Sunday, May 31, 2009

Alaska Calling! Part 2: Exploring Hope and Gull Rock

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.”~Albert Einstein

I think that experiences needs to ferment, to distill within your mind, until suddenly you appreciate them again with a fresh and renewed energy that only comes with the passage of time. I am still turning over journeys from months ago in my subconscious. Only now can I start to assimilate the variables together to see how it might manifest in a creative capacity through paintings or writings. I suppose the key is to not rush this but simply let it happen of its own accord. After spending some important time outdoors, in the elements, I can feel that influence starting to seep into my paintings, yet it is not fully articulated yet. I am not sure how it will transpire, but the Newfoundland exhibition of paintings will be a good indicator in this litmus test of sorts. 

The day after climbing Bird Ridge near Anchorage we set out to hike to Gull Rock, a small and isolated campground at the end of a mostly flat 5.5 mile hike near the town of Hope. It is about 2.5 hours from Anchorage to Hope I believe, but we stopped to photograph moose, fast flowing rivers and other panoramas en route so that time might be a bit inaccurate.  

A typical scene in Alaska but one that never ceases to catch your breath.

On our way we stopped to have a look down at this frigid, clear river with the mountains
 peering over our shoulders of course

At this time of year in Alaska you have a lot of flexibility in terms of when you reach your destination. The sun goes down around 11:30pm so you can arrive later in the day and still accomplish everything you set out to do. Such was the case this day when we arrived in Hope to have a look around at about 4pm. It was quiet, with a few people walking up the main street, some RVs parked in some angled spaces nearby, some quaint shops, a little art gallery, a pub, a coffee shop. We didn't stay long as we wanted to get hiking but it was a nice little rest stop on the way. I have learned quickly in Alaska that if you don't have a supply of soy milk with you, you're out of luck. Powdered soy milk was the one thing I had forgotten to buy in Burlington before departing for Anchorage. Never underestimate the smallest creature comfort! 

The town of Hope

It wasn't a long drive from Hope to reach the trailhead. We shouldered our packs and set out. On the way we wrote in a little register that logs who walks in, when they walk out and any other observations such as bear sightings. We didn't see anything too ominous on there and signed in. In a moment of fear I imagined some nasty bear confrontation after which I wouldn't be signing out of the ledger but that moment quickly passed. There were a lot of people near the trailhead: campers at their campsites, a couple on a bike, hikers and their dogs. It was busier than we thought it would be but I relished the company for the time being knowing that we were venturing into some heavily trafficked bear areas. 

Some rather foreboding signs at the trailhead
Hey, knowledge is power and I read each one.

Compared to Bird Ridge the day before, the hike out to Gull Rock was like night and day. We had 35lb packs on on this hike compared to day packs so that made it a bit more challenging but overall the hike was absolutely beautiful with an almost continual view of those gorgeous tidal flats out on the Turnigain Arm area of the Cook Inlet. The trail was perched along a steep drop off toward the water on the right and climbed sharply upwards on the left. There were a few downed trees that had been chainsawed fairly recently and other than a few minor obstacles such as roots and rocks it was pretty flat and easy going. 

Across Turnigain Arm is Bird Ridge, the peak I clambered up the day before. You can't tell from this photo but the Seward Highway runs along the edge of the water at the base of those mountains opposite our position. 

The hike in took about 2.5 hours as I wanted to take lots of pictures along the way and just stand in the quiet and listen to that beautiful silence for a brief time. I admit my nerves were on edge a bit knowing bears were around and every stick that snapped made my head spin in concern. However, my apprehension receded as we neared Gull Rock with the promise of a great view. We met a few people on the trail, including the couple who were negotiating it on their bikes. They indicated that there were some people firing a gun out at the point, right where we were headed. This knowledge reignited my wariness but we figured we'd investigate when we got there and see what was going on.

Don't be fooled by this photo. This rock fall dropped sharply downward and gave me a bit of vertigo frankly as I stepped along the trail that bisected the seemingly precipitous slope. 

Check out that view! I need no further proof that this place is magical from looking at this shot. There was a stillness to the water, surprisingly little wind when we reached the point and just a feeling of an energy humming below the surface of the land. Maybe it was the fresh air making me feel light-headed but to be in the midst of this place with the world opening up like that was simply amazing. 

The trail was springy underfoot with natural vegetation and decomposing matter providing a cushion to the hike. There weren't many bugs, especially out at the point where the breeze kept them at bay, but they were there on the periphery. Even a cloud of them would not have kept me from enjoying each moment to the fullest.

Along the trail near Gull Rock there were the remnants of some cabins from decades ago. They were barely visible through the trees. Some intrepid souls surely had their work cut out for them out here. 

Gull Rock is the small piece of land jutting out near the left hand horizon. That was our destination.  I have a small digital recorder that I regretted not having with me. It could serve to help bring back memories, ideas for paintings or just to recall that time, yet I had also forgotten that back in Ontario. Live and learn!

We made it to the campsite area on Gull Rock around 7:30pm or so. Searching the area, we soon located the source of the gunfire: three young men and a women told us they were "hunting squirrel for dinner". The one boy had what looked like a .44 Magnum "for bears" on his side and he brandished a pistol that presumably was for acquiring dinner. They invited us down to the beach for a campfire but we did not join them. The shooting subsided after awhile and we reckoned they had either been successful or given up the hunt.

We set up camp pretty quickly in time to have some dinner and watch one of the most beautiful sunsets I had ever seen. The campsite was also pretty amazing, with snow capped mountains off in the distance and nothing but the opportunity to experience the slow ebbing of time and temperature into the evening's coolness. 

Sitting by the campfire as the sun was going down. Unfiltered gorgeousness.

The beginning of the amazing sunset

Which continued...

And continued...

Until finally...
Was finished. A new light was left in its place. A softer, cooler light that framed the far off mountains. These mountains have not been mapped or climbed, and are, essentially, unexplored. I forget their names but it sounds Tolkienesque and haunting to me. I'll find out and add in that information later. I found that knowledge of their wild status to be comforting, knowing humans haven't traipsed around there very much, if at all.

The campfire kept the mosquitoes at bay fortunately
I love the colours that exist in the burning coals of the fire. Cool blues and hot reds co-exist. The colours remind me of Mary Pratt's artwork. Pratt paints colour like nobody's business. I have never seen light and colour on canvas and here is a good example. She has some beautiful paintings of fire that I cannot seem to find reference of but these coals reminded me of those works in particular.

The night was cool with the constant buzz of mosquitoes but I slept a dreamless and sound sleep, undeterred by their relentless pecking at the tent. The somnolence you experience in the wilderness after a good hike is like a blanket of sweet fatigue that covers you entirely and I woke refreshed the next morning.

The lookout near our camp at Gull Rock provided a unbelievable view out to Turnigain Arm

After breaking camp  we made good time back along the trail, returning to the trailhead in just over two hours. I signed out of the ledger, happily bear-free, filled with more amazing memories and the urge to see even more of glorious Alaska the following day. The beauty all around was almost too much to absorb, hence the protracted infusion of great feelings, observations and memories. I know that they will continue to have an effect on my work, mindset and desire to spend a lot more time in the North.  

“Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without words, and never stops at all.” ~Emily Dickinson

1 comment:

Ed in Edmonton said...

Beautiful Heather absolutely Beautiful.....your photographs....your Writings....and your incredible paintings.....I wonder how long it will be before "Heather Horton" is a household name in Canada.