Posts Tagged ‘hiking’

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!

The twins go hiking – a trip to Stiles Creek cabin

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

Our family had been planning a hiking trip for a couple of weeks… This trip was to be the twins’ first “real” hiking trip. “Real” in the sense that it was going to be the first overnight trip where the twins walked the entire way under their own power. No rides on Mom or my back. No carrying. I have been eagerly awaiting this day for a long time – finally an end to the massive packs! The weather had been a bit rainy lately, so we decided to book Stiles Creek cabin in the Chena River State Recreation Area so we had a bit more rain-free room. Our neighbors, Trusten, Margaret, and their daughter Robin decided to join us for the adventure. Robin was so excited by the trip she packed a day in advance and even said it was ok if we left as early as 8am – a monumental admission for her while on a summer break schedule. The morning of the trip we left early, expecting little legs to walk slowly for the eight hilly miles to the cabin.

The dogs were very excited to be out on a hike. Only the youngest of the dogs had to carry a pack, but fortunately he didn’t seem to mind that he was singled out.

The weather was a bit rainy but never moved beyond the light drizzle stage while we were on the trail. The girls were troopers, walking along at a fast pace for their short legs. We engaged in many, many different games to distract from the walking and to keep the twins from getting bored. Songs were sung, words were spelled, riddles were told, snacks were eaten..

One of the more popular games involved a ferocious dragon who asked the twins questions, like for example how to spell “dog” or what was 12 plus 5. If the twins got the answer correct the dragon would roar and gnash its teeth. This was so popular that soon the twins reversed things and had the dragon asking ME questions, like “what is 1000 plus 1000”, “How many trees are there in Alaska?”, and my favorite, “How many lakes are there in Alaska?”. Tricky dragon!

The twins made a number of trail finds on the way into the cabin. Molly found a little brass bell, and Lizzy found several gloves and a flat piece of textured plastic that she became very enamored of.

By the time we reached the cabin we had found five gloves, including one pair.

We arrived at the cabin a little before Trusten and Margert caught up with us, and in time to escape a torrential downpour. The kids spend the rest of the evening exploring the cabin, rampaging and giggling in the loft, while the adults lolled about reading the magazines left in the cabin and playing cards.

In the early evening there was an epic downpour and we had to move the dogs to a more covered location, and let the oldest inside where she promptly curled up and went to sleep. Eventually we followed her example and hit the sack. In the morning it was drizzling on and off, but it appeared it might actually clear up. After a fine breakfast of cereal we headed out a little before the rest of the crew to get a head start for the little legs. The girls chugged away, climbing the hill that leads away from the cabin like little troopers.

The trail on the way out was a bit more muddy due to the heavy rainstorm that past in the early evening, but it was still passable.

The improvements to the trail DNR has made in the last few years have been pretty impressive. The girls made good time on the way out, zooming down the trail, and counting down to zero with the trail markers. Just before arriving at the parking lot Lizzy was very excited to find a “L” shaped stick. Lizzy is the master of finding letters and numbers in the natural world.

We arrived at the trailhead a little after Trusten and Margaret arrived, in time to join them for a trip to Mia’s. Mia’s is a small restaurant in Pleasant Valley on Chena Hotsprings road, and has the best burgers I have tasted and wonderfully fantastic Asian food. We enjoyed a wonderful after hike dinner there and everything was fantastic – that place is highly recommended!

This trip was the first where the twins walked entirely under their own power, and they did a truly fantastic job, covering sixteen miles in a total trail time of nine hours, with hardly a complaint despite all the drizzle and mud. I am very proud of them! Lots of adventures await..

More photos here: Family Trip to Stiles Creek Cabin

Far Mountain Float and Hike

Monday, September 6th, 2010

I had been thinking about pack rafting trips that might work in the upper area of the East or Middle fork of the Chena for most of the summer, and finally things came together. Our plan was to start from Chena Hotsprings, hike up to Far Mountain, then traverse down one of the many ridges down to the East Fork, then float out to Chena Hotsprings road and bike back to the hot springs. Ms Marsh, Tom, and I left the hot springs a little before lunch time and started hiking up the Far Mountain Trail towards Far Mountain. Alas, on our first try we missed the start of the trail and wandered around a bit before getting on the correct trail. The trail is surprisingly beautiful.

The trail started out on a ATV trail, but once it hits the ridge the ATV tracks die away and fine alpine hiking begins.

Weather was pretty nice for most of the first day, giving us superb views and wonderful hiking. The trail winds though some fairly recent burns and it was pretty neat to see how the alpine area was recovering.

We expected to have a pretty dry hike and had packed quite a bit of extra water so we had enough water to make dinner but we were quite excited to find some tundra pools a little after half way to Far Mountain on the first day.

