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

Advertisements




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





Snowbird to Bomber

11 09 2014

I love Hatcher’s Pass-especially in the fall. The colors were perfect last weekend when Becca, Evan, and I set out to backpack Snowbird Glacier to Bomber Glacier and out Reed Lakes. Although I’ve been to both the Bomber and Snowbird a few times, I’ve never done the link between the two. I was excited that Becca & Evan were on the same page.

It was lightly raining when we left the truck, which eventually turned into a more steady rain with low clouds. We arrived at the Snowbird Hut to find some of my co-workers and their friends staying there as well. As night came, the clouds started to lift, and the tops of the surrounding mountains emerged.

The tarn below the Snowbird Hut with Alpenglow on the peaks in back.

view of lake

A few minutes later, 180 degrees from the last image, we were treated to an amazing (but quick) sunset over Snowbird Glacier.

sunset glacier

Evan & Becca at the start of our descent from the Snowbird Hut. We were all smiles until we realized it froze the night before & the talus field was a icy nightmare 🙂

Becca & Evan

Evan at the bottom of the talus field below the Snowbird Hut on the way to Bomber. Hatcher’s Pass has no shortage of talus fields and this trip was no exception. In fact, we took a detour and hiked up and down an extra one because we like them so much 🙂

boulder field

Evan taking a look at the valley we were descending into.

Evan

We enjoyed amazing amounts of fresh blueberries! While the low bush blueberries were past their prime, the high bush blueberries were perfect! Even Shiloh (their pup) thought so.

The fall colors were perfect.

becca evan shiloh

Although the sun was shining, it was definitely crisp outside. I was hoping to wear shorts one more time…..but happy it’s almost ski season!

fall c olors

river

Becca, walking up the glacier. It’s pretty wild to stumble across so many parts of the plane strewn across the much of the glacier. Some parts of the plane, dozens of feet apart, are still connected to each other by wires.Becca Glacier

wing mountain

bomber 2

bomber 3

bomber4

After we made the descent down the monster talus field  to Upper Reed Lake, Becca announced she was so glad to be done with boulder fields. I then realized she had never hiked to Reed Lakes…….I tried to, as delicately as possible, tell her we still had one more talus field.  There was a very sad look on her face. I think she found some solace in the fact that it is the easiest & smallest one of the trip. We had an amazing, beautiful weekend in the Talkeetnas!





Skiing at Hatcher’s Pass

14 03 2012

We decided to switch things up a bit and head to Hatcher’s Pass to get some touring in. I usually only head up there early in the season, and was excited to find nice light powder, a few untracked lines, and good stability.

The crew.

Lee getting after it.

Jon making some turns.

Michelle aka Skittles.

Jon on the uptrack.

Kasey and Ryan.

Kasey dropping a knee.

Another beautiful day in the Talkeetnas. One of many spectacular views.

Michelle about to drop in on the sweetest, untracked long line.

Kasey wrapping up a great line and a beautiful weekend.





R.I.P. the Lane Glacier

13 10 2011

The Lane glacier is dead. Well, almost. We headed up there last weekend for some early season fresh pow (it used to be THE place to go ski in September.) We figured, certainly a week into October there should be something decent.

Dan, Parker, Cosmo, Chad, and Jon on the hike in.

What we found was the Fast and Slow Lanes no longer connect. The Fast Lane is very short. The boulder field to get there always sucked, now it seems 4x as long as the glacier has receded, and you have to travel up the valley a lot farther to reach skinable/skiable terrain.

A look back partway up the talus field. We used to be able to skin through this area.

Hiking over boulders with 4 inches of snow is always a little challenging-although it’s better than the last time I went 3 years ago and there was 8 inches….although then you could ski all the way down to the boulder field above the Lane hut.

More boulders. Chad and Boone negotiating the endless field of talus with the Fast Lane above them.

We checked out the Fast Lane first. We didn’t end up skiing it-the measly four inches of snow was not bonded at all to the glare ice underneath. Boone, Chad, and Cosmo hiked up and over, meeting the rest of us at the Slow Lane. Dan and I decided not to join them when we saw Cosmo lose his footing and slide halfway down the icefield.

Boone hiking up the Fast Lane.

Chad on the Slow Lane.

Boone.

Boone skiing what he called “loud powder”- four inches of snow on top of glare ice.

Our tracks on what’s left of the Slow Lane.

Boone, Chad, and Cosmo on the trek out.





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.








%d bloggers like this: