Posts Tagged ‘packrafting’

Packrafting Beaver Creek Again

Tuesday, June 8th, 2021

I love Beaver Creek! I try to do the classic Nome Creek to Summit trail float and hike once a year or so in some form. It is beautiful and the logistics are simple so it makes a great easy packrafting trip.

Four years ago our whole family packrafted (google says it should be spelled pack-rafting, but what does google know? 🙂 ) Beaver Creek, floating down to the Summit Trail and hiking out to the Wickersham Dome trailhead. It was a mixed bag – the twins had fun for sections, but Lizzy in particular hated the brush and didn’t enjoy the packrafting with two people in a boat that much. The weather was not ideal – we got hailed on several times during the float and rained on a fair bit. This year we ended up with a Memorial day weekend without commitments and so I started aggressively pushing to do something fun outside. Doing a repeat of the Beaver Creek came up, and Molly seemed excited about it once I pointed out they could be in their own boats, and that BLM had trimmed the dense (!!) brush in the first eight miles from the river. Lizzy was not excited about the hiking part because of all the brush in the trail, and “packrafting is dumb”. Her irritation about the brush is understandable as it was in her face when she hiked it four years ago, which is a lot worse than having it waist level like it is on me. Her disliking of packrafting is also sort of understandable, as the the only trip the twins have been on they didn’t get to control their own boats and were in double boats, so there wasn’t much to do besides bob around and be cold. Eventually a compromise was reached, and we decided Molly and I would float Beaver Creek, then Nancy and Lizzy would meet us half way on the hike out. My friends Tom and Amanda were going to join us.

Alas, as the trip came closer Tom hurt his back and the forecast was for unseasonably cold weather. Yikes! Tom’s back issues were abating but not well enough for the hike, but Molly was still up for it, and the weather was to go back to the normal sun by the time we were hiking so we charged ahead. Our friend Heath dropped us off at the put in were our car read 37f with a stiff breeze. Molly was in my boat with a white water skirt, and I was in an open double boat (alpacka calls them double ducks). After a bit of messing around we got inflated and were soon floating down the river.

Beaver Creek 2021 Beaver Creek 2021

Much to my surprise Molly was quite warm sealed into the boat with a skirt. I was not though – my feet were very cold by the end of the day.

Beaver Creek 2021

The float down beaver creek was uneventful but fun. Molly seemed to pickup the packrafting basics quickly, and my worries of her flipping or getting into wood in Beaver Creeks class I (maybe II if one is very generous) whitewater didn’t come to pass. The twins have been doing an internship with the Alaska Songbird Institute helping monitor Tree Swallows, and have developed a keen interest in birds.

Beaver Creek 2021

There were lots and lots of birds to see. Bald eagles, a few other large birds of prey, tons of ducks and other waterfowl.

Beaver Creek 2021

lots of wolf tracks on the river..

Beaver Creek 2021

The brief bit of winter trail near the river looked great.. the other side was a different story though.

A few miles upstream of our take out in a straight line the river had cut off a long oxbow and was now taking a new channel, leaving a deep backwater pool were the river used to flow. Seeing the river evolve was pretty neat!

Beaver Creek 2021

Beaver Creek 2021

The “too much floating look”..

Our plans were to float most of the way to the takeout then camp on the river, but the float was faster than I expected, and in around eight hours we pulled into Borealis-LeFevre cabin just across from the take out. The place was a bit of a mess – very muddy, with TP and trash littering the grass around the cabin, but the warm of a woodstove was very appreciated. It took several hours for my feet to recover from the cold float.

Beaver Creek 2021

Beaver Creek 2021

Mystery drift wood..

Beaver Creek 2021

The previous visitors had left the new window open and the shutters unlatched, and as we arrived they were banging in the wind – I was bummed to see it left like that. BLM had just put a new opening window in this winter (I think? Maybe it was earlier..) and it still has a screen free of holes. An opening window with a screen without holes is quite a luxury in this cabins, but it is going to be a short-lived one if folks leave it open all summer. A bit of sweeping and picking up, the fire started, and the place was warm and cozy. In the morning we loaded up into the double boat, and with two trips we are across the river and hiking out.

Beaver Creek 2021

BLM had done a fantastic job clearing the trail. The dense brush of our last hike is gone, leaving a nice clear trail – yay!

