Thursday, November 21, 2013

Yukon Canada Hike

One day on our Alaska trip back in September, we drove over the US-Canada border and did a hike up in the Yukon, across the tundra.  Wow, it is a different world out there.  No trees, blueberries growing close to the ground, a vast expanse of apparently nothing.

Alaska Play

Our trip was not all work and beer, there was some great hiking as well.  The weather was great while we were there so we enjoyed some good hikes.  Chilkat State Park was a place we hiked twice.  The park is on the southern tip of the peninsula, south of Don's home.  The first hike, we did with Don and Ida.

 The second hike was nearly a full day event with Todd and I.  We set off looking for chanterelle mushrooms but found a plethora of other mushrooms.  'Shrooms grow really big in Alaska.  The variety and size put Whidbey Isl 'shrooms to shame. I will have a post of just mushrooms later....
On this hike, we encountered two moose.  The first was near the beginning of the hike, she was on the trail in front of us.  We were able to get some pictures of her before bushwacking around her.  The second one was near the end of our hike.  I saw her off in the distance, through the trees, so we used that as a sign to turn back.  I did not get any pics of the second moose as she was well camouflaged in the trees.

We were very successful with our chanterelle mushroom collection.  Like morrell mushroom hunting, you can hike and look for hours and not see one, then you start seeing them every where.

Alaska Part 2 Work

The next day we went out on a jet boat to see where high water may have gotten on the Tsirku River Fan.  To get to the Fan, we had to jet boat across the Chilkat River which was flowing high due to recent rains.  The swift water was thick with silt and one could not see an inch below the surface.  Drift wood, downed trees, shallow gravel bars, and more were hidden just below the surface.  I was frightened at first, but gradually relaxed as Todd showed his navigational skills and safely maneuvered the vessel across the wide and braided river.  We hiked around the dry and vast floodplain, observed bear, wolf, and moose tracks in the mud.

 Next we navigated upstream past the small town of Kluckwan, a Chilkat Indian town.  There were some very old buildings still standing in that town probably from the early 1900's.  Otherwise, the newer buildings were mere shacks or trailer homes in disrepair.   The tribe is constructing a new lodge at the south end of town, it is huge and not far from the river's edge.  Some folks were fishing with gill nets, attempting to capture some of the migrating salmon in the muddy braided river.

After the boat ride, we drove up to Clear Creek and Salmon Rivers.  Hiked about looking for unusual changes in hydrology.  We observed chum salmon spawning, more bear tracks, and I became reacquainted with Devil's Club (ouch).  We drove a little further up the road and rested along side the Tsirku River.  Upstream was mountainous wilderness, in front of us was more swift braided waters. Ah, Alaska.

The next day, Todd and I went to monitor a study site.  Here the water was running high and muddy.  It also was a high bear activity spot, and I began to figure out, every place is high bear potential.  We gauged the stream flow and Todd measured what piezometers were left.  A few of them we pushed over by hungry bears.  I learned to look before sitting down in the grass as it was more difficult to find a spot with out salmon guts or carcass than with.  Messy bears.

A few days later, Todd had his container house delivered to Herman Creek and performed his first pump test of the wells.  It was a 24 hour process and in a high bear and salmon area.  So, Don and I drove up just before dark, brought a hot dinner (chanterelle pasta!), and escorted Todd on his pump tests.  Don carried the gun and did most of the "hey Bear!" shouting.  One bear was seen, moving away from us.  Amazing how a place can change from day light to night dark.  Besides dead salmon on the streambanks and an occasional foot print, you would not know there are bears here, except at night.

Fourty Fun!

Last Friday, Shelley helped me celebrate a new year of my life.  She took me to see Hell's Belles. It was a fantastic concert.  Afterwards, I went to Kayce's for her 40th Birthday party and sang many karaoke songs.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Alaska Part 1 Arrival

 We departed Boise Wednesday morning and flew to Seattle and then to Juneau where we caught the Alaska Marine Highway System Ferry to Haines (We rode the southern part of this route two years ago from Bellingham to Ketchikan).  While waiting for the ferry to depart Juneau, I observed two Orcas swimming between fast boats that were trailing the whales for paying customer viewing pleasure.  The Ferry ride was pleasant and seeing the Lynn Canal from boat was fabulous.  The mountains were green and lush with waterfalls cascading down the steep terrain.  Glaciers hung in the high valleys. 

We arrived in Haines at 830 on Wednesday night, purchased a few perishables at the grocery and headed to Don's cabin in the woods. 

Don's cabin is dry, meaning there is no running water or indoor plumbing.  An outhouse with a comfortable wood seat was a walk away into the dark woods.  We obtained water from a nearby spring, transporting it in 5 gallon jugs to the house.  Other than the lack of plumbing, the house had electricity, wood heat, and shelter from the rain.  It is unfinished inside, so much that the walls are plastic coated insulation- no drywall up yet.

The next day was full of viewing pleasure as we did a little work and site seeing.
Work consisted of building the insides for Todd's shelter in the woods...using shipping containers is an Alaska thing it seems, not hipster decked out with IKEA but with pine 2x4s and foam board:

After our day's work we went to the Haines Brewing Company and met the owner/operator Paul Wheeler.  We enjoyed a pint of Black Fang Stout.  It has been rationed and sitting in the keg for a few months.  Well seasoned, it went down very nice.  Since it was so precious, we were unable to get a growler of it, so we went home with the IPA.  Instead of driving straight home, we toured some of the local sights.
One place we drove up to was Chilkoot Lake, a glacial blue lake with a fantastic backdrop of snow capped jagged mountains.  Along the way up the outlet river we observed brown bear strolling along fishing.  On the river banks were fishermen who were shooed out by the bears and photographers who were brought in to see the bears.  Sorry, we do not have any photos of the bears.

The Burroughs of Haines is cute and quaint, but still a fisherman and working person's town.  A bit like McCall, most people here are just getting by financially but enjoying the place they live fully.  And there are some retired folks along with those you can only wonder how they have as much money as they do when they work so little and at a piddly low paying job.

Friday, November 1, 2013

SF Salmon hike

Back in August, the 4th through the 6th, Todd and I went camping at Poverty Flats, one of my favorite places, with the intention of hiking the South Fork Salmon River canyon from Goat Creek down stream to Poverty Flat.  It is about a 7 mile hike, no trail, following the river with super steep terrain on both sides.  We were in it for the long haul and had no idea what we were going to see.  This canyon is a class 5 kayak section during the spring run off, but by August, the water is way to low to boat but near perfect temperature for wading.
Below picture is what we considered the beginning of the canyon section.  Not far from where the road leaves the river.

The rock formations in the canyon obviously have been in place for thousands of years as shown from the smoothness of the granite bedrock.
The hill slopes were covered in burnt trees, some still standing, others laying on the ground, while some have floated down stream and were caught up in a gigantic log jam.
Traversing the terrain was difficult as we walked lots of side hilling and plenty of crisscrossing the river. A sign that the terrain is difficult was the lack of wildlife we saw.  There were no squirrels to distract Henry.  No deer or elk sign, but plenty of bear sign.  Bear paw prints were in the sandy bars and poop all over the grassy areas.  Few people must come here for the bears to feel safe from distraction while devouring the salmon.  Our path through the canyon followed the same choices as the bear prints, there were few options. At times it was easier to walk in the river, but anyone who has spent time walking in streams knows that can be challenging in itself with slippery rocks, uneven footing, not a straight path, and deep water.
About 5 hours into the hike, we were feeling tired.  I looked up the slope for some landmarks to determine how far we have gone and how far we still need to go.  At this time we were in the heart of the canyon, the road was at its highest point above the river (over 1000 vertical feet), and we were getting low on food.  The sun has been beating down on us all day.  Even Henry was starting to get tired.  We pushed onward, hoping for relief  in terrain or some sign that Poverty Flat was "just around the corner."  Anyone who has hiked with me knows I often push a little further to see what is up over the ridge not far ahead, and often the extra effort is futile as there is another ridge and not much of a view.  Well, this trip was not much different but instead of looking for a better view, we were looking for a better exit.  We turned another corner and saw more canyon walls, deeper water, and no banks to walk on. We finally came upon a large log that spans the river just downstream of a fantastic pour-over into a deep pool below.  This would be a fantastic swimming hole. 

There were some faint trails leaving up slope from here, either people trail or game trail, but either way, we decided to abort the stream hike and head up slope to the road.This was an adventure in itself.  I was so glad to reach pavement.  Below is a picture of my feet and legs after the hike up, but before the two mile hike on the road.  Luckily we got to the camp well before dark, let the cat out of the truck, pulled out lawn chairs, popped open a beer, and rested, reflecting on the day we just had, and to exhausted to do anything else but take off shoes.
But sometimes, it is well worth the effort.  We all need to push a bit to see beauty.
Below is a map of the hike path.