KEVLAR DREAMS -
Something was slapping me on the butt as I lay in a sleeping bag under a shelter tarp in the Talkeetna Mountains---and it was pushing real hard!
It was my 503rd off-trail, backpacking overnight in the Talkeetna Mountains since I began keeping track in 1988. I was on the last day of my final Summer backpacking adventure for this year of 2011. I had been climbing around with a heavy pack on the first four days and taken a day of rest on the fifth---climbing around with just ten pounds of camera gear and no pack. I even got to bed early to rest up for the hike back to my truck the next day. But I was rudely awakened---the wind and the mountains were letting me know who was boss. High winds had plucked out some stakes and a loose corner of my shelter tarp was literally pushing against me. Some of my gear had been blown away. The Kevlar tarp was flapping madly and making sounds like a machinegun.
The winds that blew through my camp on that last night had to be 50 miles per hour at least---that being the point at which the wind starts to push the Human body off its feet…or at least impedes walking. Which it did when I got up to stake down my shelter. I’m guessing that some wind gusts were even higher.
Fortunately it was only spitting a bit of rain---that would have been a real mess. And it wasn’t cold---even though the first two days had seen frost overnight. But it was blowing so hard that my pack dog, Belinda---who never gets under the tarp except in really heavy rains---came in and hunkered down for the night despite the terrible snapping noises the fabric was making.
I’ll have to thank the sewing lady who made my shelter tarp. After years of hauling around a heavy nylon tarp (which finally ripped in a wind storm) I was thinking of making my new one out of lightweight nylon a while back. But the seamstress had scoffed at the idea and recommended a Kevlar material that was black on the outside and white on the inside (see “BLACK AND WHITE ANSWER“ below). The Kevlar tarp is now a bit stretched out of shape---but it held.
THE MOSES EFFECT -
Going off into the wilderness alone has its responsibilities---I am expected to come back with some sort of wisdom to calm the madness of my civilized society. As usual, this “wisdom” consists of my mind becoming empty. At Twisted Rock that wildly flapping shelter tarp beat every thought out of my head except the one: Wind, don’t pull out the stakes and don’t rip my tarp! Nothing focuses the mind like some sort of threat to one’s physical being. Actually, my mind wasn’t so much focused as having any stray thought blasted out of it before it could materialize.
BLACK AND WHITE ANSWER -
There is a "black and white" answer. The answer to the question is: Black and White!
All thoughts I might have had---whether including any idea of dominating this land---were absolutely lashed out of my mind by the wildly flapping Kevlar and all I could think was that it hold fast.
I’ve learned not to camp on ridges because of wind and lightning. But I could have chosen an even more sheltered spot for this trip. And I might have configured the tarp differently to stand up better against the wind.
I use a tarp because I hate tents. A tarp gives me much more room and ventilation and allows my pack dogs to come and go as they please without me worrying about them dragging in mud and debris. The tarp is supported by adjustable trekking poles which are separately staked down using heavy cords to form a framework for the fabric. The only drawback is that wind can get underneath unless I stake the tarp down real tight. Next time I will…
RARE WILDLIFE SIGHTING -
A hunter actually walked through my camp. He was walking. There was no vehicle. Only snowmachines can get up into these high valleys and there was little snow. He was on foot. There was only one hunter. Good for him!
Hatcher Pass Road, on the other hand, was swarming with vehicular hunters. On my way in and out I ran up into the real slow drivers, the lowest type of hunters---just above outright poachers. “Road hunters”---driving around looking for something to shoot. To paraphrase (Alaska journalist) Michael Carey’s dad, Fabian: These Alaska subsistence pioneers come out here to hunt…as long as they can ride around on their asses. That’s why I was so impressed by the lone young man on foot with his scoped rifle. As for the rest of them, all I can say is: So much money for so many machines for so little meat. No wonder Hatcher Pass is a wildlife wasteland---anything that dares show itself is shot on the spot. It's like Madd Max!
A YEAR OF “WEATHER EXTREMES” -
A story in the September 3 Anchorage Daily News:
“2011: year of weather extremes - WEATHER: Floods, heat, drought, storms, cold set local, national records. (by SETH BORENSTEIN - The Associated Press) “WASHINGTON -- Nature is pummeling the United States this year with extremes.”