Beaver Creek 2021

Beaver Creek 2021

Beaver Creek 2021


It was wonderful to see all the clearing that had been done – they really put a lot of effort into it! It has turned brushy hike were it is hard to follow the trail into a fun and pleasant easy to follow trail. As forecasted the weather warmed up, and Molly and I enjoyed a fantastic (but longer than I remembered) hike to meet up with Nancy, Lizzy, and the dogs.

Beaver Creek 2021

Molly’s snow field crossing technique..

Beaver Creek 2021


Along the way we found a small pool with magically delicious “mountain water” as Molly put it that she hoarded for the rest of the hike. A mile or so from our meetup point the brush came back and we had to smash though a brief but dense thicket – I expect the trail clearing crew ran out of time and didn’t clear the whole thing.


Beaver Creek 2021

The remaining brushy section..

The evening was spent reading books, playing games, petting the dogs, and searching for water, as alas the water catchment’s barrel had split open.

The next day we hiked out, with Lizzy setting a blazing pace.

Beaver Creek 2021 Beaver Creek 2021 Beaver Creek 2021 Beaver Creek 2021

We had a question from a man in a kilt who upon seeing our paddles and life jackets asked about the trail up from the river, and was excited to be informed the brush was mostly trimmed out. Apparently we were not the only group put off by the thick brush. Lizzy I think ended up being sad she missed the float – I don’t think it entirely dawned on her how much difference having your own boat would have made fun wise. She and Nancy still had fun though, and the group of us arrived at the parking lot tired, muddy, and happy. I did have one freak out /breakdown as folks were getting in the car in regards to the mud free-ness (or lack there of) of their shoes – my apologies Nancy!


As a postscript, after checking with BLM to make sure it was ok, the following Friday I hauled in two new trash cans to function as rain barrels and a roll of hardware cloth to wrap around them to keep them from getting chewed up. Someone had put in a trash bag in the split barrel meanwhile and it was mostly holding water again. I swapped out the split trash can with a new one, stashed the extra, and hauled the broken one out. Hopefully it will several seasons.

Beaver Creek 2021

Happy summer everyone!

Taking a swiftwater rescue class..

Thursday, June 3rd, 2021

Years ago I took white water class from Jim Gonski of the Alaska Kayak Academy. It was a mixed success – the time spent in the water outside of the boats was really valuable. I didn’t get much out of the paddling part though. I think that was a mix of me being a bad student and Jim’s limited time in packrafts at that point.

When I learned Luc Mehl was going to be teaching some packraft specific swift-water rescue classes this summer I jumped at the opportunity, and signed up.

The class was taught under the umbrella of the Swiftwater Safety Institute, and we were supposed to take a bunch of online training provided by this before the class started. The training had me pretty worried – there was extensive discussion of rigging, gear, and other stuff that didn’t seem very practical for packrafting. I can’t see a situation besides a day trip where I would be taking a pulley and all that rope needed to setup a z-drag for example. At one point the instructor in the training videos talks about how he always carries three knifes in his pfd – two river knifes and a knife to use for normal use like cutting things. I couldn’t help but wonder how useful this class was going to be for me..

I shouldn’t have been worried – Luc spent almost no time talking about rigging, but instead spent the time on a pretty good mix of time spent in the water swimming, re-entry, rescue techniques (foot entrapment was discussed at length), and paddling skills. He also had the best description of how to exit eddies I had ever heard – I had been doing it completely wrong, and had missed some pretty basic stuff like how to hold/orientate the paddle. When Luc was discussing “risks”, he was careful to relate them to how they match up to whitewater accident statistics which was super useful. As an example, according to the stats presented by Luc, entrapment in the rigging of packrafts and stuff attached to them is a leading cause of accidents. I knew that that was an issue, I just hadn’t thought that though how this would rate risk wise. I am never really at good of a student for this in person classes, as I am a pretty shy introvert, but I think I got a lot out of it.

As an extra bonus we floated the section of the Nenana just above McKinley Village. It is a completely new to me section of river, with lots of interesting river features – Yay!

The class is well worth taking – anyone doing pack-rafting would benefit. I think Luc is going to run more classes this summer – if you have the opportunity take one of them! The SSI schedule is here.

