McCarthy to the Lakina River - Sept 6-8 2009

It is an understatement to report that I am still smiling after the three days Sherrie and I spent travelling from Kennicott to the Lakina River bridge on the McCarthy road. We had some beta from the Alpacka forums indicating that this was a super beautiful route that could be done in 2 days, but should be enjoyed with 3. Since we thought we may be a bit worked post-run, this seemed perfect.

All I have to say is: wow. We were more-or-less consistently shocked by how beautiful and pleasant this trip was. We had perfect weather, amazing fall colors, and super friendly river levels. This, coupled with the amazing area and my super-fun and travelling buddy, made for an unforgettable trip!

There were too many pictures, so enjoy the slide show!!! Story will continue below :-)

So, Sunday we left Kennicott at about 1pm and headed up the Root Glacier trail to the glacier access. We ran into a guy we'd met the night before who kindly steered us in the right direction, immediately crossing the Root to the "white ribbon" on the other side of the moraine. It does feel like you should walk up the Root a bit, but crossing put us on a superhighway that continued pretty much all the way up glaicer until we had to head toward Hidden Creek. Along the way, we saw super cool moulins and investigated their depths with rock throwing . . . creepy! We also got to stare at Mt. Blackburn and the big mountains, as well as Donoho - unreal beauty. We walked up the Kennicott past Hidden Creek and then took a hard left to cross to the "fos" at the glacier edge. It looked like we could get shut down any minute, but the glacier let us through pretty easily . . . no crampons needed, never wished we had them. It was a fun navegation too . . . surprises around every corner!!! Once on the "fos," a beautiful trail appeared and took us right over the ridge we needed to go over, very pleasantly through the alders, along the sidehill on the other side, and down to Hidden Creek. Oh so very nice :-) We camped pretty soon thereafter and watched the beautiful moon come up . . . what a day!

Monday we awoke to more sunshine and started up Hidden Creek. We found an airstrip and a cabin pretty shortly after starting and had fun investigating. Walking along the creek, we were following footsteps and wondered what humans we might run into . . . turned out to be Chris Walker, hunting guide, and his client with a freshly shot goat. We gathered some beta (turns out their base is on the Lakina, so Chris had travelled that route before), and were off again. The walk up Hidden Creek was incredible. Beautiful, pleasant travel, amazing colors, blue sky, and great conversation. We arrived at Hidden Pass and chilled out to take in the beauty of the other side . . . a nice lake, cool colors on the hills. Having left the Kennicott Glacier, we sorta figured the big mountain views had ended and we'd be in nice foothills instead . . . but were we ever wrong!!!! Holy smokes, we went around the corner and were faced with just about the best mountain vista ever. The best part was how unexpected it was, confirming how nice it is to have some route beta, but not too much! Castle Peak came out, as did the unnamed "bump" to its north and the mind-blowingly steep face off the ridgeline along the Lakina . . . all reflected in a series of perfectly calm lakes with vibrant fall colors abounding. We walked pretty slow and stopped a lot to celebrate where we were and drink it all in :-) And again, just when we were ready for one, a lovely trail appeared and escorted us to the scree slopes leading to the toe of the Lakina River. We wandered a bit to find the best way down, and ultimately came back to where the trail met the scree and descended directly. Arriving at the Lakina, we found enough water to float, and so put in, nervous that a cold night could dramatically reduce the river levels and send us on foot [gasp!]. The water was class II is, super aerated and not very pushy. The hardest part was spotting the rocks that we tended to high-center on, veiled by the silty waters until it was too late. Oh well, it was still super fun packrafting. At one point, a plane flew by and tipped its wing . . . Chris and his client headed back to their camp downriver. We floated almost an hour, and then chose to make camp and have a huge bonfire . . . lovely way to spend an evening!!!

