Posts Tagged ‘hiking’

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..

Nabesna To McCarthy

Sunday, July 17th, 2016

A long time ago, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, gold miners hauled supplies from McCarthy to Chisana and Nabesna. I have always wanted to visit the area, and when Heath suggested hiking and packrafting it, I jumped at the oppotunity! The “original” route folks used went from McCarthy to Chisana and the Nabesna/Slana area, but we planned to reverse the route so we could float a bit. The route has a pretty storied history – it was a wilderness classic route in the late 80s, and folks have even taken bikes on it. I was beyond excited for this trip! Another major bonus was that Heath did all the planning, making this the first trip in a long time I didn’t need to think about all that much – hurrah!

We headed out of town midday for the 5 hour drive to Nabesna. Nabesna is on the end of a 40 mile dirt road, and the trip got off to a bit of a rough start when, after passing a couple of small wash-outs on we came to a much deeper one – one that I wasn’t brave enough to drive across. It was a beautiful blue sky day, but apparently it had been raining earlier. We parked the truck safe from the water coming down the wash-out, and after checking out the nearby Jack River, decided to start the float a bit early.

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The Jack was near bank-full, and had enough water to be fun, but not too exciting. Besides a bit of wood, the floating was fun. We eventually camped at 11pm or so, a few miles short of our planned put-in spot. In the morning we awoke to clear skies and continued floating, eventually reaching the Nabesna River. The Jack was very scenic, and had a wonderful rock wall section that was pretty amazing. Alas, the water had a lot of sediment in it, and wasn’t clear, but still a fun float. The Nabesna was huge, much bigger than I expected. There were a few big boils and eddy lines that while no big deal, still got my heart racing. On the upside, the water was moving fast, averaging almost 10 mph (I think), and we quickly reached our take-out, near Cooper Creek.

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The wash plain of the Nabesna was super wide here, and while we were on the bank of the river, Cooper Creek was still over a half mile away – it is pretty amazing how wide the floodplain is for these large glacial rivers. As we were transitioning from floating to hiking mode I noticed a small plane parked in the distance. The pilot noticed us, and walked over to talk. After a brief conversation shouted over a side channel of the river, we discovered he worked for NPS, and had flown some rangers out to retrieve some equipment, and they were using packrafts. Hmm, perhaps we had packed up the boats too early. We headed out only to discover the rangers were using the boats to float a side channel of the Nabesna that ran right near the far side of the floodplain, and quickly determined it was too deep to ford… and out came the boats again.

Eventually we made it across, and started heading up Cooper Creek. The walking was fantastic, though a bit cobbly. A mile or so up the creek we ran into a porcupine, which appeared to really want to cross the creek, but didn’t want to get wet.

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We watched it a bit, as it slowly walked down the creek, checking occasionally to see if the creek had gone away yet or not. Not the brightest creatures. We also saw a small black bear, but managed to skirt around it without it noticing us. The rest of the day we hiked up Cooper Creek, bouncing from bank to bank, and eventually camped near the confluence of nine mile creek.

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Heath had brought a little wood burning stove, which we had fun using. It was a bit slower than a traditional setup, but the ideal of unlimited hot water was pretty tempting..

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In the morning we kept heading up the creek, and I was excited to find my first artifact – hurrah!

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I love bits of history that show how places have been used historically and currently. Finding “rusty bits” became a running joke for the rest of the trip.

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Eventually we topped out at a little pass, hitting Blue Lake, a wonderful little lake that would have been an awesome camping site, but alas, we had to get the mileage on.

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We headed over Cooper Pass, and down to Notch Creek, where I found an old collapsed cabin filled with more rusty bits. Notch Creek was pretty shallow, bumpy, and steep, so we walked down it, enjoying more fine cobble walking. Much to my surprise, I saw a set of fat bike tires on the creek bed – it appeared there were some bikers ahead of us!

