Archive for June, 2010

Monday Biking Fun

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Last year I noticed that a new trail was being put in the Angel Creek valley in the Chena River SRA. This trail is supposed to replace the very rutted existing trail that runs along the base of the valley. The existing trail is pretty wet and really only passable during the winter. Impassible unless you have an ATV, apparently, judging from the ruts. The new trail is routed up high and is supposed to side-hill up the valley, making for a durable, dry trail. Anyway, as I had nothing to do on this fine Monday I decided to go check it out on my bike. While I was out there I also intended to bike into Stiles Creek Cabin and see how that trail is in the summer.

The new trail to Lower Angel Creek cabin is great and makes for fantastic biking. It starts off with a nice climb that offers great views:

It then side hills up the valley for 5 miles or so, then hits an intersection where you can drop down to Lower Angel Creek cabin, or continue on for a hundred feet or so.

The developed trail dead ends at this point, but it appears that it will continue on as its cleared and flagged for quite a distance, so it looks like State Parks plans to extend it to the upper cabin.

I stopped by the lower cabin and checked out the log book – a party of bikers had just been by the day before so it looks like this trail will be pretty popular in the future.

The winter trail past the lower cabin heading out to the upper cabin was marked as closed to motorized vehicles, but alas there was fresh tracks on it from some large ATVs.. The trail did have a very pretty display of some white flowers that appeared to be only growing on the trail, not off the trail, making for a nice effect.

The trail is really fun on a bike – its dry, free of ruts, and has lots of nice mellow climbs followed by short descents as it works its way around the valley. Alas, its a bit short, being only a little over 10 miles round trip, but hopefully it will get extended to the upper cabin, making for a longer ride. There are only a couple of tricky parts where crushed rock was brought in to fill in some muddy sections. These sections are very passable, but require a little care – no big deal.

There is one nice small pool of water off the side of the trail, which Remus enjoyed, and a couple of dry pools.

I am looking forward to skiing this trail this winter – it should make for a fantastic loop when combined with the old trail!

A map:

On the way back I stopped by Stiles Creek Trail and biked into Stiles Creek Cabin. This was a pretty fun ride that is a little under 8 miles one way. By the time we were half way to the cabin Remus was a bit beat – it was hot and he is a little out of shape, as alas am I. Fortunately, at least for Remus, it started raining shortly after the half way point and he cooled off in the downpour. I, on the other hand, got nice and muddy.

DNR has been making lots of improvements to this trail. They re-routed the first several miles of trail to get around a massively muddy section, which has made the trail a very fun summer bike ride. DNR is apparently still working on it – they had some tracked equipment near the start of the trail:

And some signs of trail hardening still in progress – you can tell where the trail work stopped:

This is the first time I had been on this trail on a bike in the summer and it is very, very fun! The trail winds though mixed deciduous and spruce forest and is very scenic.

Alas, the rain hampered by picture taking, so I didn’t get any pictures good enough to do justice to the route.

On the way out I stopped to toss bits of a broken tequila bottle off the trail and was surprised to find a bunch of parts from a rear derailer.

After making it out to the parking lot, Remus jumped into the back of the truck and went right to sleep – I think I wore the guy out! Alas – no sleep for me as I had to drive home.

Both these trails are highly recommended bike rides and are very worth the hour drive from Fairbanks.

As a side note, I have really been enjoying my new bike, a 2008 Gary Fischer Paragon. I picked it up last fall at Goldstream Sports and have really been enjoying it. It is an amazing transition from my old Kona 96 vintage Aa. It rides wonderfully and is a nicer bike than I need these days – life is tough!

Hope you all are enjoying summer!

A Weekend with the Family

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

The family and I had a very busy weekend.  On Saturday we hiked up to Wickersham Dome.  Molly and Lizzy walked the entire way up to the dome by themselves.

There was quite a bit of stopping to check stuff out – the twins are continually amused by random things along the trail. Lizzy was quite fascinated with the flowers.

They made pretty good time even with the stops and had a blast hiking.

(Photo provided by Eli)

They even enjoyed the final climb to the top – after which of course everyone had a nice lunch and then rode in backpack carriers to the car while taking a nap.  Everyone being the twins that is.

