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

 





Chickaloon River (the hard way) via Puddingstone Mountain

29 05 2014

 I’ll be the first to NOT recommend the hiking portion. At least the backside of Puddingstone Mtn. I’m not sure it even qualifies as Type 2 fun. On the other hand, the Chickaloon River is a super fun, splashy float! With below average water flow it was Class 2 most of the way, with Class 3 sections above & below Hotel Rocks and the one final drop before the highway.

Our original planned packrafting Memorial Day/Kasey’s 30th birthday trip got derailed by low water. So Friday night, the six of us were sitting around at Ryan’s family’s house in Chickaloon studying maps and looking for a new trip. Ryan’s dad suggested that if we were “badasses” we could start hiking up the atv trails at Purinton, then wrap around the backside of Puddingstone Mountain (the pass is approximately 4000 ft) and then drop down to the Chickaloon River to float out. Seemed easy enough. Admittedly, I didn’t study the map that well. In fact, since I have the WORST sense of direction, and easily get lost (even with a map, even in places I’ve been before-for some reason rocks, trees, and mountains all look the same to me 🙂 ), I usually rely upon friends to help me navigate the backcountry. That being said the map indicated a “historic trail” which we were hoping to use. Actually, we did use it and it was great. Until we couldn’t anymore……….

We even were thinking that although we had originally planned for a 3 day trip, this is easily a 2 day trip…….Glad I left most of the extra food in my pack 🙂

Dan found mud on the ATV trails at Purinton 🙂

Dan Mud

 It was super smoky from the Funny River fire burning on the Kenai. Dan’s hiking in front of Anthracite ridge, which is barely visible with all the smoke.

dan hike smoke

Dinner at Boulder Creek. We took a pretty relaxed approach on Saturday, late start, early camp. We camped near here since it looked like the best place before the pass. Little did we know what Sunday Funday had in store for us……

dinner at Boulder creek

Smoky sun.

smokey sun tents

Kasey & Dan on the approach to the pass behind Puddingstone Mtn. We found easy atv trails that turned into game trails on the other side of Boulder Creek, then high tundra made for a pretty nice hike on this side of the pass. I didn’t look closely at the map and figured the other side was the same…..not so much.

dan kasey hike

Kasey and Sarah with the creek valley down below.

kasey sara hike

Once we reached the pass, the other side was snowfields galore! And it was all rotten, deep snow. We tried to sled (worked for a few feet), postholed up to our hips, and tried to roll across the snow. We looked completely ridiculous. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a good picture of the backside of the pass. It ends up dropping off significantly, with two choices to head down. One, being a snow gulley (We were reluctant with freezing feet & given the snow conditions we had just been through. Plus there was a cornice to negotiate). The second was a steeper angle down the front with loose rock over hardpack rock & dirt-which meant one-at-a-time could head down safely. Kasey, Dan & I found a way onto the snow gulley and headed down that way, while Dylan, Sarah, & Jeff took the nose down. We beat them by a long shot-the snow in the gulley was just hard enough, and had enough debris, to support our weight. We enjoyed a pretty easy descent. So far trip = good. Still thinking we could float today. Or, at the very least make it to the river early, set up camp, & enjoy some whiskey to celebrate Kasey’s 30th birthday.

Then came the rest of the trip to the Chickaloon. We started down the valley in the creek, crossing every ten feet it seemed. Not difficult hiking, but we weren’t making tons of progress either. The “historic trail” on the map indicated we climb 2000 ft up to the mountain on the right (across from Dan, Kasey, and Dylan in the picture below.) We realized historically they were mining, but I still have no idea how they crossed some of the ravines. Also, we found many 90-99 ft “cliffs” not indicated on the map (the elevation lines being every 100 ft.) The creek started descending and getting larger from tributaries, so we made the choice to bushwhack/climb straight up through alders to a clearing and reassess the situation. We came to some realizations. We couldn’t continue down the creek bed. Over the next mile would lose 1600 ft in elevation (waterfall) and the sides of the creek were getting cliff like. We could either try and gain the ridge on Puddingstone (another 1600-1800 ft elevation gain) and hopefully get down it (the map indicated it was super steep and this seemed really questionable) or return the way we came back over the pass which seemed like a horrible idea. We could see the Chickaloon about 2 miles away ish and really wanted to float! Not to mention, going back through the pass seemed a daunting task. We kept hiking to the ridge and the only spot we could see to camp for several miles in either direction-a little saddle on the ridge. I didn’t like this idea since it was so exposed, but there weren’t any other choices at this point. Here we are stopped for a quick dinner to fuel up for the rest of the hike up to the ridge.