The Hot Springs Trifecta

Wednesday, August 28th, 2019

Several years ago, some friends and I, inspired by Ed Plumb’s epic trip to Dall Hotsprings , talked about using the Kanuti river for a longer trip looping back to the Haul Road.  After a bit of discussion, the plan morphed into a three hot springs trip. First, float the Kanuti River from the Haul Road, stopping at Kanuti hot springs for a soak.  Then float down the Kanuti river for another 20 miles and hike to the Upper Ray hot springs. Finally, walk or float to the Lower Ray hot springs and then back out to the road.  It seemed viable, but while I was aware people had floated the Kanuti River below the traditional take-out for Kanuti hot springs, I had not talked to them about it. While the walking looked good on the maps who knows how it would be in person.   Early this June, Ed, Matt, Chris, and I headed out to see if we could pull it off.  It was going to be awesome — a new section of river, two new hotsprings, wahoo!   Heath and Patrick joined us for the first leg, floating to the first hot springs, Kanuti, and shuttled Chris’s truck to our take-out (thanks guys!). 

We left town fairly early in Chris’s “fry truck”.  (Chris and his wife Robbin heat their house and power their truck with used oil from local restaurants.)  We drove the Kanuti River, and after a bit of futzing around, put it and began the adventure, yahoo!  

Hot Springs Trifecta

The water in the Kanuti River was high, and the float was fun and fast.   The day was beautiful, with lots of sun and a brief rain squall that mostly avoided us. 

Hot Springs Trifecta

The birds of prey were out in force, and we saw quite a few large raptors and a few owls.   The hours sped by, and soon we were at the take-out for hotsprings number one. Kanuti has had a problem bear for the last few years, but fortunately we didn’t see it.  Alas, it was a beautifully hot day, and unfortunately that meant the hot springs were a bit too hot to soak in for very long. On the upside, it was great to see the field of grass and wild chives surrounding the hot springs in the summer again.  It feels like a green oasis, and smells unique. 

We still had a long float ahead of us, so we said goodbye to Patrick and Heath, and continued floating down the river.  The Kanuti to our takeout was an interesting river – mostly pretty mellow, with a few splashy sections with large rounded rocks.  If the water was a lot higher, those splashy sections would have been a handful. At one point we came upon a cow moose with a young calf in the middle of the river, and we tried to gently sneak by, but they kept going downstream slightly ahead of us — until a black bear charged out of the brush on one of the banks and attempted to snatch the calf.   Much to our happiness and the bear’s sadness, the cow and calf escaped, leaving the bear splashing in the stream. It climbed out bedraggled and wet, and then disappeared into the brush along the bank. Matt is a biologist for the National Park Service, and explained the cow was probably aware of the bear and had been sticking to the river so that if the bear had attacked it could have used its longer legs to stomp the swimming bear and gain the upper hand.  Much to everyone’s happiness (besides the bear’s, I expect) our involvement hadn’t driven the cow or calf into the bear and caused a disaster… 


As we neared the ridge on which we were going to begin our hike, it soon became apparent that the nice campsite overlooking we Kanuti River wasn’t there.  Instead the bank sloped somewhat steeply up to the ridge.. We spent a few hot hours hiking up to the first flat spot we could find, at the high point of the ridge.  

Matt, happy to enjoy some cold snow after a long climb in his dry suit..

Matt had packed a few beers, and they were enjoyed in style, with a view. Thanks Matt! 

Hot Springs Trifecta Hot Springs Trifecta

The next day, we hiked over to Tokusatatquaten Lake, a beautiful lake with awesome sand beaches and really nice walking. 

Hot Springs Trifecta Hot Springs Trifecta Hot Springs Trifecta

It is in a truly wonderful spot, and if we had been faster it would have been a great place to camp.

Hot Springs Trifecta Hot Springs Trifecta

Alas, it was late morning, so we pushed on, enjoying great ridge hiking and neat tors while a thunderstorm passed off in the distance. 

Hot Springs Trifecta
Chris, retying his shoe after a tumble in the alder..

We had planned to camp at the Upper Ray hot springs, but a mile or so of dense alder slowed us down enough that we camped on a ridge above it. In the middle of the night, I woke to wolves howling in the valley below us.    

In the morning we zoomed down to the Upper Ray, enjoying awesome walking.  We saw our first sign of humans since leaving Kanuti, in the form of a survey cut.   We followed a hot stream of water through a dense patch of cow parsnip (the northernmost patch I have ever seen!) to where the water came out of a bluff into a neat pond. 

