Greetings again to everyone. It's been quite entertaining to hear from all of you and the crazy quests for a semblance of winter that you've been up to. So the latest news is: I'm kinda surprised that I'm still in one piece and my legs haven't given out on me quite yet. Two weekends ago (and by "weekend" I mean Tuesday and Wednesday because those are my days off, it gets pretty crazy when you're trying to talk with people who have a different "weekend"...which is pretty much everybody) Dillon and I decided to go for an adventure out to this beautiful drainage just north of the Alaska range called Pirate Creek. So of course we dressed up with bandannas and eye patches and told everyone "arr matey, we be goin' to pirate creek, arr". Threw a big bag of gorp, a few fruit leathers, a container of butter, few slices of bread, and an apple into our overnight bags and took off on the 8:45am bus heading east. Denali was out in full glory and it was looking like it would be a great day for the first stage of our adventure which was crossing over 2-3 miles of the Muldrow glacier covered with gravel that is only a few inches thick in places. We spent a little bit of time traveling up Glacier creek in order to find a section that could be crossed without getting our feet wet and then set out across the glacier. Only a few minutes into our trek we came across a huge sinkhole that was filled with water and icebergs that Dillon insisted on swimming in.
No sooner than he had jumped in, but the sky darkened and we were pelted with a drenching downpour, so much for our dry feet. For the next several hours, while trying to navigate the sketcy terrain of the glacier, backtracking several times to avoid chasms or exposed ice, it poured, and poured. Finally across to the other side we were blessed with, not sun, but...pea sized hail. Could it get much more miserable? (maybe) We hiked for a few more hours until the rain took a break long enough for us to set up tent and attempt to dry out our sleeping bags and extra "dry" clothes. Day 2: we had intended to circle behind this series of mountain peaks, re-cross the glacier or the river bar where the headwaters of the McKinley would be smaller, and then whack our way up through the brush to the road around lunch time. What actually happened: climbed around the mountains, went up this one that looked like fun (it sort of was), scouted out our route across the river bar from the top choosing sections of river crossings that were really wide, and started down.
View from the top:
For those of you who haven't encountered a braided glacial stream it looks something like this:
Not only is it a maze of streams, but the water is about the color of cement and moves with about as much pressure. So if any of the streams are deeper than mid thigh it is almost impossible to cross alone and anything waist deep is not to be attempted. Therefore it is best to cross where the branches are really wide (and thus might be shallower) and you have to test the depth by chucking in a softball sized rock to listen to the sound it makes. If it immediately hits rock, you're good to go, if it sounds like a giant swallowing something (kinda sounds like "lump") turn right around and choose life. So anyways, we thought that this one bend in the river would be totally doable and besides, there was no way we wanted to spend hours on the glacier and miss lunch. It's funny how things always seem smaller when they're far away. Needless to say, the "little" river was a raging torrent with standing waves about 1.5-2 feet tall, and that was at the "shallow" section. Since crossing the glacier was out of the question, our only option was to walk the 10 miles down the river bar and try to cross it once it spread apart into all the braids, then walk another 2 miles through the trees to wonder lake where we might be able to catch a ride back to camp or walk the 5 miles if we couldn't. Yay. Crossing the river starts out ok, we manage to find a few short shallow braids, but then quickly run into the main channel that forces us back across the small distance that we had already gained. Finally, after a few hours of this leapfrogging back and forth, we are almost across the main channel. By this point I'm soaked almost up to my belly button, my feet are a constant 35 degrees and of course it starts lightning all around us. Let me just say, I have never been more afraid in my entire life. Not only were we the tallest things around for a good two miles, but we were soaked and surrounded by water. In a desperate attempt at saving our lives we lay down in the deepest (dry) ditch we could find for almost half an hour. As soon as the storm seemed to be quieting down we make a break for the shore. The rest of the hike was fairly uneventful except for another lightning storm that made us start crouching while hiking without meaning to. Sadly, not only did we miss lunch, but dinner as well. I clearly remember saying that night, as I always do after an epic adventure, "never again, never again." However...
This last weekend we decided to take it easy by heading to the eastern side of the park, do a few easy strolls into the wilderness to check out how different 80 miles can make and then return by lunch. Doesn't that sound familiar? It started off ok, we camped out tucked into a stand of willows and didn't get up until 9:30. As usual, it only went downhill from there. You see, unlike the western part of the park, the east is just a huge mass of willows, alders, and streams that wind together into a mass that I have dubbed "scenic hell." After managing only 5 miles in just about as many hours we turned tail and walked down the stream because we were going to get out of there so no need to try to keep our feet dry anymore. Sadly, we turned tail about half an hour too late and just barely missed the last bus that travels within 5 miles of home. Since we didn't want to hike back into the bush to camp, we took the last bus that got us half way home figuring that some sort of a park vehicle would be traveling the road and we could hitch for a ways. Sadly that we weren't quite so fortunate. We did get to camp out a few hours in a broken down bus on the side of the road but were kicked out at about 1am by the tow truck driver (who promptly put the bus into a ditch that he couldn't extract it from) So instead of the easy trip back to sweet soft bedding as anticipated, I had to walk over 25 miles through almost steady rain during the absolute dead of night (I had many hallucinations that there were bear following me down the road). You might wonder why I wouldn't just set up tent somewhere, and the reasoning is that the whole park is divided up into sections that you have to get a permit to camp in each section and you have to always be out of sight from the road. Plus, we got dropped off by the bus a mere 5 miles from one of the ranger stations and it was going to be a busy night for the rangers because the night before there was a huge mudslide that covered the road with about 3 feet of gravel/mud and in the process of cleaning it up a 18 wheeler side-dump truck flipped over into the ditch (nobody was hurt thankfully) so the rangers were almost certainly going to be working. My feet still hurt and I have no intention of doing anything this next weekend, but I'll just have to wait and see what "nothing" turns out to be. Oh, I almost forgot that the whole epic night hike was pretty much made worth while by the 5 bear (4+1 cub, from the bus), 1 moose, 2 golden eagles, and 3 wolves that came to check us out while we were walking the road. Hopefully next time I'll be able to tell you some more about the actual place that I'm at, not just my attempts at putting myself out of being able to walk. Oh shoot, I just remembered about the talent show two nights ago, shucks, that'll have to be another post some other time. Hopefully once I track down someone with photos. Until next time...
Here's some other random photos that you might enjoy.
Going hiking with my brother at about midnight:
The two bear cubs:
Cool interlocked moose antlers: (how much would it suck to get stuck like that?)