Posts Tagged ‘borealis’

A long walk under the Aurora..

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

I had been meaning to get out to Borealis cabin in the Whites this fall, hoping to get one last hiking trip before good skiing and snow biking starts, but before the Summit trail became impassible. Eventually plans formed up, and Tom and I headed down the trail a little before noon on a Friday, for what we hoped would be a nice relaxing trip. On the drive I noticed the Chatanika River had a thin crust of ice all the way across it..

Things started off wonderfully, with a fine day, with a little snow.

most of the trail only had a dusting of snow, with the higher sections having a little under 3 inches. It was nice to see snow, and it was a wonderful reminder of the winter to come. I spent a fair bit of time day dreaming of the upcoming winter on the hiking in.. snow biking, skiing, cabin trips, races – all the upcoming winter fun!

Eventually we neared the end of the Summit Trail, and at dusk we could see Big Bend and Beaver Creek.

The cabin we where heading to is on the other side of Beaver Creek, requiring a crossing that should be mid calf deep this time of year. Not a big deal, if you bring neoprene socks and some river crossing foot ware, crocs in my case. From a distance the creek looked clear of ice, but there was an ominous ring of around the edges..

We headed down to the creek and arrived at a slough just before the main river, and were surprised to see solid ice covering its surface. Alas, it was much too thin to support our weight, and so we started hunting around looking for a less ice covered crossing. Eventually we found a mostly ice free crossing point, and with the aid of a large heavy stick, smashed a way across. Remus got a lift, the lucky dog. Soon after that we reached the main river, and much to our annoyance, there the shallow crossing point had a thick ridge of ice in front of it. Crossing at the shallowest section was going to involve a lot of ice breaking. The other complication was that it was nearly dark, and it sort of looked like there was ice on the other side of the creek. It looked like any crossing would involve taking a large stick with us to smash a way to the back once we reached the other side. This was looking fairly unpleasant, so I gave a quick try heading across the ice free but deeper section, but turned around after it got a bit over my knees.

We decided that while the river was crossable, it was going to be a cold, unpleasant morning if we had to ford waist deep water, and started hiking back. It was soon dark, and we spent the next three hours hiking the winter trail back to the nearest shelter cabin to crash for the night.

It was a bit of a trudge, but we were treated to a fabulous aurora display. The northern lights were amazing, probably the best I had seen in quite a while. Alas, after the first mile or so of hiking in the dark my headlamp started flaking out. I swapped batteries, but no luck, it continued to act up. I ended up walking behind Tom using his little bubble of light. It was an interesting trek in the dark, with wonderful aurora, but tricky walking on frozen tussocks.

At one point we heard a funny noise, and as Tom scanned around with his headlamp we saw two eyes staring back at us from a ways down the trail. I flipped on my headlamp without thinking – amazingly it started working again, and the eyes got closer. Eventually a small fox stepped out of the darkness and walked straight up to us, stopping about 10 feet away. I had a bit of a panic moment, grabbing for Remus and digging out his leash in case he decided to give chase, though Remus was a bit too beat to enjoy the moment. The fox stared at us for a bit, then headed off into the brush along the trail. We had some nervous chuckles, as initially the eyes looked pretty darn big and gave us a bit of a jolt. Apparently the headlamp got a jolt too, as it stayed working until we reached the shelter cabin, where it promptly died again. Eventually we were done after 13 hours of hiking, had dinner, and crashed. The morning we hiked out, enjoying a wonderfully sunny morning and early afternoon. The hike was fast and uneventful, though there was a surprisingly large amount of ice on the trail..

There was a long section of ice in the last mile before the mile 28 trail head, which is fairly unusual. If this stays it could be a bit exciting for folks heading out, especially dog teams..

I made it back to town in time for dinner with the family, which was very nice. These late season trips are always hit or miss, sometimes too much snow, sometimes too much water, or the tussocks are not frozen enough for fun walking. I have never been “iced-out” though, so that was an eye opener. No more creek fording until late spring at the earliest! My headlamp flaking out was also a reminder that I have to start carrying a backup again. It could have been a very unpleasant experience, though fortunately it was just annoying. Live and learn!

I am really looking forward to winter now… cabin trips and other adventures with the family, skiing, biking.. Any day now!

A Summer Loop in the Whites

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

For the last several years I have being hoping to do a version of a pack rafting trip Roman Dial did in the White Mountains, floating down Beaver Creek, then hiking back to the put-in. This spring everything came together and one evening I found myself floating down Beaver Creek with Ms Marsh, Tom, Andrea, and John, on the start of the loop.

