Enjoy the view!!!
Day 3 as seen from day 2
Dropping in off the old hangfire - looked like it released quite awhile ago . . .
Gotta love the nice long Andean lines!
The area, as seen from the first Argentine border control point . . . we skied from just to the left of the antenna
After another great day of skiing, and a reasonably early finish, we decided to formally clear customs and then head to Uspallata for some internet, seeing something different, and to escape the 70 10-year-olds staying at our hotel. You heard me right: 70 10-year-olds. Let's just say it was a bit crazy. Scott pointed out that nobody in America would think it's a good idea to give said 70 10-year-olds a bunch of coffee, but such is not the case in Argentina, where I'm reasonably sure they start kids on coffee in kindergarden :-) The best part was when we pulled in that night and they were having a huge dance party . . . seriously classic!
On another potentially interesting note: The Chilean and Argentine customs are actually separated by 18km, and the Argentine customs are on a side road. You don't actually have to drive through when you pass them - seriously odd. As a result, we were in the country for a night until we figured we'd better check in! We got a few questions, but mostly they were cool. Such a nice reprieve from crazy post-911 US security!
I'm not sure what to say here - in the parking lot to Aconcagua Provincial Park I met some guys on motorcycles who had ridden from BA. Wanting to get info on riding bikes in Argentina, I decided to be their friend, and then we had some laughs and funny picture taking :-)
Our new home in Puente del Inca
Scott and I decided to divide and conquer again for our first run, as I had my eye on a super sweet coolie and he preferred to stay out of coolie land. Again, he was super supportive and watched me climb and ski from a lovely perch in the sunshine :-) From my run, I got a great view of where we would head the next day, for yet another day of classic alpine terrain. The coolie held some super sweet midwinter chalky snow too, so I was stoked!!!!
For our second run, we headed up over a ridge and into another bowl to head toward a sunny couloir we had seen from the distance and round out the 3-run day :-)
Scott headed down run #2 . . . I love the rock formation of the Andes, especially cuz it provides such interesting ski terrain!!!
Once we finally got to our run, we realized the texture we had seen from a distance was actually the worst nieve penitentes, ever!!! It was refrozen for much of the line as well, which made it less-than-stellar skiing. I'll admit right now I went ahead and side stepped the upper sections, as I did not feel like beating myself up and risking injury for seriously shitty snow!
Scotty coming out of survival mode :-)
From there, we skied out to the road, following our noses down the valley and getting super lucky to find the non-cliffed out ribbon of snow that we did, making for a great day overall and lots of smiles over dinner :-)
Scott with our ski assault vehicle. I should mention, however, that the driver's side door did not open, so I got to do yoga moves over skis and into the seat everytime I got in! What fun :-)
And up we went . . . you can see the road just over my shoulder.
We ended up hiking into a big cirque and I couldn't help but be drawn to the impressively alpine line at its head. It's rare to find lines this aesthetic and be standing at the base of them. Scott agreed to go investigate, but decided not to pursue the line part way up, but was super supportive of my going. He waited in the safe area of the bowl below as I continued to climb. Although it got fairly steep (moreso than I thought it would at the bottom), the snow quality stayed impressively consistent. We had dug a pit lower that showed a fabulously homogenous snowpack, and it didn't change much (except for some wintry surface snow) as I went up. I had a turn around time of 5pm and reached my goal just about then, rewarded with an amazing descent down to Scott - the line was probably about 2000 ft, but likely about 4500 ft from the road. Not bad since the tunnel was over 10,000 ft elevation!!!
Me skiing down the apron
Me, with the line just to the looker's right of my head, off the ridgeline. At this point, I was psyched and full of adrenaline . . . welcome to La Frontera (the border)!!
