Saturday, August 8, 2020

Biking the Denali Highway


The Denali Highway is about 135 recently-unglaciated miles, from Cantwell to Paxson.

I drove support on this mission. Lovely road. About 5 percent pavement, 80 percent potholed-but-smooth-for-biking gravel and chip-seal, 15 percent loose-but-still-rideable gravel.
The bikers and their machines. From left, Anna and Kristen Rozell; Salak Crowe and her mom Jennifer Wenrick.

While the bikers rolled, I hiked paths that led me to valleys like this that were filled with ice a few centuries ago.

Anna used her right of refusal as a 13-year old to not bike after a few days. She then got to hike with me and the dogs, here on the Brushkana Creek trail.

We found campsites along the way, in campgrounds or in the many gravel pulloffs. We called this one Loon Lake, because there were redpolls.

Shhh! Don't tell the Troopers.

For the win!

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Exit the boreal forest

Our neighbors and friends and Bubble Family members have a boat. They invited us on a week-long tour of bays of Prince William Sound. Yes, thank you.

We dwellers of the spruce-birch forest got to see different spruce, in this case Sitka, in the rainforest along the ocean coast.

Kristen Rozell brought her paddleboard, here on Shoup Bay.

Different tree species, the tang of salt air, 13-year-olds with orange shoes.

Our captain, Chris Carlson, and his first mate Ella Carlson. We've missed Chris's liners to left on the softball team this summer, but we are glad he is living the salt life.

Chris ferried us to places like this, where mountain creeks meet the salt water of Sawmill Bay.

Even the Cap'n got to fish.


Still-life, Valdez, Alaska. Midnight in July.

Pinks are in! Anna uses Tony Rozell's reel, purchased in 1968.

My boy from another mother Ian, and Norsy, who has the same name as my lovely sister.

Bears often visit this spot for salad. This black bear has an extreme case of cinnamon.

We had to leave on a day the road was dry. That is illegal in Valdez, so we turned around.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Far Mountain Traverse

Here's the hiking course. About 30 miles, up and down 16 domes. Just a half-dozen water holes.

Hiked the first eight miles with Lucie Meyer, who earned her Monster, and Tom Paragi, as well as Tom's wife and Lucie's mom Sarka, and Kerry Walsh.

Kerry, left, and Sarka have been friends since their kids were munchkins. They say yes to every outdoor outing.

Water is hard to find on the ridgetop traverse. When we camped the first night with water we had carried up, Sarka had a feeling there was water in the next steep drainage. After the crew hiked back to Chena Hot Springs, I descended into the mosquito woods and found a spring. I dug out enough room to dip my water bottle and extracted a few quarts of chocolate milk.

Sarka told me about a mushroom rock ahead. A genius friend told me it's a yardang. That's a landform -- in this case a granite tor -- shaped by wind.

A nice feature of this field of tors near the summit of Far Mountain are a few eroded basins that hold water from thunderstorms. Like all the other water sources, I found this one when Cora started lapping it.

The summit of 4,694-foot Far Mountain is indeed far away from anything. Except this communications facility, its three large diesel tanks and perpetually running generator.

Breakfast view.

Dinner view.

Dome after dome. Did I mention there are 16 of them? In his excellent Outside in the Interior, Kyle Joly mentions 14,000 feet of elevation gain on this loop. It's like doing a Colorado Fourteener, without the people.

At the end, I was cooked. Cora too. I wouldn't let her drive home.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Upper upper Chena River

Inches of rain in our lovely Chena River basin. What to do? Highmark the river, try to get as far up as possible with a 16.5-foot canoe and pink inflatable.

Chris Carlson, Cora and I put in on Monument Creek right where it enters the North Fork of the Chena. About a mile from Chena Hot Springs resort. We scouted Monument Creek there but deemed it a bit tight for our boats (though with plenty of H20).

The route was fantastic fun. Exhilarating and terrifying, which is kind of the same thing. A few portage drags like this. Some pinballing off logs. A dump for me and Cora, who is a good swimmer even though she was under the overturned canoe for a bit. Eight miles of non-stop splashy thrill ride that Chris and I don't really need to do again.