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We camped near William Creek, hoping to float in the morning. We camped right next to a small clear stream. I enjoyed an experimental dinner of ramen noodles, dried coconut milk, peanut sauce, and coconut oil. Heath was a bit skeptical – “That is a lot of coconut oil.” was his take on it. I fell asleep to the sound of the water… only to be woken up when my pad deflated at 2am. Morning came two more rounds of inflation later, and my stomach was not happy. Apparently, while dinner was delicious, it did in fact have too much oil in it. I packed up camp and inflated my boat while trying not to be sick. The floating was fun, when Notch Creek had enough water. It bounced between wide braids and a single channel. When it was floatable, it was super fast and fun. Eventually we reached Cross Creek, where everything spread out and got too shallow, so we packed up our boats and headed off for the overland crossing to Chisana. Alas, I discovered that I was so distracted by not getting sick I had left my camera in a pouch on my pack, and it had gotten wet, and much to my disappointment, didn’t want to take photos – sadness! We forded Cross Creek, and headed overland to Chisana. We quickly found a marked trail, and were surprised to see horse prints – apparently folks use pack horses in this area – and we followed the horse trail over to the Chisana River. Alas, the Chisana river was too deep to ford, and so we inflated again, and floated across, then hiked over to Chisana. After hiking seemingly forever across the floodplain, we ran into a small pack of horses who seemed pretty scared of us, and who quickly ran off into the trees. We followed them, finding an ATV trail, that led us to a big complex, where the horses were waiting for us. They couldn’t seem to decide if we were something to be interested in, or scared of, so we carefully headed around them, and walked into town. We had discussed crashing at the public use cabin in Chisana, but we found it occupied by a couple touring Alaska by plane, so we headed out. After several false starts we found the trail heading out of town, eventually passing a clear(ish) stream near town that Heath said would be fantastic camping. I pressed to keep going, as there was another stream, Geohenda Creek, that was only a few miles away. Heath was very unamused to find Geohenda was thick with mud and far from the perfect campsite. We setup camp just as a huge thunderstorm passed by, just getting tents up before the deluge. The rain stopped fast though, and a bit of searching found some clear water, and soon we had dinner cooking, and enjoyed a nice bonfire on a dry channel of the creek. The next day we hiked up the creek, enjoying yet more cobbles and many muddy crossings of Geohenda. Gradually the water level dropped as we headed up into the higher country, and eventually we passed the source of the mud, a tiny creek coming in from a glacier. The country up high was beautiful, and very, very scenic. Our destination for the evening was Solo Mt. Cabin, a small historic cabin near Solo Mountain. A mile or so before the cabin we passed a huge grizzly munching away on the hillside, and I was very happy to reach the cabin just as a rainstorm arrived. I was a bit surprised to see shape the cabin was in – it is obvious at some point the NPS spent some time fixing it up – it looked like the foundation had been replaced, but having the door held shut by baling wire seemed a bit sad. We hung out in the cabin, and after collecting a bunch of dry alder from a nearby creek bed, we enjoyed a nice warm evening with the rain intermittently ringing off the roof. I had a great time reading the “log book” graffiti on the cabin walls, which was sort of a who’s who of all the crazy endurance folks and adventures in Alaska.

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The morning came, and with it sunshine, and my camera was sort of working after an evening of sitting next to the fire – hurrah! Alas, sort of working meant that while it took pictures, the display wasn’t working, so it was hard to frame photos.

We hiked across to the wash plain of the White River, and were surprised to see trail markers, leading to a pretty well used winter and horse trail, that eventually turned into an ATV trail that appeared to head to a cabin complex on Solo Creek. We turned off the ATV trail onto an old game trail, as it was heading in the wrong direction, only to find an even bigger one headed in just the right direction. Just as we reached Lime Creek we saw a large herd of horses grazing on the floodplain. I really felt like I had stepped into the old west. Lime Creek was a bit too big to ford though, so we had to inflate to cross it. Once across we hiked a few more miles, then camped. Heath declared it the perfect campsite, with yellow flowers on one side, and purple on the other.

In the morning we headed up into Skolai pass, skirting the Russell Glacier, and slowly working over to upper Skolai Lake.

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It was fantastically scenic. We worked our way across and over to Skolai Lake, eventually
camping near the headwaters of Skolai Creek. The valley the creek originates from is a neat place, wide and marshy, with lots of standing dead willow.

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In some willows I found a round ball of grass, which turned out to be a birds nest of some sort – very neat..

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I spent an hour or so exploring the valley, and checked out the “cabin” marked on the map, which was more of a three-sided shack.

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In the morning we headed up to Chitistone Pass, where it was a near complete white-out.

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We also ran into the first people we had seen since Chisana, two hikers wandering around in the rain and mist near their tent who refused to return our waves – a bit creepy. Fortunately, we dropped out of the mist, and enjoyed some fantastic walking along the Chitistone River. We eventually saw another party ahead of us, and shortly after that startled a little brown bear who headed off at high speed. We eventually overtook the party, and learned it was Nate and Krista who are also from Fairbanks, and much to my surprise – Krista works with my wife Nancy, and knows my daughters Molly and Lizzy. It is a very small world. Soon we were at the crux of the trip – the legendary scree of the goat trail!

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(Heath, checking out the goat trail..)

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I had been told everything from it was a fairly tame walk across a scree slope, to it was a scary walk along a rock wall above a huge drop, separated by the “gorge of death”. It turned out to be a mostly tame scree walk. I think it could have been possible to fall to your doom, but mostly I think you would have just rolled to a stop before any doom, with lots of bruises and scrapes. I didn’t test this idea though..

We stuck to the “yellow band”, as most folks seem to recommend, and came out without any issues.

