Denali 7. WOW!

Day 6.

July 9th, 2012

Wow!

It starts with another crystal clear view of Denali during a 2am pee, but even when I get up later it is still clear.

Panorama I stitched together with Photoshop

For part of the morning, Denali is wearing a small beret of cloud but no matter. The range is as clear as could be as the moon makes a slow daylight journey over it.

Hard to see the moon in pictures, but it’s there above Denali.

I spend the bulk of the morning just watching the light move across.

I am in a heightened and constant state of utter awe for the entire morning. I take a lot of photos. I rig my Gorilla Tripod to my treking poles as a makeshift tripod.

I realize that this day is why I came here! This is my gift from Denali! I savor it.

I was so concerned that I get a good picture that I spend 15 mins cranking the handle on the weather-band radio which has a USB power output, to get just enough charge on my iPhone to get the above picture. I crank and crank and crank, get the one shot and it dies… This is perhaps the one day, I wished I had a better camera. I don’t mind not lugging a huge lens around to get close-ups of bears, but I do wish I could have given the mountains and sky more justice.

The day is clear and warm, and after lunch I look at the broad green slopes that lead up the north side of Mt. Galen and I decide to take a walk. I decide NOT to commit to climbing Mt. Galen. Just a walk in that direction that might end up on the summit.

Photoshop panorama of Mt. Galen

I’m prepared either way. I get to a point further North than I’ve yet been and am looking up the slopes when, BAM! There’s a bear. Smack dab in the middle of where I need to go to approach the mountain. I have time, and he is plenty far away, so I sit and watch him to see what his intentions are. It quickly becomes clear that napping is the order of the day for him. I keep an on him as he shifts positions in his snoozing. The term “lolly-gaging” comes to mind. For fierce beasts these things can get pretty silly.

This is again the age-old paradox: The beautiful landscape can kill you. The terrifying predator is cute. etc. It is disturbing to think how accurate Disneyland’s Country Bear Jamboree actually is.

The fact of the matter is that in the environment I was in, a bear would first appear in the landscape as a fuzzy caterpillar. That’s what I would look for, perhaps because I grew up with caterpillars and can see them more easily. It reminds of a time when I was a teenager, shortly after moving to North America from Japan; I was riding my motorcycle at night, and suddenly there was a deer right in front of me, and I had to swerve rather violently to miss it. The thing is that it took several seconds, after I was safe and the adrenaline was dripping off of my brain, to realize that it was a deer. The alarm thought in my head was “That’s the biggest dog I’ve ever seen in my life!” Now that I knew to look for fuzzy brown caterpillars on the hillsides, I was seeing the bears.

At one point, I think he’s gone, but then his head pops up as he is apparently doing the back-stroke in the bushes. It becomes clear: Mt. Galen, by the Northern route, is off for humans today.

This is the thing about this place: You don’t try to alter the environment to your wishes. You adapt to it. You evolve. You change. And it’s not about being powerless or weak. It’s about being attentive and in tune. I’m not saying that I am. But I am beginning to hear that I am off key…

I took some time, while I waited, to use another piece of equipment that I bought at REI in Anchorage. My Sanitary Trowel. I haven’t been bringing that up, but yes, I have been using my trowel from time to time.

A scoping of the river valley to my left reveals that it is open, so I cut down to the river and continue exploring upstream. After quite a bit of picking my way up the river I hear a trotting sound and a caribou comes jogging almost right up to me. I see him before he sees me and when he does see me he stops and does a kind of “Oh Shit!” and then buries his head in a bush, almost casually, as if to play nonchalant.

My first sensation is relief that it isn’t a moose, followed by “what do I do now?” The valley here is narrow enough that it’s hard to simply move around each other, and my prime directive in Denali is to not alter the behavior of wildlife, so I began to calmly back away, as I gingerly get my camera out.

He turns and trots back the way he came, and I turn and move downstream a bit more quickly.

After a bit though he turns around again and tries to pass me on my right.

He stopped and looked right at me basically posing for a picture, while we both seemed to be feeling an awkward sense of, hoping no one was looking, because this was NOT how we were supposed to interact. There was a weird sense of embarrassment. And wonder… Embarrassed wonder.

He gives up and backs off again before trotting past me on my left with an almost audible “Fuck it!”

I wonder if all the moose tracks that I’ve been seeing are in fact caribou, so I go over and check…

…and these are indeed quite different.

When I get back to camp, there is a ground squirrel near my tent who seems to have had it with me. He is “cheeping” and running around. I explain to him that I’m leaving soon and am sorry if I’ve caused distress. Every once in a while he pops out to check things out, or he just “cheeps” at me when I’m in my tent.

All in all, an AMAZING day…

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