Posts Tagged ‘borealis’

Packrafting Beaver Creek with the family..

Saturday, June 10th, 2017

Ever since I got my first packraft I’ve had packrafting adventures on Beaver Creek . This winter, with the hope that I could share a packrafting adventure with my family, I picked up two packrafts that can each hold two people. I was very excited to try them out! I made plans to do the classic Beaver Creek with the family and a few others in late winter (or early spring, depending on your point of view).

Trip day arrived. Our party of 10 included me, Nancy, Lizzy (age 11), and Molly (age 11); Trusten (age 70) and his daughter Robin (age 17); Beth and Constantine; Tom; and Gregg. We piled out of our vehicles to start the adventure. On the drive, Lizzy had told me firmly that she wasn’t going to be happy if it rained. When it started (very lightly) snowing, I pointed out that it wasn’t raining. She was not amused.

It took a while to get going with such a large party, but eventually we were all bobbing along, enjoying the current. The weather was pretty cold and the sun came and went as clouds passed by. When the sun was shining it was pleasant, but when it dipped behind the clouds it was a bit nippy.

Midafternoon we had a serious hail storm, with enough hail for it to pile up on the decks of our boats. LIzzy, who was floating with me, was wearing a neck gaiter, and pulled it up over her face to keep the hail from hitting her.

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I was a bit jealous how comfortable she appeared to be. After a few hours, though, the twins started raising objections to the floating, mostly involving their cold hands and feet.

Beaver Creek -> Elliot highway mile 28
The adults seemed to be having fun though..
Beaver Creek -> Elliot highway mile 28

Fortunately, we had two days to float roughly 30 miles, which in my experience is about 8 to 12 hours of floating, so after about 5 hours of travel we pulled out and made camp.

I somewhat optimistically pointed to a blue patch and told the twins “Look – blue sky!” to which they pointed at a dark cloud and said “Look – dark clouds!” starting a blue sky, dark clouds chant that became a staple.

The twins and Robin helped Constantine (the master fire maker) make a big campfire, which was a huge hit with its makers (and possibly the adults).

Beaver Creek -> Elliot highway mile 28

Beaver Creek -> Elliot highway mile 28

Beaver Creek -> Elliot highway mile 28

Beaver Creek -> Elliot highway mile 28

Beaver Creek -> Elliot highway mile 28

S’mores were enjoyed, and eventually everyone was tucked in their respective beds. I was excited to find out I could hold up our pyramid tent with two paddles. This was a pretty awesome revelation, and makes the tent much more usable, as there isn’t a pole in the middle of it.

The twins packed their own snacks, and while digging out the next days food I noticed a lack of trust..
Beaver Creek -> Elliot highway mile 28

In the morning we packed up – after another fire of course – and floated to Borealis cabin, where we made a nice fire, warmed up, and dried off. This second day was a bit nicer, with no rain, a bit more sun, and only a brief bit of hail.

Beaver Creek -> Elliot highway mile 28

Beaver Creek -> Elliot highway mile 28

Folks were a bit reluctant to leave the nice warm cabin, but alas we didn’t have it booked and the plan was to hike a few miles and camp on the ridge above the river. Eventually we left the warmth of the cabin and headed back across the river, packed up the boats, and walked up the hill. The twins needed rides across the first creek, and enjoyed nice piggy back rides, but the tussocky climb up the hill was less exciting for them.

Beaver Creek -> Elliot highway mile 28

By the time we made camp Lizzy was pretty tired and was almost to the point of meltdown. However, after some dinner and time enjoying a campfire, Lizzy recovered and headed off to build a little fort out of the many burned downed trees in the area.

[Molly and Lizzy are now old enough to read my blog posts and offer critizen; Molly wanted me to point out that while Lizzy enjoyed the ride, she wanted to walk across, even though it would have been mid-thigh on her. They also offered grammar and writing advice, which was a bit of a mixed blessing.]

