Posts Tagged ‘packrafting’

Packrafting Beaver Creek with the family..

Saturday, June 10th, 2017

Ever since I got my first packraft I’ve had packrafting adventures on Beaver Creek . This winter, with the hope that I could share a packrafting adventure with my family, I picked up two packrafts that can each hold two people. I was very excited to try them out! I made plans to do the classic Beaver Creek with the family and a few others in late winter (or early spring, depending on your point of view).

Trip day arrived. Our party of 10 included me, Nancy, Lizzy (age 11), and Molly (age 11); Trusten (age 70) and his daughter Robin (age 17); Beth and Constantine; Tom; and Gregg. We piled out of our vehicles to start the adventure. On the drive, Lizzy had told me firmly that she wasn’t going to be happy if it rained. When it started (very lightly) snowing, I pointed out that it wasn’t raining. She was not amused.

It took a while to get going with such a large party, but eventually we were all bobbing along, enjoying the current. The weather was pretty cold and the sun came and went as clouds passed by. When the sun was shining it was pleasant, but when it dipped behind the clouds it was a bit nippy.

Midafternoon we had a serious hail storm, with enough hail for it to pile up on the decks of our boats. LIzzy, who was floating with me, was wearing a neck gaiter, and pulled it up over her face to keep the hail from hitting her.

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I was a bit jealous how comfortable she appeared to be. After a few hours, though, the twins started raising objections to the floating, mostly involving their cold hands and feet.

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The adults seemed to be having fun though..
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Fortunately, we had two days to float roughly 30 miles, which in my experience is about 8 to 12 hours of floating, so after about 5 hours of travel we pulled out and made camp.

I somewhat optimistically pointed to a blue patch and told the twins “Look – blue sky!” to which they pointed at a dark cloud and said “Look – dark clouds!” starting a blue sky, dark clouds chant that became a staple.

The twins and Robin helped Constantine (the master fire maker) make a big campfire, which was a huge hit with its makers (and possibly the adults).

Beaver Creek -> Elliot highway mile 28

Beaver Creek -> Elliot highway mile 28

Beaver Creek -> Elliot highway mile 28

Beaver Creek -> Elliot highway mile 28

Beaver Creek -> Elliot highway mile 28

S’mores were enjoyed, and eventually everyone was tucked in their respective beds. I was excited to find out I could hold up our pyramid tent with two paddles. This was a pretty awesome revelation, and makes the tent much more usable, as there isn’t a pole in the middle of it.

The twins packed their own snacks, and while digging out the next days food I noticed a lack of trust..
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In the morning we packed up – after another fire of course – and floated to Borealis cabin, where we made a nice fire, warmed up, and dried off. This second day was a bit nicer, with no rain, a bit more sun, and only a brief bit of hail.

Beaver Creek -> Elliot highway mile 28

Beaver Creek -> Elliot highway mile 28

Folks were a bit reluctant to leave the nice warm cabin, but alas we didn’t have it booked and the plan was to hike a few miles and camp on the ridge above the river. Eventually we left the warmth of the cabin and headed back across the river, packed up the boats, and walked up the hill. The twins needed rides across the first creek, and enjoyed nice piggy back rides, but the tussocky climb up the hill was less exciting for them.

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By the time we made camp Lizzy was pretty tired and was almost to the point of meltdown. However, after some dinner and time enjoying a campfire, Lizzy recovered and headed off to build a little fort out of the many burned downed trees in the area.

[Molly and Lizzy are now old enough to read my blog posts and offer critizen; Molly wanted me to point out that while Lizzy enjoyed the ride, she wanted to walk across, even though it would have been mid-thigh on her. They also offered grammar and writing advice, which was a bit of a mixed blessing.]

The next morning we hiked about ten miles to the shelter at mile 8, which amazingly was empty. Alas, the rain barrel was also empty, and it took a while to find water, but otherwise it was a great place to camp. The twins appeared to enjoy the hiking a bit more, and I had a long discussion with Lizzy about the book series she is reading, the “Warriors series”. She is into those books at the moment, and it was great to share the experience with her.

Robin hiked most of the way barefoot, and arrived at the shelter pretty tired. I don’t think I saw her out of her sleeping bag the entire evening.

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The twins did not enjoy how much brush there was on a few sections, though. There are several miles of trail where the alder are growing in the trail and it is easier to walk off the trail than on it. The day was a bit long for them, and I was impressed by how well they handled it.

