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A Fat Old lady Takes Up Climbing
The Year Six Journal
August 2005


On to Autumn 2005

After weeks of clouds, rain, and cool temperatures, August has provided a welcome change-- sunshine. Under beautiful blue skies, I hiked the Byron Glacier Trail and planned to cross over the snowfield. Surprise! The snowfield has mostly melted this year! And the Glacier had noticeably receded. After crossing what's left of the snowfield, we entered acres of rocks and boulders that have been carelessly strewn about by the glacier beating its hasty retreat. The sound of rushing water underneath often accompanied the climb across the boulder field, which Jascha found disconcerting. The loss of the snowfield was more upsetting to me. Each year, I see more of the tundra overgrown by larger plants that shouldn't be there, but this rapid melting at Byron Glacier is the most dramatic evidence of warming that I've seen. Still, the area remains stunningly beautiful and we had a lovely hike on a perfect day in Alaska.

Byron Glacier Trail

Click here for large versions of the collage pix:

Photo of Byron Glacier this summer (upper left) showing more rock exposure
[For comparison: Photo of Byron Glacier from last summer (2004), showing the snowfield ]
View of some of the large boulders, with a little pool (upper middle)
Snowcave etched out by the glacial stream (upper right)
People playing in what's left of the snowfield (center left)
View of the valley, looking down from the boulder field (center right)
View of the valley and stream, looking up toward the Glacier (lower left)
Flowers and snow, in a glacial valley (lower middle)
Elderberries growing along the trail (lower right)

Gorgeous sunny conditions continue here in Alaska. The last time I visited Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, clouds and rain covered the area, so I went back to see it in better weather. This time I went to the north side of the very large park, to try the Skookum Volcano Trail. It starts out as a fairly clear path in a lovely forest, that meets up with a stream. From there, the "trail" basically follows the stream, sometimes crossing it, and is marked just with rock cairns placed along the way. When the trail leaves the stream, the instruction (apparently written a few years ago) advise hikers to scramble up tundra to a summit. Unfortunately, thick scrub willows and alders have sprung up on that tundra. The dog and I struggled to get through them on the steep side of the mountain. Every time we thought we'd found a way, we would be stopped by impenetrable brush. With the summit very close at hand, we were forced to turn back. Frustrating. (A park ranger later told me that the tundra had become overgrown in just the last two years.) But still, it was a beautiful location and a perfect day. The creek was full of colorful rocks and volcanic formations were all around.

Click here for large versions of the collage photos:
Large crater wall towering over the area (upper left)
Jascha and I cross over the creek (upper right)
Fleabane growing at the lower end of the trail (lower left)
Colorful volcanic rocks adorn the swiftly flowing creek (lower middle)
Female Clouded Sulphur butterfly, seen near the trailhead (lower right)

Additional photos:
The creek as it flows by a dramatic rock wall
Looking down a white rock cliff, to the stream
View across a valley, from very near the summit
Forest floor scene with moss and Ground Cones
Another forest floor scene, with mushrooms
Scene along Nebesna Road, in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
Panoramic view of colorful mountaintops in twilight, along the Glenn Highway
More information and photos on the Clouded Sulphur Butterfly

A high pressure system is "blocked" over the area, and no one is complaining, in spite of the persistent haze from the sea and wildfires. The warm and windless weather called me into the Chugach Mountains at the Bird Ridge Trail. We climbed up to the subalpine meadow that opens up to views in both directions. There were late summer flowers, and plenty of Serviceberries along the way. The berries are seedy, but sweet. In May and June, their beautiful and showy white flowers brighten many of our trails. Click here to see Serviceberry in flowers.
Bird Ridge Trail

Here are larger photos of the plants:
Common Harebell, Bluebells of Scotland, (upper left)
Elegant Goldenrod, (upper right)
Serviceberries, (upper middle)

Early August brought us some of the most perfect weather we've seen this year. Then the rain started... . With the precious summer days dwindling away, I was becoming impatient. Yesterday, I drove up the Flattop's trailhead under threatening skies, just hoping for the best. We had barely started up the trail when a violent thunder storm hit. The hike was over. Today was overcast, but not so scary looking, and we made it up and down fine, with just some light sprinkles. Judging from the number of folks on the trail, it seems I was not alone in my impatience.


Photos from the collage
Looking down from near the rocky top, across the city below (upper middle)
A "stairway" etched into a cliff, to prevent erosion along the trail (upper right)
A very tiny yellow tundra flower--please email me if you have the ID (lower left)
Hikers carefully picking their way down the dangerous scramble (lower center)
A wild geranium blooms while its leaves show autumn color (lower right)

Two days later, following a huge wind storm, we had a period of unexpected sunshine. I called the dog, jumped in the van, and drove out to hike the Thunderbird Falls trail. It's not a strenuous trek, just a rolling mile long trail (one way). Here are some photos from the trail:

Thunderbird Falls, seen from the viewing deck at the end of the trail
Mountain scene from along the trail
A red squirrel has a few choice words for invaders on his trail

All photographs are the property of the photographer, Mary Hopson.
If you wish to use them in screensavers or webpages, please leave copyright information intact.

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Enjoy the Flowers Along Alaska's Hiking Trails

Butterflies Along Alaska's Hiking Trails
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