We left town late Thursday afternoon, intending to have a mellow couple of hours of floating on Beaver Creek before camping along the river. After several hours of mellow floating, we camped on a gravel bar and called it a night. Just before we all turned in a single caribou gave us a bit of a start when she splashed loudly across the river to investigate us, and took off once she determined we were not fellow lichen-eaters. There were are number of strangely colored patches on the hill across from our campsite, and on a lark I took off to go check them out. It turned out they were crape paper streamers weighted with sand on one end.

I was pretty baffled by the discovery as this spot is a bit out of the way. Perhaps they were dropped by plane to mark something, though they were lots of them and they were all over the hillside, so they would not be very effective as a marker.. If anyone knows what the deal is I would love to hear how they got there and what purpose they have (beside being litter that is).
Ms Marsh did get some fine streamer twirling in though.

The next morning we continued floating. The weather was fantastic – hot and sunny, excellent for a long mellow float.


We stopped briefly at Boreali to stretch our legs, check out the cabin, and write a note in the logbook. The thermometer on the side of the cabin agreed it was hot.

The first half of our float was on a section of river that I had been on several times before and I was quite excited to get to the section that was new to me, downriver of Borealis Cabin. This section of Beaver Creek is pretty fantastic, with wonderful views of Big Bend, a massive limestone hill that juts out into Beaver Creek.


My pictures don’t really do it justice – the scenery on this section of river is pretty wonderful.

Floating Beaver Creek with John the biologist, Amy, and Andrea was a constant lesson in bird identification. They were on constant lookout for various types of birds and always pointing out new and interesting bird sightings, and listening to bird calls.

After a full day of floating we camped on a brushy gravel bar near where we would start hiking. The good camping spots were a bit rare on in the last several miles of river we floated, with all the nice gravel bars covered in dense brush.

We spent the evening enjoying brats cooked over a campfire and finished the last of the PBR.

Our campsite had a pretty good view of the surrounding hills and it was interesting to see an area I have only been to in the winter. I have spent a hours slowly skiing this section of trail without much to do but look at the hills along the river, and so it was neat to get a different perspective. The river banks had lots of wolf prints, but surprisingly few bear prints. We saw only limited bear scat and only a few prints. I had been told this area has a fairly high concentration of bears, so I was a bit surprised by the infrequent signs of their passage.

In the morning we headed up the hill on the start of our hike. Waking up was difficult for some of us..

The first several miles of the hiking were a bit challenging as we hiked up though a section of riparian forrest that burned in 2004.

Eventually we climbed past all the burnt sticks and reached the ridgelines. The rest of the day was spent hiking up and down many small ridges as we hiked along the Limestone Jags that form the central ridge of the White Mountains. There was quite a bit of climbing and descending but the brush-free and tussock-free walking, along with the views, made it all worth while.

The massive limestone crags are spectacular.

We saw several groups of sheep hanging out on the cliff faces watching us from above. Summer is a good time to be a sheep. Alas, I expect this area is pretty harsh in the winter time.

Eventually we tired of yo-yoing up and down, and descended to the winter trail that leads from Wolf Run Cabin to the Windy Gap area. The trail had surprisingly good walking and it appeared that the only traffic the trail sees in the summer is from the wildlife.

We made wonderful time on the winter trail, zooming down the trail while checking out the wonderful views of the valley. I have skied though this area many times, but it takes on a completely different character in the summer. Many sections that were slow slogs on skis zoomed by while waking, and several sections that are very fast (one decent is a bit too fast) seemed to drag on forever while walking. We made a brief stop to gawk at Windy Arch, a natural limestone arch in the ridge face as we walked past it.

Just before the drop down Fossil Creek we traversed a long flat ridge that offers great views.

In the winter I often spent a couple of minutes enjoying the view, and the contrast between summer and winter is pretty interesting.

Eventually we descended to Fossil Creek. Several years ago I had nearly ran over a wolverine while coming down this section of trail in a snow storm. The thought of seeing a wolverine gave Ms Marsh some extra boost and powered her down the hill as she raced to be the first one though the wolverine sighting zone. John helped out, offering his professional biolologest advice on finding wolverines, including a rendition of the wolverine alarm call, which sounded suspiciously like “Help, help!”.
Eventually we reached Fossil Creek and much to our surprise, found it to be a fairly deep swift moving stream. It had enough water to make it (potentially) packraftable. After watching the giant of the group, Tom, ford the stream where the winter trail crosses and go up to his waist in fast moving water, we decided to spend a bit of time exploring possible crossing places that were hopefully not as deep and fast. We eventually found a point were it was passible and forded across.

We then pushed on to Windy Gap Cabin.