Beaver Creek -> Elliot highway mile 28

The final day went by quickly, with slightly less mileage, less elevation gain, and a much easier trail due to better trail maintenance. The trail is in much better shape in this section, and much to their credit, BLM has made major improvements on a few of the swampy sections – thanks BLM! We were out at the trailhead mid afternoon.

The twins were in high spirits and were pretty bouncy for the last day of hiking. Perhaps a bit too bouncy, as they started trying to steal Tom’s snacks…

Beaver Creek -> Elliot highway mile 28

…and throw snowballs at me.

Beaver Creek -> Elliot highway mile 28

Boat notes :
We have two double person packrafts – a double duck and a gnu. The double duck is slightly bigger, and is very light – I think it weighs about the same as my “normal” packraft. The gnu is a heavier boat, but the two front ends are pretty awesome, and it seems to be the fastest packraft I have floated in by a fair margin. We all used kayak paddles, and that seemed to work fine, though we had to synchronise paddling so the blades didn’t hit each other.

The twins rated the trip:
Floating: 6/10
Hiking: 2/10 when it brushy (Lizzy), 2/10 when it was muddy (Molly), otherwise 8/10
The floating would have gotten a higher rating if there had been less hail and it had been warmer. I think the lower mud and brush rating would have been avoided if I had warned them of the brush and if Molly had brought waterproof hiking shoes. Nancy also was surprised by the brush. Alas, I think the trail gets very little attention from BLM, and is very brushy in a few sections from the river to the shelter at mile 8.

Thoughts from Nancy:

While I was editing the spelling and punctuation in the above blog post, the kids kept looking over my shoulder, so I put off the job until after I tucked them in for the night. When I came back from tucking them in, I found that the cat had added her own edits, consisting of about fifty semicolons. Pippin does not like it when we all leave on four-day trips. Neither do the dogs, but they would have been impossibly challenging to include. Thanks to Margaret for caring for the menagerie.

Right. So, for those considering this trip, I’d say that overall, it was excellent. The hail/snow/sleet/whatever were not much fun, but could be avoided by traveling later in the season or heeding weather reports. The approximate schedule and distances we adhered to were perfect, although a three-day version might have been fine without kids. I know Jay usually does the trip in two, with the 10 hours of floating packed into one day and the 22 miles of hiking the following day, but in my mind this doesn’t seem to leave a heck of a lot of time for roasting potatoes in the campfire, building forts, stealing Tom’s candy, discussing the iffy state of the world, and admiring Gregg’s impressive camp cuisine.

As far as difficulty goes, the float is easy, and perfect for beginners. The worst mishaps were brief groundings in shallow sections. The hike is not terribly difficult, but as noted, you can expect to have sodden, muddy feet. The dense, scratchy brush obliterates the trail for miles at a time. Lightweight but rip-resistant pants are strongly recommended.

Thanks for a delightful adventure, everyone!

The Jack via Caribou Lakes!

Monday, September 12th, 2016

Several years ago I packrafted the Jack River, and ever since I have been interested in going back there for more exploreation.. and when I heard that Ed Plumb had hiked in via Carabou Lakes, I knew I had to go check it out, as several friends have told me that area is fantasticly beautiful!

Tom, Heath, and I started the trip off on a pull off on the Parks Highway, just south of Cantwell. The trip started off a bit wet and soggy..

Jack River Packrafting

.. but the trail dried out a bit, just as it started raining. The first few miles were on ATV trails, which made for fast but uninteresting walking..

Jack River Packrafting

Once we reached higher ground the ATV tracks disappeared, and headed up a small unnamed creek up and over to Caribou Lakes (or Caribou Pass as it is labeled on the USGS topos) area.

Jack River Packrafting

Jack River Packrafting

The hiking was pretty good, and while it was pretty foggy as we hiked up, it cleared up as we reached the pass, and the sun came out – awesome! I however was a bit sad about my camera choice – at the last minute I took my “nice” camera out of my pack, and just brought my little waterproof point and shoot, as it looked like it would be too wet for the good camera.

Jack River Packrafting

Area round the lakes is super scenic – very open, with great views and fantastic walking.

Jack River Packrafting

Jack River Packrafting

We ended up camping on the east end of the eastern lake so we would have a short walk to the putin the next day. There is a small cabin on the lake, but it was on the other side from where we camped. We didn’t check it out. The lakes did appear to have fish, as we could see them picking bugs off the top of the lake in the evening.