Hiking was amazingly – nice dry ridges with wonderful views.

After we reached mile nine or so, just before Far Mountain, we called it a day and made camp. Dinner was provide by Ms Marsh, and was a fantastic boil in a bag soup meal.

Lately my trips have switched to “just add hot water” meals which can be made plastic zip lock bags or by reusing the foil pouchs that freeze dried meals come in. It allows us to bring a smaller pot and saves fuel making for lighter packs. Light packs makes for happy packrafters!

The next day the we awoke to less stellar views – it was totally socked in.

We spent most of the day hiking though the fog with limited visibility. Several of my last couple of trips had involved hiking though the fog in whiteout conditions, so I have been getting pretty good at it. This time I was quite prepared and had a route preloaded on the gps making it fairly easy to stay on course. I did get us circled around once and did a unnecessary horseshoe loop, but such is life.

The view from the top of Far Mountain is supposed to be fantastic – alas we didn’t get to see much. There was an impressive cairn though, as well as a very large and loud communication complex on top though.

After going over Far Mountain we turned away from the trail and followed the borough boundary along a series of ridge tops heading down to the river. The hiking remained pretty good – lots of game trails and brush free hills.

I found two sets of caribou antlers that I picked up for the twins – I would have loved to have some antlers as a kid, and thought the twins would enjoy them. Alas, they were not the same size, so when I got back and handed them out, Molly noticed hers was smaller and immediately attempted to trade with Lizzy, who was having none of it.. Such is life…
Just before we reached the river we passed though a recent burn, perhaps from last year. It was very fast hiking and it was quite interesting to see the plants moving in after the fire. There were a couple of sections with impressively thick knee high grass.

As we neared the river we also dropped below the clouds and the views opened back up, making route finding much easier. After the burn we hiked though a short section of fairly brushy black spruce forest, but eventually made it out to the river.

We made it to the East Fork at around 4pm, and were very, very happy to see it had lots of water and was going to be a good float. My big concern about this trip was the water levels on the East Fork – I had not been very far up it before and had no idea what to expect, and was a bit concerned we would hike all the way in just to discover it was too low to be float-able. Fortunately that was not the case – the water levels were great and made for great pack rafting. Since we arrived at the river mid afternoon we put in and floated for a couple of hours.

After two hours or so we called it a night and made camp. The East Fork was surprisingly scenic, with great views of the ridges hemming in the river and lots of interesting rock cliffs. The evening was fairly uneventful, besides the splashing beavers. We seemed to have set up camp near some sort of beaver meeting ground. On this trip I attempted to go without a tent, justing using a bivy and a tarp. It was mostly a success, though the bivy I used does not appear to breath all that well. On the second night, since I had my pack raft out and inflated I turned it over and slept on it – it was like heaven and very comfortable.

The next day we continued the float. Up to this point we had not seen any other floaters, but this changed about midday. We heard an air boat in the distance, and saw several pulled up on shore, as well as several parties of more traditional floaters with rafts and inflatable kayaks.

Strangely we saw lots of boats pulled up on shore but few people and no one on the river..

We passed one of the camps where a large jet boat was pulled up along with a jet ski and Ms Marsh talked to them a bit – they were completely flummoxed when they were told that we hiked in. One of them responded with a “Holy Sh**” and a completely incredulous look. More mind boggling for me was the jet ski – its fragile fiberglass bottom made it seem to me like the least useful motorized appliance ever for traveling in shallow rocky creeks.
We did stop and talk to a guy with one of the groups of non-motorized floaters. He said he was on “Camp Duty” while the rest of his party hunted. They were dropped off at the landing strip at Van Curlers Bar, a old placer mine on the upper reaches of the East Fork. Apparently mining of some sort is in progress and the landing strip is open and usable. Some interesting details can be found online about some of the folks who prospected in this area, including Van Curler. Excepting the air boats and jet boats, the float felt pretty remote considering how close it is to town – there were not a lot of signs of other travelers, besides a large number of cut out sweepers. In the lower sections of the river there are a number of very large log jams that have been cut out, so this is probably a good thing – some of those log jams were pretty immense and would have been a bit of a pain to portage around.

Eventually we arrived at our take out, where Tom and I got on bikes and biked back to the hotsprings while Ms Marsh guarded our packs and hunted for cranberries. The bike ride was very fast and fun and before I knew it we were back at the truck.

This hike, float, and bike is highly recommended – the hiking was fantastic, the floating pretty fun (though mellow), and has a very remote feel considering how close this is to town.

A Map.

More photos.

Far Mt – East fork of the Chena trip