Today marks 40 days that Willie has been out in the wilderness. 40 days has had special meaning of life transforming journeys in other people… I’m sure Willie has changed somewhat during these past 40 days too. The lessons of the wilderness surrounding you each and every moment would have to have that effect on a person.
Last Saturday, February 23 marked the 1/2 way point of his journey. I had my own personal celebration, as this means we are 1/2 way closer to seeing each other again… Last night we had more Northern Lights across the night sky. I wonder if Willie saw them too?
Willie told me a couple weeks ago that, “I’m transforming into this guy who walks around in this vast wilderness by himself, alone, all day long… It has made me a stronger person…”
I read the journal entry from February 29, 1908 – 100 years ago- in Charles Sheldon’s book. “They had seen plenty of sheep and the fresh track of a WOLF, THE FIRST THAT HAD COME INTO THE UPPER COUNTRY SINCE I HAD BEEN THERE.” Meanwhile, 100 years later, Willie has seen tons of wolf tracks, and FINALLY saw his first Dall Sheep just this past week! Things have changed…
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Willie called on Sunday night February 24. He let me know that he FINALLY saw Dall Sheep!!!!! He went camping with his regular tent, sleeping bag, warm gear, and food. He climbed the ridge line behind Sheldon’s cabin site, first going up the Draw to the south. This is where he saw 10 Dall Sheep, 6 ewes and 4 lambs. He sat and watched them for quite awhile. Then all of a sudden, one sheep looked down the ridge alarmed, took off running up and over the ridge and then all the rest followed. Willie had been watching them for quite sometime and wondered what scared them. When he was heading back down the ridge there were fresh wolf tracks in the snow. So this must have been what scared the Dall Sheep. Willie had a cold night sleep that night, as he had gotten sweaty from the climb and could not warm up. He headed back to the Pearson cabin late the next day to restock his camping gear. He decided to leave his regular tent behind, and pulled the arctic oven tent out (with the wood burning stove). He was planning to pull it with the sled and set it up in the same Draw. This way he will have a heat source to warm him up after his climbing. He plans on being gone for 3 days. I should hear from him by Thursday. I will add more photos and past journal entries in the next few days.
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Toklat temperatures since midnight:
Max, -3 degrees F
Min, -15 degrees F
Denali Education Center temperature at 8:30 pm:
Sunrise: 9:35 am
Sunset: 4:37 pm
Total daylight: 7 hours, 2 minutes (we are up to 7 hours now!)
Gain: 6 minutes, 43 seconds
I spoke to Willie and he gave me an update on the past few days out there.
Wednesday, January 30, Willie was hauling wood from the Toklat river to the cabin. He noticed wolf tracks that went from the wood pile to the cabin and then down to the outhouse trail. The tracks made a full circle from the Toklat wood pile to his cabin. Obviously they seem to be curious about Willie’s presence at both places.
Thursday, January 31, Willie went for a ski. He left his skis outside and walked up the trail to the cabin. He got busy with errands. A few hours later he went back to grab his skis. It seems that the wolves were checking out his skis. Willie could distinguish 8 different sets of tracks, and one set in particular were “HUGE”! The wolves also left their “mark” by urinating all over the area, but not directly on the skis. Willie says, “How exciting to be right in the heart of wolf activity like this”. This shows how truly special Denali is. That it is supporting these amazing animals. Willie says he feels safe sharing the space with the wolves. They are keeping away from him, yet checking him out at the same time. Ultimately this is a great story about the wolves, and a great educational tool to get people interested in Denali in the winter time. “This is a very powerful spot to be in”.
Friday, February 1- “A beautiful day, clear, not a cloud in the sky”. -5 below zero and dropping. He has a new buddy hanging around, a Gray Jay that watches him every morning outside the cabin. Ravens have been flying about too. He is getting into the groove. The sun is coming up higher. It is lighting up the Alaska Range.
I am able to get updates from Willie on the satellite phone. I love that I can hear his voice & know that he is fine, but the satellite phone is not easy to communicate on. There are these long pauses, and a delay. We sometimes end up talking over each other. There are also dead spots & you can’t hear what he is saying. So, that is why I’m not exactly sure when this next thing happened. But I think it was Friday. He said, “This morning there was fresh snow. The whole place, by the cabin, was full of snowshoe hare tracks. When the wolves were around here the past few days there was not a single snowshoe hare track to be seen. Today, no wolf tracks but snowshoe hare tracks are everywhere. So everyday it is a little bit different out here”.
Today, Saturday, February 2- Willie said that he is going to start to explore the area now that all his daily living systems are in place. He will head out with his snowshoes today. He will go up the drainage area toward Highway Pass. (see the map link from day 6 below to see where Highway Pass is)