The views from our campsite were top notch..

Jack River Packrafting

Jack River Packrafting

The next morning we hiked to the Jack, inflated and started floating. Things started off pretty mellow..

Jack River Packrafting

Just shallow clear water, with the occasional mellow wall-push.
Jack River Packrafting

We had been warned there were two drops, possibly class III ish, so we kept our eyes out. The floating was pretty fun though, with lots of interesting water and neat rock formations.

Jack River Packrafting

Eventually we found the first drop, which was a bit after where the creek opened up a bit, and it hit us by surprise. Heath who had been leading us down the creek, hit it first, and dumped, and alas, got his camera a bit wet – a huge bummer!
Jack River Packrafting

It eventually recovered after a long stint in a food dehydrator.

After the first drop, things were pretty fun, but nothing challenging until the second drop in the canyon.

Jack River Packrafting

We scouted the second drop, and then floated it. The canyon round the second drop is very beautiful.

Jack River Packrafting

We made our way back to the bridge on the Parks Highway, where I biked back to the truck to complete the loop.

A few notes:

  • There are two drops – the first can be boat scouted if you know where it is, the second really should be scouted before running.
  • At really high water the upper section looks like it could be quite a handful, as could the lower drop in the canyon. At super high water it might be hard to eddy out to scout the lower drop. There is a nice ATV trail around the entire lower canyon section, if you want/need to hike around it.
  • Helmets seem like a good idea.
  • This trip is on Ahtna land. It isn’t clear to me if the part off the Parks Highway is on their land, or if an easement exists, and the same is true for the Caribou Lakes area. I didn’t see any signage, but the online maps definitely imply part of the Caribou Lakes area is on Ahtna land. The last few miles into Cantwell are on Ahtna land, though it is unclear if the Jack River is part of this or not. So get a permit before going.
  • On the hike in, when you hit the Intertie (the big power line), you can go left or right. We went left. Both ways appear to have atv trails leading to the creek we took up into the pass.

This is a super fun overnight trip, well worth doing!

A map of the route can be found here . The location of the two drops are approximate – use caution!

Quartz Creek hike and float

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

A while back I floated Bear Creek, one of the creeks that eventually forms Beaver Creek, with my friend Tom. I had been meaning to get back there, and with permission from the family to spend a Sunday and Monday away, and water levels very high, I decided to give it a try again. This time Tom and I were joined by Beth and Constantine. The route is a big loop, and involves leaving a car near the end of US Creek Road, biking over to Quartz Creek trail, then taking Quartz Creek trail for 12 miles, cutting over to Bear Creek, and floating down, eventually leaving Beaver Creek to hike back to the road.

Things got off to a bit of a rough start when near the end of the bike shuttle I got a flat, and like an idiot, stashed the bike and walked to the trailhead, thinking it as only a short distance, only to find out the “short” distance was more like 3 miles. I ended up running half of it or so before reaching the trail head. We headed down the trail, hurrying to catch Beth and Constantine, who had skipped the shuttle and had hiked ahead, planning on going at a mellow pace. Quartz Creek trail is a wonderful ATV trail, with lots of fantastic views…

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Unfortunately, Tom and I cut a switchback, walking right past Beth and Constantine while they mellowed out in the sun. We started to get nervous when we passed an ATVer who mentioned passing them, but not seeing them again… Oh-oh! Eventually we neared where we would cut off to the river, and started to get worried… but eventually they caught up with us, leaving Tom and me quite chagrined about passing them on a switchback.

After a bit of discussion, we bailed on our original plan of hiking over to the river, and headed to end of Quartz Creek trail to hike over to the river. I was a bit skeptical, but figured if nothing else we could just hike back to the higher county. The last mile or so of Quartz Creek trail is a bit muddy..

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and a bit wet..
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I was pleasantly surprised to see a lot of water in Quartz Creek… enough to float!
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After 45 minutes of floating we set up camp, mellowed out and enjoyed dinner..
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And eventually hit the sack, after enjoying a fire on the river. I used my Inreach to send some knock-knock jokes to my daughters before they went to bed..

“Knock, knock. Who’s there? Wooden shoe. Wooden shoe who? Wooden shoe like to hear another joke?”

The joys of technology!

[The Editor could insert an Editor’s Note here. The Editor will refrain.]