Hot Springs Trifecta Hot Springs Trifecta Hot Springs Trifecta

The water was hot, and very refreshing, with minimal sulphur smell. Alas, we couldn’t spend all day there, and we headed for what we hoped to be a shortish day to the Lower Ray.   Ed had been here once before, and had hiked on the south side of the creek, and said the hiking was pretty bad. Instead, we tried to take game trails on the north side of the creek.. It mostly had good walking, but it was very indirect.  After several hours of averaging under a mile an hour in a straight line we gave up, and put in and tried floating. The Upper Ray is deeply incised in silt banks, so it was sort of like paddling through a mud canyon. And it was muddy. Everyone else seemed able to keep mud out of their boat, but I wasn’t, and by the end of the day my boat weighed a ton with all the extra mud in it.   I made a serious tactical error and left most of my food in my pack, which was stuffed into my boat, and I only had 2 candy bars for most of the day.. By late afternoon I was full-on hangry. Fortunately, Ed took pity on me, and gave me some more food to tide me over. Eventually we made it to the Lower Ray hot springs – hurrah!

Hot Springs Trifecta


The Lower Ray hot springs is a neat place. The hot water comes out of a gravel bank, and flows right into the Ray River.  It had by far the least alge I have ever seen in a hot spring. Alas, it also had cow parsnip. The camping was great, too — a heated gravel bar, how can anyone beat that! And ever better, there was an old cabin across the creek. I love old rusty stuff, and this cabin was full of it — some old, some new.. It looked like it had been visited somewhat recently, but alas was a bit run down..

Hot Springs Trifecta Hot Springs Trifecta

The final day, we floated out to the road.  This section of the Ray had several sections of class II-ish rapids.  They were just bouncy enough to be fun, but not very threatening. By late afternoon, we made it to our takeout, and after a short but steep climb to the road, we were at the truck, and heading home. 

The upper and lower Ray hot springs are unique and well worth visiting.  I am already scheming ways to get back there. 


Thanks for the company Ed, Matt, Patrick, Heath, and Chris!

Our route

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Bike rafting Manley to Rampart and back

Thursday, June 7th, 2018

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A year or so ago my friend Tom suggested doing some sort of loop using packrafts and bikes involving the new “pioneer” road to Tanana. Eventually a route was worked out, starting in Manley, taking the Eliot highway over to Eureka, then taking an old road to Rampart, floating down the Yukon to the new Tanana road, and taking that back to Manley. The basic idea was pretty awesome – a loop, involving bikes, pack-rafts, two new (to me) roads, and a new (to me) section of the Yukon river. Hurrah!

Details on the road to Eureka to Rampart were a bit spotty, but I was told by a musher based in Eureka it should be fine except for a few “wet” spots.

The trip started after work, when Tom, Heath, and I loaded up into Heath’s truck and headed to Manley. Manley is small town with a nearby privately owned hotsprings and a small roadhouse. Alas, the roadhouse was closed, but we wandered the town a bit, seeing the sights.


Manley Loop, via Rampart and the Yukon

(Tom and Heath, peering into the abandoned Alaska Commercial Company’s old building)

In the morning we headed out on the Eliot Highway to Eureka. Eureka was once a gold rush town, but now appears to be mostly inhabited by a few mushers and some smaller gold mining operations.


Manley Loop, via Rampart and the Yukon

Manley Loop, via Rampart and the Yukon

After Eureka we slowly climbed up and over a pass, heading down to Minook Creek, which we were to follow all the way to Rampart. The “road” was in great shape and we had high hopes of zooming off to Rampart.

DSC00124

Manley Loop, via Rampart and the Yukon

Alas, the road turned into a muddy trail ended near Granite Creek, and things slowed down.


Manley Loop, via Rampart and the Yukon

Manley Loop, via Rampart and the Yukon

Manley Loop, via Rampart and the Yukon

Five hours, four deepish stream crossings, and around 10 miles later we neared Rampart, and were finally back on fast, firm roads again.


Manley Loop, via Rampart and the Yukon

Manley Loop, via Rampart and the Yukon

Manley Loop, via Rampart and the Yukon

Manley Loop, via Rampart and the Yukon

Manley Loop, via Rampart and the Yukon

We did a short tour of Rampart, which was a very quiet town, talked to a few locals who were a bit surprised to see someone arriving on bikes, then camped on a out of the way gravel bar.

