Almost Overlooked - Day 4

By Zachary Sheldon | Published Jan 31, 2024
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I had a long day ahead of me. I had camp packed and ready to go by just after 8am. I headed down Fire Creek which would appear out of the stream bed and then disappear sometimes for lengths of over half a mile (1km). It would go from being nearly navigable to dry in less than 100ft.

As I neared the end of the fork there was a hill to the southeast. Instead of going around it I figured I could cut some distance going in front of it over a small pass. It ended up saving me roughly a mile of hiking. But it meant hiking uphill with a load again. I began going uphill, leaving the creek.

I think that's when I got that stupid "Put One Foot in Front of the Other" song from Santa Claus is Comin' to Town stuck in my head. Literally I just had to tell myself "One more step, just keep stepping." Soon enough, that song was back in my head. Over the next couple days, I did end up creating my own song. A modern song about hiking and a good ear worm for occasions such as the one I was in. I don't recall what it was, but it would have been a money maker. : )

As I came off the pass behind the hill and crossed the little stream that also feeds into Fire Creek, I looked down stream to the east and saw a couple sandhill cranes flying low over Fire Creek. I rolled up out of the creek bed into the valley and nearly stepped on a chick. No not some random girl, a small shore bird. I forget what it was now as the parents didn't come close enough for me to get a decent photograph.

As I moved through the valley I hit bog, tussocks and permafrost that had melted. Continually hoping it didn't get worse I made my way to a small out cropping of rocks and from there found dry ground that led to Fire Creek. When I got to the creek it was running through a narrow canyon about 18ft deep. The rock lining the creek outside the canyon was a pretty orange, like they were imported from Moab, or the American dessert.

I followed the most southern fork as it swung to the west and into the mountains. It was a gentle ascent and considering everything it was quite pleasant. By the time I was starting the bend the creek had run dry with the occasional creek running down the slope to disappear into its rocky bed.

As I approached the pass the sky got dark, and the clouds filled the sky above me. Not long after thunder started cracking in the mountains just northwest of me, back where Northernmost Glacier lies. Soon I was seeing the flashes, and then the bolts. Within about 15minutes of the first thunder clap it started to hail. By the time I left the pass the wind had picked up and the hail was probably between 5-7mm. The wind blew harder, the rain got heavier, the hail came and went as I moved out of the pass into a high valley.

I started to get chilled, and it wasn't letting up. I found a trough in the valley floor, put the rainfly on my pack, unraveled my packraft, and curled up in a ball beneath it. The storm continued on for another hour. I was getting colder. Finally, the storm began to die down. I had to get moving and get warm. By this point the wind was infrequent breeze, and the rain was a Seattle drizzle.

The creek dropped into a canyon with walls and a forbidding narrowness I didn't feel like investigating. I moved south up the slope and quickly found the caribou trails, which I followed to the valley floor. An hour later I was in the valley following the creek through mild terrain.

About a half hour later I noticed a herd of Dall sheep on the mountain above me. So tired, a little damp, and extremely burdened, I flopped out of my pack like a landed fish. Unfortunately, this alerted the sheep to my presence. They swiftly walked, sometimes trotted away until they disappeared around the ridge. I packed up my camera and begrudgingly climbed back into my hikers' tack and made my way down the creek bed.

By this point the creek bed was a wide braided bed with one primary stream. It was scattered with alders just over head height. Then I started to find some rather large brown bear scat. Alone, exhausted, with no gun, I moved my little pack of mighty might fireworks and lighter to the hip pocket of my backpack. Every 3-5 minutes shouting out a "Hey bear!" followed with a large clap. I moved off the stream bed up to the valley floor because it was more open but also because it was more level walking.

I was now following some moose tracks and as I rounded the bend now heading south I came across another patch of failing permafrost. The valley was now narrow and the creek bed hugged the slope. The creek broke into a few small braids and was soon gone. By this point I had been hiking for 11 hours. My feet were tired, I was tired, I just wanted to find a good place to camp.

I went for another half hour and found a bench up off the creek and above the valley floor. It was level and had an excellent vantage. I plopped down and let the mosquitoes have at it, trying to find a way to get my blood. The only chink in my defense was around my wrist where one of my gloves was loose. I just covered it with my other hand and breathed. By this point I was pretty well exhausted. I just sat there for about 20 minutes before rolling over to dissect my load and unravel my tent.

Once I had my tent up and air mattress inflated and pillow out, I laid there for another 30 minutes or so. I needed to eat and I needed to hydrate. Once again so focused on covering ground I forgot to fill my water bottle before leaving the creek and it was a half mile back to the water. I had just enough to cook my Mountain House. Most of the expedition I would add excess water to my meals for flavored hydration. Tonight, it was enough to just cook it properly.

I cooked my meal down off the bluff in the creek bed. I didn't want to walk any more than I had to but more so I didn't want to be visited by a bear. I ate my meal and headed back to my tent. I had a garbage bag in my backpack for trash and dirty clothes. The trash was kept in a gallon Ziplock bag inside the trash bag to limit aromas.

I texted my wife, checked in with Eric, closed my eyes and was out.

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