cooking dinner

Gorgeous views on top of the ridge. Dylan, Dan, and Kasey looking at our options. The nose of the ridge dropped off quickly into cliffs. We explored a lot of options for an hour and a half off the end of the ridge and couldn’t find a way down. The other side of the ridge made a more gentle drop to the next valley, except the last 80 ft or so dropped off sharply too. We went to bed that night not sure if we could pick our way down into the next valley or had to do a death march back the way we came. I was super exhausted that night and morale was a little low even toying with the idea of hiking back over the pass. Plus, we were wondering if we’d be able to do it in one day with our heavy packs. I had barely just enough food for a full third day, and I kept thinking of the “extra food” I left in the car since it was just supposed to be an overnight trip……

checking options

The next morning we woke early, and were able to descend down to the next valley. To do this we had to descend up into the valley (going the opposite direction from the river). We were sooo excited! We’d get to the Chickaloon after all! We picked our way down the creek slowly, again crossing every ten feet over slippery rock, until again we had to gain the next ridge because this creek too dropped significantly. Looking back on the ridge we camped, there were one or two ways down it, but it mostly cliffed out. So glad we lucked out and found an easier way down. We climbed a snow gulley and gained the next ridge. A little more vertical climbing than I thought we would be doing on this trip 🙂 We knew the next ridge had a plateau, then had a more gentle slope down. We then found a nice game trail and hiked easily on it until we ran into this little guy. No mama in sight and he was crying & barely walking. He appeared to be about the same size as a german shepherd, less than a week old and pretty frail. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything we could do for him and most likely his mama was dead. I’ve never seen a moose baby this young without mom being within 10 feet at most. Also, we were worried about bears in case she was dead in the area. It was sad.

baby moose 2

We left the game trail and started the easiest bushwhack I’ve ever done down to the river. Yay! The Chickaloon! We had a fun float out-such a great river!A few of us went for a refreshing swim in it:)  An adventure for sure, and a lesson or two learned 🙂

the Chickaloon!





The Bomber Traverse-My Birthday Backpacking Trip!

1 09 2011

The Bomber traverse has been a trip on my list for years and I figured the best way to spend my birthday weekend was with good friends on an awesome 18 mile backpacking trip in the Talkeetnas! The B-29 Bomber crashed on a glacier (now known as Bomber Glacier) in the Talkeetna Mountains in November of 1957. There were four survivors, and six people perished in the crash. At the bottom of this blog I’ve included an interview with Calvin Campbell, one of the survivors and hero of the crash, that I found online. The traverse starts at Gold Mint trailhead in Hatcher’s Pass, heading 8 miles to the Mint Hut.

We started in some sprinkling rain that broke to blue skies and sunshine when we got to the hut. Sabrina hiking in.

Laura and I having a Toyota moment 🙂

The Mint Hut.

The mountains above the hut. Backdoor Gap is to the right of the peak in the middle.

From the hut you climb a boulder field to Backdoor Gap (5715 ft above sea level), then descend down to the Penny Royal Glacier.

Sabrina headed approaching Backdoor Gap. There are dozens and dozens of beautiful, turquoise alpine lakes littered throughout Hatcher’s Pass.

The crew at Backdoor Gap. Kasey, Laura-our token Canadian :), Sabrina, and Dan. I figured Dan is either very lucky or not so smart to go backpacking with four girls. After the trip, he said the jury is still out 🙂

The Penny Royal Glacier. We were treated to perfect views of Denali.

There is no shortage of talus fields in Hatcher’s Pass. Sabrina descending one of many.

Kasey and the bomber. Airplane parts are strewn across the glacier, but this is the main wreckage.

Laura on the 2000 ft descent down from Bomber Pass to Upper Reed Lake.

Sabrina hiking out at Upper Reed Lake. By the time we got to the lake, low clouds had rolled in, obscuring the pass. By the time we hit Lower Reed Lake it was raining cats and dogs with a little bit of hail. 30 minutes later, it was clear skies again. Got to love Alaska.

18 miles, 2 mountain passes, and 5,000 vertical feet later we finished the traverse. The best birthday weekend!

Here is the story behind the bomber. It was originally a radio interview on September 14, 2000 on local radio station  KLEF 98.1 FM.

Heroism High in the Talkeetnas

Good evening. Here’s a compelling story from yesteryear about bravery and heroism high in the Talkeetna Mountains, near Hatcher’s Pass.

On November 15, 1957, about 6:30 p.m., a B-29 bomber from Elmendorf Air Force Base with a crew of 10 was returning to base after a radar-calibrating mission farther north. Weather had deteriorated and the ceiling had dropped to below 4,000 feet as they made their way south past Talkeetna. A routine radio report from the aircraft reported no problems. The plane was scheduled to arrive at Elmendorf at 7 p.m.

