Posts Tagged ‘hot springs’

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.

The Dunbar to Tolovana!

Saturday, April 13th, 2013

I have wanted to ski the Dunbar Trail to Tolovana Hotsprings for years now, and I finally got a chance! Tom, Remus, and I set out early on a fine Sunday morning, driving up to the end of Murphy Dome, then strapping on our skis (or in Remus’s case, dog booties) and headed down the trail.

The first 10 miles or so were all downhill to the Chatanika River. Once down to the Chatanika, it was not entirely clear how to get to the Dunbar, so Tom and I wandered around for a while, passing though a surprising large subdivision filled with cabins of all shapes and sizes looking for trails that were heading in the right direction and not marked with “No Trespassing!” signs. Eventually we hit the river, then headed down it a ways hoping to see were the Dunbar crosses. After about a half hour we turned around and headed back after not seeing anything. We retraced our ski tracks and heading up river we quickly found were the dunbar crosses, and turned off the river and headed to the hotsprings.

The trail was in amazingly good shape, nice and firm making for great skiing. The trail was surprisingly scenic for a winter trail though black spruce forest and swamp. The dunbar is pretty straight, occasionally making small jogs for no apparent reason. However the trail occasionally cut off the dunbar to follow a swamp or lake for a while for some chance of scenery. At one point we crossed a strange bridge in the middle of nowhere – sort of amusing, as to get to the bridge you had to cross a ton of very wet swamp, several small creeks, and the Chatanika River.

At about half way the dunbar climbs up a short hill, and near the top there was a wall tent platform, but alas no wall tent.

As I understand it, the folks running Tolovana Hotsprings have a warming tent here, which I am sure is very welcome in the colder parts of the winter. We enjoyed a bag of pre-cooked bacon to celebrate being half way, then zoomed down the hill. On the other side of the hill the trail got a bit narrower and a bit more overgrown, but otherwise was still very easy to follow.

Remus was a bit bemused by the length of this trip – after about 30 miles I think he started lying down and taking a nap when ever we stopped.

There were a couple small wind blown lakes that we had to cross and we had to be careful we didn’t miss were the trail exited the lake.

Eventually we reached the turn off for Tolovana, and headed to the hotsprings.

The trail from the Dunbar crosses some large open fields and swamps that were very beatiful when lit by the low angle evening sun.

Where the trail crosses the Tolovana River I was amazed how incised the banks are, and wrote off pack-rafting the Tolovana River, as the views of the banks would get old quickly I think. The drop down to the river and back up was very steep, and called for a bit of walking.

The sun went behind the hill just as we crossed the final swamp before the short climb to Tolovana.

As soon as we hit the trail up to the hot-springs Remus realized were we were, and spent the final mile running ahead and looking back at us, giving us “hurry up, we are almost there!” look about a thousand times. It must be hard to be a dog, and not know when you head off for a walk if it is going to be 5 miles or 50.

We finally arrived at the hotsprings just before sunset where we meet up with Henry, who had came in the short way, and had the cabin warmed up and water ready for us. I immediately started cooking dinner, and after chowing down we all headed off to enjoy the hot waters. The next day we spent the day eating, talking, soaking, and goofing off.

Henry entertained us with many stories of his bike racing days, and discussion of all things bike related among other things. My favorite tub at Tolovana, the middle one, had a huge amount of alge growing in it but Tom bravely volunteered to clean it up.

I took a short walk over to the airstrip, but eventually turned back as the lounging footwear I had brought, crocs, where filling with snow even with the plastic bags I had over my socks. The evening was spent with more chatting, eating, and soaking. The next day we headed out the short way to the Eliot Highway in a few inches of fresh snow, and back to town.

Thanks Tom and Henry for a truly wonderful trip, and to Nancy for letting me skip out on parenting duties for two nights. I have not skied much this year, and I think this trip just about doubled my season’s milage. Perhaps it is not recommended to do that in one 50 mile push, but I survived with minimal damage – hurrah!

The route in from Murphy Dome is about 46 miles, and took us about 13 hours which included a fair number of snack stops and several miles of extra wandering around. It was good skiing, but would have been top notch snowbiking, at least when we did it. There are a couple of tricky spots, but otherwise it was fairly straightforward. There are a number of small lakes and swamps to cross, and it looked like it could be easy to loose the trail in those spots, so budget some time for that.

