Gokyo Trek, Nepal

23 11 2016

Nepal. Himalayas. Hell yes.

Despite all that is written about flying into Lukla (dubbed one of the most dangerous airports in the world-short runway, mountain on one side, cliff on the other, 11.7% gradient), we had a pretty uneventful, anticlimactic landing. Maybe I’m jaded from growing up in Alaska and riding in bush planes….That being said, everyone else on the airplane cheered when we landed  🙂

The trek took us 12 days, none of the days being very long-distance wise or a lot of elevation gain. However, it was the altitude that kicked our asses, backpacking at 9,000-15,500 feet.

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Living at sea level, landing in Lukla (9334 ft.) put me at almost the highest I’ve ever been. Rachael & I had quickly organized our gear and set off for Phakding.

Beautiful prayer wheels were abundant along the trek.

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On the way to Phakding. The first two days of the trek weather ranged from warm & sunny (60-65f) to cold & raging rains (40-45f). Everyone in the region commented that the monsoons were later this year than usual.

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Beautiful stupas and large boulders carved with prayers on them are commonplace along the trek.

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Much respect to the porters. They climb up and down the valley carrying crazy loads, no matter the weather. We repeatedly got passed along the trek by porters carrying 60-90 lbs wearing flip flops.

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One of many suspension bridges crossing the Dudh Kosi. Sharing the bridges with yaks, burros & cows felt like getting double bounced on a trampoline.

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The beautiful Dudh Kosi. A violent, raging, gorgeous river. This is the final suspension bridge crossing before the climb to Namche.

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Namche Bazaar! Just above 11,000 ft. We stayed in this beautiful village a couple days to acclimatize. It was mostly foggy (this view was rare), wet, and cold-about 40-45f. Pemba Sherpa & his staff at the Khumbu Lodge treated us like family.

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We spent one of our “rest” days climbing up to Kunde & Khumjung. Khumjung is the largest Sherpa village in the region, and where many people higher up on the trek live in the off season. Everyone was so welcoming! We got invited into an older woman’s house for tea, where she told us stories & shared her potatoes with us. Afterwards, she took us on a “short-cut” to the bakery, hoping over stone walls and almost running so fast where we could barely keep up with her!

Young boys making faces at us 🙂

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The monestary in Kunde.

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Fall colors.

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Much of the next few days were spent again in a fog & cold. This is actually good visibility. Mostly, we could only see about 10-15 feet in front of us.

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Rachael climbing out of Dole. Brief window of sun, before more clouds & rain. Weather typically was nicer in the morning, then clouds and rain would roll in by early afternoon.

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Young Sherpa girl.

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Yak dung drying. Yak dung is the fuel that heats every tea house in the region.

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Prayer tablets at Machermo. We escaped the rain and upper 20/lower 30f weather and went to a altitude sickness talk at the local clinic. Super informative & worth the time! Machermo is at 14,600 feet-it’s typically where altitude sickness starts affecting some people. Everyday on the trek, we heard helicopters buzzing up and down the valley, many carrying patients back to Kathmandu. The doctors in Machermo said that they would have 1-2 patients fly out per day. Gokyo had many more leaving by heli.

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After pouring rain all night, we woke up to blue skies, fresh snow on the peaks & sun!

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We finally had great visibility & sun! The views were stunning in every direction!

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Cho Oyo.

 

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Young herder.

 

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Rock cairns at the first lake. Cairns are viewed as makeshift stupas and everywhere in the Gokyo region. The five lakes in the Gokyo region are sacred places to the Nepalese. The Gokyo area reminded me of Alaska on steroids-stunningly beautiful, with 8,000 meter peaks, prayer flags, and yaks!

 

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Entering the third lake & Gokyo (15,500 ft). This area was so unbelievably gorgeous, it’s no wonder it’s considered sacred.

 

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Although, I got a touch of altitude sickness once we got to Gokyo (which I was able to solve with medicine), Rachael really suffered. On top of that, we both had acquired horrible sinus infections in Namche (which stayed with us for the rest of the trip) and the Khumbu cough (which lasted much longer than the trip 😦 ). We stayed at the Fitz Roy-They were amazing & so helpful, checking in on us, sending up pots of hot water & warm juice to help us get better. Can’t say enough great things about them!

Trail through the yak dung patties in Gokyo.

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Gokyo, from Gokyo Ri.

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We bagged our original plan of going over Renjo La pass to Thame, due to the altitude sickness & climbing another 2,000 didn’t seem like a good plan. We chose to descend the other side of the valley and stay in Phortse to get some different views instead. It is the path less traveled & definitely took longer, but well worth it.

Old abandoned Sherpa home.

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Good morning from Phortse!

 

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Yaks, Phortse, & Ama Dablam-by far the most beautiful mountain in the Himalayas!

 

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Everest & Ama Dablam.

 

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Definitely a trip & trek of a lifetime. Amazing from start to finish.

 

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Valley of 10,000 Smokes Traverse

11 08 2016

Despite our last minute planning, we were able to pull off a backpacking traverse on the Alaska Peninsula. Our plan was to traverse the Valley of 10,000 Smokes to the Coast……As usual, things didn’t go quite as planned, but we still had an amazing trip!

Day 1 was spent hanging with the bears at Brooks Camp. Since we spending week backpacking, (and not coming back to Brooks Camp) I accepted the fact that I wasn’t able to bring my long lens…..it still didn’t make it any easier standing on the platform thinking of the shots I could have got…..

Sarah, Kasey, and I met Nick at Brooks Lodge that night and invited him on our backpacking trip. Although he only had one night to spend with us, he was up for an adventure. Nick camped with us near Novarupta (approx. 14-15 miles?) and he made it back by 2:30 pm the next day to catch the bus back to Brooks Camp. Pretty awesome way to spend 28 hours and 30 miles in the Valley.

After getting dropped off by the bus in the Valley on Day 2, Nick, Kasey, Sarah, and I headed into the Valley of 10,000 Smokes. We found easy walking, mostly on pumice, and crazy, amazing views. The further we traveled, the less vegetation, the more it felt like we were walking on the moon.

Sarah & Kasey walking next to Windy River._MG_8578River Lethe._MG_8620Another view of the River Lethe._MG_8655Nick, Sarah, and Kasey hiking next to the River Lethe._MG_8820Footprints in the pumice._MG_8849

Looking back down valley. The hiking was incredibly easy, with spectacular views in every direction._MG_8895My partners in crime-Nick, Kasey, & Sarah._MG_8919Mount Mageik. There are crazy colors in the Valley of 10,000 smokes. Almost looks like a box of colored chalk exploded everywhere._MG_8932Novarupta!_MG_8952More amazing colors at Novarupta. We found ice melt for water & a small stream. Novarupta still lets off steam and at the vents felt like a steam bath at the spa._MG_8967

_MG_8987Awesome colors everywhere._MG_9097Day 3, we hiked up Broken Mountain & looped around Novarupta. We had hoped to also hike up Fallen, but the weather moved in & soon it was blowing 30 mph.

View of Baked Mountain, taken from Broken Mountain._MG_9101Kasey coming around the backside of Novarupta, with Mt. Katmai in the background._MG_9110Novarupta in the foreground with Baked Mountain in the background._MG_9165Little vegetation (and less water) in the Valley of 10,000 smokes. We did find some water areas that others didn’t. Dwarf fireweed, Baked Mountain._MG_9193The winds picked up early on night 3, 30-40 mph. Luckily, we had a 3 person, 4 season Hilleberg. We camped in a pretty protected area (as protected as it gets in the Valley), we still had to tighten guy lines a couple times through the night. We woke up the morning of Day 4 with high winds and little visibility. We checked weather, and was told it was going to stay like that for two more days, then break. We decided to make a go for Katmai Pass and head out of the Valley.

Photo by Kasey Keogh. Me & Sarah. This is not Katmai Pass.IMG_1370

Admission: We used a map to navigate with very limited visibility (high winds and fog) trying to save batteries on our DeLorme (we were saving what was left of batteries for communication with pilot). Anyone familiar with my navigation skills wouldn’t be surprised we went in big circle……..Day 4 ended up being the day we took our packs for a walk…….

That afternoon the rain came with the wind. Sheets of rain and 30-40 mph winds. More tent time……At least we stayed dry in the Hilleberg. Around 2:30 am we heard a large animal outside our tent, we didn’t invistigate-just made a lot of noise……It was hard to tell the next morning with how saturated the ground was, but believe it was a bear.

