have made forty to fifty trips over the summit - all part of a requirement imposed by the Canadian government that anyone entering the remote Yukon in search of gold had to have provisions to last one year. I carried food for a couple of days, a warm change of clothes, a first aid kit, trekking poles, snow shoes, an ice axe, and an aluminum snow shovel, as well as a few smaller items - a day's worth of gear, light weight and ergonomically packaged - hardly comparable to what would have been carried across in 1898.
Saturday was spent clearing ground.
Saturday was spent clearing ground in the Sheep Camp campground, one half mile south of the ranger station. The next day, the trail crew from our maintenance division would begin construction on the installation of some new composting privies, for which the ranger division agreed to clear the land and assist in moving the actual outhouses.
On Sunday, Tim, Jeremy, and I ventured up toward the Scales in the hope of locating our search and rescue supplies and the blaze orange poles we use to mark the trail when there's snow. We'd brought a GPS to find the SAR cache, which would most likely still be buried beneath the snow, but as chance (and a very warm spring) would have it, a vertical pole next to the cache was just barely visible above the snow, and Tim spotted it.
Tim begins digging out the SAR cache.
It turned out to be pretty easy to uncover, buried under perhaps two or three feet of snow. The poles, however, proved more difficult. We looked at the base of the SAR box, but they weren't there. On a (not entirely wild) whim, we checked at the base of a nearby boulder, and after reaching the ground (about five and a half feet below) we found the poles.
Digging snow from a trench level with my head.
We were able to expose the top of the stack of poles, but they were pretty caked in ice. Because they break pretty easily when bent - particularly if they're cold - we decided to let them thaw out in the sun. It was getting late in the day, and we could do no more, so we returned to the ranger station. I consequently didn't make the summit that day, but I'll be back later in the summer, so I'm not too disappointed. It's not as if I didn't get a great view from where we were, after all.
Additionally, I'd already started to stretch my comfort levels a bit. The summit involves walking up a sixty degree slope in the snow, something I've never done before. I would have done it had it been necessary, but as it was I'd already been trying to get a grasp on where I could and could not walk on the rapidly melting snow - and not always a successful grasp.
Sexy contusions, eh?
That evening, Kip made it into camp. The next couple of days were fortunately spent near the ranger station, which gave my leg a chance to recover.
As silly as it would appear, you really do see these kits sold back home in Tennessee where there are a few different sorts of venomous snakes slithering through the woods. But I didn't expect to see such a kit on the Chilkoot.
One night he went missing from the outhouse entirely. I was rather worried about him. Thankfully he turned up in one of the Parks Canada staff's sleeping bags, and was later rereleased into his natural habitat by the privy. Today he again slithers free near the Sheep Camp ranger station toilet, as he has, evidently, for many, many years.
While supper was cooking, someone spotted a porcupine.
A very blurry porcupine, unfortunately. I include this photo
only in an attempt to substantiate that the porcupines
around here seem to be unnaturally large. And cute.
Though admittedly it's difficult to tell from this photo.
Wednesday was spent demonstrating the aforementioned protocols for a variety of emergency medical skills, and in the afternoon I was packaged up into a litter so that everyone could get a bit of practice.
This is actually from the second time I was treated for a potential
spinal injury. In this scenario, which actually took place on Friday, I had
foolishly climbed onto the roof of an old cabin to get a better look at the
summit, but I fell off and broke my femur. They took very good care of me.
I appear to be quite realistically pale and shocky in this photo, too.
And here we are carrying someone (I have no idea who)
over uneven ground in a litter.
By Thursday morning I was back to doing my morning yoga on the helipad near the ranger station, my quadricep having thankfully decided it was okay to support my full weight and, to some extent, stretch again.
I couldn't resist documenting this great spot for doing yoga, though.
On Thursday morning we headed back toward the Scales as a group of nine. As we encountered snow, we took a nice long break to discuss avalanche safety and how to recover (hopefully still breathing) individuals from the snow. Each of us was wearing a Piep, a transceiver that allows you to find - or be found - in the event of an avalanche, and we found a nice snow field where, for the next hour or so, we practiced hiding the transceivers from other people and then making them find them and dig them back up. After lunch on Long Hill, we moved closer to the Scales and did a more realistic scenario of three skiers caught in an avalanche, where two were wearing Pieps and a third was not. We found the third "person" (a buried backpack) by following clues and using probes.
The skies were not as blue as on my previous visit.
Jeremy is incredibly fast on the trail. I'm wondering if I were to take up pipe smoking, as he has, if it would make me move faster. Probably not. I would probably need to grow legs about a foot longer than I have at present. At any rate, he was, predictably, the first one to rush back to the ranger station. Convenient, since it was his turn to make supper. And so I purposely dawdled slowly down the hill with a couple of the Parks Canada folks, learning about local flora and discussing the best sea kayaking spots in southeast Alaska. We arrived about five minutes before supper was on the table - perfect timing.
There was a bit of live music every evening, as pictured above (that's a dandelion in Kip's mouth, by the way). And games. Cribbage, rummy, Scrabble. We also had a mini disc player that's incredibly economical on batteries - it almost felt as if we weren't in the backcountry. Very pleasant evenings indeed.
The thirteen and a half miles back home were gorgeous. My feet are out of shape, though. I think they spent all day yesterday working on growing another layer or two of skin. I didn't get any blisters... just... tender.
Look at that insanely large belly! She's, um, sort of back on a diet now. Except today was a Do Not Feed Gren Day, and she figured it out, and so she decided to shed and then eat her skin again. Which is far more than her normal amount of food. Silly