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SOJOURN IN A MOUNTAIN

From the moment we first peered over the rim of the last hill into the valley, its floor glistening with remnant patches of winter's snow, we considered ...

2 Mar

SOJOURN IN A MOUNTAIN


From the moment we first peered over the rim of the last hill into the valley, its floor glistening with remnant patches of winter's snow, we considered Windy Valley ours.

It was not ours in a legal sense; we gained title to this bit of wilderness by virtue of our possession of insect repellent. To boast, then, that Windy Valley was ours is not totally accurate. We shared it with the mosquitos.

A small herd of caribou greeted us as we neared our first campsite. Scattered stragglers of the herd reappeared from time to time, frantically searching for the security your presence destroyed and relief from the insects. They sought relief in the snow; they followed the snow as it receded to the highlands; and they disappeared finally into the heights where snow lay eternal.

But, practically, we were alone, two solitary humans sharing a domain that showed no prior trace of man. One occasionally hears of unspoiled places, and our valley was one of these. It was a small, unspoiled remnant of a once-vast wilderness, nestled among the south foothills of the Alaska Range.

Windy runs roughly east-west, a glacial valley long since abandoned by the erosive force that shaped it. A free-flowing stream plummets from the mountains, rushes down the foothills and meanders along the valley floor to finally cascade into the giant Susitna River -- a journey, as the crow flies, of about 14 miles.

My partner was Hal Livingston, a geologist recently graduated from the University of Alaska. I had just completed my second year in engineering at that University and was out to assure finances for another. Our benefactor was an Anchorage-based mining firm, intent upon the discovery of copper deposits while the price was right.

We had contracted to explore the 14 miles of Windy Creek. For six weeks we were to scan the stream for signs of copper, trace this mineralization along tributaries, continuing into little watersheds, then move into the highlands and finally, hopefully, to discover and stake the source.

The prospect of stumbling across a rich green or azure outcropping enticed us from our warm sleeping bags on many dull, rainy days. Legends are built upon such discoveries. One such saga of a weary prospector with a hungry mule and a lush patch of green on yonder hillside is associated with the discovery of the fabulous deposits in the Kennicott area of Alaska, and the birth of one of the major producers of copper in the world. It was a noble thought. One sometimes needs noble thoughts to be tempted away from creature comforts.

We first saw our valley in late June from one of Don Sheldon's bush planes. He had picked us up from an unfinished highway along the Maclaren River. After selecting our campsite, we swooped low over it several times, dropping a parcel each time, then flew to a landing on the bank of the Susitna River, about five miles away. There we loaded our remaining gear and headed in the direction of our scattered supplies.

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