Day 5. Still raining sideways. Promise of good weather to come tomorrow. We pack up and head to Katmai Pass, this time using the GPS 🙂 The rain quickly soaked through our Gore-tex, we kept a good pace, eating while walking to keep warm. We wished we had visibility to enjoy the last of the Valley, but that was not to be. We crossed the swollen rivers and creeks. Finally making it down to the other side, we set up camp early, stripping off our drenched clothes and warming up with hot tea and sleeping bags. More tent time……

Day 6. Holy Smokes! Sunshine, blue skies, and over 70f. Visibility! Day 6 is off to a good start! We weren’t too sure which way to head around Observation Mountain. We chose the wrong way. Hours of bushwhacking through thick alders in bear country, making little progress was deflating. We finally got to a place where we could head straight up the mountain and rise above treeline. Crazy going from the Valley of 10,000 Smokes where water & vegetation were scarce to overflowing rivers and dense alders in just a few miles.

Sarah & Kasey fueling up on meat sticks after the schwack._MG_9232Coming down Observation. Beautiful view of Katmai River valley & the coast!_MG_9267Really cool rock formations on Observation._MG_9273A look back at Observation & waterfall._MG_9279_MG_9299White sand (actually it’s pumice). It felt like a day at the beach! Certainly was hot enough for it 🙂_MG_9305We had what felt like hundreds of river crossings to get to our destination. Kasey & Sarah crossing one of many braids on the Katmai River. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it all the way to the coast-the rivers were too high from unseasonably late snow melt (the Alaska Peninsula had a huge snow year….crazy, the rest of Alaska didn’t see much of the white stuff). Luckily, our pilot was able to give us an alternate destination he could pick us up at._MG_9381Deckload Aviation. Keller. Best Air Taxi EVER._MG_9397

 





Donoho Lakes Loop

31 05 2016

Perfect weather + 3 day weekend + Alaska = Pure awesomeness.

I hadn’t been to Kennicott/McCarthy in years, so when Becca suggested the Donoho Lakes trip I jumped at the idea. Evan, Becca, Shiloh (pup), and I did the 18 mile loop overnight and enjoyed some spectacular scenery along the way. Starting at the Kennicott mine we hiked the 2 miles to the Root Glacier. There we strapped on crampons and began our trek across the Root Glacier.

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Looking up the Root, with the medial moraine on the left.

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Crossing the next section of the Root. We found the Root relatively easy to cross, but there are definitely some sections that would be trickier. It took us about an hour to navigate our way to the other side.

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First Donoho Lake, with Donoho peak on the right.

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The scenery was terrible 🙂 Evan & Becca hiking towards the second lake.

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The Mid with Donoho Peak. Donoho Peak is approximately 3500 ft. above camp.

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Evan, Becca, Shiloh trekking past small glacial lake on the approach to the Kennicott Glacier.

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Moraine of Kennicott.

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The crew passing one of many spectacular turquoise glacial lakes.

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Storming in the distance. Crazy storm moving our direction.

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The storm quickly approaching on the Kennicott.

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After leaving the Kennicott Glacier we crossed a huge moraine back to the Root. The storm barely hit us on the moraine with a few drops then retreated back down valley. We saw a crazy ice tunnel in the moraine you could drive a semi through, unfortunately my camera (for once) was safely tucked inside my pack 😦

Back to the Root. Perfect trip, perfect crew._MG_3353





East Fork Chulitna-Mistakes Made & Lessons Learned

18 06 2015

I’m not sure why, but every time we start these trips, we try and avoid getting our feet wet at all costs, knowing full well it’s just a matter of time (and usually sooner than later) that our feet will be soaked. In the first 1/4 mile we ran into a large puddle/pond in the four wheel trail and bushwhacked around it. This was the first (and really only) bushwhack of the first day….Less than 20 minutes later our feet were soaked for the duration of the trip.

After going through bushwhack hell on the last trip using the Hardage Creek Route, we decided to take the northern route this time-we’ve seen great reports of little bushwhacking and decided to give it a try.

Beautiful views of Denali and the Alaska Range. Another amazing, sunny, warm weekend in Alaska.denali view beginning

After we left the easiness of the four-wheeler trails, we found some great high alpine game trails.

Boone hiking up towards the pass.

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Jeff & Sarah climbing towards the pass.

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After reaching the pass, we looked at the map. Previous packrafters had taken the ridge left (headed slightly farther upriver), descended towards the creek, then made another pass before getting to the East Fork Chulitna near Crooked Creek. The East Fork Chulitna seemed so close! We decided to roll the dice & try our own route, knowing quite well the odds were greatly against us. Crazy thing is we succeeded 🙂 By doing this, we probably cut 3 miles off the hiking portion of the trip and only sacrificed about 1/2 mile of floating. We decided to stay high, traversing the ridge right.