Skolai, hole, to Nazina 306
(Photo compliments of Krista Heeringa)

Skolai, hole, to Nazina 304
(Photo compliments of Krista Heeringa)
Skolai, hole, to Nazina 235
(Photo compliments of Krista Heeringa)

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Nate and Krista took a completely different route, going quite a bit higher than us, so perhaps we did it wrong. Regardless, it was a super scenic walk, with waterfalls everywhere! After the scree slopes it was just mellow downhill alpine walking, complete with a huge herd of sheep grazing on the hillside in the last valley we passed.

In the evening we camped on a nice bluff, in sight of a glacier and Chitistone Falls – best campsite ever!

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In the morning we hiked down to the Chitistone, inflated and crossed the creek when we found we couldn’t get across, and started hiking downriver.

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The hiking was mostly pretty fantastic, besides a mile or so of willow thickets that Heath just breezed though, and I had to smash though like a ogre, getting constantly stuck. Very helpful for my self-image…
We eventually made it to Glacier Creek, where we planned to float. The weather had been very warm, and the Chitistone was now running very fast and a bit high, so we put in with a bit of trepidation, but it worked out – the creek was fun, splashy, and fast. After a hour or so we pulled out and camped, as at this rate we would be at the final takeout before we knew it. The evening was spent mellowing out and exploring the Chitistones floodplain.

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In the evening we were buzzed by a Supercub. Later we learned someone in a wing-suit had flown over us, and had been picked up by the plane. In the morning we packed up and floated the last of the Chitistone, taking a side channel around a new section of river where the river is chewing into a forest. We floated the Nizna to May Creek road, where we packed up and hiked into town.

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Fortunately the really long and boring road hike was shortened when we hitched a ride with Greg from Kennicott Guides on a double-wide ATV.

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McCarthy was as charming as ever, with folks stopping to talk to us nearly constantly. The upcoming packrafting festival appeared to be the talk of the town. Heath and I grabbed lunch, then caught a slightly earlier flight back with McCarthy Air to Devil’s Mountain lodge.
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We jogged back to the truck, and Heath joked that with my very holey shirt, it looked like I was “A homeless guy chasing a yuppie.” After nearly 6 miles of running, we made it to the truck, drove back to get our stuff, then headed back to Fairbanks – hurrah!

A couple of notes:

  • Don’t use Thermarest with stupid patches. My pad kept deflating, and I was up to two inflations a night before I taped over the patch with duck tape.
  • This route has lots of tricky water crossings. Folks thinking of replicating it should make sure they are ok with big-ish stream crossing, and budget extra time in case some of the creeks (like flood creek, or lime creek) are running high.
  • The Chitistone was flowing pretty big when we did it, and above Glacier Creek it looks pretty burly – lots of water moving fast. Below Glacier Creek it was class II with a few big obstacles, and near the Nizana, lots of wood. Very manageable though. Some bikers from Spain flipped someplace in the Chitistone, and one of them lost his gear, making the last few days of their trip pretty epic.
  • There are several re-supply options – the solo creek runway, skolei runway, and Chisana. I was told by McCarthy air that if they had other flights going that way, a small drop bag would be $100, which seems like a fairly good deal.
  • I should have brought a fair bit more food – I lost around 6lbs on this trip.
  • At the last minute, I brought a dry suit. That was, I think, a good call, but added a few pounds of extra weight. YMMV.
  • I am done with non-waterproof packs for packrafting. I have an old Arcteryx pack, that while nearly 4lbs empty, is completely waterproof. Alas, the hip belt is coming off, and the suspension sucks, so I replaced it with a big osprey pack. I was happy with the pack, but wasn’t happy with how much water it sucked up, all the extra zippers it had, and how many dry bags I brought with me. A pack made of some sort of waterproof material is on my list. It looks like mt hardware makes several, as does HMG. Alas, HMG’s packs are not as big as I would like. To bad all the newer arcteryx packs have so many gizmos – the one I have from them is a very simple affair, just a big single compartment body and a top lid.
  • I really love my Inreach – it was fantastic to txt Nancy and the twins at the end of the day and check in with them, and kept me feeling connected with them. Alas, the last day I swapped out the batteries, and didn’t notice the shell wasn’t completely dry, and got water in it.. and it stopped working. Duh! Hopefully it will come back to life.
  • Smart phones are now a nearly complete gps replacement – Heath did all his gps stuff using his phone, and it seemed to work very well. I brought a standard garmin etrex 30, which worked fine, but occasionally fired up Backcountry Navigator. Andrew Skurka has a discussion of the various options that is worth reading. On the flight back I noticed that the pilot used an android tablet running a mapping app rather than the specialized garmin aircraft nav widget I am used to seeing. The end of the stand alone gps?
  • I should have brought a better system for quick and easy access water, and some electrolyte drink mix. I was dehydrated a lot of the trip.
  • I sunburned my lips (!!) something I wasn’t even aware was possible. Next time I will bring some lip balm with sunscreen.
  • Heath found the birding to be awesome, with lots and lots of different species. Adding a few days just to birdwatch might be a good idea, if you are a birding sort of person.
  • Trust the Maps – I was getting pretty antsy near the end, as a write up I read said it was 35 miles from Skolia landing strip to Glacier Creek, and was thinking we didn’t have enough time for that. It turned out to be much less than that, more like 20. I should have mellowed out and trusted the maps – sorry Heath!
  • I can’t think of anything else at the moment.. will add anything else that comes to mind later.

