Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

Day 26 – Around Seward

We woke up and got a fire going again. It’s always nice not needing the stove to heat water for breakfast. We were soon out of the cabin and heading towards Russian Falls, 1 mile or so from the cabin. We read the plaques about how natives were allowed to fish 25 salmon per year for subsistence purposes and then headed back to the car.

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We drove to Seward and had been thinking about hiking Mt Marathon, but instead went for a walk along the seawall and around town. First, we found a secluded spot from the winds to eat lunch. On my way back to the car, while Katie was filling our water bottles, a flock of 30 or so seagulls surrounded me. I had been covering my head, for fear of being pooed on, and when I looked up I saw the swarm surrounding me, pacing and looking at me. Katie walked back with the water and looked suspicious, she thought that I was up to something. But I was innocent – the seagulls just came to me!

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Surrounded by seagulls

We then began our walk

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Before leaving Seward, we decided to give Bill, from Goose Lake park, to see if he was actually okay with us visiting. We were happy that he said yes, and we plan to go around Anchorage and edit photos tomorrow before going over to his and his wife Mary’s house in the afternoon.

We then drove an hour or so out of Seward and stopped at Ptarmigan Campground, still in the Kenai – with a few other campers since the gate was open. Though we were happy to see a “no fee no services” sign posted. (Services referring to running water, a campground manager, and firewood).

Day 25 – To Kenai Peninsula

We woke up to breakfast and coffee as usual. I’ve been wanting to see the Northern Lights for a while, but even when I woke up at 1:30am, the sun hadn’t set. Maybe I’ll try 2:30am one night.

We looked through our book, 50 Hikes in the Kenai Peninsula, and decided to head to Russian Lakes since there was a cabin. We were at the trailhead by noon and had lunch before starting out. Scrambled egg sandwiches as usual. We saw some campground rangers at the parking lot, who advised us that although reservations are normally required for the public use huts, we would probably be able to stay in the hut as long as no one else had booked it out, since much of the Park was still closed.

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Russian Lakes Trailhead

We set off, to a beautiful day. We didn’t go far, just an hour and a half or so to the cabin at the lower Russian Lake. We found the lower Russian Lake mostly frozen, with a relatively small portion thawed at the far end. We were amazed when we got to the far end of the lake and the cabin – the best we have seen so far. All the wood inside – the beds, table, and counters – was varnished and the logs of the walls were all uniform and perfectly sealed with caulking. There was a table, a big fireplace, newspaper and kindling, and a wood-shed outside completed with an axe and saw. Katie got to sawing a log too large for the fireplace, while I began chopping. I’m happy when there’s an axe, so we can do our part by not depleting the stock of firewood already there.

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Starting a fire in the beautiful cabin

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The dock and lower Russian Lake

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Barber Cabin

Once we had a fire going, we headed out to see a rowboat, which looked like something from the army. We decided to go for a row, despite the high winds and ice on the lake. It was a fun adventure – we first tried to row through the ice, without any luck, and then decided to row up the lake beside the ice. We moved quite slowly as there was a strong headwind. When we were done rowing, we rowed the boat back to shore. I went to get out of the boat, and as I jumped the boat, along with Katie, zoomed backwards to the lake. It was too late for me save the boat, and Katie was sent off screaming downwind. With a flash of heroism, she turned herself around, grabbed hold of the oars, and rowed herself back upwind to the dock, where I jumped backed in. It was all rather exciting.

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Katie rowing

We had a couscous dinner as usual, along with hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps. Seeing that there was still lots of daylight left, I figured it would be a good idea to go swimming. The fire was roaring for when I returned.

I dove in off the dock, plunging into what I think is the coldest water I’ve ever swam in. I swam towards the ice flow – a flow of large chunks of ice flowing with the wind down the lake. For some reason, I thought I’d be able to swim through this ice, but I soon found out that ice chunks are solid and sharp. I swam back to shore and ran back to the cabin, making sure to wash my feet in a bucket of water before entering the cabin. I was slightly cut up from the ice – a lesson learned!

