Summit Lake Camp between rainstorms

Summit Lake Camp between rainstorms

The best lunch I’ve enjoyed in recent memory was delivered to my tent by guide Rhys Hill on a rainbound day at Summit Lake.  Hot bannock grilled with cheese and ham delivered in a plastic bowl to the vestibule, along with a bottle of glacier runoff water, fruit leather, and a chocolate granola bar from my snack bag made an unforgettable feast.

Lunch in my daily life now is usually forgettable.  I eat at my computer like many busy people, putting down calories without recalling what foodstuff contained those calories. Meals at home are more deliberate:  summer lunches eaten on the front porch listening to birds moving through the weeping cedar and crabapple, Sunday breakfast with hot coffee listening to the radio. All the same, I take food for granted most of the time, as only people in well-fed countries  can do.

Rainy day room service, Summit Lake camp, Auyuittuq National Park

Rainy day room service, Summit Lake camp, Auyuittuq National Park

But when a body is burning energy daily and the world is simplified into eat, sleep, walk, and stay warm, a hot lunch is everything.  When  clouds sit on top of a temporary nylon home, pelting the shelter with rain and wind, lunch is a highlight of the day, comfort and sustenance, survival.

Our plan was to camp at Summit Lake, day hike the following day to the Turner Glacier to see the famous Mt. Aasgard;  the Mt. Aasgard of the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved me. By this point in the trip, I had committed to brooding, magical Mt. Thor as my favorite, but we were still exploring as much of the traverse as we could despite the travel delays.

The day hike to the Turner didn’t happen the first day we intended.  We joked about the polar desert environment over breakfast, after living through wind and rain all night.  I had slept quietly, but others were kept awake by the flapping of the solid but noisy Hilleberg tents – even if they were sleeping in their own tents, and the Hilleberg was someone else’s.  After breakfast, our plans unraveled and we were chased back into our tents by another round of stormy weather. Everyone withdrew to write, read, sleep, or look at photos.

The lunch delivery was a welcome treat.  I didn’t want to burn any more camera battery, and I was struggling to write in the small Rite-in-the-Rain book I’d carried with.  My writing was not florid prose, but notes, cue words, and pen sketches written with a crabbed, cold hand as I hunched over.

OldCaribouAntlersSometime after lunch, the rain gave us a break for the afternoon and dinner before chasing us back into our tents.  Some of us went hiking.  I followed Trond and Ruth northward, but decided not to try following the gracefully rock-hopping Norweigans over the high point they chose to cross over a creek.  I backtracked to the Summit Lake moraine to find the caribou antler Ruth had picked up the day before. There are no caribou in the area anymore, and a hunting ban is in place indefinitely because populations have dropped 95% since the 1990’s, down to a herd of only 5,000 animals. According to CBC report, natural migration in addition to over-harvest due to the “reach of snowmobiles” is to blame.  Even pro-hunting legislators lined up to protect the remaining animals and work to establish a sustainable management plan.

The antlers left in this area are mostly old ones, yellow like this, though Trond found a big, white, complete rack by the Half Hour Creek emergency camp area.

PeekabooAasgardTurnerGlacierWe hiked the next day to the Turner Glacier to see if we could catch a glimpse of Mt. Asgard.  Micheil said the Turner River, something we weren’t keen to cross, had moved since he last saw it.  A central moraine with ice beneath a thin layer of rock stood allowed us to ascend to a spot where we could see the famous mountain. Mt. Asgard is there, behind that cloud, to the left of the rock teeth above the ice of the Turner Glacier.  Really.  It’s like Mt. Rainier, the famous volcano in my state:  you can work in an office for an entire winter and not realize your window has a great mountain view until the clouds clear and the sprawling, glacier-clad mountain looms large and white.  Really.  Others in my group pictured silhouettes of Aasgard, but I did not.  Standing on the rock-studded icy moraine of the Turner, I was happy to have made the place, and missed the somber and thoughtful Mt. Thor.

Even with the marginal weather, the rich orange-red of the iron-streaked terrain glowed against the gray mountains and sky.  Equally warm was the joy of traveling with a lighter pack-  though I was admittedly no more nimble and balanced than when I was carrying all my gear and shared food on my back.



Our camp at Summit Lake was lovely between storms, with mountains all around. My spot wasn’t the most comfortable.  Tucking in behind Susan’s tent along a rock wall helped break the wind a little, but the ground beneath me was uneven.  My warm ultralight Thermarest and ability to sleep regardless saved me during three nights at this location.BreidablikHwyGlacierEve

At every camp,  the simple things were all that counted like pitching the tent to put a layer of nylon between us and the wind. The tents might have been flimsy shelters, but the psychological comfort they provided was very real. Food counted a lot, no matter what it was.  No mindless meals working at a computer; we carefully watched Micheil and Rhys cook, contemplated how much fat we could add to a meal in the form of cheese or peanut butter, relished every hot meal.   Sure, the outfitter brochure promised pine-nut pesto, and the food barrels that never met up with us due to flight problems held bacon, wine, and rich desserts of pears to be drizzled with Grand Marnier-laced chocolate sauce. But for us, burning calories to stay warm and carry heavy packs over rough terrain , an extra piece of Co-Jack cheese on a bowl of chili, or a hot grilled sandwich consumed inside a rain-whipped tent was an incomparable feast.

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