Monday, August 27, 2007

Doin' Kanuti Hot Springs

I enjoy one last soak in the hot springs before the trek back to the car

Whoa--Its hard to believe summer is rapidly coming to an end. Fortunately Dan, Trevor, Brian, Josie, and Sky were all up for a little foray in the wilderness to Kanuti Hot Springs at the last minute with very little planning or preparation.

Over the past few years I have really wanted to venture out to Kanuti Hot Springs--But I had always planned on skiing out in the spring-time. I have been intrigued by Kanuti for a few reasons: 1) the remoteness of the springs but reasonable access from the road system, 2) the lack of trail or any development, and 3) the fact that several groups of friends have failed to make it and ended up retreating back to the road.
I was studying the map and thought Kanuti might be a perfect packraft trip. Basically float down the Kanuti River ~14 miles to the springs, camp out and soak, and then hike back out to the road 12 miles or so via Caribou Mountain. The map above shows the route I recorded on my GPS. We started/finished where the Kanuti River crosses the Dalton Highway (mile post 105) just south of the Arctic Circle. This is about 4 hours north of Fairbanks.

Vertical profile of our 26 mile trip to Kanuti Hot Springs. Yes this is vertically exaggerated. The climb up Caribou Mountain was about 2500 feet.

We drove up Friday evening and camped next to a snowfence adjacent to the Kanuti River. Dan and Brian contemplate getting out of their warm bags because the temperature dropped into the upper 20's overnight.

Dan and I floated in Alpacka packrafts. These boats are awesome! I cant rave about them enough. They weigh a mere 4 lbs, fit easily into a backpack, and can slam into and slide over rocks without much more than a faint scratch.

Brian, Trevor and Josie floated this 60 lb inflatable canoe. He-man Brian packed this sucker out from the springs. Final weight with the pack, boat, seats and oars was close to 80 lbs! Any sweet young ladies out there looking for an Alaskan stud? We got one right hear.

Sky chases Dan down the river. She swam and ran the entire way.

Brian and Trevor had to drag their boat A LOT.. This river was quite low and bony with lots of rocks. The packrafts were far superior and have minimal draft so Dan and I were able to ride through most stretches.

A guy and his dog--Dan and Sky rest in the fall foliage. This is definitely a picture to send home to mom.

Trevor and Brian negotiate a canyon with some class II rapids. This river was littered with fun class II rock gardens and riffles.

We had to pick our route through lots of rock gardens and had very little time to kickback and chill out.

The hot springs was choked with a carpet of green slime. The water was also too hot (one source said 150 degrees) to use our hands to scoop it out. So we had to use sticks when we first got there to skim the sheets of algae from the water.

A small rock dam holds back the warm water. Just to the right of the dam a trickle of cold water comes out of a thicket of alders. We had to do some engineering to divert this cold water into the dammed up hot water. After about an hour the pond had cooled down enough for us to get in and scoop out the slime. slime globs! We couldn't get all the little pieces out so some of it coated our bodies. There was a nice cold creek about 100 feet away where we could splash around and wash most of the slime off.

This spot was pretty magical. The springs are in a meadow of wild chives and mint and had this incredible aroma. The ground was also heated and inside our tent it was warm and smelled like minty breathe freshener.
Here is my Alpacka boat all rolled up. It fit nicely into my pack.

Dan and I with all of our gear. So in my pack I have the boat, paddles, life jacket, sleeping bag and pad, stove, pot, fuel, 3 liters of water, food, clothes, and still plenty of room to carry a tent if needed. The whole package weighed about 30 lbs.

Brian lugs the BIG 80 lb boat over tussocks and through thick brush. He is certainly sold on getting an Alpacka. We had to bushwhack up a steep hill for about an hour through an old burn littered with down trees and tall alders/willows.

We finally make it up to treeline where the walking gets much easier.

yes--now the walking is REALLY pleasurable.

Yummm...cranberries, blueberries, and crowberries were abundant.

The bears were plentiful too. Its hard to see but this sow and 2 cubs were right in our path. They bolted when we yelled at them. Dan and I had run into a sow and 2 cubs the day before during our float...I suppose this could be the same family.
Brian--the poster child for Grabner boats.

Near the summit of Caribou Mountain the view to the north was endless.

Dan and Sky walk along the buried Alaska Pipeline on the final stretch of the hike back to the car.

We made it to the Yukon River Hotspot Cafe just in time to get burgers as big as our heads - over 1 lb of meat! Dan attempts to wrap his face around the burger.

We got a flat tire on the way up and then the spare got a flat on the way back home. Luckily Brian had fix-a-flat to repair the spare.

Friday, August 17, 2007

40 Below in August

Julie stares up at the 40 below room sign in disbelief

Now why didnt I think of this?? A room where tourists pay $$ to experience 40 below temperatures during the summer--what a cool idea. Julie (aka our summer hire from work) was headed back to the lower 48 this week and wanted to experience a simulated Fairbanks winter before applying for graduate school up here. So we went to the cold room at Pioneer Park.
Julie pulls the handle to enter into a Fairbanks winter. They gave us parkas and cups of boiling water to throw into the air.

Wait a minute--its almost -50F in here!!! My fingers and ears were freezing

Julie relaxes on an ice thrown.

Who turned on the furnace? Actually it was only 84 degrees outside but it was one of our hottest days of the summer.

Monday, August 13, 2007

College Glacier Traverse

Andy ascends a knife-like ridge high above the College Glacier

My friend Andy has been spending quite a bit of time down in the Alaska Range south of Fairbanks this summer. He invited me to come along on a traverse through the College Glacier drainage for the weekend. We brought crampons, ropes, and ice axes because he wasn't sure what sort of conditions we would encounter en route.

We drove down Fri evening and camped out so we could get an early start Sat morning. Here we are getting all of our gear together.
There is a suspension bridge over College Creek. There is a well established route to the Gulkana Glacier across this bridge. We crossed the bridge and then headed upriver to the less explored College Glacier.

Walking across the bridge is a little sketchy as it swings back-and-forth and you peer down at the cold and fast glacial water churning below.

Dry and firm tundra make the hiking up the College Glacier valley quite nice.

There were oodles of crowberrries. Unfortunately I didn't bring anything to store them in. These berries kind of remind me of pomegranates--watery with a small seed in the middle. They are not as flavorful though but make a good syrup or jelly.
I also saw a bunch of soapberries. These taste even worse than their name implies--but the bears apparently love them. The natives also like to whip them up with sugar...must be an acquired taste.
We get our first glimpses of the College Glacier terminus about 4 miles into our hike.

Our plan was to drop down to the glacier and then climb up to the divide on the opposite side.

The ice was littered with rock debris and we had great traction even where there was a bit of a slope.
There was plenty of fresh water on the surface of the glacier. Most of these small streams disappeared into moulins, or a holes where surface water enters the glacier. It would definitely be a crappy way to go if you slipped and fell into one of these.

Since the weather was so pleasant we decided to climb up high and set up camp.

Looking down the College Glacier valley back in the direction we had hiked in from.

Dwarf fireweed clings to a rocky precipice high above the glacier.

A herd of caribou were chilling out on an unnamed glacier just east of the College Glacier. This seemed like an unusual place to see caribou.

Andy keeps climbing up. I love the splashes of color in the rock and scree on the hillside.

There were a few spots where we had to climb up/down rocks clinging to the side of the ridge.

The ridge we were planning to follow eventually ended in sheer cliff. So instead of turning around we descended a very steep, rocky, and muddy slope several thousand feet to the valley below.

Walking was challenging. There were a lot of places where there would be a thin veneer of mud on glare ice. So you would step down thinking you were on solid ground and instead were instantly thrown on your ass as the mud slid off and exposed ice. You can see the black ice protruding from the mud. Most spots were not this obvious.