On Sunday we headed out to Chena Lakes to spend the afternoon goofing off, playing in the water, and hopefully getting in some packrafting practice time. Nancy biked there along with Tom and her old school friend Eli who is in town for a conference. They appeared to have a good bike ride, but when we caught up with them they were having fun fixing a flat. Fortunately the twins were around to supervise the repairs.

Eventually we made it to Chena Lakes, where the twins got out their own bikes.

Eventually Nancy took the twins out for a nap time run in the Chariot, and Tom and I got out our packrafts and spent several hours splashing around in the lake. The water was fantasticly warm given it was a fairly cloudy overcast day. We spent a lot of time practising re-entering flipped packrafts – I think I flipped and got back in about 30 times. I was much, much faster by the end of the day. Spending a bit of time practising flipping is really worth while – it keeps you from panicking when you flip in moving water, and hopefully allows you get back in. Not panicking is pretty crucial if you don’t want to loose your paddle and possibly your raft – potentially leaving you with a long walk home. Chena Lakes is a great place to do this – the water is quite warm and the lake is normally not all that busy. The beach is pretty busy, but the rest of the lake is generally pretty unused.

Fun in the mountains – a hike and float on the East Fork of the Susitna

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

Tom, Marsh, and I decided to spend a couple of days doing a version of Ed Plumb’s East Fork of the Susitna Trip . The trip was a blast and very fun.
We started off by leaving town at an moderately early hour and after 4 hours or so neared our destination.

Our plan was to drive up Valdez Creek road until it stopped paralleling the Susitna River, then drop off on of the trucks, and continue driving up the road as far as was reasonable, the hike over to the East Fork of the Su, and finally float out back to the truck. We ended up driving about 2 miles down the road and left Ms Marsh’s truck at a pull out, then continued down the road for 8 miles or so when the deepish creek crossing convinced me to park the car and get start hiking. The first day of hiking was mostly on an atv trail that followed a small stream.

The first mile or so of hiking passed though some active gold mining claims. At one point we surprised a large family out gold panning – the kids in the family seemed very, very confused by our life jackets and paddles, but apparent lack of boats.. I am sure we generated lots of discussion after we got out of ear shot.
The hiking was pretty fast and easy – atv trails are not very scenic but make for nice walking!
The trail crossed the stream quite a few times.. no dry feet here.

We passed a number of old mining camps, but besides the activity around Lucky Creek everything else was pretty quiet – just rusty machines lying around and boarded up shacks.

Eventually the ATV trail dead-ended at a bluff and we ended up side hilling to Grog Lake where we camped for the night.

Grog Lake is in a very beautiful little bowl, but summer had yet to fully arrive here – it was mostly still frozen.

After a fine dinner we hit the sacks and after a good nights sleep, we set off in the morning a little after 10, with plans to head out to the hills overlooking the East Fork of the Susitna. The morning it was raining – when I woke up it was poring pretty hard and the view from my tent was not all that inspiring.

The rain tapered off pretty quickly though and the morning ended up being fairly rain free, though a bit cloudy with a random fog patches blowing though. The view from the first pass was pretty spectacular.

After crossing the next pass we ran into a small herd of caribou who were fairly nonplussed with our intrusion. We ended up seeing numerous small herds for the rest of the trip.

At this point we deviated from Ed’s route – the pass Ed had used was still pretty snowed in and we ended up taking a slightly different route, which took us to the East Fork a bit lower down, but also gave us some snow free and scree free hiking. We did get to walk a bit on some nice overflow on Boulder Creek.

We debated floating Boulder Creek as it looked to be fairly float able but decided not too. This was probably for the best, as Boulder Creek plunges though a canyon of doom just before reaching the East Fork, and the waterfalls and rapids were loud enough we could hear them several miles away as we floated by on the last day of the trip.
After crossing the creek we headed up to make camp near a strange circular lake with a island in the middle on top of a flat ridge.

The second and final camp-site turned out to be fairly scenic.

The lake had a huge number of birds nesting around it and their cries provided a nice backdrop in the evening.

While packing for the trip I had taken out the “extra” poles for my tent, intending to replace them with my trekking poles. Alas, I took out the wrong pole, and had to jerry rig something, but it all worked out in the end.   I really like this tent – its about 2 lbs, has lots of space, and seems to tolerate the wind pretty well.  This of course leads to a gratuitous tent and mountains shot:

In the evening we had wonderful views of the Alaska Range. It was fun to see the Alaska Range from the south side rather than the northern view that I normally get.