The next morning we loaded up onto our boats, and headed down the Yukon.


Manley Loop, via Rampart and the Yukon

Manley Loop, via Rampart and the Yukon

Manley Loop, via Rampart and the Yukon

I was a bit worried about the “bike rafting” part of this trip, as I had only done one short test float with a bike on my boat, but it turned out to be much easier than I expected. We spent the rest of the day floating down the Yukon, until mid afternoon, when the wind picked up, and camped just before the “Rampart Rapids”, a short section of faster water about halfway to our takeout point. I had been told it was only a rapid in name, and was just some slightly faster water. Our campsite was on a little fresh water creek named Bear Creek, and was a great spot except for a swarm of stink bugs that found our tents and Heath’s gloves fascinating.


Manley Loop, via Rampart and the Yukon

The next day we continued down the Yukon, bobbing down the Yukon until we arrived at the Tanana road.

Manley Loop, via Rampart and the Yukon

The Yukon was much more scenic than I expected, with beautiful bluffs and big hills in the distance.


Manley Loop, via Rampart and the Yukon

Manley Loop, via Rampart and the Yukon

Manley Loop, via Rampart and the Yukon

Manley Loop, via Rampart and the Yukon

We arrived at the Tanana road early afternoon, and switched back into biking mode.


Manley Loop, via Rampart and the Yukon

Alas, the Tanana road ends at the Yukon, about 8 miles or so upstream of Tanana on the other side of the Yukon, so we didn’t visit the village, instead biked 13 or so miles and camped in a wonderful mossy spot on a hill. While we were sitting in camp that evening Heath and I had a bit of a panic after we convinced ourselves the maps we had contour intervals in meters, and noticed we had a handful of bigger than 500 meter climbs on the way to Manley. Fortunately we figured out our mistake, mainly that they were actually in feet, and went to bed happy we didn’t have thousands of feet of climbing ahead of us.

The Tanana road was in great shape for biking, but maybe a bit rough for vehicle traffic.


Manley Loop, via Rampart and the Yukon

Most of it was in great shape, but it was very soft in a few spots, and the surface had lots of the sort of gravel and rock pieces that are hard on car tires.

The next morning we rode the remaining 30 ish miles into Manley, enjoying a few hot climbs (that were not thousands of feet tall) and dusty downhills.


Manley Loop, via Rampart and the Yukon

We arrived in Manley dusty and dirty, to learn one of us (probably me – duh!) had left an interior light on, and had drained the battery. Fortunately someone gave us a jump, and we on our way back home.


Manley Loop, via Rampart and the Yukon

This trip was pretty fun, but folks interested in replicating it should be aware that there is a lot of muddy soft trail after Granite Creek (mile 12 or so of the road/trail from Eureka to Rampart).

Gear wise, I did this trip with my Surly Ice Cream truck with some “normal” wheels with three inch tires. It worked great, but I was a bit surprised how little extra grip on got on the mud, and by how much the air pressure varied as we passed though cold creeks and hot sun. Tom’s boat has the “cargo fly”, zippers that let him store stuff inside the boat, which worked fantastic. I was jealous, and I think I have one of those in my future.

2017 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic – No Sleep ’til Wiseman!

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017

To preface this post, this page is now near the top of the hits from Google for searches for the Alaska Wilderness Classic, which makes me feel a bit bad about it. This writeup is just intended to convey my experience, and I didn’t approach the event all that competitively, and I am a bit of a nincompoop. Luc Mehl has a much better write up and Andrew Skurka has a very nice writeup on the 2009 race – I would start with those to get a better idea about the event, rather than starting here. -Jay

For years I have followed the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic, following the antics of Rocky R and Roman D, and later generations. I have wanted to do one for years, but alas, there was always some sort of conflict making so I couldn’t attend, or they seemed a bit too crazy. Finally last year the route switched to Galbraith to Wiseman, which is an area I am fairly familiar with (and shorter than some of the past routes!), and after sitting out last year due to conflicts, this year my friend Tom agreed to join me – yay!

We drove to Wiseman, spend the night camping on the lawn of the Arctic Getaway (great folks!), and the morning loaded up and drove to Galbraith. There were 14 folks and 7 teams doing the event, including another group from Fairbanks.