We explored the cabin for a while, checking the log book for other visitors, and relaxed in the little bubble of bug free heaven. We then camped in vicinity of the cabin, enjoying the fantastic views. In the morning we packed up and headed up a ridge leading towards Cache Mt.

For most of the morning we climbed up a series of ridges to a pass near the base of Cache Mt. A week before I noticed while looking for some satellite imagery of a wildfire nearby that the entire Cache Mountain area was still quite snow covered. So far on the trip the hiking had been pretty good and snow-free. As we reached the pass and peered over we learned that things were about to change.

The valley over the pass was still well covered with snow, and as we descended we learned the valley was flooded with freshly melted snow water, making for cold and wet hiking. Eventually we made it past the cold and splashy valley and headed down to the winter trail that connects Windy Gap and Cache Mt Cabin.

Once we reached the winter trail the hiking became much more pleasant.


This section of trail is so remote it appears to get no summer vehicle traffic, and it appeared the only users were on four legs – mainly wolves and moose from the tracks.

We also started seeing some interesting trail finds..

We followed the trail to the divide, enjoying the fast walking and the completely different experience of traveling this area in the summer. I have been on this trail on skis and by bike in the winter, in weather that ranged from tee shirt warm, to well below zero in howling winds. It was absolutely amazing to see it in the summer and it was really eye opening how different it is. There were constant reminders of the winter season here, with a huge number of tripods lying flat on the ground, and a steady stream of sled dog booties. We were not in a major hurry so we spent a bit of time righting the fallen tripods – if they stay up the trail will be a lot better marked.

Upon reaching the divide we found a very beat up trail sign marking the divide that had long ago fallen to the ground and was lost to winter travelers. We also righted a massive tripod made from old sign parts.

The divide was covered in knee high grass, but as we headed down the other side the vegetation quickly changed into a wonderful spruce forrest with large white spruce.

After several more miles of hiking along the trail we headed away from the trail and camped near O’Brian Creek. Since we had a long final day planned, we all hit the sack and made an early start. The morning started with a steep climb up though another burn, this time one from 2005.

After climbing up and down several ridges we made it to the home stretch where we could see Bear Creek, which would take us most of the way back to the parking lot. The hike down the last ridge was made a bit more exciting by a chance encounter with a moose. John had just finished telling a story about how a female moose had found him inexplicably attractive and had chased him around and around a tree until he was forced to jab her with a stick, when surprise, surprise, a small female moose appeared and expressed interest in John. Eventually we managed to drive it off with John’s honor intact and we continued to Bear Creek hiking though mixed tundra and some occasional dense brush. Eventually we encountered a small rise with what looked to be a small hunting camp and a four wheeler trail leading down to the river from it. The hunting camp had some interesting rocks…

Leading away from the camp was a ATV trail that appeared to provide pretty good brush-free walking. It was a welcome sight.

We zoomed down the trail to the river, where the trail continued on following the river. We ditched the trail, inflated our rafts, and began the short float out to Beaver Creek.

Bear Creek is a fun fast-flowing little creek that provided a wonderful way to finish the day.

It is one of the two creeks that eventually come together to create Beaver Creek, the other creek being Champion Creek. The water was moving at a pretty good clip and we zoomed along enjoying the scenery and resting our feet. Bear Creek has a massive log jam that completely blocks the river, but there is a nice dry side channel that provides wonderful walking so we portaged around the jam until we reached Champion Creek, where we put back in and floated down to the confluence of Bear and Champion Creek. After another half hour or so of floating we reached our takeout. Alas, from our takeout we had to hike a mile or so though rather large tussocks to reach Nome Creek Road and our vehicle. It was not fantastic hiking, but not truly awful either. The views were pretty nice though, with the tussocks decorated with lots of little white flowers. Unfortunately a fire near Fairbanks brought a lot of smoke late in the day, so the visibility dropped quite a bit.

Eventually we reached the car, where we loaded up and headed back to town. Everyone was back to their respective abodes by 1am, which was not too bad.

This was a wonderful trip, and well worth repeating. There is something really fun visiting a place you normally see in a different season, and it provided a wonderfully different perspective on a place I really enjoy. The White Mountains are a pretty neat place in all seasons, and I think the pack rafting potential is largely untapped – so get out and have some fun!

A big thanks to John, Andrea, Ms Marsh, and Tom for making this trip possible!

The loop was about 90 miles, with 48 miles floating on Beaver Creek, 34 miles hiking from Beaver Creek to Bear Creek, and the remaining 8 miles a mix of floating on Bear Creek, and hiking from Beaver Creek to our car.

A map:

A larger 63k scale map can be found here.

More Photos Here!