Mount Hess and Deborah were very visible and nicely lit.

The next morning was once again nice and rainy. I took advantage of my no-cook meal (on summer trips these days I just eat granola bars for breakfast – it hardly seems worthwhile to start the stove and cook something) and enjoyed my breakfast while sitting in the tent, away from the rain.

Things quickly cleared off once again and we set off hiking the last 3 miles or so to the East Fork. There was a bit of brushwacking, but it was fairly short, and soon we were floating on the East fork – hurrah!

The river was pretty mellow to start with, but there was a short section with some rapids. The first section was a bit bumpy, but otherwise uneventful.

The next section we scouted was more eventful – I scouted it briefly, thought it was no big deal, and after running a small drop, ended up flipping in a hole right after the drop. It was a bit silly, but not a big deal – I was not expecting the drop to have a strong recirculating current in it, and didn’t hit it hard enough and got pulled back into the drop and flipped. No harm done – after a short swim I was back on shore and we walked the next section, then put in again as things mellowed out. I am getting pretty good at flipping now.. We did walk one other section – there was a huge boulder up on river right with barely enough room for a packraft on one side, and a huge pore-over on the other – we walked that section, as it was not clear a pack-raft could get by on the right hand side of the rock without getting stuck. Last year one of the teams on the Wilderness Classic dumped (see this for more details) in these rapids. One of the racers lost his shoe and had to duck tape a bit of his pfd to his foot as a replacement. At the time they ran this section one of these rapids was in the class IV range and had a hole large enough both people dumped in it and got stuck.. we didn’t see anything too scary (besides the rock of doom – but that was easily avoidable) but folks should keep this in mind if they run this section at higher water levels – so be careful folks!
On the upside, besides the rock of doom and the drop, the rapids was all fun class II wave trains and splashing.

I avoided the wave trains for the most part – the water was glacial and very hard to see though so the wave trains could conceal rocks or other strange stuff, so I generally just skirt stuff that looks funky.

After the rapids the river widened out a lot and mellowed.

In some places it mellowed too much – the river is pretty silty and often the middle was so shallow that we could not float it, and were forced to get out and walk. Walking in the middle of a large river like this is a pretty funny experience.

Eventually the East Fork was joined by the West Fork, and the river changed character – the silty shallows went away and the river sped up to 5 to 6 miles per hour. This led to some mellow floating – as we just zoomed along with no effort.

Once the two forks joined the Su is really wide and fast – quite an impressive river.

We had quite a few wildlife sightings during the trip – alas no wolverines, but lots of other critters.
Baby Ptarmigan

Lots of Caribou:

And the ever present ground squirrel – oh so exciting! (Just joking.)

Our mileages for the trip was:
day 1: 9.31 miles
day 2: 11.66 miles
day 3: 2.75 miles hiking, 25.25 miles floating.

All the days except for the last one (it was a long float) were moderate length days and nothing very extreme.

This trip is highly recommended  – its a great trip and well worth the 8 hours or so of round trip driving from Fairbanks.

A Map:

East Fork of the Susitna Hike and Float – More pictures than you could possibly imagine!

A Nugget Creek Repeat!

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Tom, Ms Marsh, and I did a repeat of a trip Tom and I did last year – a hike, float. bike loop that visits Nugget Creek Cabin in the Chena River State Receration Area. This time we did it when the Chena was pretty high, and it was a much more fun float – the water was fast and there was no low water dragging at all. The river guadge at 40 mile was reading about 17.14 ft during the middle of the day. This is a wonderful high water float – there are sweepers but nothing really dangerous so long as you are paying attention, and the south fork flows a lot faster during high water making the float quite a bit more fun.

The river at Nugget Creek Cabin was almost bank full.

State Parks is in the process of putting in a new trail that will start somewhere around 1st bridge – this should make this a “instant classic” easy water pack rafting route.

They also improved the marking substantially – which is super as parts of the existing trail are very hard to follow. Wahoo!

The hike is a little under 6 miles, and the float is about 20 miles from Nugget Creek Cabin to the Rosehip campground.

