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  1. #1
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    Thumbs up 33 Days Across Wrangell St Elias NP, AK: The Southern Spiral (NSR)

    The Objective:


    As seen from afar


    The numbers that shaped our world:
    Size of Wrangell St Elias NP and Preserve: 13,200,000 acres or 20,587 square miles
    Distance traveled: 430 miles: ~220 miles on land and ~210 floating
    Time: 33 days: 25 on foot / 8 paddling
    Distance on-trail: 0
    Resupplies: 3
    Bears: 14
    Other park visitors: 0
    Jars Nutella eaten: 5
    Gallons olive oil used: 0.7
    Hours of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) performed: 1.2
    Width of tent space space, per individual: 15”
    Width of foam sleeping pads: 20”


    On the long, unpaved road to McCarthy, with the bumpin sound system.


    Almost midnight at the McCarthy airstrip with a great bivy spot


    When Chuck Norris goes to bed at night he checks underneath for Garry Green.


    Cisco won the rock-paper-scissors for shotgun seating


    We were dropped off at Tebay Lakes


    And as Garry buzzed away we found ourselves very far from anyone else.


    At the end of the first day we could look down the Bremner valley and see the Copper River on the horizon. On day 30 we camped at the Bremner / Copper confluence and could see our first campsite 25 miles up the valley. Almost full circle.


    Hauling the Great Grey Whale


    The fireweed was going off in the smoky valleys.


    Ready for the first of many balls-deep glacially fed river crossings.


    Like this one, where we waited until morning to cross so as to avoid swimming.


    Big, unnamed peaks every which way. This was the first time I’ve spent three days walking up a single valley.


    Over a pass…


    And onto a grizzly bear trail


    In places, the bears don’t have a normal path. Generation after generation steps in the footprints of the last bear, carving long trains of divots in the tundra.


    Shaking the reindeer lichen out of the VE-25.



    After the first few days of 80 degrees and sunny, the weather shifted to cool and damp and is probably that way today too.


    No photo-choppery. Serious.


    Good thing I didn’t bring any down-filled gear.




    Down the Klu River valley


    The maps cover four times the area of the 7.5-minute series I’m used to using. For the few days it seemed like we were moving at a glacial pace until I adjusted to the scale.


    I began noticing the first fall colors with the shift to cooler weather. This must’ve been around August 6th.


    The first glacier crossing was only a mile or two long and rarely crevassed. Compared to the miles of wet scree and talus moraines we crossed that day, walking on the ice was cake.


    To minimize the chance of bear encounters, sleeping tent, kitchen, and food storage were spread far apart. Yellow tent on the right, blue and white speck of a kitchen Mid in the middle.


    Not a big truck.


    We arrived to our first resupply site two days early. The Park maintains the bunkhouse from a small mine that operated for a few years in the 1930s and employs a volunteer to look after it in the summer.


    Shortly after we arrived, a pair of Park Rangers flew in on a mission to aversively condition the local grizzle bears. Joe noticed one nearby and the commotion that ensued was spectacular.


    In addition to good shots, they proved to be fine scrabble players too.


    We spent down time exploring the area


    And cutting unnecessary doo-dads off packs, you know, like zipper pulls.


    The snipping from Cisco’s pack.


    The NPS employees gave us coffee since we were too lite-minded to bring the fuel or the grounds to make it while traveling.
    Last edited by The Gnarwhale; 09-25-2009 at 02:09 PM.

  2. #2
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    Finally we got re-upped with more food. Garry settin’ ‘er down at the far end.


    Refueled, we were on our way again.


    On August 10 snow line wasn’t too far above camp.


    Easy walking turned to willow and alder thrashing. Like all the way out the valley to the glacier.


    Not so bad for bush-pushing, really.


    Sand skiing down the moraine




    The water was so clear it was hard to gauge depth. Joe plays “Is it deeper than my pole?” “Yes, it is deeper than my pole.” Whatever the depth, it was delicious.


    Looking into the terrifying, splendid thunder-hole of a Moulin.


    Adam and the Chugach

    A cool looking cloud tunnel and a view of where we came from.


    Up and over another group of peaks.


    Then down the other side


    Rain on Lupines.


    Beautiful, bear scat covered camping


    There was this great moment, one of those times I wish I would have taken a photo, where we stopped to admire some enormous prints in wet and spongy mud. After looking for a moment, Joe stepped forward and shifted his weight onto the mud next to the giant bear track. We saw his vibram print, only half as deep as the bears, as he stepped away. Then, slowly, magically, the mud sponged back, refilling his step. Only the giant bear print remained. We blinked at each other and walked on.
    Last edited by The Gnarwhale; 09-25-2009 at 12:09 PM.

  3. #3
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    Luckily the bears were preoccupied, as the berries were going off.


    It’s amazing how one ingredient will improve plain, cold grapenuts and powdered milk.







    Each year a lake forms here, dammed by the glacier. Office building-sized ice chunks bob around in the lake until, sometime mid-summer, the dam gives, sending a flood ripping down hundreds of miles of river.




    Croc’ing across one of the tributaries that fill the lake each spring.


