I had been meaning to get out to Borealis cabin in the Whites this fall, hoping to get one last hiking trip before good skiing and snow biking starts, but before the Summit trail became impassible. Eventually plans formed up, and Tom and I headed down the trail a little before noon on a Friday, for what we hoped would be a nice relaxing trip. On the drive I noticed the Chatanika River had a thin crust of ice all the way across it..
most of the trail only had a dusting of snow, with the higher sections having a little under 3 inches. It was nice to see snow, and it was a wonderful reminder of the winter to come. I spent a fair bit of time day dreaming of the upcoming winter on the hiking in.. snow biking, skiing, cabin trips, races – all the upcoming winter fun!
Eventually we neared the end of the Summit Trail, and at dusk we could see Big Bend and Beaver Creek.
The cabin we where heading to is on the other side of Beaver Creek, requiring a crossing that should be mid calf deep this time of year. Not a big deal, if you bring neoprene socks and some river crossing foot ware, crocs in my case. From a distance the creek looked clear of ice, but there was an ominous ring of around the edges..
We headed down to the creek and arrived at a slough just before the main river, and were surprised to see solid ice covering its surface. Alas, it was much too thin to support our weight, and so we started hunting around looking for a less ice covered crossing. Eventually we found a mostly ice free crossing point, and with the aid of a large heavy stick, smashed a way across. Remus got a lift, the lucky dog. Soon after that we reached the main river, and much to our annoyance, there the shallow crossing point had a thick ridge of ice in front of it. Crossing at the shallowest section was going to involve a lot of ice breaking. The other complication was that it was nearly dark, and it sort of looked like there was ice on the other side of the creek. It looked like any crossing would involve taking a large stick with us to smash a way to the back once we reached the other side. This was looking fairly unpleasant, so I gave a quick try heading across the ice free but deeper section, but turned around after it got a bit over my knees.
We decided that while the river was crossable, it was going to be a cold, unpleasant morning if we had to ford waist deep water, and started hiking back. It was soon dark, and we spent the next three hours hiking the winter trail back to the nearest shelter cabin to crash for the night.
It was a bit of a trudge, but we were treated to a fabulous aurora display. The northern lights were amazing, probably the best I had seen in quite a while. Alas, after the first mile or so of hiking in the dark my headlamp started flaking out. I swapped batteries, but no luck, it continued to act up. I ended up walking behind Tom using his little bubble of light. It was an interesting trek in the dark, with wonderful aurora, but tricky walking on frozen tussocks.
At one point we heard a funny noise, and as Tom scanned around with his headlamp we saw two eyes staring back at us from a ways down the trail. I flipped on my headlamp without thinking – amazingly it started working again, and the eyes got closer. Eventually a small fox stepped out of the darkness and walked straight up to us, stopping about 10 feet away. I had a bit of a panic moment, grabbing for Remus and digging out his leash in case he decided to give chase, though Remus was a bit too beat to enjoy the moment. The fox stared at us for a bit, then headed off into the brush along the trail. We had some nervous chuckles, as initially the eyes looked pretty darn big and gave us a bit of a jolt. Apparently the headlamp got a jolt too, as it stayed working until we reached the shelter cabin, where it promptly died again. Eventually we were done after 13 hours of hiking, had dinner, and crashed. The morning we hiked out, enjoying a wonderfully sunny morning and early afternoon. The hike was fast and uneventful, though there was a surprisingly large amount of ice on the trail..
I made it back to town in time for dinner with the family, which was very nice. These late season trips are always hit or miss, sometimes too much snow, sometimes too much water, or the tussocks are not frozen enough for fun walking. I have never been “iced-out” though, so that was an eye opener. No more creek fording until late spring at the earliest! My headlamp flaking out was also a reminder that I have to start carrying a backup again. It could have been a very unpleasant experience, though fortunately it was just annoying. Live and learn!
I am really looking forward to winter now… cabin trips and other adventures with the family, skiing, biking.. Any day now!