Press the play button below to hear Casey's explanation for why their are no goat photos for this adventure. Then read on for more about what you'll encounter on a hike up a Kodiak mountain.
I recently realized that Larre and I have a totally different color palette in mind when we think of Alaska. Larre’s is a full spectrum of brilliant spring blossoms, full summer foliage, dry fall grasses, and brown-grey winter. Mine is green.
The crown jewel of Alaskan green is Kodiak, fondly known in the tourism literature as “Alaska’s Emerald Isle.” In and around the city of Kodiak, hiking trails lead you through the deep, rich greenery. Farther afield, you're on your own to find your way through grass and brush taller than your head.
Hikers should be aware that all that's green is not good. Consider the devil's club plant, for example. Its tall stalks have long, sharp thorns that can poke through leather.
Lightly brushing past other plants can leave a long-lasting impression. Pootchki (cow parsnip) grows over four feet tall, with large, broad leaves and big white blossoms. Plant juices make skin sensitive to light, causing blisters, burning and discolored blotches that can last for months. Stinging nettles have large, serrated leaves with undersides covered in fine hairs that contain formic acid, the same poison used by stinging insects. Slightly touching a leaf results in blisters that burn for hours.
Along the shoreline you can find stands of Sitka spruce—huge conifers native to the Pacific Northwest. Technically an invasive species on these islands, they are spreading about a mile every hundred years. Sitka spruce need a maritime climate with lots of year-round drizzle and fog, which explains their moss-covered bark. The trees don't like cold weather, so stay below elevations of 500 to 1000 feet. An extra challenge for the trees are the hurricane-force winds that blow through several days each year. Because of their dense crowns, the lower branches die and fall off, resulting in an easy stroll for hikers.
The guys shuttled to shore several times to explore for wildlife. Other than the Kodiak brown bear, large mammals on the islands have been introduced by humans in the past 100 years. Sitka black-tailed deer, mountain goats and Roosevelt elk now inhabit Kodiak, Afognak and Raspberry islands.
Mountain goats started living here in the early 1950s with a population of 11 females and 7 males transplanted from the Kenai Peninsula. Part of the billies' mating ritual is to stare at a nanny for long periods of time. I guess you can't get too frisky on a rocky mountaintop. It must work for them, though. The current population is estimated at 1,900, including record-sized goats.
Roosevelt elk were transplanted from Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Larre and I used to watch a herd of these animals when we went for hikes with Babe in the Olympic National Forest. Bull elk on Afognak Island are estimated to weigh up to 1,300 pounds.
Sitka black-tailed deer, like the spruce tree, are native to the coastal rainforests of Southeast Alaska and northern British Columbia. They are smaller than their Columbian cousins, with an average buck size of 120 pounds. Deer population is usually plentiful but can fluctuate quite a bit, depending upon the previous winter's depth and persistence of snow. Deer climb high into the alpine and subalpine areas in the summer, but move to low altitudes near the shoreline as the weather gets colder. They browse under the spruce tree canopy in winter but can also be seen foraging for seaweed at low tide.
These animal immigrants have thrived in the rugged landscape, although they sometimes face harsh weather conditions and brown bears looking for variety in their diet. For human visitors looking for the same landscape and challenges beyond the lush greenery of Kodiak (i.e., hunters), fall is a beautiful time of the year to visit.