Archive for May, 2010

A weekend with the family with a hike and float

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

On a super hot and dry day, the twins and I set off for Nome Creek campground. The plan was for Nancy to bike the 80 miles or so to the Campground while the Twins and I would drive. Later in the day another family along with Tom and Ms Marsh would join us. The drive out was fantastic, with a little smoke near Fairbanks which quickly cleared out as we left town. The twins snoozed the ride away, and we passed Nancy biking along at mile 50 or so. After reaching the camp ground the woke the twins up, and after a little grumbling about the rude awaking, they set off to explore the nearby sandbars.

They had lots and lots of fun exploring the sand and gravel, throwing rocks in the water, and other fun games.

After a couple of hours Nancy arrived and we all spend the afternoon together hanging out on the sandbars enjoying the sun. Eventually we were joined by the additional family and we all hung out having fun and enjoying the fine afternoon. After a dinner of pasta and cheese (a favourite of the twins) everyone hit the sack. Late in the evening Ms Marsh and Tom arrived and joined our encampment. The next day was nice and clear, promising good weather for the float and hike I had planned for the next two days. The twins were quite excited to be camping and quickly got up to go play in the sandbar again, after having a quick breakfast.

The breakfast menu was melon and cereal – yum yum!

After a slow morning Ms Marsh, Tom, and I set off to float down Beaver Creek. leaving Nancy to drive home with the twins. Our plan was to hike out on the Summit Trail the following day.

The water was pretty low – the Nome Creek gauge said 2 to 2.5 ft – which is a about a foot to two feet lower than the other time I floated it. I was not how the low water levels would effect stuff, but it turned out to be fine, though very slow.

Our first sign that something was different was when we reached the confluance of Nome and Beaver Creeks – last time we floated this section there was a nice and fun eddy line where the creeks came together. This time around there was no eddy at all, and the junction was hardly noticeable.

Beaver Creek was still float-able at these water levels, just a bit slow. Shortly after the confluence Ms Marsh found a very out of place trail sign that by the mile markers should have been just outside Windy Gap cabin. However we are well upstream of any trails heading to Windy Gap, and the only trail upstream of us is a dead end trail heading to Richards Cabin. Tom was quick to point out that it was also misspelled. How it got here was a mystery, so I decided to haul it out to Borealis and leave it there for BLM to ponder.

The sign had the added advantage of preventing Ms Marsh and Tom from playing bumper cars with me as they were quite worried about it’s not so sharp edges.

The float was quite a bit slower than when we did it last year – I think it took 9 hours total last year, and this year it took around 12, even though we took fewer breaks. There was quite a bit of mellow floating, bobbing along..

This was not all bad – I got to enjoy some mellow floating and enjoyed a fair bit of recliner time.

We ran into a few small rain storms and a fair bit of distant thunder, but nothing too intense.

We eventually reached Borealis, our takeout spot, and had dinner in the cabin and camped out nearby. In the morning we crossed Beaver Creek and started our hike out.

The hike begins on some very dilapidated board walk and then continues on the winter trail up to the summit trail. Last time I hiked this in the summer I noticed that the board walk appears to continue a ways after the winter trail turns off. I decided to check out the board walk and was surprised to see it continued for a fair bit and cut a bit of the tossuc slogging winter trail section of the hike.

Alas, after crossing the slue the board walk goes away and we were back walking on the tussocky winter trail.
On our hike up the Summit Trail Tom found several reminders of our winter adventures – he found a single stick of swix extra blue, and a White Mountains fuel tag.

After a shortish slog we reached the fine hiking of the Summit Trail – Tom was suitably excited.

The rest of the hike out was fantastic – the trail had great views and is in very good shape. the older sections of board walk had a large number of exposed nails which made things a bit treacherous at times.

The last section of trail was a bit of a mud fest. The trail used to look like this:

Now it looks like this:

Nancy, the twins, and I hiked it when BLM was revamping the trail with an assembly line of small bobcat like tractors.

At the time I had stopped to talk to the trail crew for a while, and they said the plan was to use “ditch and elevate” to remove the board-walk and have the trail dry in the summer and groomable in the winter. Its looking like a bit of a failure, as its a bit of a muddy mess now, in the driest spring I have experienced. Hopefully BLM will get the trail sorted out and have it reach some sort of drier state.

Once past the mud things went by quickly and soon we were at the parking lot, and before we knew it at Hilltop having burgers. Yum! Yum! The hike was fantastic, as was the float, though it would be a bit better to have done it with slightly faster water. Camping with the twins added extra spice and added a bit of extra spice – and of course fun was had by all!

A map:

More photos:

Beaver Creek-Summit Trail float hike

Chena Dome In a Day

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Last year I did Chena Dome as a day hike, and it was fun enough that I decided it should be a yearly ritual. This year it was hotter, dryer, and slightly slower. The trail is pretty dry right now, with a couple of tundra pools that had water but otherwise was very dry.