The next morning we hiked about ten miles to the shelter at mile 8, which amazingly was empty. Alas, the rain barrel was also empty, and it took a while to find water, but otherwise it was a great place to camp. The twins appeared to enjoy the hiking a bit more, and I had a long discussion with Lizzy about the book series she is reading, the “Warriors series”. She is into those books at the moment, and it was great to share the experience with her.

Robin hiked most of the way barefoot, and arrived at the shelter pretty tired. I don’t think I saw her out of her sleeping bag the entire evening.

Beaver Creek -> Elliot highway mile 28

The twins did not enjoy how much brush there was on a few sections, though. There are several miles of trail where the alder are growing in the trail and it is easier to walk off the trail than on it. The day was a bit long for them, and I was impressed by how well they handled it.

Beaver Creek -> Elliot highway mile 28

The final day went by quickly, with slightly less mileage, less elevation gain, and a much easier trail due to better trail maintenance. The trail is in much better shape in this section, and much to their credit, BLM has made major improvements on a few of the swampy sections – thanks BLM! We were out at the trailhead mid afternoon.

The twins were in high spirits and were pretty bouncy for the last day of hiking. Perhaps a bit too bouncy, as they started trying to steal Tom’s snacks…

Beaver Creek -> Elliot highway mile 28

…and throw snowballs at me.

Beaver Creek -> Elliot highway mile 28

Boat notes :
We have two double person packrafts – a double duck and a gnu. The double duck is slightly bigger, and is very light – I think it weighs about the same as my “normal” packraft. The gnu is a heavier boat, but the two front ends are pretty awesome, and it seems to be the fastest packraft I have floated in by a fair margin. We all used kayak paddles, and that seemed to work fine, though we had to synchronise paddling so the blades didn’t hit each other.

The twins rated the trip:
Floating: 6/10
Hiking: 2/10 when it brushy (Lizzy), 2/10 when it was muddy (Molly), otherwise 8/10
The floating would have gotten a higher rating if there had been less hail and it had been warmer. I think the lower mud and brush rating would have been avoided if I had warned them of the brush and if Molly had brought waterproof hiking shoes. Nancy also was surprised by the brush. Alas, I think the trail gets very little attention from BLM, and is very brushy in a few sections from the river to the shelter at mile 8.

Thoughts from Nancy:

While I was editing the spelling and punctuation in the above blog post, the kids kept looking over my shoulder, so I put off the job until after I tucked them in for the night. When I came back from tucking them in, I found that the cat had added her own edits, consisting of about fifty semicolons. Pippin does not like it when we all leave on four-day trips. Neither do the dogs, but they would have been impossibly challenging to include. Thanks to Margaret for caring for the menagerie.

Right. So, for those considering this trip, I’d say that overall, it was excellent. The hail/snow/sleet/whatever were not much fun, but could be avoided by traveling later in the season or heeding weather reports. The approximate schedule and distances we adhered to were perfect, although a three-day version might have been fine without kids. I know Jay usually does the trip in two, with the 10 hours of floating packed into one day and the 22 miles of hiking the following day, but in my mind this doesn’t seem to leave a heck of a lot of time for roasting potatoes in the campfire, building forts, stealing Tom’s candy, discussing the iffy state of the world, and admiring Gregg’s impressive camp cuisine.

As far as difficulty goes, the float is easy, and perfect for beginners. The worst mishaps were brief groundings in shallow sections. The hike is not terribly difficult, but as noted, you can expect to have sodden, muddy feet. The dense, scratchy brush obliterates the trail for miles at a time. Lightweight but rip-resistant pants are strongly recommended.

Thanks for a delightful adventure, everyone!

No snow..

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

It has been a pretty low snow winter so far. It some ways it is good and has allow for some interesting adventures but the trails are a bit bumpy. A friend invited me out to Borealis cabin in the White Mountains NRA for an after thanksgiving trip, and since the family is in play this winter and spending the weekend in rehearsal, I decided to disappear.

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

Marsh headed out the day before, heading to Borealis, where Tom and I would join her, spending the night at Borealis, then heading to Eleazar’s for another night, and then back out. I really wanted to bike, but wasn’t sure how the trail was going to be, and ended up hiking, which turned out to be fine.