The rest of the float was a blast, though perhaps a bit too fun for Beth and Constantine at times, as this was their second time in packrafts. They were good sports though, and quickly figured out how things work.

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Quartz Creek was beautiful – crystal clear water, with neat bluffs and rocks.

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Just after we hit the confluence with Bear Creek, we hit a blown out beaver dam, with a small section remaining that Tom ran. It looked fun..

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The rest of the float on Beaver Creek was uneventful, though very scenic and fun.
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After a short stop to check out Richard’s cabin, where I scored a giant package of Twizzlers – I was running a bit short of snacks and it was a godsend – we soon reached our take-out. We hiked back to the car via Bear Creek trail. The last mile or so was a bit muddy, but nothing epic.

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Folks wanting to repicate this trip should be aware that Quartz Creek might normally be quite a bit lower. When Tom and I did this trip in 2009, the water was much, much lower and Bear Creek was only barely floatable. The Nome Creek stream gauge read just under 4 ft. Much lower and Quartz Creek would hardly be floatable.

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At the end of the trip I had only a half of a Bear Creek Pemmican bar left – I think I need to start being better about bringing more food!

Thanks Beth, Constantine, and Tom for the company and motivation!

Nabesna To McCarthy

Sunday, July 17th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(Heath, checking out the goat trail..)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A couple of notes:

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

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

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

A interactive map of our route can be found here.

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

A Packraft and Ski Trip on Beaver Creek

Saturday, October 24th, 2015

Winter has finally arrived here in Fairbanks, and while we now have enough snow to ski in some areas, the water levels on the rivers has been unusually high, probably due to all our late season rain. After some discussion, Heath, and I hatched a plan to float Beaver Creek from Nome Creek to Borealis Cabin, then to hike out to the Wickersham Dome mile 28. A few days before the trip we received word that the winter trail had enough snow to ski, and that snowmachines had been out on the trails, and so we switched up our plans and added skis in the mix. I was pretty worried about Nome Creek road, but fortunately I was able to get in touch with a musher to lives in the area, who said the road was still drivable. Hoping for the best, we headed out early in the morning, hoping to make it in without major trouble. The road turned out to in okay shape, with only a few sketchy sections, and Heath’s wife Audrey dropped us uneventfully. A huge thank you to Audrey for helping with the car shuttle!

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The water levels on Nome Creek were about what I expected, given the gauge was reading 2.7-ish, though there was a lot more shore ice than I was expected – uh-oh! We left Audrey to drive back to town, and headed down the creek.

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I was very excited to do my first “seal launch” in a packraft – sliding into the water from ice was super cool!

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Pretty soon we had to portage around a section of the creek with ice all the way across, but otherwise the floating was fun, and the contrast of the snow with the dark water and trees was amazing. After a few more portages we made it to confluence with Nome Creek, where, alas, the volume of water coming in from the main channel was less that I would have liked to see. It wasn’t the end of the world though, and the floating was still pretty fast. Heath is a pretty consistent paddler, so we spent much of the float paddling away.

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I did learn I made a serous tactical error when picking my gloves. I have a pair of three fingered diving gloves, but I couldn’t find them, and so resorted to using some thinner neoprene gloves I could actually find. Alas, they were not warm enough, and I spent most of the float dealing with cold fingers – my own fault for not being more prepared! I did discover that I could make my hands much warmer by moving the cuff of my dry suit past my wrist, which did wonders for keeping my hands warm.

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We saw a fairly diverse amount of wildlife, including 4 moose, a beaver, ducks, lots of grayling, and at fairly close range, a bear. The bear encounter was pretty funny.  We came around a bend, and Heath was up front.  Just as he came up on a stand of trees, I noticed a very large brown bear leaning out over the bank, appearing from my point of view to be looking down at Heath, getting ready to jump at him. Heath was digging around in his deck bag, and for a few seconds I thought he was digging out his camera to get a photo, then decided he hadn’t seen it and shouted something silly like “Heath – bear!” Heath then turned around, with a sandwich in his hand and we both started “Hey Bearing”. Fortunately, after one short growl, the bear took off and we didn’t see it again. It definitely provided a nice adrenaline boost!

The float was a very interesting experience. As the day progressed, we started seeing more and more ice, and by the end of the day the river was at times packed with small pieces of ice, and a few larger bits.