After about 1 pm (mile 9 or so) a thunder storm moved though the area, making this ridge hike a bit iffy. Storms blew though sporadically for the rest of the day, making things a bit fun.

Twice I felt a bit of static electricity that caused the hairs on my arms to feel funny, but this could be my imagination – regardless it let me to several mad “get off this ridge” dashes.

It was super hot, with highs in the mid 80’s. I drank a little over 2 gallons of water on the trail and was still quite dehydrated when I finished. My total time was a little under 12 hours.

This hike is fantastic and is well worth doing. Its a lot of work – there are only a couple of short flat sections, so you are either climbing or descending, but it makes up for this with superb views and wonderful ridge hiking. Its a bit mentally challenging at times as you are always either looking at the hill you are climbing or going down and looking at the climb you will be doing next. Such is life – trails this beautiful must have a price to pay in one form or another. Chena Dome does not get a lot of traffic – I seldom encounter other folks while hiking it.

I am going to try something a bit new with this trip – I took lots of pictures, geo-tagged them, and put in them in a Picasa Album so folks can get a feel for what the trail is like. You can find a click-able google map bellow with images – zoom in and click on one of the photos to get an idea what the trail is like at that point. Hopefully folks fine this useful – enjoy!

View Larger Map

A short spin on the Denali Park Road

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

Because of some work day shuffling I ended up with a Wednesday free with nothing to do and decided that it would be a good day to bike a section of the Denali Park road. Wednesday would be the last day of the spring when the public can drive the first 30 miles of the park road, allowing me to skip biking the first 30 miles, which are not quite as interesting as the rest of the road. I left two at 8am, and got to the Denali park entrance a little after 10, and made it to the Teklanika camp-ground at a little after 11.. there was a surprising large amount of traffic on the park road which made travel a bit slow.. I was on my bike at 11:30, and the fun began. The park road is truly a great bike ride – its normally in fairly good shape, the drivers are all very nice, the views are interesting, and occasionally you get to see wildlife up close and personal. This time there was tons of wild life – I saw more wildlife than I expected and in some cases saw it a bit closer than I wanted too. It started off with a fox chasing a hare across the road in front of me.

The next wildlife sighting was a sow bear with two cubs hanging out on some gravel bars on the East Fork of the Toklat River. I spent a bit of time watching them, but quickly lost interest – they were too far away to enjoy and I have seen lots of bears before, so the novelty wore off quickly.

While climbing up the road into Polychrome Pass, I was surprised to see a sheep hanging grazing right next to the road.

Near the top of the pass I encountered a small group of rams hanging out right next to the road, sun bathing.

I spent 15 minutes or so watching them.. they didn’t seem at all traumatized by the traffic on the road or the party of wildlife paparazzi taking pictures of them.

On the way back I had my most interesting animal encounter. While climbing up into Sable Pass I came around a corner and there was a smallish wolf sniffing around a bridge. I watched the wolf for a while, and it either didn’t notice me (the wind was blowing fairly hard at this point and I was down wind of him) or he didn’t care. Once he was finished inspecting and marking the bridge he then headed right at me at a fast trot.. this caused me a fair bit of surprise, as I was expecting it to bolt off as soon as I was noticed – that is what normally happens anyway.

My other wolf encounters had involved me madly digging out my camera while the wolf in question zooms off at great speed after noticing me. In this case the wolf saw me, then apparently decided to run up to me and check me out. Alas this plan was foiled by my surprised high pitched girlish yelp and my quick grap for a nice rock to chuck at it – I am afraid I reverted to my dog defence mode and yelled while grabbing for a rock to bean it with if it got too close. Fortunately the wolf was surprised by my antics and veered off of the road and into the bushes instead of charging me. Which was probably good, as I expect pelting the wildlife with rocks is not approved Denali Park visitor behaviour.

This encounter gave me a nice adrenaline boost and I zoomed up Sable pass and was back at the car much, much faster than I expected – it took about a third of the time to bike out as it did biking in, in part probably due to my picture taking and other goofing off, but it was still quite surprising. I was back in Fairbanks at 7pm.

The park road is a super scenic bike ride. Polychrome Pass is particularly dramatic as the road is cut into the side of the mountains and offers great views.

In some places the the below the road is a un-interrupted steep scree slope dropping of over a thousand feet.. It feels very dramatic.

This is my favourite section of the road, and should not be missed if one is to spend any time biking the park road.

The surface of the park road is all dirt (besides the first 15 miles which are paved) and varies a lot depending on the conditions. There are a fair number of climbs but nothing too difficult – everything is fairly easily climbing in granny gear while spinning. This time the road surface was super dry and a bit dusty, though some of the other times it was pretty muddy – this is obviously weather dependant.

The dust was not too bad though, and the drivers tend to be super nice and slow down so you are not completely dusted out.

