55 miles hiked
It’s bright sunshine all night and I wake at 6 a.m. feeling suffocated to a hot greenhouse of a shelter and tear off my hat and puffy layer and make tea and the vega protein drank that Muffy gave me- Muffy is sponsored by vega bc she’s a hotttt vegan athlete and as a consequence she has hella these chocolate protein powder packets and she gave me a bunch for my trip and I like them very much.
We’re wending back and forth on gravel braids of the Kongakut river in its huge river valley, today, fording various channels that are shallow enough to ford and hopping back and forth between flat banks with chest-high willows (kept at that height by the persistent monching of the caribou, who we also see on occasion, in little clusters) and the gravel with its fist-sized rocks. Just a couple of pinballs in a pinball machine, bouncing back and forth between broad banks, making our way upstream.
We’ll follow the Kong all the way to its headwaters, walk up it until it regresses into a little baby stream, and then a trickle in the tundra, and then nothing.
We reach more aufeis over the whole river valley, the broadest field of aufeis we’ve seen yet, and we climb up onto it and walk the six-foot thick sheet of blue glacier-lookin ice with its soft white snow top and azule puddles of snowmelt and narrow, gem-colored channels of twisting open water, trying to guess where the “cracks” might be, listening to deep booms as its edges calve into the river and asking ourselves again, is this safe? Is this safe? I suppose I could text Muffy and ask her to google it or text Kirk and ask him, but really I don’t want to know the answer. The walking is so easy up here.
Probably it’s safe? Much of the aufeis sits on gravel bars instead of an actual river, so if we fell through we’d fall onto… gravel? A secret hidden ice cave? I don’t know.
It’s blinding up here and I put on my sunglasses. Through the ice’s surface I can see worlds inside of worlds; pinholes leading to cavities burbling with glacial blue water, willows half-buried, ponds frozen on top of other ponds. We are often getting cliffed out where the ice ends and having to find a safe way down off of it and then getting on another chunk a little ways away. For a while we are walking just a rim of aufeis where it clings to the slope just above the river; I wouldn’t walk this at all if I couldn’t see how thick and secure it was. Still, walking this rim of ice has got to be one of the strangest surfaces I’ve ever had the opportunity to walk.
We eventually climb off of the ice onto a bank, and where the ice meets the earth is the strangest world of mud-covered ice with grey, gnarled willows growing up through this ice creating an eerie, haunted forest, with a heavy, leaden sky above.
“This looks like a manna card from Magic the Gathering,” says Bunny. Bunny is holding up well so far on this hike- it being her first long distance hike (although she has done many other kinds of outdoors expeditions) she is using gear that’s all new to her, and dealing with the requisite realizations that some gear she thought she would like actually doesn’t work for her at all, and vice versa. Also one of her big toenails is falling off, and today she’s in a lot of pain because of it. She’s being a good sport about all of it, though, and I appreciate so much that she was willing to come out here at all, and suffer through all the weather and tussocks and injury the arctic is likely to throw at us in two months’ time.
As for me, my feet hurt today but in a different spot than yesterday, and that seems promising. My left arch is sore and my left toes are somewhat numb. It all feels well within the realm of temporary beginning of the trail pain, though, and my morale is good.
We camp on a small bench above the Kong on a flat mat of relatively dry tundra as a light rain begins to fall and I am so sleepy I can hardly stay awake long enough to make dinner before I’m cozy in my bag in the cool gentle grey and then I’m out.
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