Navegating Santiago was no easy feat . . . I'm not sure we really even had a map, and I'm not sure it would have really helped anyway. What did help was asking random motorists and motorcyclists for directions . . . I seriously love being able to speak Spanish! We were finally on the road out of town and I was pretty worn out from the logistics and said to Scott, "I hate to admit it, but do you know what I'd do for a Starbuck's right now?!!?" . . . literally 5 minutes later, one appeared on the side of the road and I was in heaven!!! It was pretty darn funny, actually :-)
From there, we drove up the windiest road ever in search of the La Parva/El Colorado/Valle Nevado ski areas . . . about an hour and a half later, we came upon ski town condo-land and knew we were in the right spot. After driving around a bit, we decided to just start skinning, and did so until we found ourselves on the top of a ridge, looking back on some serious eye candy, and poised above a fun little coolie. So, down we went, and then headed back up for round two down some more spirited terrain into a narrower coolie. It was fun, and felt like the Andes I know from my time in Lenas - little shots everywhere, and many ways to skin a cat :-)
We drove to Valle Nevado after our ski, and found the sketchiest road without guardrails, ever! It was cool to see the place though, and apparent there would be some winter potential and seriously rad potential, but not much in the middle. So, with that info in mind, we headed back to Santiago, figuring we'd see if we got our Argentina paperwork and check weather again.
After driving the windy road, we ended up in the middle of the city, more or less completely lost. I had spent one day in town on my way south, and knew of only one area with hostel and internet cafe . . . if only I could find Bellavista. And then, much as the Starbucks had appeared earlier, the Bellavista exit appeared from nowhere (from inside a tunnel, no less!), and off we were to familiar territory. At this point, we got our rental guru, found out we'd get our paperwork delivered the next morning, found some food, and crashed hard!!!!
Looking down on old eruption effects . . . this one erupted only 4 months ago!!! I´m not sure that all that damage was done in the most recent eruption, however . . .
When we got to the lava at the top, it was literally steaming . . . it was a trip to walk through, but no big deal. It was also pretty warm :-)
So, the crazy part was that, since we had to walk around the rim of the volcano to get back to our descent (since we took the long way up), we had to walk around the caldera and it was intense! Steam coming from everywhere, tons of lava rock, and sulfur remnants. At one point, I climbed up and took a look into the actual caldera and almost got nauseaus . . . it was DEEP! Let´s just say I moved back from the edge immediately!
After walking the caldera, we dropped into a fabulous 5000´corn run . . . and then came another adventure of navegating the Chilean countryside . . . stay tuned!
So, true to KO form, I got off the bus and on my skis, as we headed to Villarica that afternoon. It was just over 5000 ft climb and descent in super good corn! Enjoy the view!
Trudling (? sp) big rocks down sweet coolies on our peak bagging afternoon
The view from the valley was also quite nice, as was the evening light!
On of our many scree descents . . . I actually felt it in my downhill ski muscles!
On the shore of the Sanctuary River, with what looks to be an amazing ridge walk in the background! We were so happy to be in the sunshine!!!
Sherrie floating the Sanctuary River . . . what a day!
How does one encapsulate an experience? What words exist to embody the spirit, soul, and humanity of six days? In reality, the Anaktuvuk to Wiseman trip was nothing more than 3 women walking and floating between 2 dots on a map, connecting one blue line to the next. The experience, however, ocurred so much more dramatically. It exists with the richness of diversity in the Brooks Range, with the alivenes of the Alaskan wilderness, with a depth comensurate with the vastness of the terrain, and with a softness as tangible, yet indescribable, as the evening shades and shadows on the mountains.
I honestly have no idea where to begin since this trip was so fun, hilarious, random, and adventurous on multiple fronts. The past week has been an experience that I shake my head at while rolling my eyes with a huge smile over the bounties of life, friendship, Alaska, and the wilderness. I am so blessed and thankful and am super present to the many gifts in my life!
It all started with a plan to traverse the Wrangells from Nebesna to McCarthy. Gretchen was doing field work in McCarthy, and we had it worked out to leave her car there, and she'd get flown to Glenallen after her work was complete. Chrissy and I met her there on Wednesday afternoon, as planned. We showed up to rain and a forecast that didn't look great. With the rainy summer, the time constraints on our trip, and the ambitiousness of the journey, we had doubts about getting delayed by not being able to fly in. We also didn't relish the idea of 6 days walking in the rain (as seemed entirely possible) and were craving sunshine. A brief perusal of webcams around the state showed blue skies all over the Brooks Range, so we said "f-it, let's go north!" We had a few issues, however: How in the heck were we going to get Gretchen's car out of McCarthy (90 miles off the highway)? What route would we do in the Brooks? How early could we fly from Fairbanks? How would we get maps? How would we deal with post-trip transport logistics? So we pooled our resources and worked it all out. My boss would have his friend drive Gretchen's car, Rebecca and Thor suggested a route from Anaktuvuk to Wiseman (85 miles with combo of walking and packrafting), we could fly at 8am the next day out of Fairbanks, we'd get a map from Sportsman's Warehouse at 7am (they'd open their door early), and we'd hitch a ride after the trip . . . I would hitch north to work in Prudhoe Bay, and they'd hitch south to Fairbanks and get Chrissy's car to drive back to Anchorage (via Glenallen to get Gretchen's car). Are you getting an idea of how funny this must have been as it was unfolding? We were on a roll, to say the least . . . brainstorming, laughing, keeping the playlist lively, and making it happen. We even celebrated Chrissy's birthday at midnight along the roadside with whisky and Danish techno. It was great.