Tolovana, 2012

Monday, September 24th, 2012

The last three years we have made a family trip to Tolovana Hotsprings. The first year the twins were carried and sledded out there, but the following years they hiked the 10+ miles each way under their own power. It has become a sign of the change of seasons, a marking of the end of fall and the coming of winter. Sometimes there is a bit of colder weather and even a little snow, reminding us of the winter that is coming. We have been joined by the twins friend Anna, her dad Ned and her mom Kristen, as well as Tom, and Ms Marsh.

The twins and Anna really enjoy Tolovana, with its places to explore..

Things to do..

And the wonderful hot tubs to enjoy.

I have fond memories of visiting Takhini Hotsprings and hiking out to cabins as a kid, so it is wonderful to have a chance to share these experiences with my daughters.
The twins and Anna have really grown up in the three years we have been hiking out to Tolovana, and they now hike along like little champions, playing lots of games, enjoying snacks, and generally having a great time.

This year’s hike was a bit earlier than usual, making for some muddy hiking. The sun was nice though, and we enjoyed the warmer temperatures.

There were some mud related moments of sadness as little people slipped and fell, lost boots in the sticky mud, or had muddy splash downs, but these were (thankfully) short.

Besides a bit of mud the hike in was great. The weather was so nice the little hikers didn’t even want to stop at the “marshmallow” , an old water tank converted into a shelter, and kept right on trucking.

Blueberry season was long gone, but the cranberries were out in force.

We made it to the hotsprings with enough time for the little hikers to enjoy a short soak before dinner. The bigger hikers all enjoyed longer soaks after dinner. The next day was wonderfully sunny, and the crew spent it mellowing out enjoying life.

After two days of sun, our final day arrived a bit cooler, with ice on the puddles. Everyone had a good hike out, although the little hikers impressed some disbelieving folks on our hike out. “You guys have a fourwheeler cached somewhere up here, right” .

Everyone made it out, some powered by gummies..

And some with their inner rockstar.

A huge thanks to everyone who joined us for this trip, your company makes these trips the wonderful experiences they are. I hope that this family tradition continues, here’s to fall hikes in the sun, the wind, and the snow!

A Kanuti hike and float

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

One of my favorite off the beaten path places to visit is Kanuti hot springs in the Kanuti national wildlife refuge. I have been in via skis and on foot, but wanted to try it as a packraft trip and see how it went. I had been warned by the god of interior packrafting that it could involve a lot of low water butt dragging, but our float had lots of water, and was wonderful.

I was a bit concerned it was going to be a long slow float, but the water moved at a nice pace, and there was a short section of class II that required a bit of maneuvering.

The hot springs was wonderful as usual. It is out of the way just enough that it does not get a lot of visitors, giving it a wonderful remote feel, even though it is fairly short hike in from the road.

The ground is wonderfully warm, and the soft warm grasses made for wonderful napping, only slightly spoiled by the mosquitos.

After a mellow evening of hanging around at the hotsprings, soaking and lolling about, we hit the sack. Our campsite was in a field of wild onions or chives, and was pleasantly fragrant.

In the morning, we had quick soaks, then started on our walk out.

The walk out was uneventful, but a bit windy at times.

It was a wonderful trip, thanks Tom and Ms Marsh for providing motivation. Its a fun trip, highly recommended, at least when the water is high.

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

The (really this time) last ski trip of the season – Kanuti

Monday, April 25th, 2011

I had figured the ski season was pretty much done, as the snow was melting at the house and the trails were now much too soft to bike on, and pretty mushy for skiing, but just as I was getting ready to put the skis away I was invited to join some folks headed out to Kanuti Hotsprings on skis. I had never been out that way and decided to join them, and before I knew it I was headed north to near the Arctic Circle with Tom and Ms Marsh. The drive was uneventful, but scenic, and near our destination, a bit windy.

The plan was for us to meet up with the rest of our party, camp along the road somewhere, and in the morning ski into the hotsprings. We ended up running a bit ahead of the rest of our party, and while waiting I got a bit bored and attempted to find a slightly better place to park, and was soon stuck.

Fortunately right after I got stuck the rest of our party, Tim and Andrea, arrived. Tim was kind enough to pull me out (thanks Tim!). We then convoyed to our night’s destination, a pull-off near a snow fence, then set up our tents and hit the sack. It was pretty windy that night, and by the time morning came my tent, a large spacious car camping tent that is alas not very wind resistant, had been nearly flattened by the wind. The wind was strong enough that everyone almost bailed on the trip, but we decided to stick it out, and that was for the best. Soon after we packed up camp the wind died down, the sun came out, and for the next two days the weather was wonderful.
The ski started out near an abandoned gift shop at Mile 103 of the Dalton Highway. For the first several miles we climbed up several small hills over a hard wind blown crust, which made for good skiing.