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

However, after a few miles Tom and I agreed I wouldn’t mention biking would have been more fun if he didn’t mention Trump for the entire trip.

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

I think it was an ok bargain..
Though running into several parties of bikers on the way in didn’t make it easy. They looked like they were having fun.

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

The bikers came with dogs though, and Shiloh and Remus were very excited to meet new friends..

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

Eventually we said good by and headed down the trail. The walking was pretty good, but the light was fantastic.

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

After 7 hours of hiking we arrived at a warm and well lighted Borealis cabin, and were welcomed by Marsh. The evening was spent mellowing out and enjoying life.

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars
(Shiloh was unimpressed by the story cards).

In the morning Tom and I took off to go checkout Big Bend, a rock formation a bit downstream from the cabin, while Marsh mellowed out, and then headed off to Eleazars.

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars
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Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

After turning around at the base of Big Bend, we headed to Eleazar’s for the night, then hiked back to the car in the morning.

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

A great way to spend a weekend. I hope more snow comes soon, I can’t wait to get out on the bike and explore!

A post script : Someone tossed the logbooks at Borealis down the outhouse. It made me a bit sad – it is always fun to look back over the years and read about other folks adventures in these cabins. It is a bit of a bummer someone took that away..

A Packraft and Ski Trip on Beaver Creek

Saturday, October 24th, 2015

Winter has finally arrived here in Fairbanks, and while we now have enough snow to ski in some areas, the water levels on the rivers has been unusually high, probably due to all our late season rain. After some discussion, Heath, and I hatched a plan to float Beaver Creek from Nome Creek to Borealis Cabin, then to hike out to the Wickersham Dome mile 28. A few days before the trip we received word that the winter trail had enough snow to ski, and that snowmachines had been out on the trails, and so we switched up our plans and added skis in the mix. I was pretty worried about Nome Creek road, but fortunately I was able to get in touch with a musher to lives in the area, who said the road was still drivable. Hoping for the best, we headed out early in the morning, hoping to make it in without major trouble. The road turned out to in okay shape, with only a few sketchy sections, and Heath’s wife Audrey dropped us uneventfully. A huge thank you to Audrey for helping with the car shuttle!

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The water levels on Nome Creek were about what I expected, given the gauge was reading 2.7-ish, though there was a lot more shore ice than I was expected – uh-oh! We left Audrey to drive back to town, and headed down the creek.

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I was very excited to do my first “seal launch” in a packraft – sliding into the water from ice was super cool!

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Pretty soon we had to portage around a section of the creek with ice all the way across, but otherwise the floating was fun, and the contrast of the snow with the dark water and trees was amazing. After a few more portages we made it to confluence with Nome Creek, where, alas, the volume of water coming in from the main channel was less that I would have liked to see. It wasn’t the end of the world though, and the floating was still pretty fast. Heath is a pretty consistent paddler, so we spent much of the float paddling away.

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I did learn I made a serous tactical error when picking my gloves. I have a pair of three fingered diving gloves, but I couldn’t find them, and so resorted to using some thinner neoprene gloves I could actually find. Alas, they were not warm enough, and I spent most of the float dealing with cold fingers – my own fault for not being more prepared! I did discover that I could make my hands much warmer by moving the cuff of my dry suit past my wrist, which did wonders for keeping my hands warm.

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We saw a fairly diverse amount of wildlife, including 4 moose, a beaver, ducks, lots of grayling, and at fairly close range, a bear. The bear encounter was pretty funny.  We came around a bend, and Heath was up front.  Just as he came up on a stand of trees, I noticed a very large brown bear leaning out over the bank, appearing from my point of view to be looking down at Heath, getting ready to jump at him. Heath was digging around in his deck bag, and for a few seconds I thought he was digging out his camera to get a photo, then decided he hadn’t seen it and shouted something silly like “Heath – bear!” Heath then turned around, with a sandwich in his hand and we both started “Hey Bearing”. Fortunately, after one short growl, the bear took off and we didn’t see it again. It definitely provided a nice adrenaline boost!

