Monday, April 1, 2013

Rat Creek, Alaska

The name Rat Creek, Alaska, makes me think this place is going to be a stink hole, full of sticky mud, slimy grass, dead stunted spruce on the hills, and miles of clouds of mosquitoes, puncturing me for blood in the sizzling sun and stale air. Though, it has all that to some degree, it also has much more, which allows me to see the alluring charm of this remote region. Once past the mouth of the creek half a mile, where I can stash my canoe and start hiking, the mud and grass give way to a gravelly creek bottom and clean, rocky sides that extend up one hundred-meter high hills that are topped with birch, spruce, and aspen. It’s a breezy feeling on top of those hills, not the dull, dead air of the lowland taiga.
     I’m able to stroll up this creek instead of having to struggle and stumble along, wading in mud or side-hilling along steep crumbly banks. It’s restful walking, like a city park. The sun is still hot as hell, but as long as I keep my hat and sunglasses on I’m all right. The air is dry, not debilitating with high humidity like Borneo, and the mosquitoes don’t even drive me mad with rage or frustration like they do out on the open tundra and agonizing tussocks. No, this place is a real blessing, like a New World wood rat with soft, silky fur, not an Old World greasy black rat who lives off filthy human waste. My deep-seated urge is to keep going, ignoring my physical limits for the exhilaration of larger-than-life exploration.
     What keep me from going on up it and across the mountains to the headwaters of the Kandik or the Nation Rivers are the staggering distance and the utter lack of civilization. I’d have to abandon my canoe and hike two hundred miles over these mountains and creek valleys, and I don’t think I have the mental toughness now, since I’ve used most of it up hiking to Old Crow. I’d have to hike by Bear Mountain, Runt Creek, Steamboat Mountain, and Bull Creek; the very headwaters of the Black River drainage, so far out there that I’d truly by on my own.
     I always get like this late in the summer, my body fit but too skinny, and my mind losing some of its mental focus and durability. And with the summer season growing late, I lose a bit of my assurance that I can make it through before the weather turns bitter cold and I starve. On a trek like this one, you got to be as fresh as a cucumber. Alaska is a land of wide-ranging boundaries and a place where travelers who are unprepared, face deadening starvation. Despite the blind idealist I am, I know not to ignore this grim reality, so I turn back.
Up Rat Creek without a paddle

Rat Creek where it enters the Porcupine River

Will walking down Rat Creek