A Snow Bike Tour to Borealis-LeFevre Cabin

Monday, January 17th, 2011

..
With Nancy and the Twins off on the east coast visting Nancy’s half of the family, I found myself with a weekend free. I had planned on a two night trip, but bailed on the first night due to the weather. On the second night Ms Marsh and I headed out to Borealis-LeFevre for a quick overnighter.

The trip was largely uneventful, though a bit cold. It is roughly 20 miles one way and the trail was in great shaping with very fast biking conditions. Alas, Ms Marsh on skis had a harder time, as the snow was cold and slow. Borealis-LeFevre cabin was its normal welcoming self, and once we got the fire going warmed up nicely.

Marsh and I spent the evening talking and generally lazing about in the warm of the cabin. The next day we headed out back to the trail head. The thermometer on the bike had a very pessimistic view on the weather.. though I think it might have been off by a bit.

The light this time of the year is fantastic, with lots of low angle sun lighting the hills up in a beautiful warm golden glow.

Hope everyone is enjoying the snow!

More photos, for the picture inclined:

A Bike Trip to Borealis-LeFevre Cabin

The White Mountains Loop

Friday, February 19th, 2010

On a sunny and warm Sunday morning, Ms Marsh, Tom, and I set off to do a leisurely ski of the White Mountains 100 course. Our plan was to ski the first day to Crowberry Cabin, then on to Windy Gap cabin, then out. This would make for two fairly mellow days and one longish day, approximately 26 miles, 34 miles, then a 40 mile day – all very doable. I was really looking forward to the section from Cache Mountain Cabin to Windy Gap Cabin, as I have never traveled this area before and was told it was quite beautiful. The other factor is that I would probably end up doing this section in the dark and would like to have some idea about the trail before attempting to blast though it at high speed by headlamp.

The first day started quite pleasantly, with a fast trail and wonderfully sunny and warm weather.

It was a bit too hot for Remus, alas. He is really only happy in sub 0f weather.

We zoomed down the trail and eventually stopped for a bite to eat at Moose Creek cabin. We passed two snowmachiners on the trail and a solo skier, but other wise we had the trail to our selves. The trail was super smooth and fast and made for fantastic skiing.

Once past Moose Creek cabin the trail climbs up a ridge and winds though a several year old burn and offered us fantastic views.

We reached Crowberry after a little under 7 hours of skiing which included a fair bit of stopping and goofing off. This was my first trip to the new Crowberry cabin. Its a new design without a loft, but it is quite spacious and has tons of room. We had a fantasic evening reading varous magizines including a road bike racing magazine that seemed quite out of place. Tom amused us by reading excerpts from a snow machining pamphlet, which espoused the many virtues of snowmaching (creating world peace and curing cancer, for example).

After a huge dinner we hustled off to bed, eagerly awaiting the alarm summing us to a early start the next morning (some of us anyway).
The next day turned out to be equally warm and sunny, and after a breakfast of pancakes and bacon we where off. The trail out of the cabin was a continuous drop all the way to Beaver Creek. Tom added a bit more “drop” and had a tremendous crash on one of the downhills that did in one of this bindings. Tom then had the distinct pleasure of skiing the rest of the trip with one floppy loose binding.
The trail got progressively rougher as we headed to Cache Mt Cabin, with lots of exposed tussocks. These sections where fairly short though and most of the skiing was quite good.

We encountered our first bit of overflow shortly after crossing Beaver Creek. It was short and dry though, and was quite fast and fun to ski though. I was using my skinny racing style skis, and don’t get too much edging power on overflow, and so have to be careful. If only someone made stiff, narrow, metal edged (or partial metal edged) skis..

We reached Cache Mt Cabin and stopped in to read the log book and have bite to eat. Several years ago I left a book here as a joke, ‘Develop Your Psychic Abilities‘ and it was still here. Strangely, a another book I had left in the cabin as a joke, “The Instant Divorce”, was gone – go figure.
Past Cache Mt Cabin the overflow got a bit more intense, but was still quite passable.

We were now on a section of the trail that I had never skiied, and I was enjoying exploring the area. This section of trail climbs for 12 miles or so, then comes over Cache Mt Divide, and drops down to Windy Gap. The trail up into the divide offered great views and was not particularly steep until the final sections.

The divide was quite scenic and had wonderful views of the surrounding ridges.

I could have spent days exploring this area, but alas we had still had 14 miles or so to go before we reached the cabin, so we didn’t stop very long.

The trail away from the divide was fast and fun – just steep enough for some high speed skiing but not so steep as to be uncontrollable. We reached soon reached the section of trail called the “ice lakes”, where the trail disappears in small valley with wall to wall ice.