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Occasionally it was hard to paddle, as there wasn’t always room get your paddle into the water. Fortunately Beaver Creek is pretty mellow and there are not any rapids of note, and wide enough that there were few sweepers. It was an awesome experience, listening to the hiss of the ice bumping around as we floated along. We did have to portage one small ice jam, which fortunately wasn’t a big deal. Ice built up on our packs and our paddles, but didn’t seem to stick to the boats at all. I was a bit worried that my boat would be punctured by a sharp piece of ice, but that didn’t happen, and eventually I just started plowing though the ice. Alas, we spent the last few hours on the river in the dark, which made for a bit of a stressful end to the float. I was very happy to see Borealis cabin! On the upside, while trying to see how deep the water was I saw a huge grayling just off the edge of the shore ice. After looking around, it soon became apparent there were grayling everywhere, and by the light of our headlamps they stood out in the water like ghosts – an amazing sight!

We arrived at Borealis, and I was very happy to take my dry suit off and enjoy a nice warm, dry cabin. I had brought an InReach gadget that allows (supposedly!) two way texting using satellites, but alas, after two hours of fiddling I couldn’t get it to receive texts, just to send them.

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I have had it work great in the past, but this time I couldn’t for the life of me get it to stay connected to my smartphone, which was a huge bummer as we were pretty worried about Audrey making the drive back out on Nome Creek road, and I was sort of counting on it to arrange a ride back with my friend Tom. Fortunately the tracking feature was working, however the messaging part was a bust. YMMV. I am not sure I am taking it on any more trips..

The next morning we headed out, crossed the creek in the pack rafts, and started over to the winter trail. There is a little creek that is often not very well frozen a half mile or so from the main river, so we dragged our pack rafts behind us like sleds, which worked great. Pack rafts apparently make pretty good sleds!

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The creek turned out to be frozen, but I was excited to see snowmachine tracks on the other side – the trail was broken out! We packed up, put on skis, and enjoyed a fantastic ski out. The snow was fast, and the skiing was great, considering there was only 10″ of snow.

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We zoomed out, enjoying the fast snow.

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I was annoyed to find out that my packrafting pack, a older Arc’teryx waterproof pack, is moderately horrible for skiing – its skinny tall shape and minimal suspension made it very tipsy and it was constantly trying to tip me over. I survived though, and really enjoyed the ski out. At about halfway Heath got enough cell signal to receive emails and to learn Audrey made it out safely, and I called our ride, Tom, to make sure he was still going to pick us up, and that he knew the skiing was fantastic, and should come early and get some skiing in. Tom said he was on his way, and we ran into him about 3 miles from the parking lot, out for his second ski of the year. The remainder of the ski was uneventful, though I did have a crash right in front of Lance Mackey who was training his dog team with a 4-wheeler. I think he was amused, but I felt pretty self conscious trying to get up with a heavy pack while he was waiting for me to get out of the way.

A huge thank you to Audrey and Tom for providing rides – this trip wouldn’t have been possible without you guys, and major kudos to Heath for coming up with the original idea and making the trip possible!

Heath said several times this trip is definitely something to do again, and I 100% agree – it was a fantastic experience.

I think I would do a few things differently:

  • I would bring “real gloves” or something a lot warmer than the thin gloves I brought. If anyone has suggestions I would love to hear them.
  • I would bring something to help get out of the water and onto the ice.  I think a several foot board with a leash with some 16d nails in it would be very handy, or perhaps the small ice picks like ice fisherman use.  The board could probably be burned once the floating was done, and the nails salvaged.
  • I debated bringing my dry suit, and ended up bringing it, and was very happy I did.  It made this trip possible, and more importantly fun – it would have been fairly miserable without it unless I was very, very careful to stay dry.
  • Heath used Alpacka’s semi-dry suit, and loved it.  I think I have one of those in my future!
  • I would leave earlier so the end of the day floating in the dark wouldn’t be necessary.  I might try camping at the put in to get an early start, or breaking the float up into two days.
  • Other versions of this trip abound: coming out to the Colorado creek trailhead, to mile 28 via Crowberry, or back to Nome Creek would be fun and possible.  I expect the winter trail would be skiable in the more remote areas, but of course it wouldn’t be broken out.
  • I wouldn’t do this trip if there were lots of ice at the put-in, it is a long way out via any of the reasonable bail-out points.
  • I need to rework my pack attachment system for winter floats. I use two straps with “ladder buckles”, but they iced up and were very hard to undo.  Heath used P-cord and it seemed like he had fewer problems.
  • I used Surly junk straps to attach the skis to my boat; that was a mistake, as they took forever to get off, because they were so iced up.