A Map:

More pictures here:

Nugget Creek Hike Float, 2010

A short trip on the Chulitna

Monday, June 7th, 2010

On the way back from the packrafting class, Tom, Ms Marsh, and I stopped to do a quick hike/float on the East Fork of the Chulitna River. The river was supposed to be class II with a fair number of large rocks for eddy play, so I was looking forward to it. We started at the East Fork rest stop on the Parks Highway, and hiked back out from just below the confluence of Honolulu Creek. This section of river is super fun – just like I was told there are quite a few nice large rocks to play around. I had a great time practicing entering and exiting the eddies using the “stab and jab” technique from the packrafting class. Perhaps a bit too much fun, as I flipped while exiting a eddy with a nearby pore over – but no big deal I was back in pretty quickly and my “nearly dry” suit combo kept me dry.

The float is pretty scenic and in a couple of places the river goes by some interesting cliffs.

The hike out was fairly short and fast – it took about 20 to 30 minutes.

There is a more direct way with via a trail, but it ends up in someone’s driveway complete with a ton of “No Trespassing” signs, so we just bushwhacked directly out to the road.

This section of the river is super fun and makes a great day trip to breakup the drive from Anchorage to Fairbanks.

The pack rafting class has really changed the way I see rivers – I spent this float playing in eddies trying to hit and catch as many as possible, something I would have never done prior to the class. We need more rivers like this in the Fairbanks area!

A Map:


East Fork of the Chulitna day float/pack

Dumping is fun, and other lessons learned in a pack rafting safety class

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

A bunch of us from Fairbanks headed down to the Willow area last weekend to take a pack rafting safety class from Jim Gonski of the Alaska Kayak Academy. The class is highly recommended – I learned a lot.

Some of the things that I learned, in no particular order:

  • Flipping is no big deal – we spent quite a bit of time in the water, which made me quite a bit more comfortable in moving water out of the boat. I also had the experience of being the only student who flipped accidentally – hurrah for me! Amazingly it was while everyone was watching too – success! The end result was that I learned that flipping was not a big deal.
  • Getting back in after flipping is also not a  big deal – we spent a bit of time on getting back into the packrafts after flipping – it was a lot easier than I expected.
  • Throwbags and helmets are a good idea in any sort of harder water. After watching another student having a bit of trouble getting out of a flipped packraft it was pretty clear that head protection of some sort is a really good idea. On the second day as we got ready to float we had to toss a throw bag some random packrafter who had dumped just upstream of our put in. Alas, my throwbag is about 1lb dry, and lots more wet – I think a future sewing project will be to sew a slightly lighter throw bag made of less absorbent material that still allows the rope to dry. More to come on this subject..
  • Eddies are fun – I knew intellectually how eddies can be used to slow down and reposition, but this class really brought out their usefulness. I need to find a section of river with some good eddies to practice with (or perhaps play?)  the greater Fairbanks area!
  • Those extra strokes – I had learned the sculling and draw strokes, and to some extent learned when to use them. They appear to be quite a bit more useful than I initially expected..
  • Even day one should pack the minimum set of backup gear – in the class one of the students lost her valve cap, leading to sudden deflation excitement. One one had a backup cap, a inflation cap, or even a patch kit.. This drove home the point that even on short day pack raft trips I should carry the minimum set of emergency gear.
  • River ratings are very subjective – the hardest section of Willow Creek we did was according to the instructor, rated class III. It felt much more like class II stuff though, so I guess ratings must vary a lot and are perhaps subjective.
  • Rigging – I have a line all the way around my boat – a “fun-rail” as Roman Dial calls it. My boat was used for the classe’s test flips, and no one got tangled up in them or lost hold of the boat, so I guess this was a success.

    The instructor’s boat was rigged like this:

    • View of the “fun-rail”
    • The grab line on the bow

    Some of the interesting thing to note – he had the full around rail, a daisy chained line on the bow, and a “flip line” made of webbing which is supposed to help you flip the boat over after an upset. He also had a whiffle ball attached to the spray skirt’s release tab – alas I have no pictures of that.

Alas, I am afraid I was not the best student – I had a hard time paying attention with all the river noise, my packraft ADD, and the hockey helmets we had on. I also regret not taking some extra runs Saturday evening, as we had dry suits and Willow Creek was very, very fun.

I think I will take it again next year – especially if Jim G. offers a class that is the “next step” up in difficulty.  I might also take the full on swift water rescue class, though all the rigging drills sound less than useful.

In any case, this class is highly recommended – everyone who packrafts and has the free time should take it.