I would like to thank Nancy and the twins for allowing me to disappear for 10 days, and Heath for doing all of the planning for this trip. Normally it is my job to do a lot of the trip planning, it was awesome to have someone else do that – hurrah!

Heath’s writeup can be found here, and is filled with truly awesome photos.

A interactive map of our route can be found here.

A few more photos can be found here:
Nabesna to McCarthy

Hutlinana

Monday, October 19th, 2015

Several years ago Tom and I visited Hutlinana hotsprings, only to find the springs washed out and no hot water. I had been hoping to go back, and with a free Sunday and Monday, and Nancy’s permission, we headed out to check it out. The drive out was slow, due to the unusual freezing rainfall we had been having lately, but uneventful. The hike in was fantastic, and we arrived to a wonderfully not washed out hot springs, and enjoyed a night of soaking and mellowing out around a campfire – hurrah!

The dogs had a blast hiking in, and sleeping in my tent.

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DSC01885They were very envious of Tom’s salmon strips, but alas he didn’t share. DSC01846

The hot springs was a fantastic temperature, perfect for soaking.

In the evening when we are all soaked out we enjoyed mellowing out around the campfire. I also played with taking slow shutter pictures.. DSC01922

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The steripen turned out to be pretty fun to photograph.. DSC01899

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The hike out was very fast, though a bit icey… DSC01925

.. And the drive home was a bit faster, but still slow.

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A Post Script – for folks looking for the “correct” entrance, take the pull off just before the blue “Adopt A Highway” sign, on the Fairbanks side of the bridge. Follow the atv trail to the river, cross the river, then look around for a big and well defined atv trail. That that upstream, and follow it to the hotsprings.

Winter..

Saturday, November 9th, 2013

After a fantastically long fall, winter has finally arrived here in Interior Alaska. Ms Marsh and I left Fairbanks for a quick overnighter at Eleazar’s cabin in the BLM White Mountains NRA.

We left a bit late, and got on the trail sometime after 2pm, and it was soon dark. I was surprised by all the snow, perhaps skis would have been a better choice..

Regardless, it was a fun hike, and Marsh and I enjoyed an evening mellowing out in Eleazar’s. The next morning we awoke to a bit of wind, and a bit more snow. The hike out was as fun as the hike in, but with a bit more daylight.

It was simple and easy overnighter, and got me thinking about winter adventures of all sorts. Thanks for the motivation for this trip Marsh! This winter is going to be fantastic!

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!

Anaktuvuk to Nolan..

Monday, August 20th, 2012

Several years ago Ms Marsh, Tom, and I did a wonderful trip out that started at the village of Anaktuvuk Pass, and headed down the John River. I had been thinking for a while about getting back in that neighborhood, and eventually the chance came. This time the plan was to head east out of Anaktuvuk, up the Anaktuvuk River, over to Ernie Pass and down Ernie Creek to the North Fork of the Koyokuk, and out to Nolan via Delay Pass. It looked like a fantastic route, and I was pumped to be back in that area! Folks with A.D.D. or are otherwise reading challenged can see a video highlight real here.

We arrived at Anaktuvuk, and after wandering around for a bit, and checking in on a friend of Ms Marsh’s, headed out of town.

We caught a ARGO trail leading to the Anaktuvuk River, and started hiking. The walking out of Anaktuvuk was wonderful, with great views, and we made good time, even with lots of stops to check out the sights.

I had a blast looking around for signs of how the locals use this area, exploring the antler piles, the hunting blinds, and the fire rings.

We camped the first night where a small stream dumped into the Anaktuvik River, and in the evening explored the canyon where the stream came from.

The next day we hiked up to Ernie Pass, and over the continental divide, following Ernie Creek.

Just before the divide we found an old broken up snow machine sled.

It’s hard to imagine what it would be like here in mid winter – probably amazingly cold and windy, with no cover. Right on the divide we were surprised to find a beach ball with a zip lock bag of maps and notes held down by a rock.

After we got back into town we discovered it was package airdropped for a swiss scouting club that was never retrieved.. It was a small package, but a bit of a bummer it was left behind… litter being what it is. Once over the pass we followed Ernie Creek down.

The canyon Ernie Creek flows through is surprisingly deep, so we stayed high up on the ridge.

