Just Call Us “Team Discovery”

Lauren and I left late Tuesday afternoon (Moody Blues, anyone?) for a five day camping trip needed to trap in the Willow and Talkeetna areas of the Mat-Su. Most of the rest of the day passed in a blur of driving, but luckily, we managed to find the last gas station whose price range was still below $4.29 on our way out of town. We got an amazing campsite at South Rolly where we could throw our traps about a ten seconds walk from our campfire to the lakeshore, and had a quiet night of chili for dinner and much guitar playing from Lauren.

Wednesday we discovered the joy of not having a chain grocery store to shop at. We were a bit disappointed in most of our catches (it perhaps being just the wrong time to catch shoaling stickleback) but were later gratified when we caught over a thousand fish at Willow Lake in a little under three hours. At Boot Lake, we were entertained by the rising of a loon about ten feet off the shore from where we stood (without cameras, of course), and then ended our day with an extraordinarily successful hike through the untamed wilderness using only a compass to get to Heins Pond, a lake Lauren trapped as a collection for the lab for the first ever just last year.

Thursday morning, we broke camp at South Rolly and went to pick up our traps at Heins Pond. After our fifteen minute hike back through the woods with fish and traps in tow, we drove not even a quarter mile down the road to find a black bear down the pickup truck stopped in front of us! Strange to remember that every time we are out in the field we are completely surrounded by such wildlife. We then diverged from the Parks Highway for what seems like the first time in my life (to get anywhere in Mat-Su you take the Glenn Highway which turns into the Parks Highway) and took the Talkeetna Spur up to – where else? – Talkeetna. Here we found the Best Campsite Ever overlooking the river, and were incredibly successful trapping all of lakes we needed to down to figuring out that what we’ve been calling East Sunshine is actually North Sunshine and finding a reliable contact at Question Lake. We spent the evening playing cards and watching the clouds burn off the horizon before driving out to the scenic lookout on the highway where Lauren saw Denali (a.k.a. Mt. McKinley) for the first time in her three years of coming up here to Alaska. We were so enthralled that we sat there for another hour watching the sunset behind the mountain.

Friday we pulled about a TON of stickleback from Question Lake and ate lunch looking at Denali again (neither of us really got tired of sitting at that scenic spot). We trapped X and Y Lakes and discovered that not even the locals can remember which is which as there are conflicting maps on either end of the trail leading into X (or is it Y?) Lake. But Lauren noticed something that led to a bit of knowledge that when relayed may or may not make Matt have a meltdown. The maps both refer to a third lake, obviously called Z Lake, in between Y (or is it X?) Lake and Tigger Lake. “Huh,” said Lauren. “That’s funny. Trouble Lake is definitely in between X and Tigger, but I don’t see it on here. I wonder if it’s too small to list… but no, it’s only a little smaller than Tigger. Oh look, a maintained trail leads out to Z Lake! Let’s go check it out.” Check it out we did and come to find that Z Lake is indeed the same Trouble Lake that we have been trapping by hiking through trail-less woods full of devil’s club and other nasty vegetation.

…Alaska is so much FUN.

Saturday we discovered some yellow and green stickleback in Tigger Lake (this was apparently destined to be a camping trip chock full of discoveries and nothing else) and managed to pack up some live ones for observation back in the unit. Returned home to Anchorage where Matt has now been replaced by Susan. She’s here to help Kat out with her behavior project (a rather interesting study of sneaking male stickleback). Dinner conversations have suddenly become rather more informative than usual! But it’s an incredible thing to have her here living and working with us in the field – not to mention taking part in our Alaskan antics. We didn’t even have to tell her the van was named Pewter.