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Marinating in Wilderness

Updated: Sep 13

13 August 2023, the Farm Lodge, Lake Clark NP.

Sleeping in the wilderness can recharge the soul, but lounging in a comfortable bed more fully rehabilitates the body. So nice to loll around while waiting for the breakfast seating.

However, all that great sleep did nothing to diminish growing concerns about my right arm. If I turned it sharply or tried to lift anything, it complained. If I spread my fingers wide, it felt like taut rubber bands were stretching behind their capacity. I couldn't identify any likely cause for the soreness. Could it have come from using trekking poles extensively while in Katmai, jabbing into the spongy ground cover? If so, why didn't my left arm feel it? If only I had Icy Hot to rub on those muscles.

The Lodge stages a great breakfast.

At dinner the night before, they handed each of us a checklist, and we marked off everything you'd like. Not just bacon OR sausage, pancakes OR eggs - you can check off everything you'd like. (The checklist also asks what you'd like in your sack lunch.) Wonderful food - not that glop-in-a-cup wasn't also delicious...)

Time to start with the goodbyes. The two other couples would skip the offered hike to Tanalian Falls; they had signed up for a package to spend several days kayaking Twin Lakes, further up the valley. Colleen would lead them.

I spent time organizing my room, preparing for the day's hike. The skies remained cloudy, but I could make out patches of blue. Keeping my fingers crossed!

The last three of us would tackle one of the only two actual trails in the park. I geared up with base layers and rain gear, and met Mei and Ashley at the picnic pavilion. "Here we are again, Ashley. Always following you!"

I mentioned to Ashley I had considered extending my hike by summitting Mt. Tanalian on the park's other trail. She strongly discouraged it, but I had already pooh-poohed the idea when I saw the specs: 8.6 miles round-trip, 3500' gain. Given that the lower portion is flatter, that meant a climb of 1000'/mile when I got going - with the uppermost portion unmaintained. "Besides," Asley added to seal the deal, "it's covered in clouds today, so you wouldn't be able to see anything."

Tim, amateur mycologist that he is, would have loved the hike to the falls. Mushrooms of many types and colors adorned the woods we hiked through.

Mei regularly stopped for photos, and I took my share. Ashley kept tabs on both of us, bear spray at the ready. This park still qualified as bear country! Piles of bear scat confirmed that they had come through here - including one pile that looked as if the bear had eaten a granola bar.

Ashley directed us up the Falls Trail, pointing out the Beaver Dam trail we would take back down to make it a loop.

We wandered through lush surroundings, taking boardwalks through meadows,

climbing through forests. She pointed out wild soapberry bushes - "the bears like these" - and leaves that smelled strongly of lavender.

Two miles of hiking brought us to the falls. Not a very high falls - but a torrent of water squeezed through the rocks to make it a worthwhile hike. We stopped first on the pebbly beach below the falls, where we dug into our sack lunches while watching the scene. Mei put on her clogs so she could step into the side pool for a better view.

I decided that looked refreshing, so I took off my boots and tenderly stepped out into the rocks to fill my water-filter bottle with fresh glacier-melt water.

They had another viewpoint at the top of the falls, so we moved up the trail.

The best view came on a rock knoll next to the gushing stream. After snapping a photo of Ashley framed by the water, I VERY carefully followed her out there to see it myself.

After getting our fill, we picked up our packs to move on. Here I announced that I planned on heading up the trail to see Lake Kontrashibuna, another twenty-minute hike distant. Ashley hesitated, since she had to get Mei back in time for her return flight to Anchorage, then handed me her bear spray. "Please remember to keep very aware of what's around you, okay? This is bear country. Tonight at dinner, they'll have a table set up for a new AAA group. You can sit with them, and return the bear spray to one of their leaders."

The trail to the lake (after all, how could I possibly turn down a trip to a lake with 'trash' in its name?) immediately got narrower and less travelled. It gained little elevation as it wandered through trees and crossed boards across swampy meadows. Shortly after I struck off, the clouds started squeezing out their moisture - I was well-watered before I even had a chance to don my rain jacket.

After twenty minutes of traipsing through the growing mist, blithering out my patter to scare away any bears. I reached the lake. At the lower end, I encountered a couple other hikers hefting their packs next to canoes, paddles, and life vests.

"Whoa! You guys actually portaged the canoes all the way up here? Two-and-a-half miles on THAT trail?"

"Not us," they replied. "Someone brought them up here quite a while ago, and they're free for anyone to use. Not that anyone will float them downstream over the waterfall. They're here to stay."

The notion astonished me - free canoes to borrow? Not that I would indulge myself in this drizzle. As I walked a bit further on the lake shore, I also came across a kayak I could've paddled.

The lake, though narrow, stretched for a distance.

At the first bend, I decided to turn around, work my way back to the port. The clouds continued wringing out their contents. What didn't hit me on the way down from the sky would cling to the bushes, then rub off on me as I grazed against them on the narrow trail. I took the branch to the Beaver Pond trail,

but it was narrower than the Falls Trail, adding to my drenching. I can't remember when I've been so wet. (It took four days before my boots finally dried out.)

At least I'd learned my lesson from Mt. Rainier about overtaxing myself. A few near-stumbles showed me that I had hit a fatigue point. I slowed my pace (why not? can't get much wetter!) and took extra care to avoid falling. I did make it in one piece - in enough time to take a willful shower before my last wonderful Farm Lodge dinner.

Tomorrow will be a better day.

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