Archive for September, 2009

The End of Autumn and the Beginning of Winter

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Winter is descending on Fairbanks.  We have our first snow and it appears to be sticking until spring.  Time to put away the packrafts and get the skis out.  

The first snow is a exciting time for the dogs.  They know that soon ski season will arrive and with it lots and lots of dog trips!

Tom and I went on a 2 hour bike ride around part of the Scarland Ski trail with a side trip to KUAC tower.  The Scarland trail is OK riding but a bit “rooty” in some sections, but makes up for it with the fast narrow sections with are quite a blast on a bike.  This was the first time in about 6 years I have biked the Scarland trail – its normally something I only do on skis, and it whet my appetite for skiing.  Hopefully in a month I can do it again on skis.. More snow! 

A lazy float on the Brushkana

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

On a rainy overcast Sunday afternoon Tom, Marsh, and I headed down to the Brushkana Creek off of the Denali Highway to camp out and in the morning hopefully go for a pack rafting day trip. The Alpacka forums had a post about the Brushkana Creek, and it seemed it might have the ideal combination of fairly low volume interesting whitewater that would be fun to practice on. In the ideal world there would be a lowish volume class III in my backyard here in Fairbanks to splash around in, but alas, life is not perfect.

Our basic plan was to cache our bikes along one of the many ATV trails that lead from the Denali Highway to the Nenana and camp at the Brushkana Creek campground. In the morning we would float the Brushkana down to the Nenana, hike back to the road, cache our gear, and bike back to the campground.

The drive down to Cantwell from Fairbanks was uneventful and 3 hours or so later we arrived at BLM’s Brushkana Creek campground and setup tents just as the daylight left. After a quick supper and several beers we hit the sack – oh the joys of car camping!

After a nice and quite night we woke to a fairly nice day, and breakfast and were off! Tom had not adjusted well to the whole car camping idea and ate his cereal out of a bag, super lightweight style. He did take me up of my offer of the cold frappachino though.

The Brushkana was quite fun right off the bat with a small rapids right next to the campground. The first 45 minutes or so was constant class II fun – lots of dodging rocks and a few smallish drops. The river guides I found online suggested it was class II+. It seemed very similar to Windy Creek in difficulty which most folks seem to think is class II, so the “+” bit was lost on me. Perhaps at higher water levels it might be harder. There are no stream gauges in the direct vicinity, but the gauge at Healy on the Nenana said a little over 9ft. A bit more water would have smoothed out some of the shallower spots but all in all it was quite fun.

The bouncing and splashing continued pretty much no stop until near where the creek joined the Monohan.

The creek was an wonderful confidence builder, as the water is not very deep and there was a constant barrage of things to maneuver around.

Its hard to tell from these photos but there is quite a nice game trail along the bank. Its possible to walk back up stream to re-float any of the particularly interesting sections.

The colors where quite beautiful.

We appeared to be on the tail end of moose hunting season, and as a result did no see much wildlife of any sort.

In the last mile or so before Brushkana hits the Monohan the river slows down a lot.

Once we hit the Monohan we it became a classic boreal forest float, complete with sweepers.

After bobbing around for a while the Monohan joined the Nenana and our nice clear water was replaced by silty gray water. The current was a bit faster on the Nenana but we could have used a bit more water as it was quite shallow in sections. The Nenana was quite beautiful and if we had more time it would have been nice to extend the float on it.

Just before our take out we surprised a small flock of swans which flew right over head. Except for an owl this was our sole wild life sighting.

We reached our take out after floating around 3 and a half hours. Tom was very happy to put his new floating jacket’s snack storage system though its paces. We found a very well used ATV trail and headed back to where we cached our bikes.

The walk back to the road was surprisingly pleasant, and wonderful hiking. In berry season it appeared this area has wonderful blue berries, as I saw a huge number of blueberry bushes. Alas, it was well past the ideal berry picking time, and they were too soft.

After a quick mile or so hike we were back at the road, cached our packs, hopped on our bikes, and zipped back to the campground and the truck. The total distance was round 14 miles, 5 or so of which were on the road, with a round trip time of 5 to 6 hours including the bike shuttle, making for a excellent half day float. If we where to do it again I think I would
have walked up stream of the Denali Highway a ways and then put in to extent the fun bits. All in all a highly recommended float, with lots of bouncy rock dodging but nothing super hard. If one was super lazy one could just do the rapids right near the campground and have quite a bit of fun, as the trails along the bank seemed to be very good walking.