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
The Winning Edge
Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
Lindsey and Ellen, team Giggle

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
Matt (I think)

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
Harlow in his bug proof ultra running attire

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
John (I think)

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

After a bit of futzing around and someone waving a flare gun around, it went off (fortunately pointed up and safely at the sky), and at around 12 we were off!

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Our plan was to take the “direct” route over to the Hammond River, going over 4 passes, and floating the Hammond out to Wiseman.

Things started well, zooming along enjoying the fast walking..
Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
photo compliments of Tom

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
photo compliments of Tom

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alas, when we reached the final pass, we couldn’t find a way over it, working from the west side to the east side. It ended in a small glacier which had a pretty shallow angel, but was a bit too steep for me to feel comfortable to walk on. Later I would find the Toby and Harlow walked straight up it.

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
Failing at route finding.. photo complements of Tom

It was pretty socked in, and the brief glimpses of the east side of the pass showed cliffs – so we turned around and headed back down to take the scenic route around the passes.

On the way down we bumped into Lindsey and Ellen on the their way up. We wished them luck with the pass. I was pretty sure they would find a way across, Tom was less certain. Later we were to find out they found a pretty straightforward up it on the east side.

We headed back down, and over to the Itkillik River, taking a pass over to an unnamed creek that lead to the creek. It was mostly uneventful though at 2am I got a bug stuck in my eye, and there was a few minutes of fussing before I got it and a ruined contact out of my eye in a comical bit of futzing.

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

We headed over to the divide between the North Fork the Koyukuk and the Itkillik, then headed down to the North Fork.

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
photo complements of Tom

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

There is a deep canyon were the north fork drops off the divide, and while I had been told it was possible to walk the canyon, we walked the benches above the river. Eventually we dropped down to the river, and followed the creek until it looked (safely!) floatable.
Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
my styling head net replacement..

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

The north fork quickly turned floatable, and we put in, deciding to take the scenic route to Delay Pass and out the Nolan road to Wiseman.

The floating was fast and fun, eventually turning very fun, with lots of nice fun boulders and water features. Alas, Tom was having spray deck issues, and we ended up walking a few miles around Bombardment Creek, but soon we were back in the boats enjoying gliding along with minimal effort..

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

After a nap on a sandbar near mid night with a small fire, we pushed on to Delay Pass, where we took out, and grabbed another hour or so of sleep, then packed up and began the hike out.

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
Me, catching some sleep, and breaking the no-sleep-til-wiseman rule

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
signs of racers in the past..

Everyone says Delay Pass is miserable hiking, but I didn’t find much of it to be actually miserable, and while it was a bit of a slog, we made pretty good progress.

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

We cut off a fair bit of the winter trail by taking a ridge around the worst part. Climbing up the ridge kicked my butt, and my feet were starting to get a bit sore and waterlogged, and my achilles were starting to hurt, but otherwise everything was mostly fine. Once I loosened my shoes a bit my achilles were much happier.

Soon we were on the road out of Nolan, slowly shuffling down the road to Wiseman. These 6 miles took forever and were a bit hard on the feet..

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
two miles from Wiseman..

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

We finished Wednesday at 4:30am, 65 ish hours since the start.

It was a great experience, thanks for the company Tom, and thanks to the Hickers of the Arctic Getaway Cabins for hosting us!

I am already thinking about next year..

As a post scripts of sorts – folks often accuse me of saying things were “mellow” when they are not. This trip wasn’t mellow – but the walking was mostly good, and the floating really split things up so my body got a nice break, making for a relatively trauma free adventure. And of course, we got 4 ish hours of sleep, making things even nicer. The “harder” parts, and things I need to improve on would be to walk a bit faster, concentrate more on micro scale route finding (sticking to the bands of nice walking though the areas of not nice walking), and “staying the course” when the planned route appears to go bad, and finding a way to make it work. On the last point, I feel pretty disappointed with myself that we turned back at the first pass, assuming there was no way over, even though we knew at least one other party had gone over – Harlow’s footprints were pretty distinctive, and I saw the prints on the first climb up the pass, so I so I knew folks had made it over.