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Diving into the lake at 6pm

We then went to bed, with it far too warm to be anywhere near our sleeping bags – a roaring fire continuing for many hours.

Day 24 – To Anchorage

We headed today to Anchorage. It has been an excellent, sunny day and we got our first views of Denali from the the south. I posed for a picture.

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We continued on to Anchorage and lunched at picnic tables in Goose Lake Park. It was somewhat stressful having to navigate the busy streets of Anchorage – we haven’t seen a similar sized city since at least Prince George, but more like Vancouver. The Iphone has been invaluable for navigating and locating Starbucks in cities. When the internet in Starbucks failed, we moved to a McDonalds just down the street, also with free internet.

We are now headed to the Kenai Peninsula for a few days of hiking. We don’t have long left before we’ll have to start returning home to Vancouver! A medical researcher?, Bill, from Kingston offered to let us stay at his place if we liked and gave us his phone number. We’re thinking about taking him up on his offer on our way back from the Kenai. It would be our first and only time not camping in over 3 weeks.

Update:

We finished the day by driving to the start of the Kenai peninsula along a beautiful highway by the ocean. It reminds me of the Sea to Sky Highway, connecting Vancouver to Whistler, being right by the ocean with mountains towering above.

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We parked off the road at Bertha Creek Camground, closed, and walked beside the road closed sign with our camping gear. It was nice, with a picnic table to eat off of and with us being the only ones there.

Day 23 – Third Day in Denali National Park

After last night, we realized we weren’t having much fun here and decided to leave the park early. We’re more keen on parks with actual trails. It was a very cold morning and it took a long time to warm up. My feet were numb for a while, even after we started hiking. It snowed a decent amount last night, and it was nice to see that the tent and tarp held up.

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The pole segments froze shut, so we had to use our mouths to thaw them.

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The hike back was incredible compared to the hike in. We followed the river as it meandered back to the highway, with its shores being very nice to walk along. It was bridged for a quarter or so of the distance and water the rest. The bridges were well strong enough to walk on. In fact, the bridges were nicest to walk on, since they were the firmest ice and we didn’t sink in at all. (Even with snowshoes on, we were sinking in lots of places).

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Compared to 7 or so hours total walking in, it took us 3 hours to get out. Our spirits were elevated and I was disappointed we hadn’t found out that route on the way out. We ate lunch by the car – another excellent lunch of soup and scrambled spiced egg sandwiches. We returned the bear box to the backcountry office and headed on our way out of the park.

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We stopped about halfway or so to Anchorage, at a rest area/picnic area that also served as an overflow to a closed campground. It was distanced from the highway, so we weren’t bothered by road noise. There was 40-some japanese man bike touring that asked us whether camping there was acceptable, in a heavy japanese accent. We said that it was fine, and after setting up camp individually, we invited him to join us for dinner. I had rigged up the tarp by a picnic table, blocking most of the rather ferocious heat-sucking wind.

The man was bike-touring 2 weeks from Alaska’s southern coast to its northern coast. He said that he had toured 80 countries over the past years on a bike. It was pretty cool talking to him. He was using an MSR Whisperlite International with gasoline. It wasn’t nearly so bad as I thought it would be. His dinner was no more and no less than at least a pound of ground steamed ground beef – a full supermarket styrofoam plate worth.

We had a warm night, away from the wind, camped on solid snow-less ground, in the well-guyed-out tent.

Day 22 – Second Day in Denali National Park

The convenience of a tarp is its adaptability. After bushwacking the 500 meters or so to a lake at the base of the far side of the ridge for water, I rigged the tarp to block the wind from the wind side, but give us enough headroom to eat under. A good start to the day. It was rather windy trying to get the tarp down. Folding it proved difficult.

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We spent 5 hours bushwacking up the valley. It wasn’t a particularly fun time. There was a repeating choice – dense patches of bush vs mushy snow, post-holing with every step. We grew tired and decided to head up the base of the mountain to our right, to the more even snow where we could use our snowshoes. The snow was still mushy, but we had nice views of the valley. We saw the Savage River in the distance, which we hadn’t seen until now. We saw a fair bit of bushless ground along the frozen riverbanks, so we decided to head there to set up camp.

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After sliding/falling/crashing through the slide alder covered slope between us and the river, we arrived at the best terrain we had seen. A bare, flat, icy river bank. We got to work setting up camp, something that we’re getting more and more proficient at.

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It took a while to set up the tarp, and we were cold throughout dinner, though mostly out of the wind from the tarp. Flurries were on and off. After a supper of couscous with cheese and sausage, we went to bed.

Note that there is very little darkness through the night here. We go to bed in the light and wake up in the light. We figure there’s about 3 hours of darkness per day. Katie noted that it was still dusky even at midnight.

Day 21 – The Denali Highway to Denali National Park

It snowed trace amounts last night, but we were warm in our sleeping bags. Another excellent breakfast of chocolate oatmeal and coffee from the Bialetti. We had been inquiring lots about the Denali Highway up until now and had been highly warned against it by everyone. It is the most direct route to Denali National Park, bypassing the route north to Fairbanks or the route South to Anchorage. We were told that it wasn’t paved and was likely snow covered. We figured we’d take these warnings with some salt, from our experience of other people’s warnings up until now.

We headed towards the highway 135 mile highway, with the paved first 30 miles being in excellent condition. When the road became gravel, it still wasn’t bad. We occasionally passed huge heavy duty snow plows and highway grading vehicles, one worker telling us that the highway was only opened for the season last week. Lucky for us! It would have been a pain to go back out and up to Fairbanks or down to Anchorage. The highway was stunning, the most scenic we have seen up until this point. We drove through varying weather conditions, through sun and through snow flurries on high mountain passes. Katie got some excellent shots of a bald eagle.

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We made it through to Denali National Park by 2pm or so. After lunching on soup and scrambled spiced egg sandwiches, we checked in with the visitor center and the backcountry office. A condition of getting a backcountry permit is to watch a 30 minute how-to-act-in-the-wilderness video. It wasn’t terribly useful, being exclusively focussed on summer conditions. At the moment most of the park is still blanketed in snow. We learned that there are no trails in Denali National Park, and instead they pride themselves on allowing visitors to bushcrash wherever they please. We chose the Saveage River area, without much information apart from a paragraph description and an $8 USGS topo.

We planned to go for 4 days, 3 nights, packing for 4 nights. It wasn’t until 7pm that we finally departed from the viewpoint closest the the valley we were headed towards.

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We weren’t keen on bushcrashing for too long this first evening, so we were focussed on getting the requisite half mile from the highway and out of sight of the highway. It was particularly hard getting out of sight, since the highway has good vantage of a huge amount of terrain up the Savage River basin. We decided on a place after an hour or so of bushwacking just behind a ridge. I thought it would be an excellent time to test out the emergency shelter, and after suggesting the idea to Katie, she too was keen. It ended up being quite a nice shelter, if short. I figured it would be worth it to sacrifice headroom for a closer-to-the-ground and more storm proof shelter.

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No bugs, some wind, no precipitation, and an incredible view right from our sleeping bags. Not bad!

Day 20 – Crossing the Alaskan Border

Today was a driving day. We again passed lots of incredible scenery. Mountains, big lakes, and partly snow-covered landscape. We had the easiest border crossing we’ve ever had, heading across into Alaska. The border guard barely asked us any questions, even excluding the customary ones about alcohol, firearms, and fruit.

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We lunched just across the border at a picnic table by a viewpoint. Soup and sandwiches. It seems like the wind has been following us everywhere, but weren’t too cold since we bundled up. We gassed up and were pleasantly surprised to find showers, albeit lukewarm. $4 per shower has been customary.

We stopped in the early evening at a closed campground. This time it was gated, so we hesitantly parked in a ditch by the road, hoping to be able to get out in the morning. I figured it wouldn’t be a problem since we weren’t blocking any roads. Though Katie has the voice of caution, worried in this case about getting a ticket and/or not being able to get out in the morning.

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The campground had signs of animals everywhere. Lots of tracks of various shapes and various sorts of animal poo pellets. We found a nice camp spot, clear of snow and right by a running stream. Excellent! Essential for drinking, cooking, and cleaning. We hung our food in a bear cache. It would be interesting to find out how far a bear can actually reach up into the air.

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Day 19 – Back to Whitehorse

We drove back to Whitehorse this morning to stock up on more cheese, sausage, and bread, and get back on the internet for our first time in a week. We’ve also developed a taste for the blueberry Superstore muffins – steaming and fresh out of the oven today.

We are now in Starbucks with nothing else of note. Our plan is to head to Denali National Park and then down to Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula.

Update:

We left Whitehorse and headed westbound towards Alaska. We took a side road towards a closed campground and stayed in the campground. The best part – no fee since it was closed! It was very nice having peggable ground.

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Day 18 – Fifth Day of the Chilkoot Trail

This was our last day of the Chilkoot Trail – the hike out from Canyon City back to Dyea. I’m not sure if I explained the evolution of our breakfasts, so I’ll explain it now. We began the trip with just oatmeal and brown sugar. We bagan with the remanents of Katie’s year old bag of quick oats. They were rather slimy and Katie was rather averse to them. After finishing the bag, we bought a new bag and they were much better. We soon realized that additions to oatmeal make a big difference. I now have 1 cup of oats, a blob of brown sugar, a smattering of cranberries, a few cashews, and half-a-handful of chocolate chips. We sometime change it up with scrambled eggs with cheese and garam masala spices over bread with olive oil.

When we had 1.5 miles left to go, we got our first sight of people in five days. It was a group of three people from an Alaskan Cruise that had stopped in Skagway. They were being guided on a short rafting trip down the first couple miles of river. I was also excited to find out that the Conservatives won a majority government – the election happening on Monday and today being Friday.

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We arrived back in Dyea and drove back to Skagway, finding it the complete opposite of what we had seen on Monday. Instead of a deserted town, with everything closed, it was bustling with people, shops were open, and tourists gawking at maps abounded. We found out that it was a cruise ship day, and for today the permanent population of 800 Skagwayians was complemented with 1,900 tourists from a 2,700 person cruise.

We drove back across the border and to our campsite by Tutshi Lake? It was windy as always, but we warmed up after dinner and getting bundled up in our storm-proofed tent.

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Day 17 – Fourth Day of the Chilkoot Trail

We were awakened at sunrise, around 5am to a loud banging on the door. There was no lock on the door from the inside and I saw the door open a centimeter or so with each bang. We ignored it this first time and tried to go back to sleep. It happened soon after, and I shouted at it, thinking it was some sort of animal. I went out to check, but there was nothing there. There was a woodpecker in a tree some distance away. I figured this woodpecker was the likely culprit.

The on and off going to bed took brought us to 6:30am, when Katie and I would take turns shouting at the bird every time it began banging. Sleeping Katie’s shouting sounded more like a mooing, but it was effective nonetheless. When we couldn’t take it any more, we woke up, and Katie confirmed that it was a woodpecker. Notice the pecked out part of the door. the door would reverberate into its frame with each bang, giving the effect of a banging.

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Despite the lousy quality of wood, the stove was very neat, cleary intended for cooking. The grates on top are removable, allowing to flames to more directly heat the pot itself instead of the metal stove and then the pot.

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The hike back to Canyon City was the same as before. We made it back to Canyon City in time for a late lunch. We had soup, heated with a fine fire from excellent quality wood.

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Crossing a suspension bridge on the way back from Sheep Camp to Canyon City

We had another fine dinner of lentils with cheese and pepperoni – the same meal we had been having each night. It was excellent as always, though it was the last of our lentils. We would have to pick up more lentils and/or Quinoa and/or couscous on our next shopping trip