This is the last float of the year for me, I think. Now, if only it would snow more I could start skiing!

A short spin on the bike..

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

On a cloudy Monday Remus, Polar, and I headed out to Quartz Creek Trail in BLM’s White Mountains National Recreation Area for a shortish bike ride. I had hiked the trail earlier this year and at the time thought it would make a wonderful and hopefully mellow day trip on a mountain bike.

The trail starts with an impressive climb that really hammers the legs. As I was heading up the hill I was passed by several hunters on four wheelers – the first of three parties that I encountered on the trail. The fall colors where out and the leaves where already starting to fall off the dwarf birches.

The trail is a mix of fun to ride hard packed trail, short sections of muddy trail with some sort of fancy Lego block trail hardening, and less fun bouldery sections. The trail is mostly ridable except for a couple of short rocky sections. I expect those sections would also be ridable if I was a bit more aggressive..

The plastic trail hardening underpayment seems to work quite well and all the places that one would expect to be muddy where quite dry and ridable. Where the surface is completely exposed the grip was a bit funky and I took it slow. Its amazing how much work BLM must have put into fixing up this trail.

On one of the harder to ride sections I broke my chain – much sadness.

A small flock of ravens found my chain fixing efforts amusing and starting circling me and the dogs. Perhaps they though I was doomed.. Regardless I got the chain spliced back together and was back on my way.

BLM really had some fun hardening the trail – on the first stream crossing the bottom of the stream is lined with paving stones. Quite impressive and very fun on a bike.

The trail winds up several ridges and across several small creeks. In the saddles it passes though small spruce trees and in the high points it is above tree line. Once you get back in a ways the terrain opens up with wonderful views of the ridges coming off Mount Prindle. It is very scenic!

The dogs and I stopped near the start of Little Champion Creek and explored a bit on foot. After a bit of wandering around we stopped by the creek and I relaxed in the sun while the dogs splashed in the water.

Where we stopped there was a amazing amount of blue berries – in some sections the leaves had fallen off the bushes leaving these wonderful blue and brown bushes. They had already had a hard frost so the berries where a bit mushy and not quite to my taste, but the dogs liked them.

Polar and Remus had a great time eating berries. All three of my dogs are expert berry pickers and really enjoy eating blue berries.

Anyway, this trip is highly recommended and very fun on a bike. It got me thinking about potential mountain biking and pack rafting combination trips – perhaps biking to Bear Creek, floating down to Beaver Creek, and biking (and pushing probably) out on the Summit Trail.. Things to do next summer!

Splashy fun on Windy Creek

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

Two days after returning from Ireland I was invited out for a day trip on Windy Creek by Tom and Marsh. Windy Creek is a nice day packrafting trip, with a 5 mile or so hike and a 10 mile or so float, two thirds of which is on Windy Creek. Windy Creek is a fairly low volume creek with lots of class II fun – lots of dodging boulders and a couple of smallish drops. Packrafters had been talking about the fun floating on Windy Creek on the Alpacka forum and on various blogs, and so I was quite eager to join in the fun.

The trip starts in Cantwell, near the airstrip by the railroad tracks. From there we followed a well developed trail marked by a huge number of orange “RS2477” markers put in by the National Park Service. The fall colors where out and it was very scenic.

After a mile or so we turned off the main trail (Tom and Marsh had done this before and said the main trail quickly turned into a huge mud fest) and took a side trail down to Windy Creek.

Once we reached Windy Creek we walked up stream on a mix of human and game trails.

We skirted above one large rock face and where rewarded by some great views up Windy Creek and wonderful views of the surrounding hillside.

The hiking was pretty spectacular, with good views and not a lot of brush. This hike really made me want to do the classic hike up Windy Creek to Sanctuary River hike into the park.

After about 2 hours or so we hit our put in spot, near a National Park Service patrol cabin. Alas, the cabin is not for the use of the public, but is used by the parks winter rangers while on patrol.

It has the classic old school cabin bear proofing – window shutters and a outside door covered with nails.

After a quick lunch we put in and the floating began. All the float on Windy Creek was quite fun – nothing all that hard but lots of little rapids for playing around in.

Eventually Windy Creek dumps into the Jack River and the float turned into a very mellow “bob along” float. The Jack was very flat and uneventful. After a very relaxing hour or so on the jack we hit the Nenana and took out. I biked back to the start of our hike while Marsh and Tom picked berries.

All and all quite a fun day trip with a lot of Class II bouncing to practice on.