Archive for July, 2009

And off we go!

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

I am leaving for a 8 day trip in the Gates of the Arctic National Park. You can follow me here.

Meanwhile, the bear canisters have a duel to the death to decide who will be coming, aided by Molly and Lizzy.

Our planned route is from Anaktuvuk Pass to Wild Lake, where we will hang out at a friends cabin and then be picked up by float plane, to fly to Bettles and then on to Fairbanks.

Fun with Packrafts on Angel Rocks and the Middle Fork

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

On a beautiful monday Marsh and I decided to hike the Angel Rocks to Chena Hotsprings Trail in the Chena Recreation Area and about midway along the trail drop down to the middle fork of the Chena River and float back to Chena Hotsprings Road, then bike back to the trail head. I anticipated it taking 3 hours of walking, and 2 hours of floating. It turns out I was right about the floating section, but off by more than a hour on the hiking end. Such is life – I am getting a reputation for being way off on the time estimates.

The hike up Angel Rocks is always very scenic, with wonderful granite tors and outcrops. Luckly for us the blueberries were out and a few were even ripe. Yum, yum!

Once we reached the highpoint of the trail, we dropped down to another ridge we intended to follow to the Middle fork. Much to our surprise there was a established winter trail following the ridge all the way down to the river.

The trail is marked with cut up Alaska DOT roadsigns, which is quite unusual – in fact I have never see that done before, and its definitely not standard Alaska state parks signage.

The trail is in beautiful shape and is completely clear of brush with not a drop of mud or tussocks to be seen. It is very nice hiking! The trail is quite strange though, as it appears to get only winter traffic. Besides the redneck signage the array of lost items on the trail was quite amazing. We found several piles of traps dropped in the middle of the trail, two coolers, one shovels, a blue glove, and several dinner plates.

Alas, the trail did not head all the way to the river, but parallels it for a ways, so we took a more direct route though the tussocky swamp. The wet and squishy walking had begun.

Fortunately we only had to pound though a very limited section of tussocks before hitting the river. The river was very underwhelming. I had to look at it very carefully to detect any current at all – it was not what I anticipated and if it was like this the whole way we where in for a major slow paddling slog. We inflated our boats, put in and where off. After a couple of hundred feet, and one ox bow later we where much happier. It turns out where we in a slough of the main river which was dammed up by beavers.

There was much rejoicing when we hit the main channel, as the middle fork had lots of water in it and it looked like we had a nice fun float ahead of use. There was also a eagle, which turned out to be the sole non-beaver animal sighting.

The rest of the float was quite mellow, with a couple of shallow spots and a number of sweepers but nothing tremendously exciting.

The fireweed was in full bloom and made for some beautiful vistas.

When we hit the confluence of the main chena and the middle fork a beautiful cloud of fog was drifting out of a slough. It was very neat looking and a big improvement clouds of mosquitoes and white socks we where running into earlier.

Finally we hit our take out point, where Marsh snapped a photo of me jumping around like a mad man.

All in all a wonderful packrafting day trip. The hiking distance is 8 to 9 miles, with one mile off trail, and the float is under 2 hours in the moderately dry conditions we did it in. Higher water would make for a faster and more interesting float. Very recommended!

Chena Dome in a day

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

In honour of my switching to 3/4 time, I decided to use by first Monday off to do something interesting, like hike Chena Dome as a day hike. 12 hours (11 hours 35 minutes but whos counting anyway) and 6 quarts of water later I finished Chena Dome with sore feet but otherwise a fairly happy hiker. Chena Dome is one of the classic interior ridge hikes. Its quite a roller coaster of a hike, with lots of ups and downs, including some really steep sections. The reward for all this up and down is a fantastic alpine hike with spectacular views. The trail starts at 900ft above sea level and tops out at 4200ft asl, with 5 smaller ridge high points topping 3000ft.

The trail is a loop with the trail heads separated by a mile of walking on Chena Hotsprings road. The upper trail head had a bunch of Alaska DNR trail crew workings with Bobcats busy building a new trail out to Lower Angel Creek Cabin. The traditional trail had become increasingly trashed by summer ORV use, so DNR has decided to build a new trail on the hillside for summer use – hurray for DNR! The current Angel Creek trail has huge ruts in it and it now takes a lot of snow for it to be pleasant skiing. The new trail looks like it will make for superb summer biking and winter skiing. I am really looking forward to skiing it this winter!

The beginning of the trail winds through a several year old burn as it slowly makes it way up past tree line on the ridge. The fireweed was quite beautiful.

Just before the trail breaks out above tree line there is a huge batch of burls.

Once above tree line the trail becomes a ridge walk and follows a series of ridges. Great views abound.

The Chena Dome trail is a seldom flat – if you are not going up, you are going down.

Wildlife sightings were pretty limited. I saw a number of ptarmigan and song birds of various types.

My views from the trails were periodically cut off by smoke – there are lots of smaller fires burning in the interior and sometimes when the wind shifted I could hardly see the ridges next door. Occasionally it would clear up and the views would return.

At about mile 8 there is a 1950’s vintage military plane crash. I spent about a half wandering around looking at the wreckage.

Finally, the summit! There is a Alaska DNR communications hut on top, but otherwise there is nothing much too see. I did find a large pile of moose droppings, which seemed quite out of place.

Once over the summit I encountered one of the few places where the trail is flat. It was a little to rocky for good running but was a nice break from constant ups and downs.

Eventually the trail drops off the ridge into a saddle near mile 17 where there is a small shelter. The shelter has a water catchment which makes it a great place to camp or to for a break, as there are not a lot of water sources on the trail.

After a shortish break to refill my water bottles and have something to eat I was back on the trail. Remus was overheating for most of the trip, and greatly enjoyed wallowing in the tundra pools we passed.

After a couple of miles we started up the last hill, and then the long downhill to the parking lot. All in all this was quite fun as a day hike, though pretty long. It a lot of way it makes sense to do it as a day hike as you do you have to carry a heavy pack up and down the hills. Anyway, highly recommended!


Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

On a wonderful Sunday, the dogs, Tom, Marsh, and I went in search of burls. Fun was had by all, except perhaps Remus, who learned that life is not fair. Bouncy happy young dogs have to haul water in backpacks while the other dogs get to run around unencumbered.