Sunday, September 26, 2021

Yanert Traverse - September 2021

The minute we first walked up the Wells Creek ATV trail last fall brought realization of the potential access to so much country and then the dreaming and scheming of potential adventures. One that immediately stood out was a traverse from the Denali Highway to Glitter Gulch at the entrance to the Denali National Park. It wasn't until a year later that our schedules would line up for the Wells Creek - Louis Creek - Yanert - Nenana Traverse.

On a cold and rainy fall evening we drove north, leaving a shuttle Subaru at the Parks Highway bridge over the Nenana River, then turning southeast for the Denali Highway. Where the Nenana joined the gravel road of the "highway" we drove down the zigzag access road to camp where the silty brown Nenana meets the spectacular blue of Wells Creek. The dawn brought a classic crisp fall morning with the peaks above us dusted in new snow. We inflated our packrafts, made sure the car keys were packed, and paddled across the big brown conveyor belt to the ATV trail on the far side.

As moose hunters in jet boats thundered past, we squished the air out of our dripping boats, rolled them up, and stuffed them into our packs.

Photo: Nyssa Landres

Then we followed the familiar trail into the woods. So many of these trails become mud pits straight out of the Fire Swamp from the Prince Bride, but protected from heavy pounding this one is a dryish treat.

Photo: Dmitry Surnin

Climbing out of the Nenana River valley and onto the high plateau, the foothills of the Alaska Range spread out in front of us.

Photo: Dmitry Surnin

Monday, September 13, 2021

Guest Slog Blog - Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic 2021

Cantwell to Sheep Mountain Lodge (160 miles)

by Dmitry Surnin

Start of the "Awesome Valley" 
It’s around 4:30am and I open my eyes to what appears to be hundreds of mosquitos bunched up at the tip of the tent. Buzzing, desperately trying to get out, “are they all full and just wanna dip out?” Charlie wakes up next to me and mentions this is the worst he’s ever felt. The mosquitoes aren’t biting I thought, but the only thing that stung were my feet - I could barely move them without feeling pain. It’s the morning of our fourth day in the Kosina River Valley and we have been covering some ground since this challenge took off roughly 75 miles ago. I painfully crawl out of the shelter to see what the weather is doing, and immediately feel vertigo. I want to vomit. I’m on my knees, and elbows... just waiting to pop. The sickness passes and I begin to look around, it is absolutely beautiful - the morning fog has rolled into the valley overnight and it seemed like we’ll finally have an overcast day. I personally don’t do very well in the heat and the last three days have been insanely hot and bluebird. Today was going to be our most vertical but also our most scenic day. As good as I knew today had the potential to be, my mental and physical state at that moment was depleted. Charlie is packed up and brings up another point of his physical wellbeing, joking that he feels like he has COVID. We already had our low point the day prior at Fog Lakes when we ran out of water, but this was different. This time, we truly felt the repercussions of pushing our bodies. We slowly march towards the end of the valley to begin our climb into the alpine where we’ll experience a complete 180, the summit of our trip so to speak. Covering roughly 7,000 feet of vert and hiking 21-something miles through the most scenic and familiar-to-us terrain. Nearing the end of Kosina River Valley

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Virgin Creek - 1.25.2021

With a relatively stable snowpack and snow to sea level in the zone, winter 2021 was one we spent exploring new-to-us slogs, peaks, and vistas around the southern end of Turnagain, Girdwood, Kern Creek, and Berry Pass.

After a couple days of spines on Pete's and moonlight exits from Johnson Pass, we set a car shuttle at the Winner Creek trailhead, then slipped, slithered, and clawed our way up the drippy and icy rainforest of Virgin Creek. It was somewhere in this fairy forest that Jordan realized he'd left the shuttle keys behind. After a thousand vertical feet of treacherous booting we were above the rain line and skinning through powdery snow into the alpine. 

Across the Girdwood Valley we drooled over the iconic east face of Fishs Breath rising at the headwaters of California Creek. With 2,000 vertical of 37 degrees draining straight into the incised terrain trap of the creek bottom this face isn't one to take lightly. We'd end up having a memorable day there in March.

Once on top of Max's, the seemingly vertical Big League face - the crown jewel of Virgin Creek - towered in front of us. The face was covered in wind pillows, the choke was rocky, and we weren't dealing with perfect stability. Today would not be the day for Big League.

So, we set our sights for Little League, first dropping into the sublime sunny powder on the south face of Max's. Before moving to AK years ago I'd thought there was nothing good about the low angle sun and short days of midwinter. Boy was I wrong - there are few things better than skiing south-facing slopes of gold without the impact of a strong sun. Plus, you can still get a lot of skiing done with less than six hours of daylight.

Monday, August 2, 2021

East Fork Chulitna - June 2020

With an exploded and non-weighting bearing ankle, summer 2020 was one of creativity and flexibility for me and the lovely people in my life. In late June, looking for a weekend compatible with a Nova Scotia Duck Toller, crutches, and Charlie's new Forager, we drove north on the Parks Highway for a weekend road-to-road run on the East Fork Chulitna River. After staging the shuttle car at the Chulitna Bridge it was on to our campsite where the East Fork meets the highway.

I'd never been in a Forager before, and I don't think Juniper had either. As we pushed off from camp into the wave trains I vividly remember watching the little dog levitate into the air as the boat crested a wave then fell away beneath her. In the moment of weightlessness that followed she looked around in confusion before plummeting safely back to earth between Charlie's legs.

As we floated downstream the gradient of the river decreased and we left the waves behind to be replaced by the classic gray water and gravel bars of Alaska's glacial rivers. Charlie told me about his last time floating this section and the brown bear cubs whose mother had charged their rafts from the bank.

The day became a routine of paddling under cottonwoods adorned with snoozing eagles with breaks for games of fetch for Juniper and ankle elevating for me. 
Photo: Charlie Procknow

Past the confluence with Honolulu Creek we paddled under the swaying footbridge covered in loose spikey wires that we have previously used on our way to Ohio Creek. Here's a fun picture memory of that schwak with Jordan, Rey, and Conor:

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Packrafting Shangri-La - July 2021

The 4th of July weekend found us driving north after work on Friday night with the goal of day tripping the classics of Broad Pass. We camped along the East Fork of the Chulitna while clouds of mosquitos feasted on us then on Saturday morning hiked into the woods from the north bank of Honolulu Creek.

For four miles we waded thru waist deep grass, crawled under Jurassic ferns, and surfed alders to the brush line. The surprisingly legit bushwhacking slowed our progress as we worked towards the alpine. 

Reaching the tundra, visibility, and easy travel of the valley, we cruised towards the pass that would bring us to the headwaters of Honolulu Creek.

There was still ice on the lake as we crossed the pass and started the descent towards Honolulu Creek.