The float was a very interesting experience. As the day progressed, we started seeing more and more ice, and by the end of the day the river was at times packed with small pieces of ice, and a few larger bits.

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Occasionally it was hard to paddle, as there wasn’t always room get your paddle into the water. Fortunately Beaver Creek is pretty mellow and there are not any rapids of note, and wide enough that there were few sweepers. It was an awesome experience, listening to the hiss of the ice bumping around as we floated along. We did have to portage one small ice jam, which fortunately wasn’t a big deal. Ice built up on our packs and our paddles, but didn’t seem to stick to the boats at all. I was a bit worried that my boat would be punctured by a sharp piece of ice, but that didn’t happen, and eventually I just started plowing though the ice. Alas, we spent the last few hours on the river in the dark, which made for a bit of a stressful end to the float. I was very happy to see Borealis cabin! On the upside, while trying to see how deep the water was I saw a huge grayling just off the edge of the shore ice. After looking around, it soon became apparent there were grayling everywhere, and by the light of our headlamps they stood out in the water like ghosts – an amazing sight!

We arrived at Borealis, and I was very happy to take my dry suit off and enjoy a nice warm, dry cabin. I had brought an InReach gadget that allows (supposedly!) two way texting using satellites, but alas, after two hours of fiddling I couldn’t get it to receive texts, just to send them.

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I have had it work great in the past, but this time I couldn’t for the life of me get it to stay connected to my smartphone, which was a huge bummer as we were pretty worried about Audrey making the drive back out on Nome Creek road, and I was sort of counting on it to arrange a ride back with my friend Tom. Fortunately the tracking feature was working, however the messaging part was a bust. YMMV. I am not sure I am taking it on any more trips..

The next morning we headed out, crossed the creek in the pack rafts, and started over to the winter trail. There is a little creek that is often not very well frozen a half mile or so from the main river, so we dragged our pack rafts behind us like sleds, which worked great. Pack rafts apparently make pretty good sleds!

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The creek turned out to be frozen, but I was excited to see snowmachine tracks on the other side – the trail was broken out! We packed up, put on skis, and enjoyed a fantastic ski out. The snow was fast, and the skiing was great, considering there was only 10″ of snow.

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We zoomed out, enjoying the fast snow.

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I was annoyed to find out that my packrafting pack, a older Arc’teryx waterproof pack, is moderately horrible for skiing – its skinny tall shape and minimal suspension made it very tipsy and it was constantly trying to tip me over. I survived though, and really enjoyed the ski out. At about halfway Heath got enough cell signal to receive emails and to learn Audrey made it out safely, and I called our ride, Tom, to make sure he was still going to pick us up, and that he knew the skiing was fantastic, and should come early and get some skiing in. Tom said he was on his way, and we ran into him about 3 miles from the parking lot, out for his second ski of the year. The remainder of the ski was uneventful, though I did have a crash right in front of Lance Mackey who was training his dog team with a 4-wheeler. I think he was amused, but I felt pretty self conscious trying to get up with a heavy pack while he was waiting for me to get out of the way.

A huge thank you to Audrey and Tom for providing rides – this trip wouldn’t have been possible without you guys, and major kudos to Heath for coming up with the original idea and making the trip possible!

Heath said several times this trip is definitely something to do again, and I 100% agree – it was a fantastic experience.

I think I would do a few things differently:

  • I would bring “real gloves” or something a lot warmer than the thin gloves I brought. If anyone has suggestions I would love to hear them.
  • I would bring something to help get out of the water and onto the ice.  I think a several foot board with a leash with some 16d nails in it would be very handy, or perhaps the small ice picks like ice fisherman use.  The board could probably be burned once the floating was done, and the nails salvaged.
  • I debated bringing my dry suit, and ended up bringing it, and was very happy I did.  It made this trip possible, and more importantly fun – it would have been fairly miserable without it unless I was very, very careful to stay dry.
  • Heath used Alpacka’s semi-dry suit, and loved it.  I think I have one of those in my future!
  • I would leave earlier so the end of the day floating in the dark wouldn’t be necessary.  I might try camping at the put in to get an early start, or breaking the float up into two days.
  • Other versions of this trip abound: coming out to the Colorado creek trailhead, to mile 28 via Crowberry, or back to Nome Creek would be fun and possible.  I expect the winter trail would be skiable in the more remote areas, but of course it wouldn’t be broken out.
  • I wouldn’t do this trip if there were lots of ice at the put-in, it is a long way out via any of the reasonable bail-out points.
  • I need to rework my pack attachment system for winter floats. I use two straps with “ladder buckles”, but they iced up and were very hard to undo.  Heath used P-cord and it seemed like he had fewer problems.
  • I used Surly junk straps to attach the skis to my boat; that was a mistake, as they took forever to get off, because they were so iced up.