A second post script – here are some brief notes (to myself mainly) on things that worked or didn’t work:

  •  i used Gaia GPS for a bit of the navigation on this trip, and was amazed by how much easier to navigate with vs the garmin unit I normally use.  I should pre-cache satellite imagery for tricky bits, i expect that would help with navigation.
  • I brought a ultra lightweight bivy, and it was great for a little extra warmth and to keep the bugs off.
  • I pre-taped my forefoot and heels, and the tape lasted most of the trip, and I survived with only a few small blisters – success!
  • I had treated my shirt with Permethrin, and it worked great for keeping the bugs away.
  • The hmg backpack was awesome – worked great, comfortable, and light.  I wish it was made of something besides cuben fiber, as it already appears to be showing signs of wear, but I guess that is life.

A few things that worked less well:

  • My food choices could have used a bit more thought – i bought about 5 of the ominously named “Meal Pack Bars” – they are very calorie dense and pack well, but taste bad and are like eating dirt – dry and unrewarding.  Otherwise my food selection was fine, though perhaps more Snickers next time.
  • I brought a freeze dried meal, which I made before hiking delay pass – I should have brought two more, it went down great.
  • I was a bit unhappy with my footwear – montrail mountain masochist trail runners.  They are light and grippy, but need a stiffer rock plate for some of the walking – i bruised my feet a bit.  Otherwise they worked great – I just wish the forefront of these shoes were stiffer.  Otherwise they worked fine.   If anyone has recommendations I would love to hear them.  I would love to just use low top hiking shoes for these sort of trips, but alas I can’t find any that are not goretex.
  • I didn’t bring enough foot lube – I could have used a lot more after my feet dried out after the nap before delay pass.  Live and learn..
  • trekking poles would have made some of the hiking faster, and some of the stream crossings easier – next time I will bring them!
  • I really wish I had brought some sort of lightweight bug proof long sleeve top with a hood – it would have made the bug pressure a bit easier to deal with at times.
  • I suck at micro scale navigation – I need to work on finding those sections of nicer walking in sections of bad walking.  Mostly I think it just requires me to be more aware of where I am going – something to work on.

The route:

Summer of 2018 update
The 2018 version of this is just around the corner, and I was digging around for info on the water levels when we did it in 2017. Alas, I didn’t save the info (curses!), but
The Slate Creek Gauge looked like this:

The current state of the gauge is: Slate Creek
For some reason I cannot find historical data on the river gauge at Bettles, but the current info can be found here: Koyukuk at Bettles

Alaska Cross 2017..

Monday, June 12th, 2017

Thump, thump, thump.
I turned around to see Nick and Stefan running up the road behind me, zooming along at a pretty good clip.

“Where is the rest of your group?” Nick or Stefan asked.
“They are ahead – go catch them!”
And they zoomed off even faster.

Alaska Cross is a semi organized unofficial race that was originally from Chena hot springs to Circle Hot Springs in Central. The last few years the course has bounced around a bit, trying routes in the Alaska range in a few different locations, but now it was back to the original form, and I really wanted to do it. Tom and I made plans to do it, and eventually joined up with Drew, and finally Seth at the very last minute. Before the race there was a bit of discussion of routes, all with tradeoffs of one sort or another.

The race start was a pretty low key affair – there were only nine people there, and after a short talk by the (un) organizer Mark Ross, everyone was off. The two runners, Stefan and Nick, zoomed off, while the rest of us plodded along on foot.

We took the “default” route, taking the quest route over to Birch Creek, then floating Birch Creek down to a bit before Harrison Creek and hiking the ridge over to the mining road, and walking the road out to Circle Hot Springs.

Alaska cross, chena to central

I haven’t been on this section of the Yukon Quest trail before, and I was super excited to see a section of new trail.

Alaska cross, chena to central

Rosebud summit was neat to see, and it was great to think of all the epic adventures mushers have had going up and over it from the comfort of a nice warm summer day.

Alaska cross, chena to central

It was pretty scenic and very fast walking, at least until the last few miles which were a bit tussocky. At this point in the race it was pretty clear that Tom and Drew were in much better shape than I was. They were much faster going up hill, and Tom in particular was powering through the tussocks at a pretty amazing pace.

Alaska cross, chena to central

Alaska cross, chena to central

We arrived at Birch Creek around 5pm. The creek was, alas, a bit on the low side, but that was expected. We had talked about shortening the float by taking a longer route to the river – trading 10 miles of hiking to cut off approximately 25 miles of floating, but tales of how bad those 10 miles would be made me a bit concerned.

