A Day Hike Along the Indian Creek Trail
06/02/2013 55 °F
I grew up in the woods. The wilds of northern Michigan contain a thick forest of hardwoods and pine. I spent many days wandering through the trees with my friends, dogs, and by myself. There isn’t much of a horizon up there, just more trees. If you want to see far away, you must visit the shore of Lake Superior.
My background lends me comfort in other woodlands that I may visit. I still enjoy a good romp among the tall trees of the forest wherever I can find them.
I felt that familiar pull to head into the forest several days ago. I was in Sitka, Alaska recuperating from my latest working stint. I knew a walk through the woods would be good for me.
With my friend Annie in tow, we started walking towards the trailhead of the Indian Creek Trail. I used to frequent this trail when I called Sitka home. It had been two years since I had last seen it, and I wanted to reconnect with it.
Before we got there, Annie spied a couple of gravestones from the sidewalk. We stepped into the dark woods to investigate. One grave led to another. We found perhaps ten graves with stones from various decades ranging from the late 1800s to the 1950s. The graves were spread throughout a little patch of spruce. The graves weren’t in a designated cemetery. They didn’t look like they were cared for anymore. Some of the stones were chipped and leaning. Some of the graves had sunk into the earth.
I like old cemeteries especially when I find them in an obscure place. They have character, and tell a silent tale of the rise and fall of humanity. I thought it was a very peaceful place.
We stopped briefly at the trailhead to look at the map. I remembered the way, though not the particulars of the trail. The Indian Creek trail is well marked (at least up to the waterfall). I didn’t have any worries about finding our way there or back. We walked on.
The temperate rainforests of southeast Alaska are among the prettiest I have ever walked through. If I could only use one word to describe them, I would use “green.” The Sitka spruce dominates this stretch of forest. They stand thickly together, towering above the trail. These are old trees, some of them dating back five hundred years or more. The trunks of these old ones are huge - far bigger than I could put my arms around. They remind me of the redwood trees of northern California, though these spruce are not as big as the largest giants down there.
A thick green mat of moss covers the entire forest floor and fallen stumps below the canopy. Swampy taiga areas dot the forest floor with heads of skunk cabbage growing from them. Tall whips of devil’s club grow everywhere - their broad leaves just beginning to unfurl. Various types of ferns grow from fallen stumps.
The forest floor is a jumble of fallen limbs and massive trunks scattered all over the place. Some of the newly fallen trees ripped their roots out of the ground when they fell down. The black twisted root system easily stands over ten feet high.
It is a great forest.
Throughout this forest runs Indian Creek. The melting mountain snow and continuous rainfall feed the river in an unending supply of cold clear water. Several smaller brooks also feed this creek and we crossed several of them by bridge.
“Stand Still Like a Hummingbird”
Annie and I stopped to take a break after crossing the first major bridge over the river. We sat down, ate some tidbits, drank some water and chilled out for a few minutes. As a photographer, I always am looking for a good photograph. It was here that I made some of my favorites of the year.
Overhanging the creek was a small mossy patch that looked like a perfect seat. I had Annie take an easy pose that she could hold for several seconds at a time. She needed to hold completely still, because I had my shutter speed set at three seconds. A long shutter speed will blur moving water for a silky effect. I took a few photos, recomposing and trying different speeds until I found the right spot.
I wanted to try to see if both of us could be in the picture. I had Annie sit down in her spot and I looked over the scene to see where I would fit. It was obvious that I had to be in the river. I set my camera up to take a picture every ten seconds for ten pictures. I climbed down a stump put my feet into the icy cold water. It was painful. My feet started to go numb almost instantly, but I hustled as fast as I could to where I thought the composition was right. I turned and held my pose for the camera. It was imperative that I held still. This was not easy, because my feet were in agony. The water was frigid, and it took all of my composure to hold still. I held as long as I could stand before lunging back to shore. I happily yelled out in pain as I climbed out of the water. Cold isn’t strong enough a word for the temperature of that water.
We looked at the results as I warmed my feet. My positioning was just a bit off, but the pictures were great. I had created the effect I wanted to in this picture. To make it perfect, I’d have to do it again. This time, I made mental notes of where I had to be. The water wasn’t any warmer on my second attempt, but I was satisfied with the results.
I put my boots back on, and we continued along the trail.
This walk had no parameters. Time didn’t matter. Distance didn’t matter. There wasn’t any destination. We turned around when it felt right to do so. When we were hungry, we pulled out our lunch and put our one beer in the creek to cool. Trail beers get cold in just a couple of minutes in Alaskan streams. As we ate, it started to rain. That didn’t matter either. We were content to enjoy the walk for what it was.
The Fascinating Banana Slug
Annie is good at seeing banana slugs. She found this one eating a leaf right next to the trail. Banana slugs thrive in the temperate rain forests of the Pacific Northwest. They come in a variety of colors, waxy pale to jet black. This one was a handsome dog turd brown color.
Banana slugs leave a slime trail wherever they crawl. They move slowly, and it’s interesting to see how far they have crawled over the moss carpet.
I put my macro lens on my camera to see if I could get any close ups shots of the slug. It was hard to get the lighting right in the gloom. With a little experimentation, I was able to get the right combination of physics and art.
It started to rain harder. We grew weary with our efforts. The walk turned into a slog, but we made the best of it. We finished our day by stopping at the grocery store for food before heading back to the hostel. We put on dry clothes, cooked a healthy dinner and relaxed. This is one of the best ways I know of to end a good hike.
The Sitka Trail Association has done a marvelous job with its trail system. The Indian creek trail is a shining example of what happens when a group of good people gets together and create a good trail system. To find other trails in Sitka, volunteer or support them find them at: www.sitkatrailworks.org