We had hopes of floating Ernie Creek, but ended up just walking, as it didn’t have a lot of water in it, and the gradient was fairly steep. It would have been possible, but there would have been some dragging and a bit more excitement than were looking for at the moment. In a couple of spots it looked pretty hairy, with lots of large rocks with tight places. The walking was pretty fantastic, so we didn’t mind much.

The views were top notch, as Ernie Creek winds down between the peaks.

Eventually we reached the North Fork of the Koyokuk, and hopped into the boats.

The floating was pretty nice, though there was a fair bit of wood dodging required initially. Eventually we reached the confluence with Ernie Creek, and the water volume went up a lot, and the wood dropped off.

The area was amazingly scenic, as we floated down between the gates of the arctic, Boreal Mountain and Frigid Crags.

In the middle of the day, as we rounded a corner we started to smell smoke, and then bumped into a couple with an Ally Pack canoe camped on shore. We talked to them for a moment as the current carried us by, surprised to see anyone. Later in the day we bumped into them again, and it turns out they had emailed me the previous summer looking for advice on trips in the arctic. They are were up from Tennessee, spending part of the summer exploring Alaska, and were floating down to Bettles. It seemed like they were having a great time.

It is a very small world.. We saw them several other times that day, before they called it a day and camped. We only encountered one rapid of any note on the North Fork near Cladonia Creek. We scouted it, but it was fairly mellow and easy to navigate. We spent several days on the Koyokuk, enjoying the fast moving water and nice weather. The second day we camped on the confluence of the Tinayguk River. Tom and I messed around looking for cultural artifacts – I had been told there was the remains of a cabin near the confluence, but we didn’t find any. We did see lots of animals though, and were given quite a shock when a large owl swooped overhead while we smashed though the brush. Tom also spent some time sorting and counting his snacks, and was happy that he was not going to starve to death.

The final day on the river we floated until about mid morning, then took out and started hiking inland, planning on hitting the winter trail to Nolan.

Most of the hiking was pretty good, though there was some tussock hammering.

Eventually we reached Glacier Creek, where we crossed and started walking upstream. We started seeing more signs of civilization..

We ended up camping near an old abandoned runway. It was a beautiful calm night, and very peaceful. Alas, in the middle of the night we were hit by a massive wind gust that flattened both our tents, followed by a heavy downpour. I ended up having to get out and re-stake the tent while getting dumped on – all my own fault for not setting up my tent with firmer anchors. The next day it rained on and off, as we hiked up the stream, and over to Nolan on the winter trail.

The hiking was a mix of wonderful walking, and huge tussocks with waist deep holes around them – less than wonderful hiking. We eventually left the winter trail where it crossed a massive tussock field and headed up a ridge, leading to some wonderful hiking, and we managed to skirt most of the rest of the tussock fields.

A few more miles wet walking on the winter trail and we arrived at Tom’s car, parked near Nolan, where we gleefully dove into the bags of snacks and clean (and dry!) clothing.

Soon we were zooming back to Fairbanks, enjoying the heat and dryness of the car after a long wet day in the rain. Thanks to Tom and Ms Marsh for a wonderful trip, and of course a huge thank you to Nancy and the twins for allowing me the time. It was great fun, and a fantastic adventure!

Anaktuvuk Pass to Nolan, Fall 2012. from JayC on Vimeo.

(For the full HD monstrosity click here. )

Maps and more photos can be found here:

East Fork of the Jack hike and float

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

Last fall Ed the packrafting God of the Interior told me about a trip he had done on the East fork of the Jack river, giving it a “5 stars!” rating. I had been thinking about doing a trip in that area, as it is supposed to be very scenic, and fairly accessible without a long shuttle. Tom, Ms Marsh, and I headed out of town early Saturday morning, and in late morning we were heading up a valley heading into the headwaters of the East fork of the Jack river.

The weather treated us well on the first day, though there was a brief hail storm, and late in the afternoon several thunder storms rolled by.

The hiking was fantastic..

Though things got a big harder once we headed over the pass, with a fair bit of side hilling.

Eventually we made it down from the pass and started heading down into the Jack.

We had been told there was a wonderful game trail the swapped sides of the creek but was wonderful walking. It turned out that the creek had a bit too much water in it for easy crossing.

The game trail was nice super highway for the sections we could follow it.

Eventually we decided the creek looked floatable enough to make it worth inflating the packrafts for, and made camp with plans to start floating in the morning. Morning came a bit earlier than some would have liked..

The floating on the jack was fast and fun. The creek was near bank full with all the runoff and the water was moving fast. Alas, there were not a lot of places to eddy out, so there was not a lot of time spent out of the boat.

Eventually we reached the main fork of the Jack. The water sped up a bit more, and the volume increased a fair bit.

