Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Beaver Creek 360

The tundra high above Beaver Cr has come to life with the arrival of summer.

Ann quietly gazed down at the map as we drifted past a tall stand of spruce trees. Her concerned voice broke the silence as she slowly raised her head, "I think we have to go a lot farther than you expected." I looked back at her a little bit puzzled and muttered, "Hmmmm...really?" Exactly how far had I miscalculated our inaugural packraft trip of the season? Embarrassingly...a lot. This was already going to be an ambitious wilderness foray for a long weekend. I now realized that I had somehow underestimated the entire traverse by nearly 50 miles.

Our route began at the usual starting point for a float down Beaver Creek at the Nome Creek put-in. From there we paddled steadily for about 100 miles before rolling up our rafts and stashing them into our backpacks. Most Beaver Creek floaters continue downriver an additional 15 miles to a wide gravel bar where a small fixed-wing plane can touch down and pluck them from the wilderness. Instead...after climbing out of the creek we followed a series of interconnecting ridge lines that would eventually lead us 45 miles back to the gravel road we started on...and then climax with a 16 mile bike ride back to the truck. A complete 360 degree circuit that amounted to about 160 miles of travel by boat, foot, and bike.

Ann absorbs the view as Beaver Creek winds its way past jagged limestone teeth of the White Mountains.

It appears that the river otter population will thrive this year by the way these two were going at it.

Beaver Creek is an easy Class I float with only a few small riffles and an occasional tree hanging into the water that can sweep over a boat. The water was flowing along at a casual 3 to 4 miles per hour.

Packing up the boat and remainder of gear in preparation for our cross country hike. I am still dumbfounded with the fact that it is possible to have my deflated boat disappear into the depths of my pack and then lug it across the countryside.

We had a very steep ascent out of the Beaver Cr valley but there was very little bushwhacking. In the distance is Victoria Mtn...which is the last bit of terrain before the river spills out into the broad expansive lowlands of the Yukon Flats.

We encountered a series of game trails when we climbed above tree-line which made for very easy walking at times.

The majority of the hike was spent side sloping across precariously placed lichen-encrusted rocks, postholing through thigh deep snow fields, and stumbling across tufts of tussocky tundra.

Ann crosses one of the uncountable saddles in the high country. The terrain was brutal as we negotiated a never ending sequence of 1000 foot climbs followed by an equal amount of descents.

The avenue of tors--some of these environmentally sculpted spires of granite soared over 100 feet into the sky.

There were still plenty of depressions in the tundra with meltwater from the dwindling winters snowpack. Later in the summer it would be difficult to find any water this high above the river valleys.

Even though we didn't see a trace of any other human being...we were not alone.

Liberally applying Body Glide to my feet in hopes of preventing blisters. This in combination with keeping my feet occasionally wet and cool seems to diminish the threat of incapacitating foot problems. The main side effect is flirting with the onslaught of trench foot after about 10 hours of damp feet.

Dropping down into the Quartz Creek drainage. We hoped to find a 4-wheeler trail on the opposite side of the valley that would ease the last stretch of our hike.

Towards the end of our hike we intersected the Quartz Creek trail. The trail had recently been improved and made for great walking. Its a great trail for accessing the dramatic granite spires around Mt Prindle.

The final leg on bike completed our 160 mile, 360 degree adventure.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Destruction

The mighty Yukon is putting up a fight this spring. The river has taken its first casualties after only making a few sweeping bends after crossing the border into Alaska. Portions of the village of Eagle have been swallowed by a chaotic sea of moving water and ice. (photo courtesy C.McElfresh)

The Old Native village is completely destroyed as massive blocks of ice smash the structures like match sticks and the river inundates the forest. (NWS photo)

Floodwaters reached the highest levels ever recorded at the quaint village which has been perched above the Yukon River for over 100-years. Buildings were twisted or completely removed from their foundations. (NPS photo)

Chunks of ice remain stranded as the water recedes. (NPS photo)

The roofs of two cabins are barely visible as they are carried into the middle of the river and begin their 1000-mile journey towards the Bering Sea (NPS photo).

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Chasing Ice

video

I have been on the move this week. By air and by car chasing moving fragments of ice and floods. I captured the above video footage of a chaotic mess of ice and debris which completely clogged the Chantanika River north of Fairbanks. The entire river was sent rushing into the woods.

The weather is warm...really warm. All time-record high temperatures for this time of year were broken the past several days. This put an abrupt end to winter. The big heat wave resulted in a rapid melting of the snowpack and pushed a large slug of water into the rivers. Sheets of river ice which have remained dormant all winter have been suddenly lifted up and set into motion. Over the next few weeks most of the ice will flush downriver on its journey to the coast...while some slabs will become stranded on the shore and meet their demise as summer takes over.