This picture pretty much says it all:

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Angel Creek 50 miler

The second annual summer ultramarathon in Interior Alaska, the Angel Creek 50 miler. I was on board this year after watching buddies run in through a tempest last year.

The course has some great hooks: coverage of almost all of the Chena River State Recreation Area, where we have boated, hiked, skied, camped and ran so many times. Traverse of some of the high country and a few rugged miles of the Chena Dome Trail, which doesn't see many footprints.

A crazily technical course featuring areas of no trail, pointy rocks, killer uphills and swampy lowlands along with a few bridge-less creek crossings.

Drew Harrington dreamed it up. He's one of the race directors and wanted a course that kept throwing obstacles at people. He succeeded. Here he is running last year's race just before a cold hurricane blew in.

This year we had a warm hurricane, with buckets of rain after the 5 a.m. start. Hail the boy scouts who camped out to create Checkpoint 1, which is 7 miles into the race.

A few hours of slow ascent followed. A few race veterans said to run the uphills early and on Angel Creek trail because a low percentage of the 50 mile course is runnable. I thought of Eric and Tom as I chugged slowly along. Their words made a difference in a few hours.

But in the early morning climb, the world was getting foggy. When the four-wheeler trail ended at the high Chena Dome trail, which is not burned in by the few footfalls it receives each year, navigation became stressful.

This is Checkpoint 3, the Chena Dome trail shelter. It could not be seen until you were 25 feet away.

Inside the Trail Shelter were my buddies Andy and Chris. Andy handed me a hot Via. Chris gave me some of his lunch. They would have their own adventure trying to depart in the cloud an hour later.

Past the trail shelter, into the cottonball. I've been up here about six times. This was the worst visibility. No trail, squinting for rock cairns and tiny red flags. Here, runners clumped up to navigate together. I caught up to Tammy Walther from Little Rock and we walked together from marker to marker. We soon found Anna Worden heading back to us. Then we three slowly made sure not to drop off the ridgetop.

Tammy from Little Rock has done a few hundred milers. She prefers to road run, but signed up for the Angel Creek 50 Miler for something totally new. She said the AC50 was harder than the Badwater 135, in which runners pad along through Death Valley on the asphalt in July and temperatures rise to 120.

As Nansen said, "Everything ends and so did this." We finally descended from the cloud and the trail headed toward upper Angel Creek and the cabin checkpoint there. This section of loose scree was not fun. Tilting, slippery rocks 30 miles into your day.

 Then, more familiar smiling faces at Upper Angel Creek Cabin. Kim and family where there, as were racers' drop bags. I changed into dry socks and got going for the runnable six miles that were ahead. Kim's husband Steve said we had about three hours to make it to Angel Rocks trailhead, where volunteers would stop us if it was after 6:30 p.m. I did the math on that 9 miles and realized at my pace beating the deadline was not a gimme.

Just before Angel Rocks, Drew leads runners not over the highway but the winter trail that parallels the road. Here's where the race course crosses Angel Creek. My friend Jen had hooked me up with Cora a few miles back as she walked into upper Angel Creek.

Pete Hjellen passed me on the winter trail and was jogging the bog so fast I couldn't catch him. He had missed the deadline the year before by three minutes. I don't carry a watch but Pete said we were ok on time when he passed.

The final lovely checkpoint and beautiful volunteers. Pete is smiling because he made the cutoff this year. So did I. Cutoff time was 6:30. I arrived at 6:26.

photo by Jeffrey Oatley, who was picking blueberries

The pressure was off, the weather was beautifying and the terrain was steepening on the Angel Rocks trail.

 Pete and his friend Dale Fiest, there to pace him on the final 8 miles. Behind are the hills from which we came.

The fantastic finish, about 17 hours after the start. Most impressive was the presence of Matias Saari, in hooded sweatshirt. He won the race eight hours earlier. No one was within an hour of him.

And the final fantastic finish at Chena Hot Springs resort, by Pete. Time for a burger and a soak.