A Walk on the Wild Side

Kiana Travel Blog

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The string of ponds across the river.

Just across the Kobuk from our camp there is a string of small ponds which begin a hundred yards from the river and are accessible along a willow-lined drainage. After the morning fog and gray skies lifted, I took the motorboat upstream , crossed over just beyond the first bend, then stabbed the anchor into firm mud fifty yards short of that drainage. The short walk to the drainage was slow and quiet; hopefully enough to allow any wildlife beyond that point the time to resume its daily routine. No new tracks were present, only those of the bears, a sow and a cub, and my own prints; all from previous visits.

 

The narrow passage leading to the open clearing of the first pond was rather short so it was possible to scan a good portion of the area for big game before continuing toward it.

Moose trails along the first pond.
If a predator was going to sit in ambush, that would be the place; that narrow bottle-neck of dense willow between the pond and the river. Wolf or bear could pounce from less than twelve feet.

 

It was always a relief to reach the open clearing of that first pond. Then I could see its entire surface and the wide band of green grass surrounding it. But like all my previous visits, this one offered nothing to see but the loons silently drifting on the pond, away from me in a tight vee-formation. Their numbers had increased with each visit; eggs hatched and ducklings nearly the size of adults.

 

This time I had decided to hike in to the second pond, less than a mile inland.

Camp as seen from the far side of the first pond.
I followed moose trails through waist-high wet grass which was beginning to take on a yellow color. Some of the leaves too, of green brush were beginning to turn yellow and red, marking the arrival of the fall season.  Besides following the perimeter of the pond, many other grass-trampled trails had crossed my path where game had come out of the thick willows for water then went right back in. Flattened patches of the grass showed where moose or bear had napped.

 

On the far side of the first pond, I found the drainage connecting it to the second. It was wide and made for easy, though wet, walking. I approached the new pond in a low and slow crouch, stopping frequently to study its perimeter for any sign of activity or movement.  One loon was all that I found which was joined by a mate who glided onto a smooth water landing.

A loon on the second pond.
I like to sit in one place to wait and watch. The loons were not disturbed and seemed unaware of my presence so maybe a moose or bear would show. I  patiently squatted in the deep grass for nearly an hour. I wanted to munch the Almond Joy that I carried but unwrapping the treat would be heard for a quarter mile in that quiet stillness so decided to save it until I got back to the boat. Periodically poking my head up to scan the area with the binoculars, I saw nothing.  Prime moose country in the middle of Alaska wilderness and nothing!

 

I returned to the first pond and continued the hike to completely circle it, along the water's edge. Fresh moose tracks everywhere; cows and calves, but no moose.

Caribou!
As I approached my starting point, the short drainage to the river, I found several large areas of deep grass trampled flat. A group of something big had been living there recently. Then just as I was about to reconnect onto my path leading back to the river, I practically tripped over the skeletal remains of a young caribou in deep grass. It was probably from last year's migration; all bone with only small pieces of fur attached.

 

Many of our crew haul back to camp the moose and caribou antlers that they stumble upon while working in the hills and creek-beds. Those that are enormous, trophy-class specimens are often shipped  home as unique souvenirs from the 'Last Frontier', but most of the bones end up strewn around camp, mounted above doorways, or propped on the riverbank as if to signal our very existence like a rural mailbox. The specimen I had stumbled upon was a rare find, a real gem. Its vertebrae were intact from head to pelvis and several of its ribs were still connected. Like a madman ravaging the Alaskan bush for four months, I found something and intended to hang on to it. I deserved it! I earned it! It was mine! I brought the find back to our riverbank trail and laid it next to a larger caribou skull and antlers, too tired to haul it up the hill into camp.

cabotono says:
Great!
Posted on: Aug 15, 2007
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The string of ponds across the riv…
The string of ponds across the ri…
Moose trails along the first pond.
Moose trails along the first pond.
Camp as seen from the far side of …
Camp as seen from the far side of…
A loon on the second pond.
A loon on the second pond.
Caribou!
Caribou!
The ride home
The ride home
The wait
The wait
Kiana
photo by: rotorhead85