Tuesday dawned sunny yet again and downriver we went. When we got to the hunting camp, we decided to check it out and see what luxury wilderness living is like. They had the super-sonic setup . . . planes, wall tents, horses, generator, kitchen with running water . . . and the beautiful backdrop of the Lakina to take it all in! Most had taken off that morning on horseback, but Chris and his client were there, meaning a cold beer for Sherrie and I!!! What a wilderness treat :-) From there, we continued butt-boating the braided section of the Lakina (wouldn't have minded a bit more water!) and then the river converged into a single channel and the fun began!!! The majority of the paddle was super fun class II-III festive paddling. At the levels we had, the water wasn't too pushy, but it was the kind of water that kept you paying attention, and kept us emptying our boats with frequency! We got a system of swinging leads at boat-dumps, mixing up the descent with the fun of reading the rapid first and the fun of watching your friend paddle through. Again, we were amazed at how cool it was . . . super unexpected :-) Near the end, the gradient lessened and the water levels rose (class I), but we had three cross-river logjams to keep things exciting. We arrived at the car (that Chris and Chris had kindly shuttled for us on their way out of McCarthy - thanks guys!!!) around 5ish and were on the road in a jiffy. The only bummer was that we had to rush outta there, both needing to work the next morning (and Sherrie having to work a 12-hr shift at 7am!).

Overall, I am still shocked at how much fun we had and how varied and beautiful this trip is. I almost don't want to tell the truth because I feel like it will become a super highway. But, then again, it is all the way in McCarthy and isn't a paved road, so something tells me it will be just fine :-) I should say that, although we had very manageable rapids on the Lakina with our water levels, I could see that river getting a lot more festive at midsummer higher flows. Even as it was, it's not a river I'd want to paddle my first time in a packraft . . .

McCarthy 1/2 Marathon!!!

Okay, let's just say I'm not a runner and I've never been a runner. But, I have been running a bit this summer and really enjoying it. And, I recently went to McCarthy and really enjoyed it . . . so when Sherrie brought up that we should go run the McCarthy 1/2 marathon, my interest was peaked. And then when it turned out we had the same 5 days off, we hatched a plan to make it happen . . . and then to go play in the wilderness!

So, Friday we drove over and thanks to the wonders of Facebook status updates, met up with Chris Page and Chris Donnelly to share a campsite. A bike ride just to get the legs moving led to a discovery of the local watering hole and our friends, Raina and the Jen's (Gessert and Mac)! We also ran into the winter Girdwood crew, which was super fun!!!

Saturday was a lovely relaxing day to prep for our big run at 2pm . . . I was so nervous! It was some combination of not knowing if I could actually run that long, and also knowing how exhausting it would be. Thanks to Sherrie, however, every time I get tired running, I hear her voice, "Well Kellie, you could always walk" and have thankfully proven to myself quite a few times in recent years that I can actually walk with no energy whatsoever. This has helped my mental outlook on running immensely!

Sherrie and CD enjoying a nice Saturday morning

A lovely morning in McCarthy - I really love this place!

Sherrie in pre-run chillout mode taking a fitness test on her heart rate monitor

What a day!
The crazy ladies . . . Raina, me, Jen Gessert, Sherrie, Jen Mac
Let the fun begin . . . notice Sherrie sprinting ahead like she means it!
Hooray for finishing!!!

So, we survived the run . . . Sherrie kicked ass and I was pretty happy with how I did . . . I ran the whole way (except for the last steep section before Kennicott when I thought my heart might actually explode). Thanks to some good inspirational techno (my power song came on at the very end!), I was able to finish strong and have to say that overall, I had a lot of fun . . . ! Jen Gessert also ran strong and simultaneously became the "AHT Girl" for her new water sponsor! And, to top it off, this run was part of her prep for the Equinox 50k she finished this weekend - kickass!!!

"AHT Girl" Jen GessertTo celebrate the run, we went to Kevlar's for an amazing pizza party and then off for some music and dancing, a little sleep, and then on to the next adventure!!!

Raina and Sherrie

Hip hop hooray for K-LO and CMay! Chisana to McCarthy August '09

Well, I guess it's become tradition to celebrate Chrissy's birthday in the wilderness, so we decided to head out again this year (after a great Divas Gone Arctic in '08 when we'd given up on this trip due to weather/conditions). With 2 of us and a lack of desire to manage complicated logistics, we decided to fly into Chisana and hike/float to McCarthy instead of the Wilderness Classic route from Nebesna to McCarthy . . .