On the way out I encountered one of the road hazards of park road – animal caused traffic jams. In this case everyone was queued up to watch some caribou way off in the distance.

Bike to Work Week…

Monday, May 17th, 2010

So, as everyone probibly knows, its Bike to Work Week this week. There is a even a special bike to work event here in the town I live in, Fairbanks Alaska.. this is strange as Fairbanks is not really all that bike friendly of a place. Its not bike “unfriendly”, just not very friendly. Only really hardcore folks commute by bike year round (like my wife Nancy) or folks that have had their license revoked as the winters are fairly intense. This makes for a interesting dynamic at times. I am an indifferent bike commuter – biking on pavement with traffic is not very interesting or fun to me, so I ovoid it when possible. I commute to work via a round about way by bike on the in the summer avoiding the pavement were possible,  however once the trails set up with enough snow and become travel-able, I switch to skis, run, or bike on the trails rather than the road. My summer round-about route into work is about 12 miles one way, and takes about 45 minutes – here is a link to a Googlie Map.  Its a pretty mellow ride, with some gravel sections to liven things up a bit.  Its just long enough I can get a good dose of NPR and catch up on the news of the day.

So, this is how it went today..

The start of my ride – note the heavy traffic.   I think I saw one car in the first 20 minutes.

After 2 miles or so I turn onto Henderson Rd, and start to climb a bit.

Eventually I turn onto a dirt road called St Patrick’s Rd.  This is my favorate part of the ride – the next 4 miles or so are all unpaved and fun.

Eventually St Patrick dumps out onto Ester Dome Rd,  and the pavement returns.  After a short fast downhill  I turn onto  Sheep Creek road.  This morning I ran into my the first biker had I seen in the morning in a long time – possibly all spring actually..  She was zooming along and a pretty good clip..

Finally I turn onto a short trail that winds though the trees onto campus and to my building, the ever so lovely named building, the WRRB.

My route home is pretty much the reverse, though if I want to add some distance and have the time I change things up a bit and go back via Ester Dome road and Henderson.  This adds a biggish hill and is a bit more of a workout..

Alas, on the way home I got the first flat of the year – possibly the first since the summer of 2008… bummer.  I use stout tires with thick flat resistant inner bits, but while good they appear to be not invincible.  Perhaps these tires are just not quite up to snuff – they are Bontrager Race Light Hardcase tires and the tread does not seem to last all that long – one of these tires is lasting me about half a summer.  After fixing the flat I went home the short way.

Happy bike to work week everyone!

The First Float of the Year

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

Rumor had it that the Chena was now floatable, so Tom, Ms Marsh, and I headed out to float from 3rd bridge to 1st bridge. The float was wonderful, the Chena was ice free, and fun was had by all.

We put in at 3rd bridge, and we quickly zoomed down river, as the water was running a bit high and fast. There were no log jams, and no sweepers of note.

It was exciting to be back in the packraft.. though the floating was a bit on the “mellow” side without a lot of excitement. Which was perhaps for the best, as the water was pretty cold.

We were a bit concerned about how free the Chena would be of ice, but the only ice we encountered was broken up and floating in a slough.

I did a beached seal imitation on some of the larger pieces..

Most of the float we just bobbed along, as the Chena was amazingly free of any sweepers and other river related excitement.

The float was pretty relaxed but was great for getting me in the mood for summer floating – hopefully some I will get some fun packraft trips in this summer!

Mid winter I picked up a new floating jacket with seals on the wrists and neck and had been wondering how well it would keep out water when I end up swimming – so I took several test swims and it did amazing well, keeping most of the water out. After jumping into the river three times I had a small amount, perhaps 1 to 2 cups, but was mostly dry, so the new top combined with my old float pants is quite a success!

More pictures for the photo inclined:

First float of the season

The Twins Ride Again

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

Nancy was out of town for a couple of days and I got to be the Twins chauffeur in her absence. The twins ride in to school in the morning and back home at around noon weekdays. On cold days they get a warm water bottle each. On really cold days they get an extra “foot” water bottle.. Fortunately (or unfortunately, as alas no skiing) those days are behind us at least until late fall.
Being the twins chafferer means I wake them up at 7:15 or so, get them bundled up, then stuff them into their chariot outside the house.

The view from the twin’s perspective – the sun is just cresting the hill and is shining our trail, but alas not reached our house yet.

The twins then are pushed down the trail out to the parking lot were my bike awaites.

They then get hooked up, and enjoy the nice 20 minute ride to school while napping and sometime eating.

I drop the twins off for school, then head back out to deal with my morning activities (mainly working). Once lunch time rolls around I pick them up again, and they enjoy their lunch while pedaling home.

On the way home we often stop at UAF’s experimental farm. Right near the road there is several fenced enclosures that house reindeer, including some with this years calves. The twins like to stop here and check on the baby reindeer..

After this stop its a quick ride home, and then the twins are marched off to the house so they can get their nap started.

Life is good when you are three and three quarters!