Sorry for such a long post — this trip was fabulous and I thought it deserved enough words to do it justice!

A Summer Loop in the Whites, v2

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

Several years ago a group of us packrafted and hiked a loop in the White Mountains. That trip was very fun, however I had been meaning to do something similar again, this time taking a slightly different route and hiking up though the Limestone Jags, over Cache Mountain, and back to the Nome Creek put-in. So, on a fine summer weekend Seth, Tom, and I headed off to Nome Creek, with Seth’s dogs Dorsel and Echo in tow.

The float down Beaver Creek was uneventful, scenic and mellow. Watching the dog’s antics added a extra bit of fun to the float. Echo’s lack of excitement about swimming or running along the bank was almost comical, as was her complete lack of excitement about getting a ride in Seth’s boat.

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Eventually Echo was convinced to climb into Seth’s packraft and hitch a ride, though she was very unexcited about it.

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Dorsel on the other hand, had a great time, running along the bank, jumping though the bushes, and bouncing around like a rubber ball thrown by a nine year old. Eventually Dorsel started begging for rides as she got sick of swimming from bank to bank to find good doggie walking or crossing sloughs. Eventually she got perhaps a bit too comfortable, jumping in and out of the boats whenever her little A.D.D. doggy brain decided the time was right.

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Nothing bad, just added a extra topping of fun to the float. Our day ended at Borealis cabin, where we crashed for the night.

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The next day we floated down to near where Fossil Gap trail crosses Beaver Creek, and hiked up into the Jags.

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The hiking was fantastic, and the views amazing.

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If we had an extra day, spending extra time here would have been worthwhile,
as there are lots of interesting rock formations to explore.

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We camped near where the Jags look out over the winter trail between Windy Gap and Caribou Bluff.

The next day we crossed Fossil Creek and hiked up to Cache Mt.

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Where we crossed Fossil Creek there was a huge log jam.

We bailed on our initial plan of hiking up and over Cache Mt as there was still a lot of snow on the ridge we planned on hiking up, and instead crossed over a connected side ridge, and hike down to the winter trail and then on to Cache Mountain Cabin.

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It was great to see the cabin in the summer, and the winter trail wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected – minimal mud, though a bit wet.

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Outside the cabin there was the normal level of random junk that is hidden from the winter visitors by a thick layer of snow – dog booties, etc, and the entire skeleton of what appeared to be a martin.

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The next day we headed across obrien creek. I had read online there was great game trails heading down the creeks to beaver creek, but we didn’t see any. The hiking though the burn was fantastic though – no brush, fairly good footing, and great walking. A few hours of hiking up and over two small ridges had us back at the intersection of Nome and Beaver Creek, and we started following Nome Creek back up to the put-in.

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We got turned around a bit hiking along Nome Creek in the big trees, but eventually we found the game trails following the creek and enjoyed fast walking back to my truck.

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This trip reminded me how much I enjoy the Whites – it is close to town, and yet there is a huge area that doesn’t see much use, with lots of interesting places to explore.

During the trip, Seth and I talked a bunch about turning some variation on this loop into a longer, hiking only trail, connecting it to the Pinnel Mountain trail, and create a route from Eagle Summit to Wickersham Dome. That seems like it would be a fantastic trail, heading from Eagle Summit, over to 12 mile Summit via the Pinnel Mountain Trail, then taking the ridge over to the Mount Prindle area, then the ridges (or worse case Nome Creek Road) over to the Richards Cabin area, then on to Cache Mt divide, over to the Caribou Bluff via the jags, and finally taking the ridge abutting big bend over to Borealis and finishing on the Summit Trail. This has the potential to be a world class 100 (ish) mile trail, hitting all the highlights. Maybe someday it would happen.

