Climbing Solstice Peak and discovering hidden worlds

June 14, 2017 Posted by: Russ Taylor
While hiking Solstice Peak in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, a group of rangers explored the macro-world of mountains and glaciers, all the while also exploring the micro-world of the flora and fauna sustained by them. Their journey follows in words and photographs.

clouds hang over brown tundra with snow covered mountains in the backgroundThe weather report didn’t look promising the day before our hike, but when we awoke in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes the following morning the sun broke over the mountains to mostly clear skies. After having some breakfast and planning our route, we were ready to set out and explore both the mountains and the life sustained by them. (Photo Courtesy of R. Taylor)
a group of people walk a dirt road towards snow covered mountainsAs a group we decided to hike to the summit of Solstice Peak, which meant we’d walk back on the valley road for about a mile and then cross the tundra towards the base of a long ridge which would lead to the summit. (Photo Courtesy of R. Taylor)
A man helps a woman cross a streamStream crossings were minimal on this route and with only one exception every foot remained dry. (Photo Courtesy of R. Taylor)
A woman hikes above a streamOnce we were across the creek, we began an ascent up the slopes of a large ridge that would lead towards the summit. Mt. Katolinat would serve as a background for much of the morning. By climbing this mountain early in the summer we were able to avoid the high grasses of mid-summer which can make bears harder to spot, and we made the ascent before the black flies and mosquitoes made their summer appearance. (Photo Courtesy of R. Taylor)
two women inspect growing vegetation
As naturalists, rangers are intensely curious, and we explored the various flora and fauna along the way. (Photo Courtesy of R. Taylor)
A woman lays her head in the soft tundraThis is a skill that can lead to some rewarding experiences such as knowing which grasses provide the softest places to rest. (Photo Courtesy of R. Taylor)
A group of people hike uphill on brown tundraAs we gained the ridgeline that would lead to the summit ridge we were afforded views of snowy crags in every direction. (Photo Courtesy of R. Taylor)
Two people lay on the tundra looking out at mountains and a river valleyWhen we rested for lunch, we laid low to the ground in order to gain protection from the wind. The strong winds prevent most plants from growing tall. The ground is covered largely by mosses, which have small, low-growing bodies because they lack a vascular system and have no true roots, stems, or leaves. The Alaskan tundra features strong winds, generally blowing 30 to 60 miles per hour, making it difficult for many plants to survive. (Photo Courtesy of R. Taylor)
a small fossilized mussel
As we walked, we discovered more than just the mountains, we paid attention to the details around us, such as this buchia, a fossil which was a cold water mussel like animal. (Photo Courtesy of R. Taylor)
Owl scat composed entirely of small bonesA small clump of bones we determined to be scat from a resident owl. (Photo Courtesy of R. Taylor)
A berry filled bear scatThis scat was clearly from a brown bear, which was making a diet of last season’s low-lying cranberries. (Photo Courtesy of R. Taylor)
A willow ptarmigan sits on the bumpy tundra floorCamouflaged along the ground, we spotted this Willow Ptarmagan that had already changed its coat to blend in with the summer grasses. (Photo Courtesy of R. Taylor)
Three people bend inspect the rocky ground of a mountain ridgeOn the summit ridge, we continued to explore the micro-world around us as well as the grandeur of the surrounding mountains. (Photo Courtesy of R. Taylor)
Two fossilized mussel-like buchia on a brown rockIncluding more buchia such as these. (Photo Courtesy of R. Taylor)
Mountain peaks surround a person standing on a summitYou’re always awarded for the effort when you stand atop a summit, and Solstice’s summit was a classic. There were views of other volcanoes in the valley and mountains with still lingering remnants of winter snow. (Photo Courtesy of R. Taylor)
Snowshoe hare tracks in the snowA curious arctic snowshoe hare hopped up the summit ridgeline to check out the visitors. (Photo Courtesy of R. Taylor)
Wind creates streaks in the gravel covered groundThe classic looking summit of Solstice now behind us, we continued to explore the details of the world around us, such as evidence in the soil of the prevailing winds which, like the winds of Patagonia, can be quite cold and fierce. (Photo Courtesy of R. Taylor)
Two people slide down a snow covered slopeWe saved some time on the descent by glissading over patches of snow, great fun. (Photo Courtesy of R. Taylor)
Bright yellow leaves stick out in the rocky groundThe action of the wind causes the plants to grow low to the ground in order to escape their fierceness. The tundra features strong wind, often blowing 30 to 60 miles per hour, making it difficult for many plants to survive. (Photo Courtesy of R. Taylor)
Storms roll in over a lake and mountainsWhile we were quite fortunate with our weather, the distant mountains, such as Dumpling in the distance (left) and Katolinat (right), received a fair amount of hail and snow. (Photo Courtesy of R. Taylor)
A person walks downhill, a valley in the backgroundDuring our descent, we continued to relish in our surroundings, while seeking out the right place to begin our final plunge into the valley. We hoped to keep travel through willows, which greatly increases a hikes difficulty, to a minimum. (Photo Courtesy of R. Taylor)
A small mammal skull hidden in tundraStill keeping an eye out for the evidence of life around us, we found the skull of a small mammal, likely an arctic ground squirrel that might have served as a meal for a predator as winter approached. (Photo Courtesy of R. Taylor)

A group of people hike across tundra towards a snow covered mountainWeary but happy we took our final steps back towards the road. (Photo Courtesy of R. Taylor)
A woman jumps for joyWhether exploring the macro-world of the mountains and the inspiring vistas they offered us, or the micro-world of tundra, fossils and bones, this photo symbolized our act of continually exalting in all of it.  All the things we witnessed on this day, whether the inspiring vistas, or the concealed signs of life, are indeed a part of the same vast Alaskan landscape. (Photo Courtesy of R. Taylor)

Last updated: June 14, 2017

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