    The Tana glacier is largely protected by a giant moat, but we found a spot to access it here, above the cave.


    Tana Glacier from the air. The backcountry rangers and local guides were skeptical that there was a passable route across, and from the air, I would have agreed. We budgeted several days to cross it, but ended up making it in one long, 13 mile labyrinth push.


    With an awesome vantage to choose the least-crevassed route, we nervously schemed the night before.


    Then the next day we were off, blessed with decent visibility after a rainy night.


    We stayed unroped, for the sake of speed, which was a reasonable decision below the firn line.


    Another giant moulin hole, where the surface water plunges hundreds of feet into the ice


    Over ridge after ridge after ridge of rock-covered-ice moraine


    ...Crampons off, crampons on, crampons off...


    ..Crampons back on. Places like this felt oddly similar to canyoneering here in Utah.


    Moulin water refill after a long waterless section wandering through crevasses.


    And finally onto dry land at the far edge of the glacier.
    Last edited by The Gnarwhale; 09-25-2009 at 12:15 PM.

  4. #4
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    The next day we followed the banks of Granite Creek. Adam noted that if a “creek” is named on an AK map, it’s probably too big to cross without a Pack Raft. Indeed.


    The “creek” is bigger than a many “rivers” in the lower 48

    A few moments of sun was all the excuse needed to explode pack and dry out wet everything.


    Nature imitates Andy Goldsworthy


    I tended to not take the camera out of its dry box when it was raining, which was often. Here’s a rare picture of a long day of over-the-head alder shwacking.


    And another from a different long day of thrashing.


    Above brush line again, thankfully.




    I got hit in the knee by a gallon jug sized chunk of ice while croc’ing across. I ain’t never been hit by no iceberg while wading before this trip.


    Garry coming in for the 2nd resupply on day 17


    Cucumber? Why, don’t mind if I do.


    The last third of the hike had never been done. In fact it sounds like our party might have been the first to cross the Granite Range.


    Fresh snow on the peaks in the background while crossing another ten miles of glacier.




    It only looks roomy.


    Pinned down by fog and rain, we practiced crevasse rescue systems to pass the time.


    And all of 33 degrees too.


    Looking through the window across another large, possibly uncrossed, unnamed glacier.






    Through another heavily crevassed section, though it’s hard to tell from the photo.




    If only we’d brought an innertube we could have had all kinds of first descents.


    Though this would probably be the exit of a tube ride.


    Chugach Bouldering Guide, pg 245: These beautiful erratics are easily accessible with a short flight, several days glacier travel and a river crossing. Bring your brushes.



    Down Goat Creek


    The leaves quickly began yellowing as the nights grew colder.


    A little fire and a hand rolled tobacco stick on the banks of the Goat


    Trundling opportunities abound. Helmets advisable.


    Day 23 was misty and navigation was tricky until the clouds broke enough to allow a view 3500’ down into the Chitina River valley.


    The following morning the river was socked in, but the peaks on the north of the Chitina were visible. Twaharpies Ridge in the center then University Peak on the right. University Peak is 12,000 above the river, Mt Bona, behind it in the clouds has 14,000’ of rise.


    Enjoying the sun before our last day of hiking, we were slow to make it out of camp.


    Fall in the alpine




    Rather than a 5th class grass downclimbing, Adam pioneered the technique of reaching out to grab a tree top then fire-poling down. Here Cisco perfects the technique.
    Last edited by The Gnarwhale; 11-04-2009 at 04:55 PM.

  5. #5
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    Drying rack. Badum-ching!


    The mushrooms were going off. Anyone know what type these are?


    Amanitas in the ferns.


    Day 25, the final resupply. Garry brought the raft but landed a mile and a half from the point he’d earlier picked out as the LZ, In a hurry, he dumped our gear, and flew off even as we hustled across river braids to reach him. We were left with packs, boots, axes, crampons, ropes, helmets, garbage, Rubbermaid bins and all sorts of crap we didn’t want to have to be squeezing into a 14’ raft.


    The boat was christened with box wine.


    And onward, to the ocean.


    We stopped for a night at an old trappers cabin, maintained with help from locals. First time being inside a room in a few weeks.


    On the river I wore more layers that I’ve ever had on at one time before in my life. I felt like that kid in his snowsuit in Christmas Story. Something like 6 layers on top, and 3 more under the yellow Helly pants.


    Sand camping. Everything is a little crunchier.


    At the confluence with the Copper River we pulled out and walked to the town of Chitina, where there is one gas pump, one restaurant, and one bar. It was a little culture-shocking anyway.


    After dinner we adjourned to the bar and soon after heard the thump of a man fall off his barstool. It was soon apparent that he wasn’t wasted. We began performing CPR and a short while later a local with EMT training and an AED defibrillator arrived. The patient didn’t come back, though not due to lack of effort on our part. The ambulance was a long time coming. “When I said we should close down the bar tonight, that’s not what I meant,” Joe remarked as we walked back to the raft that night.


    The next day we wandered back to town and visited the EMT from the night before at his home. He had a fantastic vegetable garden, racks of salmon curing inside, and a winter’s worth of food stacked on deep shelves. After a few hours of Alaskan hospitality he sent us off with garbage sack stuffed with veggies.




