Saturday, September 18, 2010

Abnormally Clear Days in Southeast Alaska

After getting off of the Chilkoot Trail and back into Skagway (above), we met up with my old roomate, Carrie, and her fiancee Paul. They flew up from Juneau to meet up with us for the day and to see Skagway! :-) It was nice being able to catch up as our communications had been sporadic in the last year. We camped back out in Dyea that night, explored the historical Dyea townsite, and then they flew back to Juneau the next afternoon.
After finding out how cheap ferry tickets were from Skagway to Juneau and back, Celine and I decided to make an impromptu trip to Juneau! Why not?! It was CRYSTAL CLEAR out everywhere in Alaska, and southeast Alaska rarely has nice weather. We had nothing to lose!
Here are a couple of pictures from the ferry.
When we got to Juneau, we headed straight for the trail! Paul and Carrie picked us up at the terminal and we went out to Mendenhall Glacier to meet their friend Pete. We had a glorious evening hiking out to the glacier. We were planning on doing some ice climbing but the sun wanted to start going down before we would be able to set anything up. Oh well.. a reason to go back!Above, Paul seems to be enjoying himself...
Here is Celine, Pete, Paul and I near the Mendenhall.
A field of blue ice laid ahead of us.
When we got to it, the glacier was melting at a substantial rate.. in fact, it was raining underneath the glacier in the ice caves!
Our journey to Juneau was short but sweet. Got to finally see Juneau, the only state capital not on the road system, and spent time with Carrie and Paul. Win-win situation.
An early morning photo with Carrie on our way to the ferry terminal.

On the way back to Skagway, I found my friend Brittany, from Fairbanks, on the ferry and got to catch up with her! What a small world this big state is. Well, I don't think it's just this state after all of my run-ins this summer with old friends and acquaintances, but I sure love to run into friends in random places!
Skagway on a clear day. I'm not sure I want to go back because I'll just be disappointed that the weather blows next time. It was a fun week. Now it's time to start the 'real world' or so they tell me.. and to readjust to a semi-new life!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Back in History on the Chilkoot Trail

My buffer time before starting my full-time, big-person job is coming to an end. As one last big hurrah, I made one more long road trip with Celine to Skagway, Alaska, to hike the historical Chilkoot Trail.

Honestly, the Chilkoot Trail wasn’t on my list of “places to go in Alaska”, mainly because I didn’t know much about it. But prompted by a decision to bike to Valdez, or hike the Chilkoot Trail, Celine and I decided to make the trek to hike the Chilkoot Trail and explore Southeast Alaska, and I’m sure glad we did. If I by some miracle get a 5-7 day break ever again, I can hop on my bike and go to Valdez.

Since this wasn’t really ‘my trip’ to plan, I didn’t exactly look at where Skagway was on the map. I knew we had to drive through Canada to get there, but it didn’t register how close we would be to Juneau, a place I’ve been ever so curious about since 2006 when I thought I had a chance of the Juneau office hiring me, but instead I got picked up by the Fairbanks office. As you can see, that wasn’t a bad thing to happen to me, as much has flourished in my life since then, but I still hadn't made it to Juneau.

Anyway, back to the Chilkoot. We drove the 13 hours to Skagway, surprised by how quick the drive was, and ended up trying to put the pieces of getting from point A to point B together. The trailhead was 9 miles away, we knew no one in Skagway, and the trail shuttles didn’t even answer their phones since it was a Sunday. This is when the ‘e’ for extravert comes in handy.

We’re at the local brewery, carbing up on mac ‘n cheese and beer the night before we planned on starting the hike, discussing tactics to get to the trailhead. The Park Service wasn’t able to help us much other than tell us that the train nor most shuttles were running since it was after season.. and that we shouldn’t take the cut off trail because there ‘may be a bridge out’ and ‘there are lots of animals on the trail right now’. There’s a reason they were telling us this, but I don’t feel like I need to blog it. It has to do with a popular route to hike out and the route being on private property which hikers aren’t supposed to trespass on, but where no one seems to care that you are there. We would know, because the train came by as we were hiking down said route, and the driver smiled and waved at us instead of pointing a gun at us.

ANYWAY! I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask our very kind waitress whether she knew how people got out to the trail and whether she (hint hint) would know anyone who may be able to help us. That responded in an ‘actually….’ As she walked across to the table kittycorner from us, and some smiles and nods and glances were exchanged with a couple about our age. They lived in Dyea, where we needed to go, and the trailhead was on their way home. One hour later, we were piled into their New York license plated car and off to the Dyea trailhead where we’d set up base for the night and start the trail first thing in the morning.