Sorry for such a long post — this trip was fabulous and I thought it deserved enough words to do it justice!

A Summer Loop in the Whites, v2

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

Several years ago a group of us packrafted and hiked a loop in the White Mountains. That trip was very fun, however I had been meaning to do something similar again, this time taking a slightly different route and hiking up though the Limestone Jags, over Cache Mountain, and back to the Nome Creek put-in. So, on a fine summer weekend Seth, Tom, and I headed off to Nome Creek, with Seth’s dogs Dorsel and Echo in tow.

The float down Beaver Creek was uneventful, scenic and mellow. Watching the dog’s antics added a extra bit of fun to the float. Echo’s lack of excitement about swimming or running along the bank was almost comical, as was her complete lack of excitement about getting a ride in Seth’s boat.

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Eventually Echo was convinced to climb into Seth’s packraft and hitch a ride, though she was very unexcited about it.

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Dorsel on the other hand, had a great time, running along the bank, jumping though the bushes, and bouncing around like a rubber ball thrown by a nine year old. Eventually Dorsel started begging for rides as she got sick of swimming from bank to bank to find good doggie walking or crossing sloughs. Eventually she got perhaps a bit too comfortable, jumping in and out of the boats whenever her little A.D.D. doggy brain decided the time was right.

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Nothing bad, just added a extra topping of fun to the float. Our day ended at Borealis cabin, where we crashed for the night.

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The next day we floated down to near where Fossil Gap trail crosses Beaver Creek, and hiked up into the Jags.

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The hiking was fantastic, and the views amazing.

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If we had an extra day, spending extra time here would have been worthwhile,
as there are lots of interesting rock formations to explore.

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We camped near where the Jags look out over the winter trail between Windy Gap and Caribou Bluff.

The next day we crossed Fossil Creek and hiked up to Cache Mt.

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Where we crossed Fossil Creek there was a huge log jam.

We bailed on our initial plan of hiking up and over Cache Mt as there was still a lot of snow on the ridge we planned on hiking up, and instead crossed over a connected side ridge, and hike down to the winter trail and then on to Cache Mountain Cabin.

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It was great to see the cabin in the summer, and the winter trail wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected – minimal mud, though a bit wet.

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Outside the cabin there was the normal level of random junk that is hidden from the winter visitors by a thick layer of snow – dog booties, etc, and the entire skeleton of what appeared to be a martin.

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The next day we headed across obrien creek. I had read online there was great game trails heading down the creeks to beaver creek, but we didn’t see any. The hiking though the burn was fantastic though – no brush, fairly good footing, and great walking. A few hours of hiking up and over two small ridges had us back at the intersection of Nome and Beaver Creek, and we started following Nome Creek back up to the put-in.

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We got turned around a bit hiking along Nome Creek in the big trees, but eventually we found the game trails following the creek and enjoyed fast walking back to my truck.

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This trip reminded me how much I enjoy the Whites – it is close to town, and yet there is a huge area that doesn’t see much use, with lots of interesting places to explore.

During the trip, Seth and I talked a bunch about turning some variation on this loop into a longer, hiking only trail, connecting it to the Pinnel Mountain trail, and create a route from Eagle Summit to Wickersham Dome. That seems like it would be a fantastic trail, heading from Eagle Summit, over to 12 mile Summit via the Pinnel Mountain Trail, then taking the ridge over to the Mount Prindle area, then the ridges (or worse case Nome Creek Road) over to the Richards Cabin area, then on to Cache Mt divide, over to the Caribou Bluff via the jags, and finally taking the ridge abutting big bend over to Borealis and finishing on the Summit Trail. This has the potential to be a world class 100 (ish) mile trail, hitting all the highlights. Maybe someday it would happen.

Thanks for joining me Tom and Seth!

Seth’s writeup on the trip can be found here (he takes much better photos!).

Details on our route can be found on CalTopo here and more photos here.

On a random gear note, my shoes exploded half way into the trip, with the sole splitting completely in half. I was a bit worried that a stick would poke though and jab me in the foot, but fortunately nothing made it though. A bummer – I really liked the fit and feel of these inov8 shoes!
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