Riding across the base of the big mountain that sits on the corner, we’ll see Dall Sheep scattered about the face, above us. The ground is knobby, in rolling mini-hills plenty big to hide a Grizzly Bear and her cubs, so we will keep a close watch at all times as we cross the base.
Only an hour out of camp, we’ll tie up our horses and glass the big creek and the surrounding mountain valley from the higher spot, where I can imagine a watch tower would be built in another time.
We’ll look for Grizzly Bears, Black Bears, Dall Sheep, Caribou and wolverine. (The Alaska-Yukon Moose is for the other direction if you are riding with me!) As we sit there, the enormity of the creek will astonish you.
We’ll ride on, off the bench onto Cross Creek, continuing up. Every draw in the valley is another reason to give thanks that you are here. About two hours later we’ll cut out across the creek, heading for an island, long and skinny, sitting on a raised sand bar of the creek. We’ll stop, have a snack or build a tiny campfire, if it is chilly, and heat some water for tea or coffee. We’ll glass the side of the valley we are facing, watching closely for the bears that love the hillsides, berries and ground squirrels.
Now, as we keep riding, the mountain peaks have snowcaps, even glaciers, at their tops and they get more rugged and reach higher and higher. The creek is wide and long and the terrain we will cross changes in a step. As we approach the Cross Creek Glacier, the merrain hills are bigger next to the base of the mountains and we’ll angle our horses to begin climbing and weaving through the boulders that the glacier dropped long ago.
As we reach the last few big willows, I’ll have everyone dismount and tie up our horses. My trainee and I will hobble all the horses and check their ropes and make sure the knots are correct. “Grab your lunches,” I’ll remind everyone, and we’ll stretch-out again, before starting to hike and climb.
Backpacks on and we’ll start the climb, heading towards one of the prettiest places I have found in all the years I have spent exploring Cross Creek. The moss and grasses are close to the ground and make for easy walking, although we are climbing a whole lot faster than it seems to the eye. The long past movement and recession of the glacier has left a natural staircase for us to follow and we’ll wind our way around and to the top of the last merrain hill, where we’ll rest and have our lunch.
As we find comfortable spots to sit back against the rise of the hill, looking around, it is spectacular. The shale slides on one side of the glacier are dark charcoal grey, marred only by the occasional boulder imbedded into the side of the mountain. It makes for a dramatic backdrop for the playful lambs running back and forth and the older younglings practicing their mock fights.
The creek itself is beneath us, pouring out of the glacier with a muted roar. The willow bar, on the other side of the headwaters of Cross Creek is a big one and I like to watch for movement. It is a favorite spot of the critters up here, and you never know what you might spot. We’ll maybe walk out further and climb the side of the mighty glacier to do some exploring up there where the clouds are so close.
We’ll hike back down to where the horses are tied and hobbled and get packed back up and on the way around the last of the merrain hills, we can explore up that draw and see what is behind the imposing ridge we watched the lambs play on.
As we make our way back down the creek, we very well may see more Grizzlies, Mountain Caribou, Dall Sheep of course and maybe a wolverine or Timber wolves. One of the most wonderful things about this creek is that there is so much to see. Each time going up, each time coming down, each individual draw, the magic of the wilderness inspires me, without fail.
More than likely, we will arrive back into our camp just before dark and the pack horses that stayed behind will nicker in welcome as we ride down the trail. The campfire that we can see from the hitching rails and through the trees is beckoning and the scents of dinner already cooking tells me the boss flew in to share the evening with us.
As I throw another log on the campfire, I wonder to myself, “What will we see and do tomorrow?” and I simply grin to myself.