I unpacked, inflated, and messed around a bit trying to put together a makeshift replacement for the spray skirt poles I had left behind accidently cobbled something together from willow branches (which worked ok – hurrah!). Skirt semi-assembled, I looked over and saw that Drew was totally packed and ready to go, and Tom was almost ready – doh, I was holding folks up! I got moving and was soon ready to go, but alas Seth still had a considerable yard sale spread all around him.

This was the story of the trip – Drew packs up almost instantly, and is ready to go fast, Tom is nearly as fast, leaving me in a panic that I am holding everyone up. And of course, I was!

Just as I was starting my full on panic packing, Jenna, the only solo entry popped out of the woods. She seemed to be in great spirits and it was looking like she was going to be ready to go before I was, causing my packing to get even more frenzied!

The wait on Seth’s yard sale continued until Tom and Drew’s egg timers went off, and they headed out. I took off with them, figuring that Seth would get going and catch up on the river.

Alaska cross, chena to central

Alaska cross, chena to central

The float was pretty uneventful. Paddle. Paddle. More Paddling. I think we found we could make around four miles per hour if we paddled continuously which we did except for 3 breaks to stretch our legs and warm up. Fortunately it was windy on the river, which kept the temperatures warm. Which was awesome, as the first year I did this route I had ice on my deck in the middle of the night – it was a bit cold!

We saw Jenna and Seth periodically, but they seemed to yo-yo around us, getting ahead then falling back.

In the early hours of the morning we bumped into Nick and Stefan as they were preparing to cross the creek.

Alaska cross, chena to central

They looked to be in pretty good spirits, but I was pretty happy we didn’t take the route with more walking as they had light packs and still were not very far ahead of us.

Alaska cross, chena to central

We ran both rapids on the creek after boat scouting them – they were pretty tame at this low water level.

Alaska cross, chena to central

Alaska cross, chena to central

Just as the sun hit the river it was time to take out, and Seth joined us just as we pulled up on a rocky beach to take out. Everyone was a bit discombobulated, but we got packed up climbed a hill over to the mining road we would take to walk out to the hot springs.

Alaska cross, chena to central

Alaska cross, chena to central

The climb took me from cold as I left the river to really hot as I sweated away climbing up hill. Drew and Tom zoomed up the hill like it was nothing as I slogged along in their wake.

Zoom the climb was over, and it was down, down, down to the mining road, where I took advantage of an outhouse nicely situated near on top of a little mound near the road to answer the call of nature. Just about finished with the deed I discovered the outhouse was very unstable and there was a bit of a panic as I tried to get out without having it fall over and slide off the hill..

Then it was back to the road, walking, walking, walking.. until Mark Ross showed up.

Alaska cross, chena to central

This is the first year he hadn’t done the race, and I think he was not sure what to do with all his nervous energy.

Alaska cross, chena to central

Eventually Mark drove off, leaving us to enjoy the dry, hot walk by ourselves. Tom, Drew, and then Seth all tired of my slow pace and disappeared off in the distance.

Alaska cross, chena to central

Tired and with sore feet I pulled in 20 minutes or so after Tom and Drew, and a few minutes after Seth. Nick and Stefan finished 20 minutes or so before Tom and Drew, and giving them the win. Jenna pulled about an hour after me, looking happy and chipper.

The total mileage was 72 miles, 45 of which was floating. Our average pace including stops while walking was 2.5 mph, 3.5mph floating.

I brought just enough food – I was down to three gels (GUs), two snickers, and a little bit of frito powder when I finished.

Thanks for the company Drew, Seth, and Tom! And a huge thank you for picking us up at Circle Hot springs Trusten – that pizza you brought to the finish really made my day!

A few notes:

  • Like I mentioned, I should have brought more food in case it took me longer.
  • I really felt like I was holding folks up this year, I definitely need to get into better shape.
  • I took my new HMG pack (all the cool folks are using them, got to join in! 🙂 ) on this trip, and it was the first time I have used it in any real sense. I liked it, it seemed to work very well, carries fine. One gripe – it is hard to water bottles in and out of the pockets on the side without taking the pack off, which is a bit of a downer.

P.S. After I got home I fell asleep on the couch, and was apparently out enough Molly (one of my daughters) could “paint” my toenails blue with a magic marker. Sigh.. 🙂

Map: