Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mission Aborted...

Christie soaks up the sun on a peak in the Alaska Range

The Plan: Traverse the Alaska Range on skis from east to west beginning at the Tok Cutoff and ending at the Richardson Highway. The entire distance is 80 to 100 miles depending on the route taken. We expected the trip to take approximately 7-8 days.

The Problem: Difficult snow conditions combined with multiple channels of open water on the Tok River bogged us down the first few days. We anticipated some sort of packed snowmachine trail for the first 30-miles or so. Unfortunately no one had traveled in this area all winter and unusually heavy dumps of snow had fallen this spring. This resulted in slogging along from the beginning. We expected the first stretch to be our 'gravy' days with easy travel.

Mission Aborted: We decided to retreat since we cashed in our buffer days from the start which we had allotted for potential bad weather and snow conditions later in the trip. Since we had extra time we spent a day climbing an un-named peak before trudging back to the road. We may try this traverse again next year.

Our planned route took us along the south side of the Alaska Range between the Tok Cutoff and the Richardson Hwy. If time allowed we intended to traverse several glaciers en route to our destination.

I packed 7-days of food into gallon size ziplock bags. Each days ration of grub weighed about 2.5 lbs.

An easy water crossing on a small creek near the start of our trip. The following day we had to navigate through a maze of deep, open channels on the Tok River.

Any little bit of water that came in contact with our skis froze instantly and needed to be scraped off. This can be a time consuming chore...

Farther along in the trip we had to search around for ice bridges in order to cross the river...otherwise we would have to walk through water above our knees. This was tedious and also absorbed a lot of time.

The remains of a snowshoe hare. As we approached...we unintentionally spooked the owl that had taken down this little guy.

Our camp on the Tok River. It was a cold night as the temperature dropped to -25F (-32C) and a breeze blew down the valley.

Christie and I trying to warm ourselves up with hot food and the first rays of morning sunlight.

We attempted to dry out our sleeping bags while we packed up each morning. Significant frost would build up in our down feather bags overnight. We kept our ski boots and water bottles in our bags to keep them warm. We also would keep damp clothing in our bags in order to dry them out using the heat of our bodies. All this results in an accumulation of moisture in the bag over time and causes the bag to lose its insulating properties.

Linda and Lowell have been living remotely on the Dry Tok River for about 14 yrs. Dan and I met them when we passed through this area last June (Gillette Pass Traverse). They normally travel up/down this valley on snowmachine through the winter and we expected to have a good trail for the first part of our trip. This winter they stuck around the house and never snowmachined out to the road. trail for us to cruise on.

Visqueen Camp - we came across this hunting camp just before nightfall during our traverse. The structure has a frame constructed of spruce trees and walls/roof made of visqeen (plastic) house wrap.

Visqueen camp was a welcome break from camping in the sub-zero temperatures. It even had a small wood stove.

Visqueen camp was still cold after the stove puttered out during the night.

When we realized that it would be difficult to complete our traverse during our 8-day window - we decided to spend a day climbing Visqueen Peak before retracing our tracks back to our starting point.

Minnie me (Ed) and Christie climb up Visqueen peak.

Looking back down the Dry Tok River Valley.

We had to make our way on foot with crampons in order to reach the summit of Visqueen Peak.