The wind blown crust was amazing – hard enough so we didn’t break though but soft enough that it was possible to edge on it without a lot of work, making for fun and fairly fast skiing. This was pretty good news, as there was no sign of any packed trail, or in fact of any other travelers.

Eventually we had to head back into the trees to side hill around Caribou Mountain, and with the trees we lost our crust and gained lots and lots of powder. The trail breaking began in earnest at this point, and soon we were wading though knee deep snow, with occasional sections of crust that provided a welcome respite.

Most of our skiing we were following a rough “route” rather than a trail – there are not a lot of trees on the route so we were pretty free to go where ever the skiing was the best. It is not possible to avoid the trees for a section where we side-hilled along Caribou Mountain.

A more detailed map can be found here:
We had been told there was a cut trail of some sort that is kept clear by some snowmachiners who use the hot-springs on an infrequent basis. Fortunately the cut trail was fairly easy to follow, and was well marked by blazes.

Breaking trail was a lot of work, but rewarding in its own way. Eventually we broke back out of the trees and back into the more open areas, which had intermittent crust, making for much faster skiing.

The final two miles or so took a very long time, as we dropped down into the trees and very deep snow. It was a bit of a slog, but eventually we arrived at the hot-springs and it was a very welcome sight. The hot-springs are in a large open area that is completely snow free, quite a contrast to the surrounding area. After several hours of wading though knee deep snow it is a pretty welcome sight!

The hot-springs appeared to be divided up into several small pools, with a larger pool having a small dam at one end to keep the water deep enough to soak in.

When we arrived there was a fair bit of slime in it, but Andria bravely went to work de-sliming it and it was soon inhabitable.

The water was pretty warm, 102f according to my thermometer, which was more than warm enough to provide a nice hot soak by my standards. After soaking and dinner we all turned in, looking forward to the broken trail and fast skiing on heading out.

Kanuti is a pretty interesting place. The ground around the hot springs is quite warm and gives off noticeable heat. I was surprised to see how warm items like my boots got when I left them on the ground with a jacket over them. Besides the little dam that holds water in for the soaking pool and a few cut trees there are few signs of past visitors. I am pretty curious how many people visit the springs, because while its a bit of a drive from Fairbanks, it is only a day’s hike or ski in. The scenery is top notch, so I would have assumed more folks would make the trek in.

After a good nights sleep the morning arrived clear and wind free – perfect weather for the ski out.

The ski out was pretty fast and much more pleasant that the ski in – no trail breaking and our tracks had set up nice and firm, making for wonderful skiing.

We had wonderful weather for the ski out, with sunny blue skies and next to no wind – perfect skiing weather.

The weather was a bit too nice for Remus, who would have preferred it to be -20f I expect.

The final hill was very fun for me, with lots of gliding downhill on a nice and fast hard wind crust.

Eventually we made to back to the trucks, where lots of snacks and beer complements of the ever prepared Tim waited for us.

This trip was a fantastic way to wrap up the ski season. I owe a bit thanks to Andrea and crew for inviting me along, it was amazingly fun. I am pretty sure it is truly the last ski of the season, as when I arrived back in Fairbanks it was pretty apparent breakup season had arrived with a vengeance.

We didn’t see much wildlife on this trip, besides a very dark colored fox and some gray jays. We did see sign of other animals including the caribou the nearby mountain is named after, but alas didn’t get to see them in person.

There were a few signs of the summer residents in this area. I expect this area is teeming with activity in the warmer months.

Folks interested in duplicating this trip will want to keep in mind that the route we took is the winter route, it would be a depressing slog though wet tussocks in the summer I expect. Sumer travelers can take a route over Caribou Mountain, or so I have been told. The snow was pretty deep, and required a lot of trail breaking – bring friends, the more the better to speed this up.

We are off to see the hot springs, the wonderful hot springs of Tolovana..

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

Fall has left us now and winter is rapidly approaching Fairbanks. Last year we made a mid October trip to Tolovana Hot Springs and had a great time. This time we brought a slightly larger group along with us and attempted to get several families to join us. Alas, one of the families was struck by colds just before we left for the trip and they had to stay home (much sadness – but we hear they recovered quickly) but we still managed to get six other folks including Ned, Kristen, the twin’s school friend Anna, Tom, Trusten, and Ms Marsh. We left town early Friday morning after meeting up at Alaska Coffee Roasters for a snack and much needed (for me anyway) coffee. Almost three hours later we arrived at the trail head, packed up, and headed down the trail.

The hike in is about 10 miles or so, and is alas a little longer than our daughters can hike right now. The trail starts off at 2000ft or so, drops down to around 900ft, then climbs back up to a little over 2000ft again, before dropping down to 800ft to its final destination at the hot springs. We brought the kid-carrying backpacks to pack the kids in while they were not walking, and the Rozells had brought their Chariot to haul Anna when nap time arrived. As backup we also brought a plastic sled to give the kids a fun ride down the hills. The kids started off walking, then hitched a ride down the hill

The twins and Anna had a blast on the hike in and walked and sledded the first four miles or so, then napped for the next hour and half. The kids were quite the troopers – hiking along in the snow and having a blast. When nap time arrived the little ones were loaded up into their respective sleep-time carriers, and dozed while their parents got a workout.

After a hour or so nap time was finished and the twins were unloaded to hike on their own again, a little before the final summit. We tried to get the twins to hike as much as possible. After all, we have to train them up, as they soon will be too big for the backpacks.

I keep mentioning to the twins the idea that perhaps in a couple of years they could carry me in a backpack but they have yet to take me up on the offer, alas.
The kids were quite the troopers and hiked a fair distance. There were a few stoppages to admire the trees, look at the frozen berries or to play with the frost..

The trail into Tolovana is alway very scenic. It offers fantastic views down into the Tolovana River valley to the south and hills near the Yukon River to the north.

The final half mile or so to the hot springs was snow free and amazingly warm and pleasant.

When we arrived at the hotsprings, it was of course time to go soak. I was banned from the kids tub, as it was “Girls Only”, and was sent off to go soak in a different tub. Life is hard.

Very hard..

The next day we spent mellowing out, soaking in the hot tubs, and generally being slothful. Or at least I was – Ned and Tom actually went for a jog, while I just got out for a short stroll with the dogs before being pulled back by in by the lure of the hot water. It was a bit windy during my brief walk, and I was amazed by the “talking trees” as the standing burned black spruce popped and creaked in the wind.

When people were not soaking, much fun was had. Tic-tac-toe was played by the younger generation…

And scrabble was played by some of the adults, except for those of us who could not spell, mainly me. Nancy and Tom, both hard core scrabble junkies, were practicably giddy when they discovered the “Diamond Edition” of scrabble, complete with rotating turntable, in one of the cabins.

Molly was enthralled by the viscious scrabble playing. I believe Nancy beat everyone by about 100 points in one of the games. I think it was her “Braille Fingers” in action, but Nancy of course denys it.

Other entertainments abounded – mainly eating.

The kids did construct a fetching crown for “Poops” the dog.

Poops’s real name is Molly, and there were several “Molly No!” incidents that made the human Molly quite concerned that she would be banished outside. Nancy’s little bag of pipe cleaners provided endless amusement for the younger generation.

After two nights of non-stop eating and soaking we, alas, had to leave. On the second day the wind had picked up and by the second night the wind was really hauling. Tolovana is a very windy place, and there are lots of stories of failed trips and mishaps on the trails. Ned and Ms Marsh related several disaster stories involving Tolovana from trips in the past involving epic winds and snow. Tom had stories of the woodsman drinking all the syrup while we were sleeping and inflicting other terrors on unwary hikers but we all thought that was unlikely. I am blessed with no Tolovana disaster stories and have fervent hopes to keep it that way, and was thus happy to see that our trip out was pretty uneventful, though a bit windy. The kids hiked up the first mile or so until the snow started, then hitched a ride on the sled to the top, before beginning the cycle of hike and nap.

The hike out was pretty uneventful, but nice and scenic. Tom, Ms Marsh, and Trusten beat us out as they were not encumbered by little training weights, but had good hikes regardless. Our little training weights had a great time and really enjoyed having Anna with with them.

This was a fantastic trip and it was great to be out with another family with a daughter the same age as the twins. I think the twins had a immense amount of fun and hopefully others did as well… Hanging out at Tolovana with friends for a weekend is hard to beat – a big thanks to everyone who came along – I had a great time! Hopefully the family that was beset with the cold can come along on a future adventure.

A couple of notes about the trail to Tolovana. This year it received some upgrades compliments of the Boy Scouts – there are now mile markers on the trail..

As well as a shelter of sorts near the top. There has been a large water tank near the high point along the trail. I believe it was hauled out to replace one of the hot tubs, but it was dropped or some other accident befell it causing it to crack. It was then left there for a couple of years..

Someone has cut a small hole in the side of the tank creating a shelter of sorts inside.

Minimal shelter, but it would be welcomed by those in need I expect.

A trip to Melozi Hotsprings – like the Shining, only with hot water

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Last year Ed Plumb and crew did a pack rafting trip out to Melozi Hotsprings, about 30 miles away from Ruby. It looked like a very fantastic trip, so Ms Marsh, Tom, and I decided to do a version of it, though at a bit slower pace. Our plan was to fly to Ruby, take a boat ride up the Yukon to Horner hotsprings 30 miles or so upstream, take a dip in the waters, then hike 25 miles or so Melozi, chill for a day, then float out.
Here was our route.

Our trip started on a overcast and damp looking Sunday as we boarded a flight to Ruby – little did we know that “damp” was going to be the theme of the trip. In Ruby we meet up with Jim from the Yukon River Lodge just upstream of Ruby, who gave us a boat ride up the Yukon to the start of our hike.

We started the hike a mile or so from Horner Hotsprings. Horner was once the site of a busy lodge, but its now just a simple hotsprings in a dense thicket of brush. The brush on the hike in brought back memories of south east – hiking in the rain in dense green foliage. Fortunately there was no devils club!

The bugs were out in full force though – by the time we hiked the mile or so to the hotsprings we had collected quite a fan club of mosquitos. The hotsprings at Horner are a pretty simple affair – just a tarped rock pool, but the water was nice and refreshing.

We had the place to ourselves, excepting the bugs and some other small hot springs aficionados.

Alas, I was the only one who got in, as the bugs were pretty intense.

After a quick soak (having folks stare at you like you are insane tends to speed one up) we continued on our hike. The first day we planned to hike 6 to 8 miles and camp around an alpine lake. The hike out of the small valley the hotsprings resides was pretty interesting – we hiked though dense green brush..

Then into a Aspen forest..

And finally onto a alpine ridge above tree line.

The view from the ridge was not so hot – we had under 100m visibility with occasional brief batches of less then 10 meters visibility.. Not the best day to hike to a small lake on top a ride surrounded by steep drop offs… All went well though and we made it intact to the lake, though we arrived a bit wetter than we would have liked.
The view from the lake was a bit limited.

After a night of rain and wind, which my Tarptent survived intact, which was good news as this was by far the windiest I have every used that tent in. We spent the next day hiking on more ridges in near whiteout conditions. The hiking was a bit slower than we planned on due to rock fields and the poor weather, so we deviated from Ed’s route a bit. By the end of the day the weather was starting to clear up, but it was still raining intermittently with periodic low visibility sections as clouds blew though. The next morning arrived a lot dryier than the preceding two days – it was mostly cloudy without any rain – quite change. We also were treated to our first scenic vistas (beside fog that is) of the trip. After a couple of hours of hiking we soon were approaching the hotsprings, and got our first glimpse of the airstrip from a hill overlooking Hot springs Creek.

From the distance the airstrip looked pretty impressive – super long though a bit brushy.
As we dropped down off the hill, we followed the creek and soon were walking on the airstrip. The airstrip was fast walking, but didn’t look to be all that good of a landing place – the middle two thirds is washed out with moderately deep ruts in it.

The section near the lodge is in better shape, but is quite brushy with moderately tall alder. Its also a bit short.. I am not a pilot but it looked pretty tricky to me.

After we arrived we quickly dropped off our stuff at the main lodge after checking that no one was around and visited the hotsprings. I had checked with BLM’s online land status system before visiting to make sure the lodge is not currently leased and that it is public land, but I was still surprised that no one was there.

When we first arrived the main hot tube was a nice temperature and one could actually get in it.

By the end of the day it was pretty hot, and by the next day the tube was unbearably hot. It appears the main tub is not actually a hot tub per say, but more of a hot water holding tank for the lodges piped hot water during the lodges hay day. Perhaps all that rain cooled it down enough so it was bearable for the first day… The hot spring is situated on top of a little rock bluff, and the hot water flows over the bluff making a hot water fall that cascades down into Hotsprings Creek. After the first day we attempted to stand under the hot water falls, but that was a bit unpleasant – the falls are very hot, and the creek very cold, leaving your upper body scorched and your feet cold.

Never fear – we rearranged the rocks at the base of the falls and created a small pool with some random tarps laying around, making a little hot water pool right in the creek. This worked great, as regulating the temperature is pretty easy – all you have to do to cool things down is let in more cold water, to heat things up let in less cold water – very, very nice!

(Ms Marsh photo)
After a bit of soaking, we decided to so explore. The lodge complex is pretty extensive. We found a map in a filing cabinet with the general layout of the lodge.

A fair number of the buildings are in pretty good shape. The pool, alas, is has completely collapsed and is returning to the forest.

(Ms Marsh photo)
On the last day of the trip while waiting in Ruby for our flight out we talked to a local who remembered visiting the lodge in the late 70s and remembered the pool – apparently it had pretty hot water in it, and that it “had a deep end and a shallow end, just like the ones in Fairbanks”, as he put it. It must have been quite a novelty – a warm pool in such a remote setting.
The shop is in marginal shape – one side is open to the elements and the roof leaks. Amazingly the tools inside it seem to be in pretty good shape -there is a partially disabled three wheeler – a “Big Red” – the classic child crushing model that got three wheelers banned in the US..

A gas powered welder, several generations of chain saws, a weed wacker, and lots and lots of random hand tools and spare parts.

Outside the shop was a collection of very old snow machines, most missing engines, tracks, and other parts. The late sixties or early seventies vintage Johnson Skee-Horse was pretty entertaining (it was supposed to have a 14 horse engine – wow!), as was the ton of random old yellow Skidoo parts lying around.
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The shop had a pretty nice selection of hand tools which were in surprisingly good shape.

The cold celler was a scary mess and I was afraid to look inside it.

The numbered guest cabins were in pretty good shape, though only one was suitable for staying in the winter.
Cabin number 5..

Cabin number 3..

The “Reindeer Cabin”, apparently named after the reindeer hearers who were the original residents and the first users of the hotsprings.

Apparently in the 1900-1910 time frame reindeer were raised up stream 15 miles or so of the hotsprings to feed miners in the greater Ruby area. The herders would come down occasionally and soak apparently, and eventually built a cabin to make things more comfortable. The Reindeer cabin is were the lodge complex really started feeling creepy – it looked like the last residents just up and disappeared. It contains chests of knitting, children’s toys, books, painting supplies, even the former residents prescription medicine – all left as if the former residents just decided to go away for a weekend, and ever came back. Its pretty creepy and a very depressing sight – it came across to me like the cabin of broken dreams..
Toys in the entryway..

A desk..

Drawings on the bedroom wall..

The main lodge building is in great shape and doesn’t really feel like it has been abandoned all that recently, until you start looking around..
Old caribou tags..

And the reading material all point to a mid 80s and early 90s abandonment.

The main lodge has radiators along the walls and under the floor and it appears that in its prime it was heated by the hotsprings. The building has a wood cook stove with a rusty stovepipe with holes, and a large rock fireplace, so it might be a bit hard to heat in the winter.

The lodge has a full size piano and an accordion. The piano still functions though a lot of the keys are sticky. Alas the accordion is pretty far gone and I didn’t have the heart to attempt to play it and break it.

Strangely the kitchen in the main lodge building had a mix of very old food stuff..

And some newer stuff labeled in what appeared to be German:

When we got back in town we were able to find these folks online – apparently they spent a week or so at the hotsprings in 2003. It was pretty fun to decipher one of the mysteries of the place.. Alas, lots of mysteries remain – its really hard to imagine why the place is abandoned. The hot springs are great, the surrounding country beautiful, and the fishing appears to be top notch, at least for grayling.. so why was it abandoned? It would seem to be quite a viable lodge.. perhaps not for hunting as we didn’t see much in the way of wildlife, but as a hot springs or scenic destination its nice. Lots of other lodges seem to get by with quite a bit worse setups. According to BLM’s online land status website, the lease expired in 1996, though the reason it expired are pretty unclear – did they forget to pay it, did it get revoked, or did something else entirely occure.. there are so many mysteries about this place.

