Beaver Creek – Summit (no) Trail

19 06 2018

Kasey and I decided to take advantage of an early (hot) June weekend and explore her new stomping grounds in Fairbanks. Beaver Creek is a National Wild & Scenic River just north of Fairbanks in the White Mountains with road access. We slept in and got a little bit of a late start-we put in for the 35 mile float starting at Nome Creek at 1 pm._J6A8588Beaver Creek is a Class 1 river that meanders through low, rolling mountains. It’s beautiful in every direction. _J6A8631_J6A8635Lots of dead wood from previous forest fires. I love the interior weather-we had mostly hot & sunny, with thunderstorms rolling through at jet speed (which was a welcome temperature difference) and rolling out just as fast. We never got more than a couple drops of rain, however, surrounding us it looked like some areas were getting downpours._J6A8660_J6A8674_J6A8679Late evening Alaska sun! We finished the 35 mile float in 8 hours, including stopping to cook dinner on a gravel bar.  We arrived at the Borealis LaFevre cabin well before we expected to. It was a great break from the bugs, which were getting worse & worse. Unfortunately, the area surrounding the cabin was trashed by previous users 😦 The cabin gets heavy use all year long, but we were disappointed that users hadn’t been taking care of it. We found the small window inside the cabin not seated properly, so it allowed mosquitos in….Kasey got the majority of the buzzing & bites, as she slept closest to the window. After a few bites, I burrowed down in my sleeping bag to get some relief. It was still much better to be inside the cabin than out, mosquito-wise!_J6A8712_J6A8749_J6A8757Tussocks! We found the winter trail and started our 20 mile hike through the swamp, tussocks, and burnt forest. After about a mile, we found a channel that we had to unpack our boats, re-inflate them, and paddle the short distance to the other side to continue our journey. IMG_3096IMG_2886Eventually, we found the Summit Trail, which started off nicely-a boardwalk through the tundra! Which quickly turned into bushwhacking on the boardwalk, as the environment has taken over. Not too long after that, the boardwalk disappears, so does the faint trail & it’s climbing over downed trees from a previous fire & bushwhacking through alders at the same time. Occasionally, we would find the trail again for a short time. And follow it until it suddenly stopped. IMG_2895IMG_2903IMG_2910IMG_2918Wildflowers! They were starting to pop up everywhere! It was super hot & there wasn’t much water available (I got a little dehydrated). We eventually found small kettle ponds to purify water from. IMG_2923Eventually, we got to the easy ridge walking! We thought we might camp up high to (hopefully) avoid the majority of the mosquitos, but even on the ridges the mosquitos were bad. It felt like we had our own, personal clouds of them following us.IMG_2928IMG_2932We had originally thought we could do the 20 mile hike in one day (which can be done), but allotted two days. After a late start that morning, and lots of bushwhacking, we found the Summit Shelter unoccupied and in great condition, so we decided to stay there, instead of pressing on to the highway and getting to the truck at 1 AM.  It took us 9.5-10 hours to go 12 miles to the Summit Shelter. I think that’s a new record for slow 🙂IMG_4452_J6A8775The 8 miles from the Summit Shelter to the Elliot Highway are easy, trail is in great shape (it’s well used, crazy difference between that part of the trail and the 12 miles between cabins). We had some post holing through snow, but it was almost a welcome relief from the hot sun 🙂IMG_2943

 

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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.

boone hiking

Jeff & Sarah climbing towards the pass.

sarah & jeff hiking

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.

 kasey and boone hiking

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.

checking maps

View down river & faintly the Alaska Range.

 group view of valley

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.

   sarah hiking down

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

camp

Our put-in to the East Fork Chulitna.

yak

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.
sunset denali talkeetna





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.

denali

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 🙂

kasey alaska range view

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.

powerline

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 😦

on the ridge

Another stunning view of Denali and the Alaska Range.

sunset denali

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





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





The Brooks Range Trip: Part 3-Arrigetch Creek to Takahula Lake

26 08 2011

We got back on the Alatna River on day seven, the same day we came out of the Arrigetch. We were welcomed by sunshine and warm temps! It was great to dry our gear out after a few soggy days in the mountains. We decided to put in a few miles before making camp for the night. Luckily, that night we saw a family of wolves! Unfortunately, I didn’t get a pic, but we caught glimpses of a full size adult silver colored wolf, and a good look at a wolf pup/adolescent in and out of the brush along the riverbank. Definitely a highlight of the trip!

The Alatna River widens quite a bit right before Arrigetch Creek into a faster flowing Class 1. At one point, Boone clocked us on his GPS  at moving 6.7 mph, and I wouldn’t be suprised if in a few areas we moved a little faster. With all the rain that the lower river had received it was muddy, and running high.

Kasey doing the worm on our last beach we camped at.

Kasey tending the fire.

Fall colors were just starting to appear.

The last morning, Day 8, started out with high clouds, quickly breaking to warm sunshine.

Boone and Dan headed down river.

Kasey.

Kasey and Dan in the sun!

The take out from the Alatna river. Like most mud/sand we found along the river it had bear tracks. Throughout our time on the Alatna it seemed that most beaches/mudbars had bear, wolf, and a few caribou tracks. From here we had a short portage to Takahula Lake, then a paddle across the lake to the pick-up beach.

Kasey and Boone on the beautiful Takahula Lake.

Takahula Lake! The sea green water looks like the Carribean! We couldn’t help ourselves. We swam. It was less warm than the Carribean 🙂





The Brooks Range Trip: Part 1-Geadake Lake to Arrigetch Creek on the Alatna River

19 08 2011

The only words to describe the Brooks Range and Alatna River are amazing and stunningly beautiful. The Alatna is one of six designated Wild and Scenic Rivers in Gates of the Arctic National Park, and for good reason. The Endicott mountains range from rolling hills to sharp, jagged spears and everything in between. Many are reminiscent of the southern Rockies-very unlike any other mountains in Alaska.

Dan, Boone, Kasey and I got dropped off by floatplane in bright, late afternoon sunshine (after flying through rain the whole way) on Geadake Lake, the headwaters of the Alatna, where the Alatna River starts as a trickle flowing from the southern end of the lake.

Immediately, we found a caribou rack & skull-the first of a few we came across!

Fresh snow dusted the peaks 1,000 feet up. Being the second week of August, temperatures ranged from below freezing to upper 50’s or low 60’s, and the weather jetted in and out so quickly it was hard to keep track of. During our 8 day trip we lucked out and only had 2 solid days of rain, one or two days or rain/sun, and the rest was mostly sunny.

From the lake, we hiked through tussocks for 3.5-4 miles before the river was big enough to launch our Alpacka rafts.

Along the way we were treated to caribou dancing across the tundra.

We found snow on the river bank……

Early in the afternoon, on our first river day, my boat started losing air. We found the main valve to be seperating from the raft. We had to stop every 5-10 minutes to re-inflate the boat. We set up camp early that day so we could fix my raft with Aquaseal, before we were to hit the rapids above Ram Creek. Luckily, it held. Also, the river looked like it was at an average flow, and the rapids ended up being an easy Class 2 (not the 2+/3 that the river guide suggests, maybe at a different water level they are.) The rest of the river is Class 1.

Fresh wolf tracks! We found loads and loads of wolf & bear tracks on every sandbar. These tracks are from a wolf that came through our camp overnight.

Boone leading the pack.

Kasey heading down river.

The crew.

Dan.

Rain down river. The weather moved with lightning speed up and down valley.

A short time later, blue skies.

Boone cooking dinner on a backwater channel of the Alatna, near Arrigetch Creek.

This night it dipped below freezing, and we woke up to frosty sleeping bags and some ice on the channel. From here we stashed our boats, and headed into the Arrigetch Peaks for the second part of our trip.

 To be continued………..





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.








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