    Back to the river with an armful of salad.


    And on we floated.


    The bar owner in Chitina had given us each a beer as we left the night previous. The picture is a reminder to me of this sad, very human, moment as the barkeep had watched us, and wanting to help in some way, kept trying unsuccessfully to hand us Pepsis and beers while we compressed and jaw thrusted away. To Al Greise!




    Canned wild salmon + extra sharp cheddar + crackers = delicious


    This fish wheel, a salmon catching device, had gone rouge and floated 70 or 80 miles down from Chitina.








    Devil’s Club


    Bear patrol.


    Adams 12 guage weighs a ton. Most Alaskans will tell you that you’re nuts for traveling unarmed. I never felt threatened by bears, humans or otherwise, but blowing up small iceburgs from the raft was a checkmark on the bucket list.


    Yerba mate on a cold afternoon.


    And finally, the Million Dollar Bridge comes into view. “Thanks, but no thanks,” –S.P.




    Childs Glacier was actively calving. We camped a mile upstream from it and could hear the rolling thunderous sounds of ice breaking into the river all night.




    Brown bear waving from the bank


    And suddenly we were at the Copper River Highway, where the river fans out and joins the ocean. Without much fanfare we rinsed, deflated, and rolled the raft. Then started trying to hitch a ride into Cordova.
    Last edited by The Gnarwhale; 11-30-2009 at 01:08 PM.

  6. #6
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    Cordova


    Down by the docks


    In true dirtbag style, we poached camping at the wharf


    Before taking the fast ferry to Whittier the next morning.


    Skimming past Orca pods


    We spent a few days in Seward couch surfing and doing laundry.


    And found enough work to pay for the drive back to Utah.


    It was fall in the Chugach when we pointed the truck south.


    Seward to Girdwood to Glenallen to the Yukon to British Columbia and the Cassiar to Smithers to Jasper to the Icefields Parkway to Highway 93 through Montucky to Highway 15 to SLC


    The End. Blackfoot, ID.
    Last edited by The Gnarwhale; 11-04-2009 at 05:09 PM.

  7. #7
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    That is seriously one of the best things I've ever read on the internet or print. Unreal adventure. Props to you guys for having the vision and balls to pull it off.

    And Adam Barker like photos on the fly, too.

    Sick.

  8. #8
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    wow. amazing. so cool. congrats.

  9. #9
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    Damn that was cool.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Trackhead View Post
    That is seriously one of the best things I've ever read on the internet or print. Unreal adventure. Props to you guys for having the vision and balls to pull it off.

    And Adam Barker like photos on the fly, too.

    Sick.
    What he said
    Quote Originally Posted by blurred
    skiing is hiking all day so that you can ski on shitty gear for 5 minutes.

  11. #11
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    Wow. That is some seriously good shit. Wow.

  12. #12
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    dude how are there not more comments on this post?!?!

    THAT SHIT WAS AWESOME!

  13. #13
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    can't wait to get home from work so i can see the pictures. the words alone are enough to get me fired up!
    Day Man. Fighter of the Night Man. Champion of the Sun. Master of Karate and Friendship for Everyone.

  14. #14
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    Who's the crack smoker that planned this ramble through the mtns?

  15. #15
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    Congratulations and thank you for that..those photos were mesmerizing.

  16. #16
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    HO-LEE SHIT! Thanks for putting that up - it is a seriously cool and inspired trip. That Klu River Valley shot is sick - but just one of many, many sick shots. Wrangell-St. Elias is stunningly big. It fully re-arranges your perspective.

    [plane geek]That looks like a Pilatus that you flew in on - more coolness.[/plane geek]
    山、川、森林、砂漠、海、空

  17. #17
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    bravo, folks.

    Amazing objective, amazing execution, amazing pics, amazing write-up. I second trackhead's comment as well. thank you.

  18. #18
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    Like Trackhead, I am absolutely blown away by this adventure. Stunning in every sense and beyond most all comparison. Each photo is to be savored. I noticed the fly rod - catch anything?

  19. #19
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    Crushing TR; just awesome. Thanks for letting us in on your adventure.
    Some people will tell you that slow is good - and it may be, on some days - but I am here to tell you that fast is better. Being shot out of a cannon will always be better than being squeezed out of a tube.

  20. #20
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    *stands up and claps*

    trip of epic fucking nature!
    Be careful about buying snowboard goggles for skiing. Snowboard goggles come in right eye and left eye (for goofy-footers) dominant models. This can make it hard to see correctly when skiing because you are facing straight down the hill, not sideways.

  21. #21
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    Out-fucking-standing. Words are not enough. Congrats on an amazing, successful adventure.

  22. #22
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    Wow.

    That is one wicked adventure. Inspiring to get out there.

  23. #23
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    So amazing... Inspirational... thanks for sharing it.
    "Vagenius"

  24. #24
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    words can not describe how jealous i am of you. that looked like such an amazing trip.

    one day i hope to be able to accomplish something of that magnitude.

  25. #25
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    At a loss for words! Epic, congrats!

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