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  • Ken Ilgunas

Slate Creek Trail

Recently, I set off on a two-day, 24-mile hike down the Slate Creek Trail–the only trail anywhere near Coldfoot. Nothing dramatic happened, but here are a few photos.

The Slate Creek Trail (also called the Chandalar Trail) is a mining road. There is still some mining activity in the area. Four-fifths of the trail was graded smooth by the large trucks they drive to their mines from Coldfoot, but one-fifth of the trail was purely in the Creek, so I had many, many creek crossings. (Nothing too taxing, as the water level never rose past my knees.)

Wolf scat. I also saw tons of moose prints and several grizzly tracks.

The creek was narrow, meandering around cliff faces like the one above, but after rounding a corner I came upon a giant ice field, called “Aufeis,” which is layered ice that, as the temperatures warm, melts into a creek or river. I walked atop the ice and could hear water gushing beneath me. Sometimes I’d hear the crash of thunder, but it only hunks of ice plopping into the creek bed somewhere else. In places, there are little creeks atop the Aufeis, like the one below, which had a yellowish tint for some reason.

After getting off the ice, the mosquitoes attacked me at once. I wore a headnet, long sleeves, and and pants, so they focused mainly on my hands and on my deltoids, where my backpack stretches my shirt tight against my skin, making it easy for them to get through my clothing. I had to slap my shoulders every few seconds, killing 10 at a time, leaving the jellied remains of fruitless genocides on my shoulders.

The pictures below don’t do justice to how bad the mosquitoes are in the arctic. (FYI: They’re especially bad in the arctic because beneath the ground there is a layer of “permafrost,” or frozen ground,” which prevents water from seeping through, as it does everywhere else. Because of the permafrost, puddles and ponds and lakes form everywhere, which is perfect habitat for those sons of bitches.)

Here’s my tent which I set up atop a knoll next to my destination: Winer Lake–the headwaters of Slate Creek.

I love being in my tent because then it’s my turn to torment the mosquitoes. When they’re inside, they’re easy killing. I like to catch them on my screen door, because when I swipe them across it, it’s like running them over a cheese-grater, and they’re easy to dismember. Sometimes, for those who haven’t gotten in, I hold my arm just millimeters from their noses, just to intensify their blood lust and get their panties in a wad.

Can you espy the moose?


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