Middle Fork Exploration & the Ballpark (Alaska, USA)

Party: Felix Ossig-Bonanno

Solo Walk(/scramble/climb)… ~13.5hrs, ~41miles (~66km)

After a rest day it was time to get out again. The next trip I had in mind was to go up the valley I had come down, explore the upper section of the valley I missed and then take the track past Black Lake (glimpsed from the top of Wolverine) and through the Ballfield.
As I was moving further south it made sense to access this from a different trail head. I figured this also meant I could cycle further and save some time. I ended up cycling through the South Bivouac TH and taking the Spencer Loop. I didn’t complete the loop instead walking my bike through to the Wolverine Bowl Trail. This probably wasn’t the most efficient route, but I did get a pretty good photo of a bull moose. This is the closest I have been to a moose, this guy didn’t seem too bothered by me.

I warned some people about the moose… it turns out they were flying out and hadn’t yet seen one so I told them where I had seen it and turning right continued in the wrong direction. I cycled up the Golden Grass trail and then the South Fork Rim before accepting that it wasn’t turning around and headed back. The down hill single track was exhilarating and I could see why people got into mountain biking. It was super fun dodging the plants on either side of the track!
I met the people I had talked to on the bridge – they hadn’t found the moose. They headed off for another attempt and I quickly decided to go with them to make sure they weren’t looking in the wrong place. The moose had moved and was no where to be found.

“Curious Moose – You’re not in danger yet!”
“A word to the Wise… a half-ton moose with four slashing hooves could stomp the living daylights out of you”!

I continued up to the Middle Fork trail and soon decided to leave the bike a little earlier than intended as I seemed to be walking it a lot anyway. I chained it to a tree and continued across the next bridge and then took the track up into the Middle Fork listening to a podcast interviewing Josiah Zayner on his recent experimentation with microbiome transplantation (Verge article).
I passed another group looking at a distant moose on the hill and soon reached the track up to Black Lake. I continued along a track I hadn’t seen on maps up into the intriguing head of the valley I had seen dropping down from Williwaw Lakes a couple of days ago.
Crossing a rock field I finally managed to get a photo of one of the arctic ground squirrels (still not confirmed) that I had been seeing and hearing.

Finally got a photo of one of these elusive critters

I passed a lady and her young dog with sharp teeth. I also found he had caught one of the squirrels but she couldn’t confirm what the name for them was.
The temperature began to drop, the sky darkened and a wind began to blow. I had my hard shell but realised I forgot to put my beanie back in and also didn’t have any other layers. It started to rain lightly and I hoped it wouldn’t get any worse. Continuing on I also realised I hadn’t brought enough food. Oh well.
The track soon petered out and I continued along crossing a number of small streams coming from the slopes above. A couple had wild flowers all around and there was moss everywhere. In places the water would disappear beneath the moss. It was very nice!

Beautiful mossy streams including sections of moss bridges!

There was a small lake at the back of the valley but it wasn’t as picturesque as some of the other spots I had visited.


Colourful flowers

Heading back I looked up at the ridge on my left… if I could climb up there I might be able to traverse to O’Malley Peak! It all seamed very exciting, so inspecting the ridge I decided the obvious weakness was the natural ramp heading up to the right.
As I got closer, traversing the loose scree slopes I decided that climbing looked fun, and although not overly sensible, this is what I proceeded to do. At first it was easy scrambling, but then it got trickier, and sometimes a route would dead-end forcing me to down-climb which is always much more tricky.

The route I attempted pretty much went up the extreme left of this photo

As I climber higher I became more and more invested in the climb and began to actually climb – everything easy (grade 8-9) but a fall wouldn’t end well. It wasn’t tricky but mentally taxing as you had to watch out for the slippery rocks (moss and a bit of rain), loose rocks, and hazardous scree slopes. To calm myself I said to myself “remember to smell the flowers” and would turn around for a breather and enjoy the view.

Getting cold – see ice on head
Also getting worried about the climb i’m attempting…
“remember to smell the flowers”

I was glad to reach the top, but looking up at the peak above me (I had to veer to the right) I decided it would be silly to free climb higher… I wasn’t prepared to climb back down the way I had come unless there wasn’t another option so I followed the ridge down utilising goat/sheep? tracks (I still hadn’t seen any though!) until I found I spot I thought should be possible to climb down.
The rocks I sent crashing into the snow below were good incentive not to fall.

Decided to bail…


Down there! I guess I have no choice…

Climbing down the snow I slipped but managed to quickly stop myself from falling using the two large rocks I had found and was using as makeshift ice axes.
I was glad to reach the bottom.

I reached about that point (just before the steep step) before turning back.
This is looking at the ridge from the opposite side to which I climbed – I dropped down this side.

It was then and easy walk across rocky flats until I was looking down on Black Lake, though it looked blue to me! I started climbing down a scree slope to my left, but spotted and easier route to the right and climbed back up to descend that way; trampling the flowers as I went – sorry!

Black Lake – looking more blueish to me?
You can see the Football Field track passing the lake and heading up in the centre of the photo


Amazing flowers – sorry for trampling on you!

The way up the other side was far less steep than the slopes I had been on for the last few hours and was also tracked meaning I could relax a bit and not concentrate on footing so much.
At the top I past Deep Lake – which was quite inset, and proceeded to cross the Football field.
I started seeing more of the arctic ground squirrels and stopped for a while to see how they would react to my continued presence. I also started to talk to them trying to imitate them in their language. It popped its head out a few times from different sides allowing me to get a few photos. It then ran out shooting across the rocks.

Stalked this guy for a bit. Found out that if I try and talk to them they tend to trust you more.


I started talking to the next one I saw and it seemed much more relaxed and got some nice photos:

Another one.




[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dyIPL66M55w?wmode=opaque]

I could soon look down into the South Fork, Flattop and the Powerline Trail clearly visible below. Instead of heading down the main track which headed down in a gully, I followed the ridge offering amazing views of Anchorage.

Looking over at Flattop. Will get up there some time I presume.

The track started to fade, but I was adamant to continue as it would cut a bit of distance off – and I also didn’t feel like backtracking.
Walking up the Middle Fork I had noticed that the cones(?) on the spruce seemed much more purple than I recalled. I was dropping back into the vegetation again and the colours again caught my attention and this time I thought I should grab a photo.

The spruce cones(?) are starting to change colour – this was the first day I had noticed purple colouring.

I was soon bushbashing/bushwhacking through clouds of small yellow insects, they got everywhere! I didn’t stop to get one out of my eye as I needed to get away from them first! (many to wash out of my hair when I got back!)
I found the main track and got a closer view of the moose I had seen whilst walking down. I continued along the track. Just before reaching my bike, I met a guy from Slovenia who was visiting for a while after the bear conference. His phone had died and he was in a bit of a panic as he couldn’t remember if his girlfriend was flying in today or tomorrow… he would be in trouble if it was today! I let him use my phone and got some snacks to nibble on while I was waiting.
I was soon cycling along and pretty keen to get back – I was starving!

From the Prospect Heights TH I took the Upper Gas Line trail then the South Bivouac back to familiar territory. It was late when I got back – I couldn’t believe how long the trip had taken, I was also very surprised by the distance I had covered when I actually looked it up…
I think I think I am underestimating trips because the map grid is in miles…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *