Saturday, August 2, 2014

Twenty Mile Packraft - 7.4.2014

Over the last month the weather has been so wonderful that everything other than spending every possible second outside has dropped completely off the horizon. Climbing, biking, packrafting, backpacking, running, hiking, kayaking, zooming around in helicopters, fishing, late nights processing fish. Its been great. I keep thinking it will start raining, it hasn't. Lots of adventures to catch up on.

Back in early July I had just returned from an exhausting and quite trying week of field work in Kanuti. Alex and Co. were headed out to Blackstone for the weekend (which sounded incredible), but I just couldn't drag myself off the couch to pack.

I decided to start the long weekend with the 20 Mile packraft. 20 Mile is one of those iconic Southcentral adventures. People were already telling me I needed to do it the day I moved to Anchorage.

Per usual, I slept in, then wandered around my house spacing out, before eventually deciding to get moving. By 1 PM I'd stashed a bike at Portage, driven to Alyeska, and was hiking up the Winner Creek Trail.

The trail slowly gained elevation as it climbed through the temperate rainforest of the Girdwood Valley.

The mountains starting to come into view above Winner Creek.

A bit higher, looking back towards the other north face of Alyeska. Easy to picture a heaven of rad spine lines up there.

The forest starting to transition as I approached treeline.

Reaching treeline, and looking north towards Winner Pass.

The alpine section of this adventure is absolutely incredible, and definitely the highlight.

Almost to the top!

So darn beautiful! Just starting to look into the 20 Mile drainage and the high mountains that feed it. The mountain on the right lies at the headwaters of the tidewater glaciers that spill into Port Wells.

The actual summit of the pass is incredible, particularly because there is a pond right at the top that actually drains out of both ends and down each side of the pass. I couldn't resist taking off my clothes and jumping in. Because the pond is right at the top of the pass, an infinity pool effect is produced; looking out over the water the first thing you see is huge peaks with glaciers draped over them. The flightseeing helicopter that popped over the ridge while I was standing naked drying off was a bit of a surprise though...

Another awesome swimming pond on the way down.

The trail, though significantly less used, continues down towards West 20 Mile.

Having not really looked into the route before starting, I was not expecting much walking once over the pass. I was wrong. At this point I was getting really over walking.

Time to run, hopefully no bears in the bushes!

There it is!

Water! Looks vaguely floatable!

25 km from the trailhead, having not seen another hiker in 6 hours, I encountered this deluxe bridge.

Which apparently goes absolutely no where. Typical Alaska.

A few minutes later I was jumped into my raft and was onto the next stage of the adventure. This stream looked promising.

Nevermind the promising part.

That's better!

Second strainer/snag in a row. Sketchy, and starting to get tired of jumping out of my packraft to avoid random strainers.

After a few more kms spent walking around snags the river abruptly and completely departed from its channel deciding instead to flow through the forest. Wandering through the alders as I walked down the old stream channel I was very aware of just how useless my bear spray was buried inside my pack.

Reaching the main steam of 20 Mile, the river became much smoother and easier to navigate. Totally worth all the trouble.

The infamous Spine Cell zone, still on the Wish List, hopefully next winter.

As I reached the lower 20 Mile, the usual afternoon sea breeze picked up. At one point I decided to take a break from paddling and just float. And just float I did, but in place.

The beautiful Placer Valley coming into view, almost there!

Made it!

7.5 hours and about 50 km after starting. Time to complete the multisport trifecta, 25 km to go.

I jammed my paddle and raft into my pack, plugged a BBC podcast into my ears, and started spinning out the rest of the adventure.

Pulling into Girdwood, I ran into Max and Tarah. "Hows it going Mike?" It took me a minute to catch my breath, "tired", I responded.

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