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The spruce forest alongside Denny Creek was relatively open, soft and mossy too. Any stop in our movement, however, brought gathering clouds of mosquitoes. So, we kept moving.

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A vague route appeared that grew into a real game trail. Soon we were scurrying through an alder jungle with ease, courtesy of the local moose. Without that trail, progress would have been agonizingly slow. Yet we traveled steadily, hardly noticing the building rainfall.

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Camp was etched out of moss-covered rocks, in the rain, at 10 p.m. The bugs were horrible until the rain picked up enough to knock them out of the sky. At 5 a.m. Joel entered the tent where Govi and I slept, proclaiming, “let’s go hiking buys, I’m soaked.”

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Turns out, the bottle of Nikwax I applied in Anchorage wasn’t enough for an all-night rain. We talked Joel out of a 5 a.m. departure, and eked out a few hours more sleep, Joel partially draped in his soppy sleeping bag. Morning pack-up was cold, and we were all anxious to get moving. Govi spoke for the group, “Exercise is our salvation,” he said. Off we went.

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The rain let up. We climbed. We warmed.

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Goodman Pass was our gateway to the east side of the mountains, the windward side. There was more rain, then huge fresh piles of grizzly scat. We stayed high on the slopes, in the open.

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Ptarmagin Valley was a benchmark in our route. This was the birthplace of the Happy River, the waterway we would follow back to civilization. To the south, the valley lined up perfectly with the Styx, where we’d been just days earlier. The valley was vast and beautiful, but also boggy and difficult to cross. Fortunately the Happy wasn’t too far away. Arriving there, our countenance matched the stream’s title.

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