THE PREDICTION RACKET -
In an earlier blog I had muttered something about a “gut-feeling” that this was going to be a dry Summer. Well, my gut and the Summer were all wet! Still, I got up into the mountains for 18 days of backpacking and climbing. And about a similar number of day-climbs. Sure I got blown around and rained on. But it was a great Summer!
Some places up in the Talkeetna Mountains have not seen much of a Summer at all. On a climbing trip in July I camped near Snowbird Lake and watched the last of the ice go out on July 6.
On a backpacking trip this August I climbed into six inches of snow in the high pass between Archangel Valley and Upper Peters Creek---and that was a few days after it had stopped snowing. There had to have been at least eight inches of snowfall up there. When I got home and analyzed my photos I saw undeniable slush ice on a lake high on the Upper Peters Creek bowl. That photo was taken on August 11.
PEOPLE DIE OUT HERE -
There is a makeshift “shrine” up there…for whom I know not because a number of people have died thereabouts. A young hiker and a snowboarder that I know of. A young person, judging by the intact offering of a bottle of beer. Two angel statuettes, a broken mug, an intact mug, a rebel flag wrapped around a wooden pole, climbing carabiners and a cross beautifully hand-painted on a stone.
TWISTED ROCK -
I just returned from six days at a place I call Twisted Rock. There were areas where the snow from last year had just barely melted away---and still a few patches of last year‘s snow. A few plants were trying to bloom in early September---and some were actually succeeding! Nature has been through all this before.
Something very powerful happened here once---in slow-motion. Uniform layers of sedimentary rock had been squeezed by unimaginable forces into wavy patterns. The rock is somewhat crumbly and there are pieces large and small lying about like broken, curved roofing tiles. The Castle Mountain fault lies just to the South of this area and there are other fault traces as well. This land was squeezed and the layers of sedimentary rock rippled into wavy patterns.
A GREAT STONE ARK IN A GREAT STONE FLOOD -
A few years back when I presented a slide show at a local Bible Camp my young friend “Seth” pointed out the pattern of somewhat horizontal stripes on a distant mountain and stated that these were “like rings on a bathtub left over from Noah’s Great Flood.” I said nothing to correct him. These were actually thick layers of sedimentary rock, uplifted and tilted by great forces within the Earth. Slice these layers upon layers of rock any way you like and they are three-dimensional strata---not the slosh-marks of some biblical Flood. And, of course, they are tilted. That’s what happened to these sedimentary layers of rock---they were uplifted and the strata are no longer level.
This wonderful mountain appears in a lot of my photographs taken from mountain tops. Its name I know not but it is prominent. About ten, very wide, sedimentary layers are visible. The layers are tilted and various segments are even more displaced. There are different layers or bands visible on this mountain, alternating light and dark. It would have taken ten deluges to have made these marks---if they were like bathtub rings in the first place. Which they were decidedly not!
Even a cursory examination of this banded mountain would reveal it for what it was---a tilted “ark” of stone floating on a sea of broken, jumbled rock. It is big, visible for miles, and took millions of flat, peaceful years for each of those wide bands to accumulate from sediment. And yet more millions of years to compact into solid rock. Probably a billion years or more in total! Then, heaved by a series of catastrophes, this great stone ark now rides high on waves of unimaginably slow undulations of an ocean of stone. A relatively small piece of a really ancient geological record riding high!
Actually, most places on Earth have been under water at one time or another---but there is no geological record to support the contention that the Earth was flooded in its entirety during any part of Human history. The great flood referred to in the Bible was most likely referring to a local flood such as the Black Sea deluge (circa 5600 BC) when waters from the Mediterranean breached a sill in the Bosporus Strait. Also, it would have taken many floods to leave multiple “bathtub rings” of the type seen in this Talkeetna Mountain---which obviously formed over a long, geological time period.
A CIVILIZED MOAN -
Now, back at my cabin, the moan of a neighbor’s dull chainsaw straining against firewood is a sure sign that Winter is coming. Birch and willow leaves have turned golden; the fireweed leaves are crimson; and tundra plants at higher altitudes have been red for some weeks now. Many leaves have already fallen and more were blown down last night (Sept. 19) in a windstorm. Many leaves are eaten full of holes. Even the tough and most ancient of plants, the ferns, have holes eaten in them. This implies insects---but the usual insects, not very numerous this year to begin with, are just about gone. Something serious is going on with the insects---too many leaf eaters and not enough to feed the insect-eating birds. I have never seen so few insects in my part of Alaska.