Staff Sergeant Calvin Campbell, then 34, was assigned to the right scanner position, about mid-point in the aircraft behind the engines. One of his tasks was to monitor the two engines on the right side. Staff Sergeant Robert McMurray had similar duties on the left side. In the pilot seat was Major Robert Butler.

In a recent telephone interview Campbell, now 77, described what happened next

“We were descending toward Elmendorf at good speed, when we hit real hard with no warning. Everything went black…I mean real black. Then we hit again and it felt so cold. It felt like the wings tore off and when I crawled out, I saw that the fuselage was broken into two. We were on a snowy field—I didn’t know at the time it was a glacier. It was so quiet.

“McMurray was right below me, pinned between the fuselage and the observation post. I pulled him out of there. Navigator Lt. Claire Johnson had dragged himself out of the plane and collapsed in the snow nearby. I wrapped them both in parachutes and put Johnson in a sleeping bag that I found in the cargo hold.

“I could hear Sgt. Garza, the flight engineer, yelling from farther up the slope. He was still inside the nose section. It had sheared off and gone up the hill about 500 feet.”

“When I got up to Garza I soon realized he was the only other survivor—it was just the four of us. The pilot, Major Robert A. Butler and the five other officers had all perished. Garza weighed about 140 lbs…it was hard pulling him out. I placed him on a piece of canvas and dragged him down to the others. He had a broken arm and broken leg. I went back to the cargo hold and got more sleeping bags and then got us into the wreckage out of the wind—it felt very cold, but I had extra flight clothing to help cover us up.”

Air Rescue at Elmendorf began its helicopter search at daybreak the following morning, zeroing in on the B-29’s last known position. By 9:30 they found the crash site—on a broad glacial slope at fifty three hundred feet —about a mile northeast of upper Reed Lake. Thanks to Campbell’s decisive actions, the injured men survived the night. They were taken to the hospital at Elmendorf.

“I think we were about 17 degrees off course.” Campbell says. “Too far to the east—put us right into those high mountains.”

Campbell said that except for a scratch over his eye, he was unharmed. He later would suffer complications from frostbitten feet, however, and lose the use of several toes.

Calvin K. Campbell received a special commendation from President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Soldier’s Medal, a decoration for valor in a non-combat situation. He retired from the Air Force in 1968.

“I didn’t feel like a hero or anything,” says Campbell. “I just did what I had to do. “The other guys would have done the same thing for me.”

Today, the broken bomber sits on the glacier as a quiet memorial to the six men who died there 43 years ago.





The Brooks Range Trip: Part 2-The Arrigetch Peaks

22 08 2011

We ditched our packrafts and extras down at Arrigetch Creek, and headed up into the mountains for the ten mile hike to the Arrigetch Peaks. The Arrigetch remind me of Hatcher’s Pass on steriods. Huge granite spires, with mounds of boulders & blueberries lining the valley floor it is a climber’s and hiker’s paradise.  The name Arrigetch comes from the Inupiat language meaning “fingers of the outstretched hand.”

Our first good glimpse of the Arrigetch with Arrigetch creek flowing out.

We lucked out and had hot, sunny weather for the hike in.

We made the mistake of not looking for the bear trail that follows the creek up and went high instead, bushwhacking through alders and tussocks for two hours. We then dropped down towards the creek and found the much easier bear trail. It’s 100% worth it to locate this trail sooner than later. We took a leisurely 7 hours to do the hike, stopping for snacks and pictures along the way. It could easily be done in 5-6 hours if the bear trail is found early on and not so many breaks [not the 12 hours we were assured it would take as the portly ranger in Bettles told us 🙂 ]

The Maidens.

Kasey and Boone at one of many creek crossings. Dry feet are not an option.

Kasey’s and my tent up in the Arrigetch. It leaked like a sieve, we would find out in the next two days of pouring rain. We ended up having to sleep with dry bags on top of our down sleeping bags to prevent the rain hitting soaking them (thus rendering them useless) and packing up everything into dry bags while we were gone from the tent.

I’m not sure what these bright pink plants are. They resembled blueberry bushes, but pink and no berries. I found a whole field of these cool plants. As for blueberries, there were tons throughout the Alatna valley and in the Arrigetch. We enjoyed grazing, and they made delicious additions to our oatmeal in the morning.

Boone and Dan scouting out our hike up Mt. Ariel the next day.

The next morning we got shut down on a summit. It was nice at our tents, for a little while.

