Sunday, July 31, 2011
Friday, July 29, 2011
A dozen miles north of Seward, the highway crests a large hill known, appropriately, as Mile 12 Hill and then descends in a mile-long sweeping “S” curve to the spruce and cottonwood-forested floodplain of Snow River. It crosses a low boggy area and then rises again on a man-made overpass over the tracks of the Alaska Railroad at Mile 14.
Off to the right, the red steel girders of a picturesque railroad trestle span the river, the kind of trestle not seen much anymore. Downstream of it is a large open area, formerly a materials pit from which gravel for highway construction had been extracted.
At the apex of the overpass, the eye is drawn to this area, not to the mountains behind it that run parallel to the highway across the narrow valley. Instead, attention is focused on a mound of screened gravel, perhaps twenty feet high and three times that long. More specifically, attention is focused at the base of that mound.
|This is an "after" photo.|
That was my destination. A gray overcast that had brought rain for several days was surrendering to a late afternoon sun, leaving remnants of clouds clinging to the mountains.
I turned off the highway onto a narrow one-lane road that led to the double arms of a locked gate. The railroad had posted a “No Trespassing” sign on this gate. I parked, gathered my gear, and ducked under the gate. I was pretty sure nobody would protest my trespass.
Reaching the base of that pile, I surveyed the task ahead of me. I pulled a folded yellow litter bag from my waist pouch and flapped it open. Then I began at one end of the mound and worked my way across its face, picking up the detritus of sportsmen without consciences.
For some years this site has been used as an unofficial firing range and bore the evidence of such. Discarded ammo boxes, plastic cartridge holders, telephone books, plastic bottles, aluminum cans, cardboard boxes, pieces of plywood, a tire, a microwave oven, and other impromptu targets were scattered around the area. All of it pocked with multiple bullet holes. From the highway it looked like a garbage dump.
After working two hours in the still, hot afternoon, I’d filled eight bags with litter and stacked them out of the way so they too wouldn’t be used as targets. I was picking up more litter as I walked back to my truck when an errant breeze brought the mist of a soft summer shower to my skin.
I looked in the direction from where the moisture had come and there, against a low ridge, was a full arched rainbow.
I acknowledged the message.
|The rainbow with the railroad trestle on the right.|
“You’re welcome,” I said.
If you pick 'em up, O Lord, I'll put 'em down.
~Author Unknown, Prayer of the Tired Walker
The trail in the switchbacks led me higher and higher and higher. I broke out of deep forest into tall grass and brush.
As I gained elevation, I could see far down the valley to Juneau Lake. From that perspective, and knowing that my previous camp was three miles beyond what I could see of the lake, I’d walked a long way today.
|That little light spot in the center is the grassy area at the end of Juneau Lake.|
Now my feet were really ticked at me. They’d been looking forward to stopping at five miles. The next tent site/bear box was at mile 13.6. I kept going. I was out of treated water.
Even though it was early evening, the sun was hot on that hillside. I was watching for a relatively flat spot to pitch a tent. There were none.
I kept trudging uphill through the tall grass and brush. I came to a sign post indicating an alternate route to Swan Lake, so I knew I was at mile 12.9. The tent camp site with a bear box was 7/10th of a mile ahead. I kept walking.
|Swan Lake from my tent site.|
I finally gave in to temptation. I stopped at a trickle of a creek flowing through a small culvert under the trail and filled my water bottle with cold clean water. I probably could have drunk some of the treated water in my pack, but it would have been warm by now. I needed cold water and to heck with giardia.
|Juneau Lake. I had walked almost three miles to that end of Juneau Lake, then along the base of the mountain on the right, across the valley, and up this steep hillside.|
Just when I was ready to pitch my tent in the tall grass, I spotted the post for 13.6. Instead of having an easy day, I’d just walked an equal distance as the day before, plus climbed the steep switchbacks.
Now to pitch that tent. But first, drop the pack and get the hiking boots off. Once that was done, I was in better shape physically and took some time to look at the view.
I was in a small mountain hemlock grove and there were very few bugs. I could see all the way to Juneau Lake and in front of me was a view of Swan Lake.
|The bear box.|
Now the tent. I was much more organized about this whole camp thing than I’d been the night before in that swarm of insects. I took the food bag to the bear box and locked it up. I wasn’t at all hungry but I took two peanut butter sandwiches out for dinner.
|Lay out the ground cloth and put the tent on top of it. Put the silver and orange poles together. Notice the two orange poles-to-nowhere.|
|The orange pole fit into grommets at the top of the tent. Everything is color-coded.|
|Viola! A rain fly drapes over the whole thing.|
I didn’t want to cook any Mountain House. Warm food didn’t sound appetizing at all and I was too tired to bother.
Storm clouds were rolling in from the north by the time I’d finished pitching camp. I made sure everything was protected and crawled into the tent.