After a late-night arrival in McCarthy, we awoke to a super smoky morning and a flight delay . . .
So, we consoled ourselves by going back into town to find good coffee and breakfast. To top it off, we also found CJ, one of our buddies from Girdwood who happens to double as a wildland firefighter in the summer . . . we were super psyched :-)
Timed almost perfectly after the opening of The Potato and the procurement of the best breakfast burrito and some Kaladi coffee, it was time to fly! Tons of potential scoped for winter/spring dreaming :-)
We landed in the old mining town of Chisana, which happens to still have some full-time residents . . . we were out of the rain pounding Girdwood/Anchorage and out of the smoke, drinking in the beauty of a sunny day in the Wrangells!

The afternoon was spent walking up Geohenda Creek . . . one of the muddiest/siltiest creeks I've ever seen! Thankfully the scenery was great, and the travel pretty good (although river bars do get a a little old . . .)
From there, we headed up valley and across a few drainages toward Solo Mountain Pass and the Solo Mountain cabin . . . beautiful evening, great travel surfaces, and lovely soft light
We arrived at the cabin just around dark, and settled in for a darn good sleep - it's a pretty sweet cabin with a cool history of being manned when this route was used to support transport from Chisana to McCarthy in gold rush times. It was a little smoky, but the haze just made the country feel even bigger . . .
CMay in some big country, pointing toward Lime Creek, somewhere out there!
Lime Creek was pretty cranktastic (read: super high water), so we opted to cross in boats. With just two of us, boats seemed like a good idea regardless . . . . thankfully the crossing was uneventful - water was moving fast, but wasn't too pushy.
Token headstand shot . . . beautiful afternoon, glad to have the unknown of this crossing behind us, psyched to see the big mountains coming out, and intrigued by what's coming next!
Hip hop hooray for K-Lo and CMay! Lime Creek behind us :-)
Heading up the White River valley - this place was awesome - again we had a beautiful and peaceful night . . . travel conditions were downright excellent (nice soft, but consolidated and lightly vegetated river bar), with a warm breeze, and markedly different scenery than that we'd seen earlier in the day!

Umm, that looks like a lovely couloir!!! Let's go ski it someday :-)
Flood Creek and the toe of the Russell Glacier . . . yet another lovely place to camp!
And another beautiful day in which to continue our journey :-)

. . . and then the camera died. In some ways, it's incredibly tragic not to have the remainder of the trip documented . . . in others, it's amazing that the mind-blowing sights and experiences will exist only in the vibrance of our memories.

In a nutshell, we spent day 3 crossing Flood Creek (we chose to inflate one boat and ferry loads/people across the lake at the toe) and hiking up the moraine of Russel Glacier past lower and upper Skolai Lakes and over Skolai Pass. We checked out the cabin and then headed up and over Chitistone Pass (words cannot describe this place . . . caribou on one side of the valley, goats on the other, amazingly bright greens and flowers, glaciers, waterfalls, and a beautiful trail from which to see it all!). We made it part way down the Chitistone River along the Goat Trail before eventually making camp on a decidedly un-flat (but as flat as we were going to find on the Goat Trail!) place at dark.

