Almost Overlooked - Day 5

By Zachary Sheldon | Published Jan 31, 2024

9:30am camp was packed and I was ready to move. I was also still thirsty from the day before. I was only about three-quarter miles from Cache Creek. Going at a calm pace it was fine.

The Ikiakpaurak Valley was so wide compared to where I spent my last few days in the mountains. This was ANWR, I expected it to be teeming with wildlife, so far I had only seen nine sheep and a handful of birds.

I reached Cache Creek and dunked my face in to gulp in the water and wash the salt from my face. Infact it was a hot morning, and I was salty and stinky and possibly tonight or tomorrow I was going to have to start sharing a tent. I hopped in and took a bath. Water! It's such a gift. That water was colder than I'd want to stay in but the plunging under and returning to warm air was refreshing.

I got dressed and loaded up and started to follow Cache Creek. I came across wolf tracks. Finally! Maybe I'll see some wolves, that would be cool.

I only traveled another half mile before I found where I would set up camp and wait for Eric to arrive. It was a little bluff that overlooked the creek.

It was only 12:30 and I had camp setup. I ventured south to investigate a pass through the Third Range and see if Eagle Creek was a viable option for packrafting.

Heading up the pass wasn't too bad, it was a bit hotter than I'd like but better than cold and rainy or being in the lower 48. The creek at this point had long hair like algie growing in it. I encountered an old reoccurring landslide blocking the creek bed. Hiking over I was relieved to think the pass was just on the other side. Nope! But there was a refreshing spring on the backside. I had some cold clear water, refilled my water bottle and kept hiking.

I approached another slide blockage. Cresting the top the back side seemed to have a lush green valley floor. Upon further inspection it was a lush green bog impossible to walk across without sinking in past your ankles. Through this area the air was still, and it was uncomfortably hot. I began referring to this area as The Dead Marshes. Though Tolkien might scoff, compared to his, mine really weren't that bad. But it was in the mid to high 70's and I don't handle heat well.

At the end of The Dead Marshes I was finally the top of the pass. I was hoping for a wider view of Ikiakpuk Valley so I scrambled up and around the peak to the west. Thinking I'd only go 100ft or so I ended up going 600ft. It was a nice rolling summit, and the view was incredible.

Storm clouds were moving in to the east, so I headed back to camp.

Within minutes of me reaching the tent the winds whipped up and it began to pour. Soon the lightning started moving in from the pass I just hiked out of. Closer and closer, it was exciting to watch the lightning as we only get it in Valdez maybe once every ten years. Then it became too close. A bolt struck 700ft away on the other side of the creek.

That's when the thoughts start racing. It's an open valley with sparse vegetation, I'm one of the tallest things out here and I'm sitting surrounded by some metal poles. Thankfully, the lightning moved on, but the wind and rain persisted. I climbed in my sleeping bag, comfortable on my air mattress and with my pillow, I closed my eyes and listened to the wind shake my tent as it pelted the rain against it. The thunder was moving through the valley and back to the mountains where the storm ragged the day before.

I opened my eyes and 3 hours had passed. I fell asleep listening to another storm. The air was calm, the skies were blue, and other than the ground cover being wet you would have never guessed a storm just passed through.

11pm, Eric was on the road, and in the Brooks Range. The plan was for him to stop at camp the next morning, drop his gear, and then get flown out to the glacier and hike over the route I did the prior day.

I texted my wife and dad, tracked Eric on the GPS and went back to sleep.

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