A brief stop in Paxson for coffee with Creme Brulee creamer and stir sticks from the 50's (no joke!) The roadside birthday celebration!
The next morning, in prep for our flight, taking advantage of the last coverage to get more ideas/input . . . gotta love the 1:250!
And then we were off . . . although we were running from the rain, it somehow followed us to Fairbanks!
In the mail plane to Anaktuvuk Pass
. . . and then in Anaktuvuk!
We found ourselves in Anaktuvuk on Thursday afternoon (after a 2 hour flight delay) and a little dazed by lack of sleep and a lot of travel. We met Rebecca, a school teacher volunteering with the NPS Gates of the Arctic and chatted about the Brooks Range, Arctic travel, and life. She allowed us use of the bunk house to re-organize gear and hang out. Chrissy and I roamed the town, chatted with some of the locals, and generally took it all in. We were overwhelmed with the people in Anaktuvuk - they were so friendly, lively, and outgoing. The surrounding mountains were unreal - we were already feeling like we'd made a good decision! At 1pm, the local museum re-opened, so we headed over for a lesson in Inupiat and Nunamiat culture. The collection of artifacts is amazingly educational, as is Vera, the woman who works there. We chatted for about an hour and a half, laughing almost as much as we were listening. Vera is amazing. She was born and raised in Anaktuvuk, worked as a mechanic for awhile, and then attended and graduated from UAF before deciding to move back to her home. She has 5 daughters and a spirit and heart as big as any you'll ever meet. I have to admit having done very little investigation into native culture in Alaska and was overwhelmed by Anaktuvuk - now I feel an appetite to learn more as I realize the depth, aliveness, historical significance, and contribution to the Alaska culture I love.
Walking the streets of Anaktuvuk Pass The amazing museum we hung out in for awhile and learned about life and history from Vera
And then the sun came out . . . us and Vera outside the museum
An interesting mix of time and cultures . . .
We ended up leaving town around 2:30 and headed west up the Anaktuvuk River for about 8 hours before camping . . . we actually saw a grizzley in the distance just before descending to the river to camp, which gave us pause as we debated sleeping with our food vs. caching. We opted for the cache as it seemed better to hear the bear and try to defend our food than to be surprised with it in the tent. Fortunately, there were no issues - I don't think it even saw us. We capped the day with a dessert given to us by the folks at Copper Valley Air in Glenallen in celebration of Chrissy's birthday and promptly decided that all trips should have dessert on the first night. Dear universe: please add this to the rule book :-)
Heading toward the Anaktuvuk River . . . we walked up the right side of the river . . . I recently found out that this trail continues all the way up the left side of the river! Oh well, I guess we just got a better workout :-)
The Anaktuvuk River under amazing skies!
That must be Fan Mountain . . . I mean, it looks like a fan! Oh the ways you can delude yourself into thinking you've gone much further than you have!
Friday dawned high overcast and pretty warm which provided great travel conditions up the rest of the Anaktuvuk River and over Ernie Pass. We opted to camp near the river at the base of the pass as it appeared that a good campsite would be hard to come by if we walked much further. We found another amazing spot and settled back into our megamid home and crashed pretty hard . . . tired from travel, our day of walking, and probably from a summer of going nonstop.
And when I say we were tired, I meant it. We had some cushion time on this trip and had discussed that we would be willing to take a down day if the weather was bad - the area was too cool to walk by an not see it . . . the Valley of the Precipices (it was printed in italics on the map, so it had to be cool, right?!?!) and THE Gates of the Arctic didn't seem like things you'd want to miss. So, when we awoke to a storm, we rolled right over and went back to sleep . . . UNTIL 2PM!!!! I couldn't believe it when I woke up and looked at my watch . . . we had a good laugh over that one, and then spent the afternoon chatting, laughing, napping, and eating. We were initially worried that we wouldn't sleep a full night, but that didn't prove to be an issue - we crashed hard, yet again - classic!