Thanks for joining me Tom and Seth!

Seth’s writeup on the trip can be found here (he takes much better photos!).

Details on our route can be found on CalTopo here and more photos here.

On a random gear note, my shoes exploded half way into the trip, with the sole splitting completely in half. I was a bit worried that a stick would poke though and jab me in the foot, but fortunately nothing made it though. A bummer – I really liked the fit and feel of these inov8 shoes!
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4 hours of sunshine..

Saturday, December 13th, 2014

Winter is here in the interior, and we are now down to around 4 hours of daylight (give or take a bit). Those four hours of daylight can be pretty wonderful though..

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On a warm and windy Sunday David P and I headed out to enjoy an overnighter at Borealis Cabin in the White Mountains NRA.

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David enjoyed his new bike, a Ice Cream Truck, rocking the largest tires currently available.

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Remus..

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And Shiloh enjoyed the trip as well..

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The evening in the cabin was uneventful, with lots of eating and lolling about, and an early bed time.   I expect I beat the twins to bed that evening.

 

The trail was fairly firm for the ride in, but it snowed overnight, leaving us with with a bit of pushing and slow riding on the way out..

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Once the sun was up, the sky was fantastic though – pinks and reds all day long..

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Thanks for joining me, David it was a great trip!

Winter is fun, and I am glad it is here!

 

First ride of the season in the Whites..

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

Winter has (sort of) arrived here in Interior Alaska. Alas, we are a little short on snow, so all my exploring has just been out of my house, and my go too loop is getting a bit boring, as I have been hitting it about twice a week. After hearing that the trails in the White Mountains NRA might be in good shape, I decided to go check things out.  The plan was bike out as far as I could towards Borealis Cabin, then head back.

The trails started off good..
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Got better..

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Then started getting a bit bumpy as I reached the valley and started towards Borealis Cabin.

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There wasn’t quite enough snow to fill in the holes between tussocks, but it was ok biking, though a bit rough.   Shiloh, a new (ish – we have had him since mid March) member of the family seemed to enjoy his first long bike ride.  I have done day trips with him on skis in the 40 mile range, but those are slower than biking.  He did well, and seemed to be picking up the flow.  I am looking forward to many more adventures with him!  We got him from the pound, who picked him up as a stray, so we don’t know much about his life before us.  He has definitely had some time in harness, and he had his dew claws removed, so there was some mushing in his past, but the rest is a mystery.

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Remus is a old hand at this, and had a blast.   Not bad for a 12 year old dog!

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A bit past the turn of for Eleazar’s Cabin the snow thinned out a bit more, bring on more bumps..

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Just past Borealis the traffic dropped off on the trail a lot, and the main trail less than a quarter mile later.   There was some traffic on a slough, so I explored that for a bit, though eventually the snowmachine tracks turned around, and I headed back.   The ice on Beaver Creek was thin but passable.

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The ride back to the truck was uneventful.  The off-ice is growing fast, but was all fairly bikeable.

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As a side note, BLM put up a new sign at Borealis, and I was amused that the mileages are off by more than a normal amount.
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Lee’s Cabin is roughly 14 miles from Borealis, so the sign is about 5 miles off. Most of the signs in the whites are off by a bit, but this is more than the normal amount. I forgot to check, but sign this one replaced had the distance to the next cabin down the trail, Caribou Bluff wrong – folks traveling east would see a sign saying 10 miles before crossing Beaver Creek, then in a mile or so, see this signs predecessor saying it was 11 miles away, even though it is a mile closer to the cabin.  For tired travelers this was a bit demoralizing – going from only 10 miles to go, to finding out a mile later you still had 11 miles left!

It is pretty funny they would go to the trouble of making the sign, but not checking the distances against their own publications:
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I hope everyone is enjoying winter!