East Fork Susitna

8 07 2014

Our Fourth of July trip started out car camping the night before beginning our pack raft trip on the Denali Highway. From my tent, I hear Dan ask Dylan if he smelled anything. Dylan replied “No.” Next morning, I caught a whiff of a horrible smell & noticed flies outside my tent. Dan happened to be walking by and I asked him if anything was dead outside. He replied “No, why do you ask?” A few minutes later Dan discovered a very dead porcupine out in the open between our tents! I have no clue how we missed it…..I would love to say it’s because we set our tents up at midnight the night before, but everyone knows there’s still plenty of daylight at midnight on the Fourth of July.

I finally got to finish a trip I started a few Fourth of July’s ago-packrafting the East Fork Susitna. Last time, a wall of weather led us to shorten our trip and change it midway through the first pass to Clearwater Creek (the weather to the East was significantly better). This time, we had 75f+ weather and nothing but sunshine! Dan, Dylan, and I hiked 35 miles & pack rafted 32 miles over 3 days. Although this trip can be done with a ten mile shorter hike, we ended up only driving one car, making hiking up Valdez Creek Mine road necessary. We couldn’t justify driving 2 trucks (you need four wheel drive and clearance for creek crossings on Valdez Creek Mine road) 5 hours to the put-in for 3 people…..

 

Dylan relaxing at Grogg Lake.

dylan grogg lake

Dylan & Dan hike over the first pass. There was a ton more snow than we expected from our past trip through this area to Clearwater Creek. Loads of post holing….brought back not so fond recent memories of our Puddingstone/Chickaloon trip. Also, due to recent heavy rains all the creek crossings were pretty high, with a stronger current. We stopped not long after this a short dinner break and had a herd of caribou bulls approach us. Once they came around the corner & saw us (they were 50ish feet away) they fled-I only got one crappy picture but it was super cool to witness.

first pass

Dan crossing a snowfield in the first pass. It seemed like half the snow fields were just hard enough to support us, the other half we post holed through. It wasn’t consistent with aspect, as we expected it to be.

dan snow

The amazing Mid. Best pack rafting tent ever!

mid

Dan & Dylan checking out the route from the end of the first pass. There was no shortage of snow or boulders on this trip!

dan & dylan over the pass

View from the top. Crossing yet another snow field.

over the pass

Dylan & Dan taking a break with Mt. Deborah peaking over our next pass. Boulder creek is in between.

dan dylan deborah

Dan Dylan hike

Up the last pass. Very similar looking to Hatcher’s Pass, just with caribou 🙂 I dubbed this Caribou Pass, there were tons of them up here-all mamas & babies. We saw tons of caribou, marmot, ground squirrels, and ptarmigan. Some wolf scat & a bear print, but no actual sighting of the predators.

caribou pass

A few ‘Bou.

a few bou

The East Fork Susitna is all Class I, with a Class III section in the first half. We lucked out with high water and had very little butt dragging on gravel bars.

Beautiful views as far as the eye could see! We had hot, amazing weather until the last four hours…..the wind picked up significantly, pushing us around in our little pack rafts. Fighting the headwind slowed us down to a crawl. Also, it made it impossible to see the butt dragging gravel bars slightly under water, and the river looked much more like a choppy ocean than a smooth Class 1 river. The last 15 minutes we got absolutely poured on, but on the plus side, the wind subsided :).

dan paddle

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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!





Best Pizza Delivery EVER-The Tolovana Hot Springs trip!

10 03 2014

tolovana sign

The trail to Tolovana is part roller coaster, part luge. On xc skis it was interesting 🙂 Starting out at 2000 ft, dropping to 850 ft, then up to 2120 ft, back down to 1000 ft made the trail a little bit of a climb/steep descent over 10 miles. Skins on the uphills made it significantly easier, although the trail was packed enough to hike. We lucked out with daytime temps in the 20’s and around 0F at night. We enjoyed mostly sunny skies, brilliant stars, and the faint glow of the northern lights on the horizon. Pretty sweet weather & temps!