There is a small canyon with a brief bit of (allegedly) class III-is water. Just as we were eddying out to go check on the canyon, one of us dumped and floated up to the rest of the group, requiring a throw bag rescue. It was decided that given the fast, high water it might be a good idea to just portage the canyon, so around we went. Fortunately, there was a fast hiking ATV trail that made for fast walking. This ATV trail could be picked up from the Denali Highway, and could be used to make this trip into a day trip, or to cut out the less exciting floating near the end (more later).

The rest of the float went by very fast. Once past the canyon things flattened out a lot, but the water remained fast. The last 20 minutes or so of floating had lots of fast moving water with lots of wood – not really all that fun, and we had to be on our toes to make sure we didn’t end up with some sweeper or snag related trama. We made to to our take out, and while Tom and Ms Marsh headed off to get some dinner I jumped on the bike and headed off to fetch the truck. I enjoyed a mellow 12 mile ride back to the truck. Biking that short section of the Denali Highway got me back into the mood to bike tour that road again.. Soon I was back at the truck, loaded up, retrieved Tom and Ms Marsh, and headed back to Fairbanks.

Five stars, indeed – this trip was fantastic and highly recommended. We did it during peak snowmelt driven water levels, so the floating was pretty fast, but I expect durring a more normal time of year the water would be a bit mellower. The hiking was great, the views spectacular, and the floating fun.

If I was to do this trip again I would probably take out after the canyon and hike out to the denali highway on the ATV trails, or take out as early as possible near Cantwell, as the last bit was the only bummer. Lots of cotton wood (Balsam Poplar) in the water, and not much to see, making all the wood dodging not all that rewarding. We took out where the old Parks Highway bridge used to be, but further upstream should be possible and a good idea.

This trip involves traveling a lot of land owned by AHTNA and requires a permit.


More mapping action here. and a GPX file here.

A Fall trip to Tolovana Hotsprings

Monday, October 10th, 2011

Last year our family and some friends made a wonderfully fun trip to Tolovana Hotsprings. We had so much fun we decided to do it again, and this time the twins were old enough to (hopefully) walk the whole way under their own power – hurrah!

On a fine October morning our family headed out of town, after hitting the coffee shack for some morning wake up magic. We were followed by Anna and Ned. After a longish drive we arrived at the trailhead and eventually started ambling down the trail.

The pace was fast for little legs, requiring frequent snacking..

After a while the twins ended up with suspiciously snack covered faces.

The trail in to Tolovana is about 10 miles or so. It was in great shape for the most part, but there were a couple of sections requiring some puddle dodging.

The ice covered puddles gave the little people loads of entertainment.. Molly even found a dinosaur..

The ice dino was carried for a quarter of a mile before being left in a comfortable (and I was told, tasty!) field of grass.

The hike in was filled with games of various sorts including I Spy and variations on the Dora the Explorer troll game, where a grumpy troll asks three questions of the various hikers.

I introduced the twins to this game and they have found it so exciting I no longer get to play the troll and ask questions of them, but instead they ask questions of me. Easy questions like how much is 50 plus 50, and harder ones like how many trees are there in Alaska, and how many roots does that tree have.

It was a wonderfully warm (for early October) day on our hike in, with beautiful fall colors. Our slowish (for long legs) pace gave me time to enjoy the scenery.

We had all three dogs with us. The younger dog, Remus, was very excited to be out hiking, and spent the entire hike bouncing around joyfully.

The other two dogs, being older and more dignified, followed along in a more stately manner and enjoyed the slower pace of the short legged hikers. Sometimes they kept the girls company and provided a ready (though quiet) audience.

Togiak and Polar are 14, give or take a bit, and their adventuring days are numbered.

Eventually we reached the high point of the trail, near Tolovana Dome. There was much rejoicing..

The views were fantastic.

After the dome we started hiking down the final hill to the hotsprings. The little people started dragging a bit, and to motivate everyone, personalized bear bread (also called shelf or conk fungas) were made for each of the little hikers. Everyone was very proud of their fungi.

Eventually we arrived at the hotsprings, and after a short stop in our cabin we headed off to enjoy the hot water. Eventually we pried ourselves away from the water and had dinner. The twins and Anna appeared to eat about their body weight, and I started to worry they might explode.

Late in the evening our friends Tom and Ms Marsh arrived and joined us for a quiet after kid-bed-time soak.

The next day was spent goofing off and enjoying the hotsprings. I lolled around being slothful, while the twins and Anna alternated between having fun in the hot water and playing.


In the evening we ate more and entertained ourselves in various manners. At one point Molly covered Tom’s mouth with duct-tape, after arguing with him for at least half an hour about how it would not hurt to pull the tape off. Tom insisted that it would hurt, and only gave in once Molly demonstrated repeatedly that she could pull the tape of her face and not have it hurt. It did lead to a moment of silence as Tom was muffled.