Boone & Kasey.

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We started descending the nose & found a good place to take a break and fuel up before what we thought potentially could be a long bushwhack to the river. Here’s the view looking up river to Crooked Creek area. Once we descended to the valley floor, we wound up hiking in the general direction of up river, ending about 1/2 mile below the confluence of Crooked Creek.

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View down river & faintly the Alaska Range.

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We managed to find a route down, all tundra hiking. From the top we scouted several treeless areas & headed towards the first one. We easily linked up open areas with animal trails through the trees. It was definitely not a bushwhack. We even found a large downed tree to cross the creek on.

Sarah heading down the nose.

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Camp! I love Alaskan summers! I took this at 10:30 pm.

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Our put-in to the East Fork Chulitna.

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The first few miles of the paddle went smoothly. Fun, Class 2. Splashy. I’ve done this paddle before and loved it. The two canyons were challenging and the rest was pure easy fun. I led the paddle into the first canyon-a Class 3/3+ canyon. After making the first few rapids, I made a costly mistake-I got to close to a boulder, got high sided, from which I couldn’t recover and went for the swim of my life. I’m not sure if it was complacency  or just the littlest/giant mistake. Going into that rapid, I thought I had it. There wasn’t even a question in my mind. Now, instantly, I knew I was in pretty big trouble. There are few small eddies in the canyon, mostly rock walls, and I had 3 big drops to go & probably 125 yards till the river calmed back down to a fast Class 2.

I managed to hang on to my raft and my paddle, trying desperately to right my raft & when eddies appeared swimming desperately for them. I was almost able to catch one or two before the current grabbed me & threw me into another rapid. I was being thrown into boulders & over drops, getting pushed underwater, then being able to come up for air in time for the next one. My crew was desperately trying to catch me & help, doing everything possible. At one point, Kasey got to me, but I was unable to get close enough to her to grab her boat before we got separated in a rapid. Finally, my boat got caught on a large boulder (upside down) in an impossible place in the river. Boone caught up with me at some point & I was able to grab onto him for a second before we came upon the next rapid and had to let go. I was absolutely exhausted and knew I had to keep fighting. I kept swimming with my paddle, the river tossing me around like Raggedy Ann, with my head headed straight into a boulder. I narrowly missed bashing in my skull (how I don’t know, I was suprised-Boone saw it and was trying to figure out how he was going to get me unconscious or dead out of the river.) Regretfully, I had left my helmet at home. Definitely, won’t be doing that on future trips. Finally, I dumped out of the canyon into Class 2. The river isn’t terribly deep here-knee to mid thigh-just super fast. Boone managed to get to me, with Jeff right behind him. I grabbed onto the rope on the rear of his boat and he managed (I don’t know how) to get us to shore-NOT in an eddy (He said it was like dragging 3 boats). He jumped out of his boat, grabbed me with one hand & his boat with the other hand. I was so exhausted I couldn’t walk. I laid on shore breathing hard & exhausted-happy to be alive.

My hands were frozen-screaming barfie style, but the rest of me was relatively warm & dry. I felt like I had been through Fight Club-exhausted, my legs were so beat up-deeply bruised muscles, with visible ones on the surface (some bigger than my hand), as well as some good gashes. But I was ok. I did get a hole in my brand new Stowaway Tough drysuit by Alpacka-although, I truly believe this would have happened in my regular Kokatat drysuit as well. My long underwear was also ripped and I had a gash in my knee where the drysuit was ripped. I stayed pretty dry despite the hole. In the end, my pack broke the Packtach rope in half from the water pressure & floated downstream. Boone was able to jump in his boat & grab it. The pack coming off knocked the boat off the boulder into an eddy. Kasey & Sarah had managed to eddy out and grab it. Also, it happened to be one of the fewer parts of the canyon they could hike out of-so they packed up everything & hiked out to us.  I was so happy to see them.

