Adventures in the tundra

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.

View from Reed lake near hatcher Pass. Looks like the eastern Sierra huh?

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.

View from the raft headed down the Nenana at a calm section of the river. 

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. 

Dall sheep on Primrose ridge above the savage river with the Alaska Range in the background

Dall sheep on Primrose ridge above the savage river with the Alaska Range in the background

Micranthes hieraciifolia. The petals on this species can be red or green so I was thrilled to get a picture of this one with its dark red petals. 

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.

Poppies on Mount Healy. I've seen poppies before but I've neer seen poppies that are Dayglo yellow! Papaver Macounii.

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!