The main building is pretty bug proof, and was great to hang out in for the day and a half we spent at the hot springs. Soon after arriving we had the place festooned with our drying belongings.

Having a place to dry our stuff and to hang out in a dry place was very nice after 2 days of rain.

After a day and half of hanging out at the hotsprings, we had to get a move on and start moving again, and so we inflated our packrafts and started floating.

Hotsprings Creek had quite a bit of water in it and the floating was pretty fun – lots of small splashy class II rapids.
We put in next to the waterfall and it was really fun to float by a hot water waterfall in a packraft.

The float out to the Melozitna River was quite fun.

We camped shortly after the confluence with the Melozitna. The Melozitna is a wide, slow moving and surprisingly warm river.

The daytime air temperatures during our float were in the mid 50s and it appeared the water in the Melozitna was slightly warmer – its pretty strange to be able to stick your hands in the water to warm them up.
The next day the Melozitna became a bit more scenic as we approached the Melozi Canyon. We camped 10 miles or so above the first rapids in the Melozi Canyon. Late in the evening three jet boats zoomed by, which was a bit of a surprise, as it was rumored that the rapids blocked off jet boats.

In the evening I was joined by a large number of small guests, who alas had to stay outside.

Next next day we passed though the Melozi Canyon, which probably the most interesting section of river we passed though. The Melozitna River has two short class III rapid sections that we portaged – they didn’t look all that hard but it was not really the sort of weather that makes one interested in getting we – we portaged the rapids.

The first rapid

The second rapid, as seen from below

The canyon is pretty interesting, with wonderful smooth water sculpted rocks.

The first rapid has a wonderful little side channel that goes around on the side, skipping the hard section.

This section would have made fantastic camping, alas it was the middle of the day when we went though and we had a lot more distance to cover, so we pressed onwards. The area looked to have a fair bit of wildlife traffic and would be a interesting place to watch and see what walked by.

Bellow the second rapid there was a number of small boulder gardens, but nothing too exciting.

Once past the rock gardens then it was back to mellow flat water floating.

The rest of the canyon is pretty scenic.

After the canyon the river drops into a flat plane and becomes fairly wide before arriving at the Yukon.

We camped fairly near the Yukon so we could get to Ruby before any afternoon winds kicked up and so we could make our afternoon flight.
The Yukon was surprising mellow – large and flat with a fairly tame current.

(Ms Marsh photo)
Soon we arrived at Ruby, had our rafts packed up, and I was enjoying a trashy book while waiting for the plane. Ruby has a nice picnic area near the water that we spend a hour or so hanging out it. There was also a three person crew that staying in the picnic area that was working on a small hydroelectric test bed project that aims to eventually provide Ruby with hydroelectric power during the summer months. After a bit of waiting we were soon on a plane back to Fairbanks.

(Ms Marsh photo)
A hour a bit later we arrived in Fairbanks to nice clear skies and Nancy and the twins – it was very, very nice to be home!

This was a super fun trip and highly recommended. A word of warning – the lodge appears to be open for leasing from BLM pending some site appraisal, so it might fall back into private hands – if you plan to visit please double check with BLM first to make sure it is still off lease before setting off. The airstrip is pretty marginal – perhaps it goes without saying, but only land if you are sure you can do it safely as it is pretty remote and its a long, long walk out.

More Photos Here: Melozi Hotsprings Hike and Float

A Family Trip to Tolovana Hotsprings

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

On a sunny Saturday morning the family and I headed out to Tolovana Hot Springs for a 3 day weekend.  After a two and a half hour drive we reached the trail head, loaded up our packs and headed down the trail for the 11 mile hike to Tolovana.  Tolovana is a natural hot springs with a three cabins that can be rented.  The hot springs is a pretty wonderful place – there are several hot tubs and the water is without the sulfuric smell I normally associate with hot springs.  Its also pretty easy camping, as the cabin we had rented is quite large and includes such amenities as propane lights.  Its not a completely easy trip though, especially with the twins, as there is one large climb on the way in and two large climbs on the way out.  The trail is also quite exposed for most of its length and can be quite unpleasant when the wind is blowing.   Fortunately it was a wonderful late fall day on our way out, with little wind and temperatures in the 20s.  There was a dusting of snow at the parking lot so the girls started out in a sled but the snow quickly disappeared as the trail dropped down 1100 feet to the lowest section on the trail.

