My last post ended with me in the Kenai Peninsula. I recently heard that is where all the good salmon fishing is happening this time of year so I may need to head back there (which I would have no qualms about). In the past week I have gone on two of my favorite hikes so far this summer, went on an overnight river trip on the Nenana River as part of a plant hunting expedition, and found some very cool Micranthes.
This weeks adventures begin on the road to Hatcher Pass between Palmer and Willow. I knew I was in for a long drive that day so I stopped at one of the many trailheads I was passing to burn some energy. The hike I chose was to Reed Lake and wow was it a magnificent hike--Stunning views and big granite mountains. Admittedly part of the reason I liked this hike so much was, as I got deeper into the mountains, it looked just like the Eastern Sierra. Additionally, part of the trail was boulder hopping, which if I'm not tired or in a hurry, is one of my favorite things to do. Though it was an out-and-back hike the scenery was great in both directions and I found some cool plants including a genus in the Saxifragacaeae I'd been wanting to see -- Leptarrhena pyrolifolia.
After my hike I attempted to drive up and over Hatcher Pass (as recommended to me by multiple people around Alaska) but the road was closed for construction so I drove down and around through Palmer and continued on my way back to my home base in Denali National Park. The next day I hopped on a raft trip with some new friends from the area on the Nenana River. I mentioned that I might have some plants in a marshy area along the river, so we spent the night at a secret river guide campsite before hiking out the next day to plant hunt. We didn't find the plant but how cool is plant hunting via raft on a class 4 river?
I laid low the next day and did some office work because that night (Friday) I was the invited speaker for the Murie Science and Learning Center Science Speaker Series. It was a fun audience and I think the talk went as well as it could have, which is not always how I feel after giving talks. The next day I ventured into the park for the first time. I had been trail running on some of the dirt paths around the visitor center but I hadn't really explored the park yet. So, I drove to Savage River, the farthest into the park personal vehicles can go, and started down the River Trail. That trail was awfully mellow so I quickly left it and headed straight up towards Primrose Ridge. The first part of the hike, well, sucked. I was traversing up the ridge, not following a trail, and it seems I did not chose the best route. I was swamped in willows, on steep terrain, and moving very slowly. I eventually picked my way out of the woods and was relieved to find myself in tundra. From there it was a pretty easy, but super windy, jaunt along the ridge line to the nearest peak, Mount Margaret. Along the way I found four(!) Micranthes and ended up really close to a group of Dall Sheep. I strolled down the other side of the mountain, which was a much more chill route, and caught a park bus the few miles back to my car. Two of the Micranthes I collected were new to me, so between new collections, bagging a peak, and a sheep encounter it was another really, really great Alaskan day.
I felt obligated to thoroughly celebrate summer solstice because the longest day of the year is really, really long when you are this far north. And when else am I going to experience needing sunglasses at 3 am? So, after recovering from that I decided to squeeze in one last hike yesterday before hitting the road today. I quickly made my way up towards Mount Healy via Bison Gulch. This is a popular hike but I did it in the evening (remember it never gets dark) so I didn't see too many people and the botanizing was excellent! As I crossed the 4000' mark I found quite a few plants that were new to me in Alaska and I enjoyed trying to identify them. I didn't make it all the way to the top because I wanted to get back to my car by 9:30 but a great hike nonetheless.
I'm heading out today for a pretty long stretch. I'm driving the Denali Highway and meeting up with the Alaska Native Plant Society this weekend for a botany field trip in Red Rocks Canyon. I'll then head up to the Haul Road and maybe check out Eagle Summit again. I am very excited. 'Til next time: happy trails!