Friday, July 14, 2006

Trip to Haines, Entry #2

First, my sincere apologies for not writing in several days. It's the middle of the term and the workload has come down on me a bit severely this past week. Hopefully things will lighten up, but until they do, your kind forbearance is begged.

One of the highlights of last week's trip to Haines was our quick power-hike up Mt. Ripinsky, the highest peak on the small range that divides the Chilkoot and the Chilkat rivers.

It was our first day in Haines, and we wanted to be back for dinner, so we only had three hours to hike up and down the 3.2 miles and the 3000 vertical feet to the south summit.

Three hours wasn't quite enough, but let me first point out to you the mystery of this sign, which says the Ripinsky trailhead is 3/4 of a mile to the right, at "PIPE GATE." Now, if a "pipe gate" is some thing I should know as a well-educated individual, feel free to chastize me, but I had never heard of one before. Turns out, it's a gate made out of a pipe. This might not seem like much of a mystery to you, but it stymied seven graduate students and a tenured professor, so make of that what you will.

This ubiquitous and beautiful flower, commonly termed fireweed, is also known as willow herb or Epliobium augustifolium. It acquired the first name because it colonizes fire-razed areas quickly, and its scientific name appears to refer to the fact that the flower begins to bloom from the bottom in mid-July, and, like a clock, counts down the days of summer as it blooms to the top. I'm told that, in August, the flowers turn white and finally die, making the "fire" in the name truly appropriate however much the "weed" remains a misnomer.

At a few hundred feet above sea level, the forest was very typical of what you see in southeast AK—the temperate, spruce-dominated rainforest. It can take a hundred years for a spruce to grow to even the skinny specimens you see here, which makes the current, dramatic deforestation of Alaska's old-growth woods very troubling. It takes a long time to regrow an 800 year old tree (at least 800 years, it turns out), so they aren't a "renewable resource" in any meaningful sense of the word.

Another thousand feet up and the trees start to become dwarfed by the seasonal winds. The weather's also dramatically different. From sea level, things are overcast. By 1500 feet, however, you're starting to break into the clouds themselves.

You may be pitying me on account of the weather, worrying that my hard work to hike and my rare opportunity to be in this place were compromised by the lack of views and the wet weather. Not so, good friends; mist carries its own holiness.

The mist gives the path and the trees an unearthly feel, and it frosts the lupines with the delicate jewels of clear water droplets. Part of me is sorry that the pictures can't share that reality properly, but part of me recognizes that the beauty is inseparable from the place and the moment, and that neither place nor moment can truly be carried back.

It's exactly that ephemerality that gives the beauty much of its poignance and power.

The mist swirls, and the eye and mind are able to fill in the trees and flowers, the heather and mosses and the lodgepole pines. What shows up on a camera as a flat gray impediment to sight gives, in reality, an elusive and constantly shifting beauty to the scene. I would not have traded that sublimity for a clearer, drier, warmer day.

The moisture kisses the skin as it kisses the lupines; it embraces the intruder and makes him part of the landscape.

Perhaps we look a little more "wet" than "kissed," but you're going to have to trust my words and our smiles.

Here you see me with Zoe, my hiking parter for the majority of the trip.

This is, perhaps, the time to mention that a prevalence of bear scat on the trail indicated that bears use the trail extensively for travel and forage; though all evidence of their presence seemed to date back to last summer, their footprint on the place still added a certain dread to the aforementioned holiness.

Some people hike for the views; some hike to bag the peak. Now, I just hike to learn my size and place and try to bring back some humility with me, either engendered by a sweeping vista and my own sense of smallness in relation to it, or by, as in this case, a visit to a quiet, sacred Eden, walled off from all care by mist, but full in its smallness of danger, resonance, and startling beauty.

Zoe and I didn't make it to the top. Two hours' hiking put us perhaps about 1/4 mile and less then 500 vertical feet from the summit, but we had already overstayed the time, so we reluctantly turned back. I suspect her regret stemmed from the same place as mine: we didn't need to hit the peak for its own sake, but we wanted to steal a little more time in the clouds before having to float back to earth.

We rushed down and were still almost forty-five minutes past our stated return time. No harm done, though, since the point of the whole weekend was to experience the area and learn what we could, not to rush from landmark to landmark or hold meetings and keep deadlines.

Almost out, we stopped at a bridge to collect stragglers and take photos. You've got Il Professore Mark Long in the foreground, then Evelina, followed by me, Zoe, and Charles.

Alas, the signs of civilization crop back up one at a time. Not too many, though.

Our intrepid vehicle, a Ford Excursion, borrowed from the University, that carried us all around Haines. It brought us back to the Chilkoot camp.

The University is a government institution, so wherever we went, our business was made official by our license plate. That includes a sojurn up Ripinsky, apparently.

Many thanks to Palmer for the bulk of the pictures in this entry. There's also one by Zoe.

There's still more to recount of Haines, though I'm nearly a week back. Fortunately, the week has been full of work, study, and other thoroughly unjournalable pursuits, so once I catch up on Haines, I'm up to date.

No comments:

Post a Comment