The girls took advantage of the hard frozen but relatively free of snow trail conditions and walked for a mile or so.  The lower sections of the trail wind though some fairly swampy bits that were fortunately well frozen and quite hard and dry.   This area burned several years ago and the trail now winds though a forest of standing dead spruce trees with some thickets of alder along the sides of the trail. 

The twins were quite the troopers and hiked quite a ways.  I had gotten them yactraks before the trip and they were quite proud to be putting them to use on the icer sections.

Eventually the girls tired out and then the hard part started, at least for the parents – nap time!  The girls were loaded up into the backpacks and into their “sleepy sacks” and enjoyed a warm and comfortable ride for the next hour.  One of the funny things about taking the girls on trips like this is that it has redefined pack weights for me – our packs were in the 70lbs range with the girls in them, so normal backpacking weight packs seem light in comparison.

The girls slept for the next hour and a half as we hiked over the highest section of trail and dropped down towards the hot springs.

The view from on top is quite spectacular, with a wonderful view of the Minto flats and the Tolovana river.  This was the first time I had ever been on this trail and not been on skis, and it has a completely different feel to it when you are walking.

The trail had recently received a haircut which had widened the trail considerably in sections, cutting down the willows that had been encroaching on the trail.  After we made it all the way in we learned that the trail had been trimmed by a “John Deer decked mower” according to the log book.  This led to interesting visions of someone riding the trail in a lawn tractor, which seemed unlikely.  In the section of the trail that goes along the “old runway” this was quite noticeable.  This should make the trail much more pleasant skiing in a couple of the narrower downhill sections.

While there was only a couple of inches of snow in the most snowy sections winter is definitely on the way.  We ran across a some blue berries sticking still holding on to the bushes and I tried to convince the girls these were still edible to no avail.

Eventually we dropped down from the dome and were back into the snow less area. 

By this time the girls had had enough pack time and they went back to walking.  Molly took a brief ride in the sled down the last hill and by the time we reached the stream coming out of the hot springs the snow was completely gone.

Shortly after we arrived at the cabin Tom and Marsh showed up and we all settled down for some after hike snacks (two containers of Stax, the pseudo Pringle ) and a soak.  The hot tubs at Tolovana are all fantastic.  They now have three hot tubs, including a new wooden “horse trough” looking one.  The temperatures in the tubs range from “lobster boiling” hot to just hot.   Initially the girls were a bit suspicious of the hot tubs but by the time the second day came they were big fans.

The girls had quite a bit of fun in our cabin.  There were a number of card and dice games that were quickly pressed into duty.



No back country trip is complete without the girl’s two lambs, named naturally Lamby and Fred.  The black footed and faced lamb is Fred, in case you are wondering.

On the second day Tom,Marsh, and Nancy disappeared during the middle of the day to go hiking and I hung out with the girls and read some fine escapist science fiction. Later in the afternoon I took off to explore the trails heading down the Tolovana river and the Dunbar Trail.  The last time I had been in this area was the winter after the forest fire and the trees in the area still smelled of smoke.  Things are quite a bit different now, and its w
as pretty fascinating to wander though the burn exploring.  And of course, enjoying another soak.


The next morning we all got up early in an attempt to make a quick start.  Tom managed to sleep though most of the early packing and breakfast making, and woke in time to have the last plate of pancakes and the remaining slices of bacon.

The dogs were pressed into duty as bacon frying pan cleaners –  its amazing how clean they can get a frying pan clean.  Rest assured, we also washed the pans afterwords.

Bacon powered (except for Nancy, who had her normal, vegetarian breakfast of milk and cereal) we headed off on the long walk out.  There is quite a bit more climbing on the way out and the weather was not as nice, but it was not that strenuous of a hike out.   The wind had picked up and was blowing 10 to 20 miles a hour, but otherwise it was a fine day.

The Tolovana parking lot was quite a different scene and the wind was blowing quite a bit harder.

I had a nice collection of rime ice on my truck.

All in all this was a wonderful trip and was very much enjoyed by all.  The twins in particular had a great time.  I think I will have to visit again in the fall – it was quite a mellow trip in and out.  Its often hard to get folks to make a trip out to Tolovana, as there are lots of horror stories about how its not a fun ski (too steep) and can be quite cold and windy.  The trail seems quite passable once it starts to frost up, so early-mid fall seems like a good compromise – the weather is not too harsh but its not too wet as to be unpleasant hiking. A couple of week earlier would probably have been more ideal.