The trail, was, as expected, extremely developed. Normally this bothers me, but I took a look at this trail as a historical look into a movement prompted by money. Hundreds of thousands of gold-seekers hiked this trail on the way to Dawson City in 1898 and 1899, where they would hope to stake claims and make it rich. Along the way, there are ‘artifacts’ scattered.. and I put ‘artifacts’ in quotes because it’s basically rusty trash that was never cleaned up. Celine and I had a discussion about when some Fairbanks yards would become historical artifacts. I’m sure some in my own yard are working to gain that status!

We expected to see a lot of people along the way, even though it was past peak-season, but to our surprise there was not a soul to be found until we met Tim the Australian on day 3 near the end of the trail. We also didn’t meet any large furry friends on the trail either. The first day on the trail, the trail closely followed the Taiya River, so we were doing a lot of loud talking and noisemaking, though the river was still drowning out our voices. There were some signs of bears, but honestly, it seemed like there weren’t any more footprints and scat than there is on the trails in Anchorage. We were happy about that. And now, for some pictures...

Porcupine hanging out in a tree
Above, these buildings are every 6-8 miles for people to cook in so the food does not attract bears.
A super fun bouncy bridge going over to Canyon City historic site
Which I was disappointed to find out that there were no building there, but just an old rusty boiler. I was absolutely amazed that some of these areas used to house 20,000 people and have little sign left of any life or that a tent city had ever been there. Way to grow back, earth!
A couple of bear prints we saw on the trail.
Reaching 'The Scales' area of the trail
Now, we climb. The boulders were pretty tough.
And the summit!
On the other side of the summit, beautiful clear lakes are strewn across the valley.
There were places where we were dodging piles of leftover snow.
Camp spot by the river.
Our last night of camping on the trail, near the end. Lucky me got a cold while on the trail, so was feeling pretty wiped out this night.

Tim, our one and only trail buddy, hiked out with us to Log Cabin.A train came by while we were walking along the tracks!

At the trail end, an older couple was stopped to let their dog out of the car. They offered us a ride back to Skagway, as we were 2.5 hours early for our ride. We timed it just right to meet up with my friends Carrie and Paul from Juneau.

Couldn't have asked for better weather in southeast Alaska. Next step, to Juneau!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Lost Lake Trail and Johnson Pass Trail, Seward AK

For the long Labor Day weekend, Brian and I headed down to the Kenai Peninsula. I haven't been in this area for 4 years since it is a bit of a haul. We kind of bypassed Anchorage this time, mainly because once I start socializing and shopping in Anchorage, it is hard to get out of Anchorage and will come out with a lighter wallet. AND headed to Seward! Seward is the one major town in southcentral I didn't get to while living in Anchorage. I kept hearing all of this amazing word about Seward, so was skeptical, but ended up loving the place despite the rain!
Brian, above, is at Resurrection Bay near the Caines Head trail

After walking around Seward a bit, we headed up the road a little bit to the Lost Lake Trail for another overnight bike trip.
The Lost Lake trail is AWESOME. It is hands down my favorite mountain bike trail in Alaska. Its elevation profile ascends all the way until you reach Lost Lake, which means that it is completely DOWN on the way out. This singletrack was a bit rough for the trailer but it worked out for us.. especially for me, who was not hauling it. :-)
What was so fun about this trail? I guess it reminded me of riding in other parts of the country, with a nice firm trail, accompanied with lots of obstacles and bridges, but totally rideable. I get a little bit annoyed when I have to push my bike more than ride it, which makes you wonder why I am attracted to winter biking. I can't answer that, except for the fact that the sport puts three of my favorite things together: trails, snow, and bikes.
Lost Lake trail was VERY wet, and it continued to rain on us most of the way. Since the trail is so established, we were not destroying the trail in the mud, unlike riding some of the soft trails in the Interior. But I was drenched in mud by the end of the day.
Brian got this awesome shot of me descending to Lost Lake - see my reflection in the puddle? How's that for an angle?!
Brian and Cana setting up a soggy camp just above Lost Lake.
The next morning the mountains peeped out from the clouds and we had a spectacular trip all the way down the trail!
Cana enjoyed it! This was her first mountain bike trip!

After a well-deserved lunch in Seward, we headed north to the Johnson Pass trail for one more night with the bikes.The trail was super wet like everything in southcentral AK this weekend, so we only went about 5 miles in. This trail was way more boring than the Lost Lake trail. Maybe it gets better farther in, but neither of us were too entertained, and our legs felt trashed.
We found a great camping area with a bear-safe food box. We made a good fire and were able to dry out all of our gear, which was soaking wet from the tent and sleeping bags to our muddy clothing.
After our last night in the tent, Cana curled up and made herself at home.