We dove only about 4 miles today, but covered more miles on foot. We left Campbell Campground and drove a few miles on the Alaska Highway to the Stone Sheep Mountain trailhead. On the way we saw a flock of Stone Sheep mothers and babies near the lake. They come down from the mountains to lick the salt that accumulates on the road and get water from the lake. The Stone Sheep are a relative of the Dall Sheep who generally live further north and west. They are smaller than the Dall, are greyish with a black tail, have thinner horns, and are very frisky. You should have seen the babies running up the very steep sides of the mountain next to the road.
Our hike took us a couple miles up an alluvial fan. We had our choice of two valleys to follow. The suggested route was marked with cairns. Cairns are an expeditious way to mark the suggested trail since there are so many rocks available, but they are also hard to pick out in the distance since all there is to see everywhere is rocks. It was a pleasant hike. As we went further up the valley a stream appeared which was not visible near the road as it disappeared underground along the way.
We returned to Vanessa and moved about two miles down the highway to the Strawberry Flats Campground. There we found a fabulous site right on the water with our own beach next to a bed of wildflowers in among the poplars. We had our lunch and read for a while.
Our afternoon hike started directly from the campground. We again were traveling a short way up an alluvial fan and then taking an old route of the Alaska Highway up the hillside. When the highway was built in 1942 the section through the mountains around Muncho Lake was one of the most challenging. The road was originally cut into the mountains high above the lake. It led to a “hair raising,” risky road which was difficult to maintain – the earth on the hillside was highly erodible in many areas and rock slides were frequent. Soon, I am not sure when, the army moved the highway to its current location – right along the banks of the lake. They had to blast a lot of rock to move it, but the resulting road is a level road that follows the lake shore.
Our hike across the fan led us to a steep hillside with the old highway visible about 20 feet above. Easier access to the old road was available further up the fan, but there had been a rock slide onto the old road at one point, and it would have been dangerous to try to hike across that area. Once on the old road our hike was pleasant and fairly easy though at points it was fairly steep. I realize the road has been narrowed by erosion over time, but it is hard to imagine jeeps and heavy equipment taking this route. There is a spur route off the old road to a “Muncho Lake Overlook.” This is a trail heading nearly straight up the mountain. It looks as if it is a social trail – one just created by earlier hikers. It has no switchbacks as it heads up the very steep hill. It really was quite dangerous because the footing is all loose gravel; but the view of the lake, the old road, the new road, and our campground was quite amazing.
We returned to the campground for a dinner of chicken, onions, cauliflower, and a quinoa salad. We cooked on our propane grill as there is no firewood available except for purchase from the camp attendant who wasn’t around when we started cooking.
Strawberry Flats (Muncho Lake PP) Campground: 15-sites on a rocky shore of the lake; all but three sites are directly on the beach. Picnic tables and fire rings. Pit toilets, hand-pumped water, and boat/fishing dock. The campground is fairly close to the highway so some road noise is evident. Unlike the Yukon camps, wood is not free and must be purchased from the attendant. The problem is that the attendant comes around any time from 5:30 to 7:30 – too late to purchase wood for that night. You do not self-register at these camps either. Rather you move in and pay the attendant ($16) when he comes around. Both the registration and wood policy seem rather labor intensive as compared with that in the Yukon where we self-registered and free wood was available in a bin.