A warning to racers in the upcoming White Mountains 100 race – this section was the only section of the trail that was a bit scary for me. I skied most of it, and was out of control for a good portion of the time. The ice has a slight slant to it, and where it is slushy it is very easy to ski under control. Where the ice is hard though, it is very difficult to slow down. Twice I ended up plowing into alders at high speed when I could not slow down. I would treat this section with caution and ovoid the temptation to bomb it, unless you have skis with metal edges.

Tom and Ms Marsh put on stylish bags and yak-traks on their feet and walked this section.

After leaving the ice lakes, the most fun of trail begin (at least for me) – the trail gradually drops down to Windy Gap, winding though big trees and going over a endless series of woop-a-doos. This made for a very fun 9 miles or so of double poling. Eventually we reached Windy Gap Cabin and crashed for the night. The next morning we headed out, and started out with a long section of ice. I skied this section while Tom and Marsh walked it. The skiing was fun and super fast.

The next 10 miles of trail winded though large trees and crosses Fossil Creek numerous times. The first 5 miles or so was a fun roller coaster with lots of small rolling ups and downs which made for fun and fast skiing.

There were a couple of sections of brief overflow. These were pretty hard frozen and dry making for fun skiing. These sections could be a bit tricky during the race when I am sleep deprived.

The ridges in this area are fantastically beautiful.



This section included one of the more interesting trail finds I have encountered – there was a partially eaten wolf or long legged dog carcass on the side of the trail.

Sections of this trail had a huge number of wolf prints – it appeared a small pack of wolves had followed a creek down to the trail then followed the trail up to the windy gap area. There was a couple of bird kills marked by a large cloud of feather so it looked like the wolves were having fairly good hunting.
Eventually we broke out of the thick forest and into a old burn and soon we were past Caraboo Bluff cabin and on the hilly descent to Borealis Cabin.

Shortly after Borealis-LeFevre Cabin we ran into the BLM trail groomers on their way out to Wolf Run cabin, then to Windy Gap Cabin and out. They left the trail wonderfully smooth and fast.

It was getting a bit late, so we pushed on to the trail shelter, had dinner, and then headed out to the parking lot.

When I reached the parking lot I was greeted by a bunch of Japanese visitors waiting in the parking lot for aurora to photograph. Tom and I made it to the truck first, and waited a while for Ms Marsh to arrive. We had a number of false alarms when we thought we had seen Marsh’s head lamp, only to find it was the aurora watchers taking pictures of things with super bright flashes. Things like the trail signs, trees, the ground, and a pile of straw… there was no aurora to be seen, so perhaps they were making the best of things.

All in all it was a quite fun three days and we got to ski the entire course. Skiing the course is highly recommended for racers – there is no place where anyone with any direction sense could get lost, but there are a few sections were you have to be careful due to ice lakes, overflow, steep descents, and other tricky bits, and its good to get a feel for it before attempting it in a sleep deprived hase.

A Borealis-Lefauve Day Ski

Monday, December 14th, 2009

I had plans to do a overnighter at Borealis Lefauve Cabin in the White Moutains NRA last weekend but alas the folks who where coming all bailed due to other commitments. Since I had the cabin, I decided to do a day ski out there instead, with a stop at the cabin to warm up and relax. This turned out to be a wonderful way to spend a Saturday. The Whites were completely empty and I had the trail all to my self. Its always hard to predict how busy the whites are – I would have expected that it would be quite busy, as it was a fairly warm (+10f to -10f depending on how low or high one is ) calm day with clear skies. Perhaps the low snowfall is keeping the snowmachiners home.. In anycase, it was a great ski. The Wickersham Creek Trail is in great shape for skiing, though the snow was pretty abrasive and hard on wax. The normal overflow spots had a fair bit of overflow, fortunately it was the dry and hard. The 40 miles took me about 4 hours going in, and 5 hours going out, alas not particularly fast. I am afraid I am going to have to work a bit on my nutrition on these longer skis, as I was a bit energy deprived for the last couple of miles, but it all worked out and I arrived at the parking lot relatively intact.

Pictures follow, for the photo viewing inclined. We are now in the time of the year where the photos mainly consist of sunrise and sunset photos, due to the fact it is either dark or the sun is rising or setting. Which is all good, but it limits the picture taking a bit.

The sunrise, shortly after I left the parking lot, complete with a early morning raven.

A wee bit of overflow.

The overflow had fantastic ice crystal formations in all kinds of strange shapes.

The thermometer at the Trail Shelter half to the turnaround point said it was a balmy -10f.

Even more overflow.

The final bit of overflow.