Organic real mashed potatoes with sun-dried tomaotes and pine nuts, Mexican night (rice, beans, veggies, burrito seasoning), curry rice & lentils with cranberries and peanuts, pesto cous cous with pine nuts and veggies, and Thai with powdered coconut milk, lemongrass, and peanut sauce. Chrissy made one freezer bag last the whole week for 2 meals/day, and Gretchen re-used the Mountain House bag from dessert on night one. We were so thrilled with this system that we intend to write Ziploc a thank-you note :-) We do wonder if we're all going to get cancer from leaching plastics into our system with the hot water, but maybe it's worth it for the joy and simplicity of freezerbagcooking . . .?!?
The fabulous weather day of sleep, chatting, and relaxation - we loved our Megamid home! Sunday dawned with improved weather, although still gray. The rain had turned to snow the day before (blowing sideways, I might add), so we started out in about 2" of snow to travel on. We got below snowline farirly quickly and headed down Ernie Creek. Travel was pretty good, and we entered a beautiful blue hole. The sunglasses came out and we celebrated warmth and finding the summer we were looking for :-) Constantly the optimizers, we debated how best to split the rest of our time and agreed on spending the afternoon ridge walking and peak bagging instead of travelling downriver . . . we had the weather, after all, and we were in a truly incredible place. I can't even begin to describe the scale, expansivity, and overwhelming nature of the Brooks Range. I was in love and now have another lifetime of projects to indulge in . . . I guess that's what I love about Alaska . . . it's not like we're discovering new mountains or valleys, but rather new entire ranges. It's incredible. That's the only way to put it. It was fun that this was the first time in the Brooks Range for all of us, as we were able to share our amazement, gratitude, and excitement for our "discovery." Anyway, we cached food and dropped weight and then headed up Two Prong Mountain to traverse its ridge. It felt great to be walking uphill, and we loved having the weight off our backs. The highlight, however, was the way the universe unfolded before our eyes. We were looking north to the Valley of the Precipices and the big mountains around Ernie Pass, south to the Koyukuk confluence and the Gates of the Arctic and east/west to more huge drainages and dramatic mountains. I have never seen colors and shadows like we saw. There are no words for it, other than the already-overused amazing, overwhelming, incredible, etc. We descended out of the wind and treated ourselves to an extreme picnic (dinner) before descending back to camp as the rain started. We secured our megamid home and crawled in for the indulgence of sleeping bags, sacred socks, and puffy coats!
Leaving camp, and heading down Ernie Creek
Gretchen, our wildlife biologist, taught us all a great deal about animals, and we loved it!
And then the sun started coming out - hooray!
Can't miss an opportunity for headstands in The Valley of the Precipices!
And then the world opened up a bit, and the Gates of the Arctic could be seen in the distance - Ernie Creek was starting to look pretty darn floatable, but the walking was really great, so we continued on foot!
For those challenged to discern letters from humans, this is a GOA . . . Gate of Arctic :-)
It was so nice, we decided to go peak-bagging/ridge walking for the afternoon up and around Two Prong Mountain
An amazing view of where we'd come from . . . Ernie Creek below
Monday dawned rainy for our river day, so we had drysuits on before we even exited the tent! We packed up, with the intention of walking to Ernie Creek and putting in immediately. The creek looked pretty festive with boulders and branching, so we walked downstream before finally just taking the plunge and putting in. I somehow got elected to go first, so I sucked up the nervousness that I always get before entering my raft and downriver we went. Ernie Creek turned to be pretty darn fun when it was all said and done with. I'd compare it to Glacier Creek in Girdwood in terms of water level and river characteristic, but 2-3 times the distance. It kept us on our toes, but nothing came up that was more than Class II. No logjams or river obstructions either! We floated to the confluence with the Koyukuk, at which point the gradient lessened and the river widened, becoming a class I float . . . maybe too class I. At some point, paddling became necessary if we were to avoid being on the river until 4am . . . and even with consistent paddling we didn't get off the river until 1am. It sorta became the equivalent of a slog as the rain/clouds persisted and we couldn't really see the universe. Of course, the clouds present somewhat of a drama of their own, but we really did want to see the mountains. Oh well :-) We exited the river freezing cold and tired and got the megamid up pretty quick in pursuit of dryness and warmth . . . our home did not disappoint. It never ceases to amaze me how comfortable one can be in the wilderness :-) After a little Thai food, we were out . . . and ready for the next day's adventure.
