I got off work at 5 p.m. this past Saturday (my Friday – nearly a week ago now), all backpack-ready for my overnighter into the Valley. If the weather had cooperated, we’d have been out there for two days. But once again, in Alaska there are no guarantees concerning the weather – you take what is offered and act accordingly.
This spring and summer have been unusually wet, even by Alaska Peninsula standards. Last summer there were apparently days upon days of endless sunshine and people got used to that. But for most of July 2010 we have rarely seen the sun. Since that day hike to Solstice Ridge on June 20 when we had perfect clear blue skies, the sun has rarely shone for more than a few hours at a time. I can’t remember there having been a day for the past month when it wasn’t at least cloudy, if not raining. For a desert rat like myself, the change is kind of nice – the cool humidity is sweet and I get to exist in a cloud of moisture (not to mention biting insects) for a few months. However, that concept doesn’t necessarily translate into a totally comfortable hiking experience. Nevertheless, just the fact that I was finally hiking into the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes was completely worth what effort I did expend. I must state unequivocally that I was never never never miserable! In the end I was just soaked to the bone (even though I was wearing rain gear) and really tired after hiking 11 miles in one day, and ended up wondering how in the world people hike for weeks at a time in this Alaskan summer weather.
No matter about that… it was THE VALLEY. I was going where not that many people get to go in their lifetimes. I wouldn’t let a little rain stop me.
Well…, maybe I would.
Besides Jeanette and me, we had added a couple of extra hikers. Jacqui (of the June Solstice hike) had a few days off, and Steve had Sunday off and just wanted to get out of camp. Our plan was to spend Saturday night in the Three Forks visitor center and start out early Sunday for a campsite about 6 miles into the Valley. At miles 5, 6, and 8 there are sheltered campsites with water available. We’d set up camp and then decide how to spend the rest of Sunday afternoon. We’d hike back out Monday. Steve had arranged for a ride back Sunday night and would only be out for the day. Phil would pick the rest of us up on Monday evening.
Christina (cabin mate) and Greg drove us the 23 miles from Brooks Camp to the visitor center – in the rain. Remember, it had been raining all month and wasn’t about to stop just because this Utah desert rat wanted to backpack. By this time it was nearly 8:00 p.m. Steve suggested we leave right then and hike 18 miles to the Mageik lakes. Now, Steve is a really nice person, but I looked at him and thought “Is he crazy???” The last thing in the world I wanted to do (or for that matter, could even possibly consider doing) was to set out at 8 p.m. and hike 18 miles to set up a tent in the rain. With three people half my age who hiked entirely too fast for this old girl’s boots. Right. Sign me up.
VTTS Visitor Center – Home for the night
After that idea was soundly squashed like a bug, we settled in at the visitor center (no one else was around) and cooked our couscous and Tasty Bites over Steve’s backpacking stove, and added some of my peanut butter to the mix, and I drank green tea, and then we played cards – Oh Hell – for a few hours until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any more, and soon, as the others stayed awake a while longer, I climbed into my sleeping bag on the floor in a corner and drifted off to an uneasy rest because my back was hurting from trying to get comfortable on the floor with my inadequate pad under me (I never have been able to find a suitable enough pad), tossing and turning and thinking “I may be getting too old to sleep on the floor anymore.” But then I thought – Here I am in Alaska, at the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, and so soon I stopped listening to those pesky voices in my head and eventually fell asleep in the never-quite-dark of a late July night near the 58th parallel, the rain pattering steadily away on the metal roof of the building.
Descent into the VTTS from the visitor center
On the trail in the VTTS