Sunday, February 24, 2008

Re-Doin' Kanuti Hot Springs

Dan and I found at ourselves at Kanuti Hot Springs this weekend ready to soak our tired muscles

It is almost 6 months to the day since our packrafting/hiking trip into Kanuti hot springs back in August (see the previous post: Doin' Kanuti Hot Springs). This time we traversed this remote country which straddles the arctic circle on our skis. We found that a winter ski trip into the springs was far more grueling than our leisurely float down the Kanuti River and hike back out over Caribou Mtn.

Our route started at Milepost 103 Dalton Hwy at the site of a former arctic circle gift shop which sits in the shadow of the Alaska Pipeline. At one time the owner of the shop trapped in this area and back then it was possible to follow part of his snowmachine trail which went toward the springs. No packed trails this year...

My tracked our course. There is no established trail to Kanuti so we went cross country and tried to pick a route that avoided thick brush, trees and deep snow. It was about 11.5 miles from the highway back to the hot springs.

We had a good climb up to the south flanks of Caribou Mtn. There was a great descent after that toward the springs.

Dan skis towards Caribou Mtn in the distance. The snow was windblown and hardpacked the first few miles and made for great skiing because we could glide right along the surface without breaking through into the white abyss below.

We did have to break many miles of trail swimming through waste deep snow and thick brush in places. This was slow and frustrating as our skis and poles got tangled in the spruce, willows and alders. Dan and I would take turns slogging forward in order to give each other a break.

After fighting the deep snow and thick vegetation for a few hours we climbed high on the south flank of Caribou Mtn where the snow was rock hard and scoured away by the wind. There were a lot of rocks too - I quickly broke in my new pair of skis with scratches and dents. oh well...

Yes - happy to be out of the trees and deep snow. The going was easy up high.

We got to the springs before dark. I was surprised it only took us 8 hours to get there considering our achingly slow pace breaking trail. The ground around the springs is so warm that it not only melts the snow - it dries out the ground too. Nice for camping!
So we set up camp and got a raging fire started before we soaked. It was an awesome night relaxing in the springs as the fire crackled and cast and warm orange glow on the hot water -- and the sound of water trickled down the creek away from the springs. We got the fire going so hot that we were able to spin around in front of it like rotisserie chickens and dry off before slipping our clothes back on and crashing for the night.

The next morning we woke up to a snow storm -- I thought to myself: "Oh no, we might lose our nicely packed trail on the way out."

The snow was quite beautiful though as it delicately coated all the small branches and trees. It lost its beauty some when it came tumbling down onto our heads and down our backs as we broke our way through the brush.

Sky the wonder dog saved us because there were a lot of spots where our trail vanished in the freshly fallen snow - she tracked our trail all the way back to a snow cairn Dan had built to mark our trail into the dense forest.

Damn! We left the dome light on in the car and the battery was completely dead when we returned. After an hour or so we were able to flag down an Alyeska pipeline employee and had him jump it for us. So the lessons learned: 1) make sure all lights are off before departing and 2) always back into your parking spot so someone can reach the battery for a jump.

1 comment:

Bevy said...

Well - Thank GOD for the dog and the Alyeska Pipeline employee! WHEW - now how do you get in that water when it's so dang cold out - that must be a really great pay off to be able to do it BRRRRRR. I don't know if I could. Used to go to Circle Hot Spring and Chena Hot Springs - really nice!