Monday, March 24, 2014

Alaska: McHugh Creek to Rainbow Creek


Went out to McHugh Creek and hiked towards Rainbow Creek.  From this trailhead you can either take a very rugged hike up McHugh Creek or you can stick to the Old Johnson trail paralleling Turnagain Arm.

The trail up the McHugh creek, besides being a challenge, is very pretty and remote and there are even, or were a few years ago, the moss covered remains of a log cabin up there on a small bench beside the creek. If you make it all the way up you find a small lake that is the headwaters of the creek tucked right up beneath Suicide Peaks. If you make it that far it's a fairly easy bushwhack across a low saddle to the bigger lake that forms the headwaters of Rabbit Creek which flows off towards Anchorage before turning the corner around McHugh Mountain and ending up emptying into Turnagain Arm on the other side (the Anchorage side) of Potter.

But today I was sticking to the other trail. This is another section of the Old Johnson Trail. It's relatively flat as far as elevation gain/loss but is plastered against the steep slope of a ridge that eventually climbs to form Suicide Peaks. This ridge drops almost straight down into Turnagain Arm in a couple places, which is why there is a Crow Creek Pass Cutoff that allowed bypassing this section. In fact this is the trail where I tried to fall off the mountain on a previous trip.

Some sections of the trail are a little more cliff-like than others and I once tried falling off one of these spots and discovered, believe me it was by accident, that clumsily dislodging boulders and sending them crashing downward is a good way to lure in eagles as they check to see if their next dinner is now lying at the bottom of the cliff!   I managed to avoid that little escapade this time but that is still one fairly hairy spot to negotiate!

I almost walked right by a Dall Sheep lamb out there today.  He was standing about twenty five yards below the trail in full view when I first saw him.  He looked at me for a moment then decided that it might be a good idea to go find mom.  Mom was just over the edge of the cliff below the trail and as the two of them moved around down there I could get glimpses of them, so I stayed to watch.

The next thing I knew, Mom was standing right in front of me and still coming my way!  Now Dall Sheep aren't the biggest thing out here, somewhere in the range of 100-150 pounds, but she looked plenty big enough to me with horns the size of telephone poles on her head!

Not being quite as agile on cliffs as the sheep, I did the only reasonable thing; I held out my empty hands and said, 'Whoa lady, I don't have anything to eat so there's no reason to climb all the way up here.'  I don't know if it was the sincerity in my voice or my empty hands, but she believed me and stopped about fifteen feet below me.

Her lamb followed and the two of them stood there looking at me.  The lamb soon got bored with this and began poking around for something else to do.  But mom kept watching me in case I did whatever it is you can do to piss off a Dall Sheep.

After careful consideration, I decided that sitting down, if done properly, would be within the bounds of good sheep etiquette.  After all, I was on a steep, rocky trail with a cliff to both sides and a mother with horns in front of me, so it wasn't like I would have been able to go anywhere in a hurry anyway, certainly not fast enough to outpace something that could walk up the side of a building if it wanted to!  So sitting on my butt seemed just as safe as standing on feet that had already covered about six miles that day.

Mom stood there flapping her mouth at me for what seemed like a very long time.  I doubt she was telling me all the gossip about the ewe on the next cliff that was courting two rams at the same time, so it's probably a good thing I don't understand sheep or I might have been insulted by some of the things she was calling me.

Even moms get bored though, and she finally hopped her way back down the cliff to where the eating was better.  Her lamb, trying to look nonchalant in the presence of this funny looking, clumsy, two legged, hornless creature, stuck around until his mom, like all moms, finally had to tell him to stop dawdling and get his butt down here.

So my advice to hikers is, keep an eye out for bears and stomping moose, but don't forget those attack sheep!

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