On day 4, we completed the Goat Trail, passed Chitistone Falls and the Chitistone Gorge (I also lack words to do this place justice) and found the super-sonic trail through the bushes to the river. This was amazing - alder bashing minimization is always amazing! Even without the trail, it's only 45-60min of suffering, which is totally worth it for the amazing experience of the Chitistone. Our Chitistone crossing was festive, to say the least. The river was cranking when we got there, and it was difficult to find a good line across. We did select one, and I went first, breathing a sigh of relief when I made it to the the eddy. Chrissy got swept a little past the eddy and hit a big packraft-eating hole and went for a swim. Like a champion, she held on to her boat and paddle, but unfortunately ended up back on the same side, about 1/2 mile downriver. So, we opted to walk our respective sides (after yelling back/forth across the raging river, getting about every 5th word!) about 1 mile upstream to where the river was supposed to be mellower. In retrospect, we shouldn't have even bothered with our first crossing since it was soooooo much more straightforward upriver (read: class 1-2 instead of 3-4, with many more eddies and much less gradient). With the time spent on the crossing, and the fact that we had the time and food to extend, we took the rush out of the afternoon and decided to walk to Glacier Creek, but not to even try the float out until morning. So, down the Chitistone we went . . . it was intriguing to watch the river and I'd love to try and do this trip again, paddling the whole river, but it was more than we were looking for on this trip, to be sure! The river walking wasn't bad either, and there is a nice trail on the shwackfest section . . . . not to mention that the area is simply stunning. I continued to be blown away by the splendor on this trip - I was expecting it to be cool, but not like it was. The relief in those mountains is Himalaya-esque and is terrifying and peaceful at once. We were again blessed with perfect weather as well, making it that much more special. We camped along the shore, wondering how the river might change by morning and what the packrafting would be like . . .

Morning brought lower river levels, so into the boats we went! We knew there'd be some holes to avoid and Class II features that could still create excitement with the bigger water we had, but the paddling was pretty fun and straightforward . . . and so much more efficient than walking down the river!!! Major props to Chrissy for overcoming her fear from the previous day's swim and paddling super strong into the Nizina and to the take out. The Nizina confluence was pretty channeled and gave us our fill of butt-boating, and then straighforward big-water floating to the road . . . it was pretty crazy to be in that big of a river in such a small boat, but super cool at the same time. It sounded like Rice Krispies as the rocks below us were being moved downriver, and the hydraulics and river-reading stayed engaging 'til the end. The takeout is super nice, with the cross-river bridge an visible road to mark it . . . then 9.48 miles on road back to the Potato for post-trip burritos and coffee!!!

After our food, we opted to hit the road, figuring it'd be nice to have one recovery day before heading back to work, and realizing we probably woudl be fairly lazy the next day regardless! So, off we went . . .

Overall, it was a spectacular trip. I'd never done a trip with just one other woman and it was pretty unique to do so. We work super well together and have a great time while we're at it. The route was straightforward, but still offered its surprises and challenges, as the Alaska wilderness always does. I had doubted if I felt like doing a wilderness trip, but being out there confirmed for me how much I love it, and how I had been missing it!

Cascade Volcano Tour - July 2009

Okay, it's been forever since I've updated, but such is life between work and play, and lacking the inspiration to blog! But, I figured I'd "catch up" on the summer cuz I've been in reflection mode!

After a super fun June of riding bikes and running on ridges, I decided to put the skis back on in July. I felt a little crazy for leaving Alaska in the middle of one of the nicest summers on record, but couldn't help but be intrigued by an invite to join Jordan Manley (who I'd met last fall in Antarctia) and his 6 buddies from BC to see how many Cascade volcanoes we could ski in a week! Definitely a trip of unknowns (especially not having met most of the participants!), but I've always wanted to ski more in the Cascades and thought it was also a great chance to go visit family, so off I went!

The result: a great time full of everything you'd imagine from 8 people in 2 cars skiing 4 big volcanoes in 6 days . . . laughs, great corn skiing, exhaustion, good food, bad food, tense moments, beautiful sunrises, new friends, post-volcano swimming, new places, familiar places, doubt and triumph. Jamie was right when he said that, once we'd romanticized all the pain away, it will have been a great week!

And, to top it off, two in the group are into making videos . . . so enjoy the show!

Jordan's overview video

Climbing Shasta with mostly strangers after a redeye flight, all-day drive, and 1 hr of sleep!

Oh, the beauty of chairlifts! "Recovery" on Mt. Hood

Pushing the limits of running shoes on Mt. Adams

Mt. Rainier putting the hurt on . . . twice!

I am still trying to organize my photos, so enjoy the movies in the meantime!