Map of the ten mile trail to Tolovona & elevation gain.

THS11MileTrailMap

The trail looking back towards the Elliott Highway. We were thankful for the snow machine track, which kept the trail nice and groomed in many parts. Although, parts of the trail were super icy (mostly down low and up on top of the dome.) trail

The crew-Ben, Becca, Eva, & Dan.crew heading in

When we got to the cabin we had a curious fox show up a few times the first day. Becca named him Albert.foxy

Sunset from the Log cabin. This cabin was pretty sweet-equipped with solar panels, LED lights, and an oven!cabin sunset

The middle spring! The best soaker-love the temperature control with the hoses. We did manage to get 7 of us in here, although it was tight!hot spring

Saturday we went for a xc ski excursion down the trail towards the Livengood-Dunbar trail. There is tons of evidence everywhere of a recent forest fire. This is one of two windsocks on the icy runway.wind sock

 Ben made fresh bread!bread

Deke and Lorraine made it! They are rock stars for making it on the 10 mile trail with dog teams! Here Deke is riding on the back of Lorraine’s sled.
deke lorraine on dogsled

They brought with them frozen pizzas & beer-couldn’t ask for better friends 🙂

In land in front of the cabin had been cleared and was at a slight slope AND glare ice. When we saw them drive in, we all ran out to help in our down booties. To say the least we weren’t as much help as we could have been & I almost got clotheslined by the dog team line into a tree. Apparently, I did a great rendition of the running man in my down booties. Once I got enough traction, I went inside and put on my boots-more suitable footwear for helping 🙂 Lorraine & Deke on dogsled

dogs

It was super fun taking the dogs off the line an setting up a picket line. We helped Deke and Lorraine give the dogs fish head meatball snacks and put hay down for their beds. Later on while we ate our pizza, the dogs got their dinner.dogs on the line

Deke & Lorraine with Deke’s team leaders.D & L

Lorraine sharing a moment with one of her dogs.Lorraine & dog

Pizza! It was a fabulous feast. Love, love, love having access to an oven!pizza1

A few of us enjoying a beer and a soak. Absolutely amazing place-can’t wait to go back!

beer hot spring





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.

Image

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 🙂

Image

Dan skiing by with headlamps on his wrists.

Image

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

Image

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

Image

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.

Image

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

Another sea of wavy ice.

Image





Skiing Prince William Sound and the Paulson Bay Cabin

2 04 2013

We arrived in Whittier for our spring ski trip to find that Whittier had officially become a slurpee. From the streets to the water in the boat harbor, everything was slushy with a little bit of snow on top. Thank heaven for Extratuffs! We left later than we had hoped due to gale force winds and high seas (best to let that settle down a bit), but still made it out of Whittier by early afternoon.

Perfect snow for a snowball fight. Eva nailing Dan with a snowball.eva & dan in the harborHard to believe this is saltwater 🙂 It was much more like a margarita-just add tequila! The view right in front of the cabin.The Bay This is what we found upon landing on the beach…we had a little bit of work ahead of us before we could play. The cabin was snowed in on three sides, but luckily the front was an easy dig out. According to the log book, no one had been there all winter and we had a little bit of issues getting the propane stove working properly. Once we got it to fire up, it really cranked! We were super happy on this soggy trip for a good stove. Temps ranged 30-40F, with lots of rain (as should be expected in a rain forest), really wet snow, and one small window of sunshine!stairs

Dan clearing out the top of the stairs.Dan digging out stairs

What kind of backcountry ski trip would it be with out a keg or two of Alaska’s finest? Jon showing us the best way to carry a full keg, something he learned well on our last PWS ski trip.Jon Keg

Ryan skinning through the snowy forest.ryan skinningAfter a snowy night and rainy/foggy morning we were happy to see some high clouds & hints of blue sky.