Tom and Ms Marsh apparently didn’t get enough exercise on the way in, and used the three girls as leg curl machines. Molly and Lizzy were a bit put out that Tom couldn’t move them up and down quite as fast as Ms Marsh could move Anna. The twins were nonplused by Tom’s defense that there were two of them vs only one Anna.

I amused myself exploring the hotsprings area, catching up with Tom and Marsh, and taking pictures. Apparently I took a few too many pictures of the little people, as they started making faces whenever the camera came out…

After the twins hit the sack i got a nice long soak in the wonderful evening, enjoying the quiet and the stars. Alas, as I was walking back to the cabin I noticed that the wind had started blowing fairly hard. As i drifted off to sleep that evening I could hear the wind howling over the trees as a brisk wind developed.. Ah well, Tolovana wouldn’t be complete without a good wind!

The next day the twins, Anna, and Nancy started hiking out early, while Ned and I finished the final pack-up chores and gave the cabin a final cleaning before leaving to catch up. The morning sun on the hillside above the hotsprings was beautiful.

On the way out I stopped and chatted with Tom and Marsh. They planned to leave in the afternoon and would pass us on the trail, powered by their longer legs. The hike out was a bit windy and frosty, but not unpleasant by Tolovana standards.


To pass the time the girls and Nancy left motivational fungas signs on top of the mile markers, with a different name on each marker for the first handful of miles. Tom, Ms Marsh, and a fellow we encountered at the hotsprings, Patrick, all got their own fungus sign.

Patrick passed us on the way out, and the girls asked him if he had seen the sign. He was very amused – he apparently thought someone from the group he hiked in with was playing a joke on him. At the last mile marker he left three jerky pieces and a nice note thanking the girls for the fungus.

The little people were troopers and hiked along, powered by games, snacks, and songs.


We stopped at the water tank shelter and everyone jumped around inside enjoying a (noisy) break from the wind.

The hike out was scenic and windy but uneventful. There was a beautiful frost that was a wonderful reminder that my favorite season was almost here.

We eventually reached the parking lot, loaded up and headed home.

A big thanks to Ned, Tom, and Ms Marsh for coming along on this trip – thanks for coming along and adding to the fun!

I was very, very impressed by the little folks, Molly, Lizzy, and Anna. They were fantastic hikers! Anna in particular was quite a trooper as this hike was about twice as long as she had ever hiked under her own power – go Anna! You guys have now set the standard – if three 5 year olds can hike into Tolovana and enjoy it, anyone can!

Kanuti

Monday, September 12th, 2011

In the spring a group of friends and I headed out to Kanuti hotsprings for a wonderful overnight ski trip. Ever since then I have been thinking about a summer trip to the hotsprings, either as a hiking trip or a packrafting trip. With a free weekend and nothing major planned Tom and I headed out to Kanuti for a quick overnight trip. The plan was to hike in and out, as we were uncertain as to the water levels on the Kanuti River. Like the vast majority of rivers in Alaska it is ungauged and it is difficult to tell how much water it would have. The four hour drive to the start of the hike was scenic but uneventful. When we arrived I took a quick look at the river and was surprised to see it was bank full, with lots of water for pleasant floating. Having left our packrafts at home we gazed at the river longingly, but loaded up our packs and started walking.

I have not done any straight up backpacking trips recently and was amazed how light a sub 20lb pack feels. Not having to carry either float gear and a packraft or gear for the twins makes for light backpacks.
The first mile involved hiking on the Alaska Pipeline and was fast but pretty boring. Eventually we broke away from the pipeline and headed up to the ridges leading to Caribou Mountain.

The weather was a bit gloomy with a spate of wind driven rain that changed to snow as we got higher up.

Near Caribou Mountain there was enough snow to slow things down a bit and to make hiking in my running shoes a bit iffy.

I had the feeling the views would have been wonderful if we had not been stuck in the clouds. After side-hilling around Caribou Mountain we headed down to the hotsprings.

After crossing one slightly swampy saddle we descended down a hillside covered with small birch trees before reaching the hotsprings.

Midway down the last hill the small birch trees formed a fairly dense wall of brush and slowed things down a bit.

Eventually we arrived. The springs were in great shape, and after some cleanup we jumped in for a soak. The water was pretty relaxing and well worth the trip.


After enjoying the water for a while I got out and explored the springs. For the most part though the springs is remote-feeling, with not a lot of signs of past human visitors. The place seems pretty popular with the caribou and moose – there were tracks all around the springs.

In my wandering around I did find a smaller spring on the other side of the creek from the main springs that appeared to be warm enough to soak in. It had been cleaned out in the not so distant past, and might have seen some use this summer.
I checked out the Kanuti River near the springs, and it was fairly high and very floating. I have to come back sometime to float this!

The clearing the springs is located in is pretty interesting. The area closest to the springs is bare of any vegetation, with the rest of the meadow covered in wild chives and chest high grasses.