The rain quickly moved down valley, making talus fields treacherous. Eventually, the whole valley was socked in and the peaks were all hidden from view.

The next day we thought we had a chance. There was actually some blue sky directly overhead.

We got shut down again by rain and the low clouds that moved in. We ended up hiking up to this bench over lots of slippery talus to catch a glimpse of some glaciers for a brief moment.

Looking back down the valley to the low lying clouds.

The rock was covered with brilliant orange lichen.

Interestingly, on the whole hike/packraft from the headwaters of the Alatna to Takahula lake the only time we ran into other people was in the Arrigetch. We met two different groups there, one group of two people doing a similar trip as us. The other group had been there a week, went up in the mountains on the one nice day, and got shut down the rest of time, not being able to make the mountain pass they had hoped for, ending up in the same place as they began.  The Arrigetch Peaks were amazing to see, even though we got shut down from any summits or climbing.

The fourth day in the Arrigetch we woke to sunshine on our tents and down valley, but again, the mountains up from our tent had low lying clouds and rain. We packed it up, and headed back for our boats to continue the rest of our adventure to Takahula Lake.





Packrafting Clearwater Creek

6 07 2011

Sunset Denali Highway.

The 50% chance of rain forecasted turned into 100% before we crawled out of the truck to start our 4th of July packraft trip. We started our trip with sights on packrafting the East Fork Susitna in the Clearwater Mountains off the Denali Highway. After a few hours of hiking in the driving rain, soaked to the bone, we set up the megamid at Grogg Lake, warmed up with hot tea, and changed our 25 mile hike, 36 mile packraft, 3 day trip heading west to the Susitna, to a 2 day,12 mile +/- hike and 15 mile packraft trip headed east to Clearwater Creek. 

Wildlife was abundant. Within a few miles we had a curious caribou approach us he came within 15 feet. Before we left the ATV trail for the tundra we had already seen 2 caribou and 1 red fox and 1 cross fox. Near Grogg Lake we ran into a decent size herd of caribou dancing across the tundra. Amazing to see, but in a driving rain, so no pics 😦

Will and Katie hiking above Grogg Lake. It seemed as soon as we made our decision to change route and shave a day off our trip the weather improved. Although we got a few moments of sun, it was mostly cloudy and rainy-but just the normal Alaska drizzle, not the driving rain leading up to Grogg Lake. However, over the mountains to the west it looked pretty stormy, making us feel better about our decision.

Dan descending to the Clearwater Creek valley.

Wildflowers were everywhere. We saw dozens and dozens of different varieties.

Dan anxious to get in his packraft. We had to wait for a few more miles before that could happen.

More wildflowers.

High tundra hiking. Dan, Katie, and Will headed towards the put in at Clearwater Creek. This trip had almost no bushwhacking! When we descended into the brush there were convienent moose trails leading us right to the creek.

Dan paddling down Clearwater Creek.

The creek itself is Class 1, with a very brief, and very easy Class 2 section. Perfect trip for people new to packrafting like Katie and Will.





Packrafting Curry to Clear Creek

22 06 2011

Curry to Clear Creek is an amazing combination of backpacking, bushwhacking, packrafting, and a train ride! It’s approximately a 14 mile hike from where the train drops you off, part on an ATV trail, part high tundra hiking, and loads of bushwhacking. Once you reach Clear Creek it’s a 15 mile paddle back to Talkeetna (10 miles of fun, splashy class II/III on Clear Creek through rock gardens and wave trains, then 5 miles of pure slacker easiness on the Talkeetna River).

We lucked out with blue skies and temps in the 70’s, which was on the sweltering side for this Alaskan girl (I don’t know how I ever survived going to school in the desert).

View of Denali from the train.

Dan and Boone in Curry.

Let’s just say there is a few bears in the area. We only saw one……

The Alaska Range with Denali peaking through the clouds on the left.

Caribou!

One of the easier bushwhacks. Most were in 6-8 foot dense alders.

Dan taking a break in the sun.

Our shadows at 11 pm on the tundra.

Boone taking a nap at Clear Creek.

Dan and Boone headed down a small rapid.

***I did this trip again in July of 2012. We saw a note on the packraft.org website that there was a trail under the powerline. We decided to try and find it-it was well worth it! Take the 4 wheeler trail all the way to the powerline. It’s a game trail and from a distance, definitely doesn’t look like it exists through the alders, but it saved us 2-3 hours at least (not to mention, lots of scratches and bruises from the bushwhack.) A few times it fades in the small ravines, but always picks up on the other side. Follow the powerline to the high tundra, camp, then make a bushwhack descent…..*****








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