Thursday, October 22, 2020

Bird Ridge Overlook - 4.4.2020

Its hard to remember exactly why we decided to head for the steep, complex, and sheltered north face of Bird Ridge Overlook on an early April day last spring. I think we were targeting the sweet spot between the winds sweeping the Anchorage Front Range and the hard snow conditions at Turnagain, but it was likely also the appeal of something new.

Leaving the ice of the drippy parking lot it finally felt like spring had arrived. Our climbing skins were fast over the wet snow, but we all struggled to control our body temps as sweaty swamps formed in our clothes. Some items were easy to squeegee (like my eyebrows), or wring out (like Dmitry's buff), but layers buried in deeper, darker, swampier places were destined for a soggy day.

The the air cooled below freezing as we climbed, our skins went from slippery to sticky, and we repeatedly stopped to scrape the bonus training weight. None of us were interested in slowing down just cause mother nature had added 10 pounds to each of our skis, and our hip flexors paid the price.

1.5 miles before Indian Pass Dmitry signed for us to take the turn towards the gap between Bidarka Peak and BRO. I'd never really thought about using this pass before - it provides a great shortcut for skiers looking to access The Beak, BRO, or other area peaks.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Windy Creek - September 2020

For years we've post-holed through the swamps of Clearwater Creek to hunt caribou in a quiet pass where the undisturbed animals graze and migrate through. With my fibula still a cobweb of healing bone, this year's caribou hunt would be different. I bought a Burley bike trailer, packed my bike in my car, then drove north for the non-motorized hunt along Windy Creek's gravel road.

When I turned west from Cantwell onto the Denali Highway, the tundra and surrounding mountains were lit by soft pink evening light. The technicolor of fall reminded me of a beautiful packrafting trip here years ago. As the road transitioned to gravel, two blonde grizzlies romped across the road in front of me. I pulled over the Subaru to try my fawn call: the bruins were intrigued and looked back curiously, but knew they were in a predator hunting zone so lumbered into the brush.

It was dark by the time I got to the Clearwater Mountains. I'd never been up Windy Creek before, and didn't know the pullover, so I drove back and forth in the rain before parking for the night at the right gravel pit. The rain had stopped by the morning; og and clouds were beginning to lift as I pedaled up the puddled road into Windy. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Copper River - September 2020

After a great fly-in trip on the Chickaloon, we went back to Anchorage to refuel, check emails, repack, then hit the road for Chitina. The drive was a mix of fall colors, snowy peaks, and Planet Money. At the river the winds were blowing sand into our eyes as we loaded our boats and tucked the car behind a sad bunch of trees.

There were seals (and a few dipnetters) in Wood Canyon as we zipped thru. The water in the canyon was flat, but the eddy lines were strong, and it was impressive to see the river piling into the rock walls and spinning off 50 foot whirlpools. 

Even with the headwind and low flows we made an easy six miles in the first hour. As we exited the canyon, the winds died down, the country opened up around us, and we leaned back to look around.

The mountains rose above as we floated down the river. I've never seen 8,000 feet of relief from a river before.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Chickaloon River - September 2020

Saturday started as a beautiful, crisp, and clear fall day waiting for Mike Meekin at his airstrip above the Matanuska Valley. Around noon he was back and chatting our ears off as we loaded our backpacks into his 185 for the flight to the pass between the Chickaloon and Talkeetna drainages.

The ground fell away as we lifted off and banked north. Covered in the burnt colors of fall, the Talkeetna Mountains rose around us.

We flew past the jagged monolith of Mount Monarch covered in a white blanket by snow showers the night before.

After Monarch we crossed the colorful landscape of Chitna Pass, and then were over the Chickaloon River and looking towards its namesake glacier. Years ago we tried to go skiing up there. The terrain is great, the snowpack can be less so.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Gulkana River - June 2020

For my birthday the last couple of years Mary has given the present of a car shuttle. Last year she drove the Subie from Coldfoot back to Fairbanks, and this year she agreed to meet us at Sourdough for the shuttle up to Paxson Lake. 

First we had to get there. After working Thursday we rushed to load the car, pick up Zahalial's canoe, load the canoe, and reload the canoe. Then Emily drove as my non-weight bearing left foot still couldn't operate the clutch pedal - thanks Emily! Around 1:00 AM we rolled into the campground, found Mary's tent, and curled up in the solstice light.

In the morning Mary made cinnamon-chocolate chip-buckwheat-birthday pancakes and four humans and four dogs loaded up for the shuttle north.

The loons were calling on the lake as we loaded up the boats and pushed into the calm gray waters reflecting the cloudy skies.  

The paddle across the lake wasn't actually the slog I'd expected and before long we were sliding into the accelerating current of the river. We stopped at the old trapper's cabin for little prospecting and fishing.