Thursday, October 27, 2016

East Fork Susitna Packraft - September 2016

After a fun caribou hunt in the Clearwater Mountains, Andalyn and Khalial convinced me to return for an adventure the following weekend. As Valdez Creek opened up around us I was glad we were there:

After leaving the Highlander at a deep, long, and intimidating stream crossing we followed the road as it turned into an ATV trail, then into a creek that ATVs sometimes drove up. 5 miles after leaving the car we left the wide valley and hiked up towards the pass to our right.

As soon as we were out of sight of the road, caribou started to appear around us. I still have not come to terms with the fact that caribou seem to prefer to stand broadside to humans. These particular animals probably knew that our ultralight backpacks couldn't fit a quartered caribou.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Aialik Bay - May 2016

What to do for Memorial Day weekend? Zack suggested Marcus Baker - after playing that game of Russian Roulette a few weeks ago, I was not ready to risk getting stuck in a snowcave for a week. We considered skate skiing across the Harding Icefield. Wasting good weather on flat snow seemed a bit of a sin.

We settled on a kayak around Aialik Bay. First, Andalyn and I needed to reserve rental kayaks for the weekend. This would involve convincing the staff at Miller's Landing that we actually had a chance of doing a wet exit and rentry. Fortunately, the person I talked to was a new hire and knew even less about kayaking than me. They seemed to think that field hydrology in small arctic streams would carry over to flailing around in freezing water next to a calving glacier. Maybe it does?

By 6 AM on Saturday, the new employee had done a thorough enough job bungling our reservation, that the last thing the water taxi was worried about was whether or not we could safely operate a kayak. So, there we were, on a deserted beach on a beautiful morning in Aialik Bay.

We paddled across the bay towards a white sand beach. The glassy morning water bent and stretched with big rollers from the Gulf of Alaska. The only disturbance to the surface came from whales spouting in the distance.

Reaching the white sands we hopped out, took a nap, then Andalyn and I went for a walk. Meanwhile, a black bear strolled past Zack and Khalial as they slept in the warm sun. What a great start to an adventure!

Refreshed we jumped back in the boats and continued up the bay. At Holgate Arm we turned left and paddled towards the glaciers.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Jack River Packraft - June 2016

For my birthday last year we mountain biked for two hours, then ran six miles barefoot on the beach, then went climbing, then did a class III float, and finished with a sunset hike. This year, after throwing around a few equally unreasonable ideas we settled on the Jack River over Caribou Pass as a logistically feasible combination of birthday fun.

Starting along the Parks Highway 3.6 miles south of Cantwell, we followed an ATV/bear/moose trail across the flats and were soon gaining elevation.

ATV trails are an interesting contradiction for non-motorized users: they leave eroded scars on the landscape, but without them, vegetated trail-less areas would be nearly impenetrable. Perhaps they are the true multi-use trail? Andalyn is probably debating this conundrum here:

At 3,000 feet we began to sidehill and wrapped SE into a valley towards the pass to the Middle Fork Chulitna drainage. As sidehilling goes it was quite pleasant.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

North Marcus Baker - May 2016

Marcus Baker is scary. Rising 13,000 feet straight out of the Prince William Sound, it turns benign southerly winds into storms, storms into blizzards, and blizzards into monsters. There are so many stories: 11 days in a snow cave, snow caves filling in too fast to dig out, time to dig mansions underground. So, when forecast run after forecast run showed a strong high pressure window forming, the destination seemed obvious.

Next up was putting together a last minute team with the requisite rope, glacier, skiing, and avalanche experience for a smash and grab mission. Mary and Sarah were available, and as usual, up for anything. After a frantic night of packing we pulled into Mike Meekin's Sheep Mountain air strip 8 AM on Friday. First, Mike would take me out with the gear, then the ladies would follow. Lifting off the gravel airstrip above budding trees it was hard to believe it could be winter anywhere. 5 minutes later, the cracked surface of the Matanuska Glacier was below us.

Melt ponds already forming on the glacier surface:

Mike briefly distracted me from the scenery because he had just returned from a packraft/SuperCub brown bear hunt that he had to show me pictures of. Looking up from his phone, the glacier started to curve away to the south.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Sheep Glacier - April 2016

Its 6:30 on Saturday morning and rain is pattering down on the roof above my bed. We're supposed to be flying into the High Talkeetnas this morning - its hard to believe it will happen with the rain. A call to Last Frontier Air Ventures reveals that its actually "blue" up north and go time.

In Palmer we scramble to jam our glorified car-camping gear into the helicopter and do a safety briefing. Andalyn notices that the finger the pilot repeatedly uses to point at the rotor doesn't have its tip. After a liability waver that looks more like a volunteer signup for a trail crew party we're off the ground and above the snowless Matanuska Valley. At Granite Creek Patrick turns north into the mountains. Popping over the first ridge, there's mountain...

...after snowy mountain.

A few minutes later, the Sheep Glacier comes into view: its big, smooth, and ringed by glaciated peaks and granite spires quintessential to the Talkeetna Mountains.