As I started looking closer at the maps and seeing the weather forecast for Southcentral Alaska ("first storm moving away from southcentral with a more powerful second storm on the way"), the doubts over our trip started creeping in. Sherrie and I planned to hike from the Eureka Roadhouse on the Glenn Highway, 60 miles overland to the headwaters of the Talkeetna River. From the small roadside town, we'd walk for 2.5 days (most off-trail wilderness travel), over a 4800' and 6000' pass, before rafting 40 miles of the Talkeetna River. At the confluence with Prairie Creek, we would meet friends who'd flown in with a cataraft and raft the famous class IV Talkeetna River canyon ("the longest stretch of continuous whitewater in Alaska" and one of the state's most classic river trips) to the town of Talkeenta.
As I really started thinking about the logistics, the thoughts of all that could go wrong rushed in with a vengeance. I haven't been nervous for a trip in awhile, but I have to admit in many ways it felt good to try something I wasn't sure I could do. We made contingency bailout plans for the inability to cross high passes due to weather, packed a little extra food in case we had to hike out without the cataraft to travel the high-volume canyon, and left a good communication plan in case we didn't make it out.
Leaving the road at 5:30 pm, we made it to Caribou Creek and camped along its banks.
|Starting out with termination dust on Gunsight Mountain behind us . . . all smiles for the journey ahead!|
|Did I mention that we were thankful for the sun? Sherrie shares her joy!|
|Sherrie making progress toward Chitna Creek confluence with Caribou Creek, one of the day's major milestones|
|Me headed into the upper Caribou drainage - foreboding skies ahead, but sunny for now!|
|Me loving the tank top weather and peak fall colors - all the gorgeous mountains made us want to come back with more time to scramble up them!|
|Caribou Creek shrinking as we neared the headwaters - just upstream is it's super dramatic canyon|
|Awaking to a snowy morning at camp 2 . . . brr!!|
|My shoes were so frozen after all the river crossings the day prior that I had to use pliers to get the laces free . . . I finally thawed them in the icy cold river to be able to get my feet in - now there's a way to start a morning!|
We hiked out of the Caribou Creek drainage and over a gentle pass to the high country in the upper Oshetna River valley. Opting to "cut the corner," we walked the caribou trails of the grassy hills instead of travelling the creek, rewarded with panoramic mountain views and serene lakes to walk by.
|Heading into the high country - leaving the final trickle of Caribou Creek|
|Rounding the corner into the upper Oshetna River valley|
|Me passing one of three lakes as we traveled to the Oshetna River . . . peaceful and stunning country|
|Sherrie adds a splash of color to the Talkeetnas!|
|Making progress - our route was just around the backside of the peak in the foreground . . . caribou trails made our travels so nice!!|
|Caribou kept us company much of the morning . . . should we have brought skis?!?|
|Our first pass at 4800' finally in view . . . what's next?|
|Headed up the pass, looking down to the Oshetna . . .|
|The landscape got stark, but no less beautiful|
|On the backside of pass #1, with 6000' pass #2 around the corner - starting to look more like a headwall than a pass!|
|Sherrie with the outline of switchbacks above her . . . looks like we can probably make it over!!|
|Standing on the headwall - I have to admit I was hoping to see a little less white than this . . .|
|Travelling the moraine-from-hell . . . this kind of travel is hard enough without 6" of snow obscuring the appropriate places to step!|
|Uggh, the moraine goes on . . .|
|Finally off the rocky moraine and back into snow-covered tundra . . . a much appreciated reprieve of wondering if I was going to break an ankle every step!|
Thankfully, Alaska let us through and we were able to safely navigate our way over the headwall (after going over it, I am no longer calling it a pass!) . . . I had hoped for a gentle slope off the backside, but instead I found myself plunge stepping into thigh deep snow down its steep flanks. Spirits plummeted as we walked across the glacial moraine on the backside. Comprised of rocks, their interstitial spaces filled with snow, it felt like a broken ankle (or femur!) was a threat on every step. Sherrie characterized our friendship as "old love" as we walked in irritated silence, mentally preparing ourselves to be in snow for the duration of our overland travel. The Talkeetna side of the mountains is the wet side, but this was more snow than we'd really expected!
Not shockingly, we awoke to more new snow on our third morning, but with only 11 miles remaining until packrafting time, and knowing it would only get better as we lost elevation, we were off!
|Another cold morning - a good chance to multitask with stretching hips, warming toes on my hot bottle, and drinking coffee all at once!!|
|Good travel, out of the snow, making progress = happy Kellie!|
|Looking back at the white world we'd come from!|
|And looking down to the river we were headed to!|
|Sherrie in peak fall colors yet again, checking out the potential for rapids in the upper river|
|Still not sure if it was going to fully break, the clouds added surreal feel to the big open country we were in|
|The Talkeetna Glacier and upper river|
|The upper river was splashy and fun!|
|So wonderful to enjoy the views off of our feet! Packrafts and river gear are heavy and cumbersome to carry, but sooooo worth it!|
|All smiles in the morning as we headed toward the Talkeetna Canyon!|
|Under sunny skies, Denali and the Alaska Range greeted us in Talkeetna!!|