The beach.the beach Part of a spine and skeleton that washed up during low tide.skeletonWe took advantage of the short window of no rain and the only spot of blue sky/no fog in the area and skinned up to get some skiing in. We found all the steep stuff had slid, and the few areas that hadn’t were pretty suspect. Mostly rolling hills surround the cabin, with any downhill skiing to be had quite a ways away. Great touring though-it’d be the perfect area for a metal edge xc backcountry ski.

We took a modest run (on the left shoulder). It was slow as hell with the super wet, dense snow. Ryan, on his snowboard, didn’t fare as well as the rest of us skiers 😦mountainJon, taking advantage of the warm, dry spell (about 40F). Behind him filled in with fog (earlier we had views of Cochrane Bay.) Soon, all the boys were topless. jon Ryan, Eva, and Dan breaking trail. Setting the skin track was a little bit of work in the super wet & dense snow.skinningJon & Parker with Cochrane Bay behind them.jon and parkerEva helping me grill up the chicken satay. To say the least, we ate pretty well on this trip. Bacon & sauerkraut stuffed reindeer hot links, grilled pineapple wrapped with bacon, and the chicken satay were highlights. I think we all might have actually gained weight on this trip….eva bbqChicken Satay. I was pretty proud of how this turned out, even though it was a little more work than I had planned for a camping trip 🙂 I’ll have to fine-tune the recipe to make it a bit easier in the backcountry. It was super worth it though 🙂chicken Satay

 

 





Blue skies, nice Pow….a few recent excursions

21 02 2013

Winter in AK started off slowly…early season conditions and a terrible snowpack plagued us till January. To top it off, I took a bad jump in flat light and injured my foot, so I’ve been on gimp status for most of Jan/Feb 😦

Pre-gimp skiing @ Hatcher’s with Dan.hatchers Eva.eva

 Dan skiing above the clouds on Marmot.dan marmot

skin b & w

blue

Went snowmachining at -13F in Hatcher’s with a fellow gimp, the Pirate, while I was gimpy too. Probably not what the doctor ordered, but I couldn’t resist and the powder was amazing…..IMG_6696pirate small IMG_6872-pirate small IMG_6887-pirate small

I finally made it back to skiing after 5 weeks off! Blower snow above 1000 ft. at Pete’s North. It was fabulous-until I fell and re-injured my foot. 😦 Back on gimp status.

Jon getting after it at as the sun just crests Pete’s South.IMG_7227-small





Nordic Blading @ the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge (and a little bit of skiing)

28 11 2012

I’ve been scoping them out for a couple years now, and finally made the plunge the day before Thanksgiving. I bought nordic blades. They open up a whole new world in skating, making the uneven surfaces and obstacles embedded into the surfaces of  lakes, marshes, and tarns easy to skate on. As Jeff put it-they are like the 4×4 of ice skating.  Also, I’m trying to make lemonade out of a lemon of a winter so far…..the lack of snow (zero) has definitely impacted my enthusiasm, so I’m embracing what we do have plenty of-ice! 

 

I never would have guessed to head to the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge to skate on the inlet had I not found a note about it on a local ice skating forum. We had extremely high tides combined with cold temps this week that made the inlet/refuge into a nordic blade haven. 

Eva and Dan heading into the noon sun….which isn’t far off the horizon this time of year.

Some challenging ice….Nordic blades make this stuff completely doable.

We found some beautiful ice! There were a lot of places where the ice was as nice as if it had been zambonied.

Jeff and Sabrina headed out with me a couple days later to try nordic blading. 

Tika seemed to get around just fine without skates.

I did manage to make it to Turnagain and ski over the weekend with Brian and Sabrina….to ski on snow that fell weeks ago. One of the only places that hasn’t been ripping out due to the cold, clear weather creating hoarfrost and instability was Tincan. We were suprised that it wasn’t as tracked out as we imagined it would be.

Sabrina enjoying the sunshine and temperature inversion on top of Tincan.

Just because Brian is one of the best snowboarders I know, I had to post this pic….it was fun watching him on skis for the first time since 7th grade 🙂

In all fairness, he did really well, and only fell this once.








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