NO WILD BERRIES OF ANY KIND -
My observations are qualified, as usual, by the limitations of being a climber on foot who doesn’t spend much time looking for berries because I usually run into them on my travels. This year I found maybe a few handfuls (total!) of blueberries. I’ve recently had a chance to wander around down in Willow Creek Canyon. In the usual places I found no low bush cranberries, no currants, no crowberries and---although I could smell the plants---no high bush cranberries at all. Not a one of any of the above! I’ve never seen anything like this!
In all my travels I didn't see any low bush cranberries except the two I ate way up in the mountains. They didn’t taste very good either. The crowberries are also real scarce this year---something that usually could be counted on. The few I found tasted not good. True subsistence living would be pretty hard right now with the game hunted out and the berries crashed.
Another thing I have never before experienced: This year, on each of my extended trips, I have been afflicted by a terrible allergy causing redness, itching and burning around the eyes. It won’t stop me from going out but it lasts about a week after my return. Benadryl and aloe cream help somewhat.
ACTUAL WILDLIFE FOR A CHANGE -
Most people in or out of Alaska do not realize just how much wildlife has disappeared at the hand of Human hunters and has been displaced by Human habitation and road networks.
I did see some wildlife on this last trip. Two ducks spent the night in a small lake on their way South and I did not photograph the lake until after they had departed the next day. Life is precarious enough for these wild wanderers without me stalking around with my camera and chasing them off their night's rest stop.
On our first night in camp a pack of coyotes howled beautifully above the small lake. My pack dog always pauses to listen intently when her wild relatives, wolves or coyotes, howl. I used to think I was ”brother” to the wolf but now realize I am brother to the coyote---wolves just aren’t allowed to survive when Human hunters become jealous of their innate superiority as hunters. Wolves are the only true subsistence hunters left in Alaska. Us “coyotes” are not so much tolerated, but rather, are persistent survivors around the edges.
I also got some photos of the cutest animal out there---the “least weasel.” About eight inches long counting the tail and weighing no more than 2.5 ounces. He was darting about while I fortunately had the telephoto lens mounted. So small and quiet (until he started to chatter) that Belinda stayed curled up until she realized there was something there. My big husky dog was no match for the tiny least weasel. Wherever Belinda poked her big nose the weasel popped out somewhere else from the maze of tunnels below the boulders.
THE LAND WILL ENDURE AFTER WE ARE ALL GONE -
Most thoughts that come to me out in the wilderness are, when considered upon return to civilization, mad ramblings. However, every once in a while I get some good ones…
No one can have dominion over the land…over Nature. No one. The so-called “Dominionist” imperative was cooked up merely to justify one ancient tribe stealing land from it’s neighbors, killing all the men, raping the women and selling the children into slavery. Not worth the papyrus or sheepskin it was written upon---just like the deeds we property-owners have today.
THE STONE SOUL -
We Humans are just a blip in time and the land will endure long after we are turned to dust and then to stone. Even as we lust for the land and all it contains we are destined to be swallowed by the land. Only matter matters, for matter is all that endures (in the form of energy)---and some “souls“ have already turned to stone.
We Humans cannot take “dominion” of the land for a number of reasons. First of all, we don’t understand Nature at all. Indeed, we fear it! Nature dominates us and the tame, civilized fools do not realize this!
The idea that we own the land is just one of a number of basic misconceptions we modern Humans entertain with our impertinent and overly-complex brains---but it’s a basic one. Our terrible unawareness of the very substance upon which we stand and with which we always live and which confers life upon us precludes the concept of dominion. My friends call me a “mountain man.“ Everything I do and everything I have goes to the mountains. Yet, though I go up into the mountains more than most, I am not a mountain man. I am a child of civilization.
We Humans fight over the land---the land does not fight over us. The idea that the land owns us---as opposed to our real estate mentality---is held by the Australian Aboriginals. This view is the correct truth. The land exacts no “inheritance tax” nor leaves us in its will. To us tame Humans the ownership of the land is a very temporary and legalistic concern. The land does not even bother to care or not care---for that would imply that the land wants to do things with us. We are important only to ourselves.
- Rudy Wittshirk