It is an interesting place and well worth visiting. Tom enjoyed the hot water so much he fell asleep and soaked for a extra hour or so, long enough to be a bit dehydrated and to have massive leg cramps when emerging. After having dinner and goofing off around the fire we hit the sack. This was the first trip where Tom got to use his new “Clown Tent”, a LightHeart SoLong. I was using my floor-less tent, a Golite utopia, and since I was by myself, Remus came inside too. He was pretty happy to join me out of the rain.

In the morning we had a brief soak, packed up, and headed out. We found a much nicer way though the brush on the way up the first hill which made for nicer hiking.

The weather was much more pleasant on the hike out, with periodic breaks in the clouds showing fantastic views of the surrounding hills.

All the snow on Caribou Mountain was gone, making for more pleasant hiking. By the time we were heading down the final hill large chunks of blue sky were showing though breaks in the clouds and the sun was peeking though in spots.

Soon we were back on the pipeline and shortly after that at the truck.

For folks who like hotsprings this is a trip to do – the hiking is wonderful and the springs are very nice. It took us around 5 hours to go in, and around 5 hours to hike out. The drive was around 4 hours one way, but could take more or less time depending on road conditions. We parked at the Kanuti River bridge at around mile 105, but it should also be possible to park at the abandoned gift shop at “Old Man”, or at one of the pipeline access roads (be sure not to block it, as your car might get towed).

As a side note, I was saddened to learn that by the end of the trip my shoes had large holes in them.

These days I do most of my hiking in non-waterproof trail running shoes or light hikers. They are light and drain fast, important for the wet places I spend most of my time hiking in. The downside is I have had bad luck finding shoes that last any length of time. The shoes I took on this trip, North Face brand trail running shoes , have only around 120 miles on them, and four trips: two ~30 mile day hikes, a three day trip, plus this one, and already have large holes in them. It might be time to switch back to Saloman XA comps as I got several summers of use out of a pair. My current shoe selecting strategy, which can be summed up as getting whatever fits and is cheap or on sale, seems to not work so well.
Maps

A larger interactive map can be found here and a standard paper map can be found here.

It was a little under 12 miles each way, and it took us 5 hours of hiking to get in, and 5 hours of hiking to get out.

Additional Details
Ed Plumb’s blog, as usual, has additional information on this trip in the summer, as well as the winter .

More Photos: Kanuti

Doing Far Mountain Trail in a Day

Monday, August 1st, 2011

Last year Tom, Ms Marsh, and I did a hike and float that included Far Mountain, and ever since then I have been very interested in doing the full loop as a day hike. Eventually I ended up with a free Monday and along with Tom found myself heading up the Far Mt. Trail. The trail starts near Chena Hotsprings parking lot (the actual start of the trail is a bit hard to find with a few side trails and roads that make things a bit confusing – check with the folks at the Chena Hotsprings activity center for a map if you have problems) and after crossing the bridge over Monument Creek the trail heads up a ridge and the climbing begins.

The Far Mountain trail loops around Monument Creek valley on a series of ridges. There are lots of ups and down, with between 8k and 14k feet of climbing, depending on who you ask (I measured around 8,000 feet of climbing – that is 8,000 feet of going up). The trail is a little less than 27 miles. The views from the high points on the ridges are fantastic.




There are also several interesting granite tor formations.



Far Mountain itself is a little underwhelming, as it has a large communication facility on top, complete with generators and a couple of large towers.



The majority of the trail is well above the tree and brush line making for wonderful alpine hiking, though there is a section of spruce forest near the end.



The day we hiked it it was was partly cloudy, but it can get quite socked in.
On a clear day:



On a foggy day:



The last mile or so is very muddy.



It appeared that the muddy section was in the middle of some trail work of some sort, however as it appeared the equipment had stirred the mud up into a froth and re-routed a small stream to run down the trail perhaps these repairs might do more harm than good…

This is a highly recommended long day hike. It took us a little less than 12 hours of walking at a brisk but not rushed pace. As an overnighter it is more challenging due to the limited water sources. There are tundra pools in several places around mile 7 or so, but after that there was not much water to be found.




My dog Remus was a bit dehydrated near the end, and I had to give him a some water from one of my bottles near the end of the day. Getting water would mean a long drop down to the one of the creeks at the bottom of the valleys.

The hike has a fairly remote feel, besides the stuff on top of Far Mountain. On the day we hiked it some military planes were out training and made a bit of noise, but otherwise it we didn’t see anyone on the trail.



One day or several, its a beautiful hike and well worth doing.

If you do this hike during berry season, the blueberries can be fantastic.



A map – like all the photos in this blog click it to see the image in greater detail. A better map can be found here. Kyle Jolly’s book Outside In the Interior has a chapter on this hike.



More photos can be found here. Sorry for the low word and high picture count – I have been a bit slow on the blog front lately, but more coming soon!