Since I was to exhausted to boat the second canyon, (and the big class 3/4) rap, we had to hike around it (maybe 1 or 1 1/2 miles). I mean bushwhack. It was the hardest hike ever due to my legs being completely sore & beat up. My muscles barely wanted to put one foot in front of the other, much less with a pack & climbing over hills.  Thankfully, my crew grabbed my boat, paddle & pfd to take some weight off my back. Sometime after the big rapid, we managed to hike down to the river & paddle the rest of the trip. The rest of the float is a fun, splashy Class 2 all the way back to the highway. Although, I tried to enjoy the rest of the paddle, and definitely had some good moments, it just wasn’t the same for me. We got back to the car a few hours later than we expected due to the swim, and ended up getting “stuck” in Talkeetna, due to the Sockeye fire in Willow. It was 80F and a good place to chill out, relax, & reflect over a few beers on the banks of the Talkeetna River with the sun setting over Denali.
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Curry to Clear Creek, Third Time’s a Charm

4 06 2015

Denali train

Kasey and I changed our weekend plans, deciding Friday night to packraft Curry to Clear Creek. Saturday afternoon we were packed & on the Hurricane train out of Talkeetna. It was 80 degrees, blue skies, and our first packraft of the season.The train ended up being very, very late so we didn’t start our 15 mile hike until 3 pm.

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We couldn’t complain about the scenery 🙂 Pretty amazing views of Denali and the Alaska Range the whole way. At 80 degrees, it was sweltering outside (especially for early June!). There was still plenty of pockets of snow on the atv trail and I was able to make a little turban on top of my head with my bandana, with snow inside of it. I looked ridiculous, but felt great 🙂

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The powerline at the end of the atv trail. We realized/learned a few things on this trip. Doing this early season significantly reduces the schwack. There is a trail of sorts that is mostly under the powerline (it gets overgrown, and sometimes it’s easy to lose, but WORTH looking for). There are parts under the powerline that have been clear cut, with ankle size stumps and branches left. Again, early season makes this so much easier to see all the hazards.

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Kasey at the ridge. We had very few mosquitos up until this point. The mosquitos had been mostly hanging out in the drainages. We were hoping for more of the same on the ridge or a slight breeze to keep them away. We didn’t get that lucky. They were pretty heinous on the ridge. Just hatching and blood thirsty 😦

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Another stunning view of Denali and the Alaska Range.

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I didn’t imagine it possible. Kasey and I found a way down from the ridge with no bushwhacking through alders. Just ferns & plants. Easiest hike I’ve ever done on this trip. I never thought I’d say that. The ferns, near the river, last time we did this trip were 6-7 feet tall. It was interesting going through them in bear country…..

kasey ferns

Getting boats packed up at the put in to Clear Creek! Water levels were slightly higher, making it super fun, sporty, & splashy! It’s always a fun float, but this time with the water level slightly high, it was even better……

Kasey @ put in

Take out on the Talkeetna River.

take out talkeetna river





Xc Skiing on Ice-the Crescent Saddle Cabin Trip

12 02 2014

We had originally reserved the Crescent Saddle cabin in November, when backcountry skiing in February seemed realistic. While Georgia seems to be getting snow, we don’t have much in Alaska……We’re having the strangest winter I’ve EVER seen. Temps in the 50’s and corn @ Alyeska in January, loads of rain, and lots of sun too. Temperatures have finally settled to normal and we decided to get out of town and head into the cabin as a xc ski trip instead of backcountry ski trip. The trail up to Carter Lake was glaciated, but not bad to walk on with ice grippers. When we got to Crescent lake this is what we encountered…..Image

The lake had frozen in many spots with these ice waves! It made skiing challenging 🙂 There were also a few spots with completely clear/flat ice-perfect for ice skating. But they were far and few between on the east side of the lake.

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There was wind drifted snow 1-2 inches deep too. That afternoon we skied to the west side of the lake-more snow (less ice) at first, then things drastically changed to glare ice and pretty much no snow….It was a cornucopia of conditions 🙂

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Dan skiing by with headlamps on his wrists.

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Ghost of Dan, aurora, and ski poles. Headlamps on his ankles.

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We didn’t get the aurora show everyone else got, due to steep mountains surrounding the lake, but we did get a little bit.

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Early the next morning the aurora came out again, dancing with faint pink & purples as the lake ice cracked and groaned with sounds of growing. Overnight temps were around 0 to -5f.

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Dan & Ben headed back towards Carter Lake. Another sunny, bluebird day. Can’t complain about the Vitamin D!Image

Another sea of wavy ice.

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Denali Road Lottery!

17 09 2013

I won the lottery! The Denali Road lottery that is.

Alpenglow.

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Fall was in full swing!

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Denali decided to make an appearance.

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Bull moose swimming in fall colors.

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Another bull moose with a view.

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Ptarmigan.

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The next day we stopped at Kesugi Ridge on the way home for a hike. A heck of a view from the trail!

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