I’ve been trying to decide whether to tell you the story of the mountain, or the tale from last month of my return trip to the falls—alone.
Back at home, back when I was younger, I was taught not to wander about in strange places by myself. It was safer to stick around with someone else, going only to places I knew, and especially not staying out too late. Mostly, though, it was thought safer to stick around with someone else.
And when I came up here last fall, I was told soon after arriving not to wander the woods by myself. It was bear season, apparently, and safety meant going in pairs or groups.
So, last year, I didn’t wander very far. There was work, there was break time, and once in a while there was the chance to go exploring with someone else, or just walk down the runway during the afternoon.
Then this year came.
And I was restless.
We had afternoon break—the time between cleaning cabins and prepping for dinner in the evening. It was free time to do anything.
Anything within reason…
One afternoon as we approached break time, I began to think. And in thinking, I decided that a hike to the falls was within reason. Why not? We’d done it before.
Unfortunately, no one else wanted to go.
So, I began to think again—“Hey, could I hike to the falls by myself?”
It wasn’t bear season yet. It wasn’t moose season either. It was still early afternoon, so I’d have plenty of time to get back before it got late. (And late at that time meant dusk at 11 pm. Dinner was at 6 pm, so I’d have bigger problems if I wasn’t back before dark.)
The question was—was it actually safe, or even okay, to hike somewhere by myself?
After some hesitation, I asked the experts—Jael and Leyla. They live here; they would know, I figured.
Surprisingly, they said yes.
So, since time was ticking, and I had two hours to make the hike and return, I grabbed my water bottle, camera, and a small bag of dried fruit. Then I hit the trail.
Of course, before I went, I also got the warning to make plenty of noise, just in case there was something out there in the bushes.
Goal: reach the falls within an hour, so I’d have 10-15 minutes there and still make it home before the search parties headed out.
I walked fast.
In the first ten minutes, I crossed town and headed up the Fire Break, the nearly vertical stair-steps trail. I was nearly halfway up the Fire Break, when I heard an engine behind me. A minute later, a four-wheeler loaded with at least four people drove up the trail past me, followed by a second, heavily loaded vehicle. By then, I was also nearly out of breath, which raised an interesting question—had someone not so heavily loaded passed me and offered a ride, would I accept? Should I accept?
If the purpose was exercise, obviously no. If the goal was reaching the falls within a limited amount of time, then maybe yes.
Besides, we have so few moving vehicles in Port Alsworth that the general rule is to take a ride if offered. A four-wheeler, much less a truck or a boat, is the big excitement of any week.
No one else passed me, however, and so there was no ride.
On the positive side, though, I figured that the group ahead of me would scare off any stray bears in the area.
That theory lasted until I reached the top of the Fire Break, passing the four-wheelers at the head of the main trail, and passing their crew about ten minutes later.
Now I was at the head of the line, in charge of scaring off the critters.
To cut the suspense short, I didn’t see anyone on my way up the trail other than a few people and this little guy:
He wasn’t too scary, but he sure was mad at me for disturbing his forest.
Soon after I left him behind—only fifty minutes after leaving the lodge—I came down the trail above the falls and cut through the woods to a look-out point on some cliffs above the river. (Yes, the cliffs we climbed up on our last trip—they’re not so easy to go down, though, and I wandered back to the main trail and hiked down to the lower falls.)
Fifty minutes—yes, I set a timer, so I knew very closely how much time I had left. So, after a few minutes, I climbed up to the upper falls…
…took some photos of the dogwood (no, not the trees, the flowers)…
…and then left for home.
I was nearly back, just to the birches path above the trailhead, when I discovered the importance of planning ahead and making sure you have extra time in your schedule.
As I rounded a corner, hurrying to get home a little early, I heard a rustle on the path ahead of me.
Then I saw a gray bird, with half a dozen little gray puffs exploding under her.
It’s not every day you meet a ptarmigan in the trail (much less a hen with her chicks), and it’s nice to have some spare time when you do.
Still watching my timer, I stopped for some photos of the hen, located one of the chicks in the tree, took some photos of him, watched the hen fly up into a tree, took some more photos of her, and then scooted for home. I made it too, just in time to change and head back to work.
I’ll have to tell you about the mountain another day.