Heading toward the riverPart way down Ernie Creek - it was pretty fun paddling!
Just after the confluence with the Koyukuk, which we would float for a long time!
Yet another great opportunity for backcountry yoga mcnugget . . .
As you can see, the gradient and speed of the Koyukuk would not be characterized as large . . .
Tuesday dawned overcast as we prepared for a day of of overland travel crossing Delay Pass and then Glacier Pass in an effort to arrive in Wiseman . . . all I have to say is we covered some ground. It was probably only 12ish miles of direct straight-line travel, but that becomes a pretty decent undertaking with route optimization, pursuit of good travel surfaces (read: find the forest, avoid the tussocks!), and a 1:250 map to guide decisions :-) The weather improved all day and we ended up in sunshine, and amazed yet again at the beauty of the place we were in. We were intially underwhelmed by re-entering treed terrain and being out of the high alpine, but were we ever wrong! The forest was actually super open and beautiful, interspersed with lakes and open tundra. Glacier River was incredible, and we chose to gain elevation from there and go up and along a ridge on Bluecloud Mountain. Chrissy and I have an admitted penchant for gaining elevation and we all love walking ridges, so the temptation was too much to pass up. We ended up high at about 8pm with some of the most amazing light I've ever seen. Again we were moved and humbled by the mountains and landscape. It was so much fun to be present to our graciousness for the experience we were having. What a feeling! From there, we descended, crossed the remainder of Glacier Pass, and found a great trail to the Nolan road . . . tired and uninspired by road walking, we opted to sleep for a few hours and hit Wiseman in the morning.
Leaving the shores of the Koyukukand heading overland . . .
Getting a bit higher on the ridge . . . gotta love the alpine!
A truly amazing moment of natural beauty and great friends!
We awoke at 6:30 on Wednesday and packed up quickly for our anticipated long road walk. Much to our surpise, it was only about an hour before we saw TAPS (the trans-Alaska pipeline) and knew we were close to the Dalton Highway. On our way into town, we met Bob (a ranger for the NPS in Gates of the Arctic and a year-round Wiseman resident) who offered the use of his cabin for coffee-making and phone calls! So, off we went to town, let ourselves in and made ourselves at home while Bob walked his dogs . . . you gotta love Alaskan hospitality! Wiseman was great and we immediately fell in love! The town was established in 1908 when gold was discovered. Today, it has about 15 full-time residents in 8-9 households (I can't remember) and is super quaint. Everyone has solar panels and/or windmills as alternative energy is necessary, which was pretty cool to see. Bob's cabin was awesome - the woodwork was amazing! With caffeine in the blood, full bellies, and some warmth (we slept COLD the night before!), Bob was kind enough to drive us to the Dalton Highway where we'd start our next adventure :-) With amazing sunny skies, views of the mountains around, and the middle fork of the Koyukuk for added ambiance, the hitchhiking began. It took Chrissy and Gretchen about 15 minutes to get picked up by a trucker who ended up taking them all the way to Fairbanks, and it took me about another 20 minutes to get picked up by a UAF civil engineering professor and teacher from Pennsylvania who were headed to Prudhoe for an Arctic Ocean tour! We had a great drive chatting, taking in the scenery, photographing wildlife, and watching the landscape change. They even fed me lunch and snacks, which was amazing!!! I made it to work about an hour early and then headed to the PBOC for a much-anticipated shower and removal of dirty socks!
Just down the road from where we camped on the way to the Nolan Mine :-) And then we were there!
I feel like this picture says it all . . . on Bob's front lawn in Wiseman
Hitching south . . .
Hitching north . . .
The ride south :-)
I am so grateful for the trip we had and the way it worked out. Gretchen and Chrissy are both amazing women and made the trip so fun and interesting with their spirit, heart, and intellect. So many people helped us out and made the trip what it was - I am so appreciative of the generous nature of Alaskans and their willingness to help in unconventional ways! I also thought a ton of my friends and family on this trip and how much certain parts of it would have appealed to them, and realized how blessed I am with the people in my life! I am sorry to be so gushy, but I can't help it . . . it's all too great and I am so thankful!