I ate one peanut butter sandwich by making myself eat it. I hid the other one under my sleeping bag and started laughing as I lay there. Eating and keeping food in the tent was a big bear no-no, but I was wondering what would attract a bear more, fresh red meat with sore feet or a squashed peanut butter sandwich?
I’d walked two miles farther today than I’d intended. That messed up my plan to walk five miles a day which would have perfectly spaced the days if I went out Devil’s Creek trail. My original plan was to camp around 12 mile, then do these switchbacks tomorrow, and camp in Resurrection Pass tomorrow.
Now I was only two miles from where I’d intended to camp tomorrow. I decided to stick to that plan tomorrow. That would give my sore feet a much-needed break.
“Feet,” I said. "Tomorrow you get a day off. I promise.”
Again, sleep was a long way off. The temperature was too warm for sleeping and I fought with the air mattress for a long time. Next trip, I decided, I’d bring a foam mat instead.
|I made it through the squiggly lines at the right of Resurrection Trail printed on the map, and camped for the night where the red line points north toward the "i" in National.|
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
"The place where you lose the trail is not necessarily the place where it ends."
- Tom Brown, Jr.
- Tom Brown, Jr.
I paused for a long time at this bridge, lost in memories from April of 1973. A group of us who worked in Girdwood were doing a ski/dog team journey on this trail.
The previous day had been rough. Spring was early this April, and the snow was rotten. When my dogs finally reached Juneau Lake, they sank into the snow with each step. So did I. I soon realized my boots were hitting water, probably overflow or meltwater on top of the ice.
The next morning, though, the snow had solidified in the chilly night air and the dogs flew up the lake to this bridge, where we once again paused to wait for the skiers to catch up.
|The bridge to memories.|
It was a different bridge then, of course, with high side rails, and was still covered with snow. The snow had melted along the edges, leaving a two foot high berm down the center of the bridge, one not wide enough for my sled. I would have to place the sled carefully to straddle the berm.
My lead dog would have none of it. Again and again I had to drag her back to the bridge. She kept breaking away and insisting on running straight up the valley. I knew where the trail was. We had to cross the bridge to get to it, regardless of the faint snowmachine tracks going the way my lead dog wanted to go.
I finally had my way.
Later on in the trip I would learn that my lead dog Kole was right. Had we followed her up the valley, we all would have had a better trip.
Kathy, a skier, would not have broken her big toe on the ups and downs of the summer route. Paul may not have aggravated a heart condition. The whole trip would have been easier and faster if I’d listened to a smart lead dog. But no, I knew where the trail was. The summer trail, but not the winter trail.
As the dogs ran across that narrow berm, the sled leaned to the right and my arm hit the high rail. My down parka snagged on a small sliver. The dogs kept going, pulling through the resistance. I kept trying to shake loose of the sliver.
I felt it touch my skin and scrape along my forearm. By the time that splinter broke loose, it was more than a foot long and over an inch thick at the broken end. I shuddered at the thought of the injury it could have done had it stuck into my arm. Major damage. Instead, I had only a long angry scratch from wrist to elbow.
|I don't what plant this is. The patterns on the leaves caught my eye.|
I finished with the reveries and crossed the bridge, another tent camping site, and wandered up the trail. I was back in thick forest. On and on and on, singing “Hickory, dickory, dock.” I met no one else on the trail.
After a long time, the vegetation changed again as the trail crossed the flank of a mountain. Lots of rock and moss and lichen appeared, and I knew I was getting close to the trail’s intersection with Swan Lake trail, and my camping place for the night.
|Fireweed against lichen.|
Then, there it was: Swan Lake straight ahead, my trail a 90 degree turn. Camping within a quarter mile. I was looking forward to this.
|Aha! My camp site should be close by.|
I walked on, searching for the post that marked a tent site and bear box. There should have been two of them in this area.
All of a sudden I was in the switchbacks. This can’t be, I thought. Where are the tent sites? They wouldn’t put them in the switchbacks, would they? Away from a water source?
|This photo doesn't even start to show how steep the trail is through here.|
Now I was confused and really tired. Did I overlook the posts? Were they covered with vegetation and hidden? Maybe they were on the side trail to Swan Lake. But, if that was so, why not mark them as Swan Lake trail .03 and .06, instead of 12.3 and 12.6 on the Resurrection Trail? Wherever they were, I couldn't find them.
Now what was I going to do? This was messing up all my plans.
Now what was I going to do? This was messing up all my plans.
|I made the right hand turn where Resurrection Trail is printed on the upper left and was now in the squiggly lines that indicate the switchbacks.|
You need special shoes for hiking - and a bit of a special soul as well.
I awoke early the next morning, jumped out of my sleeping bag and dressed quickly. I broke camp as fast as possible, stuffed everything in my backpack, and hit the trail running.
Well, some of that is true.
I DID wake early. I turned on my cell phone to see what time it was, said, “No way!” and went back to sleep. Then I woke up really, really, really late. I wasn’t too concerned about how late it was, just a bit embarrassed. I was thinking five miles a day would be just about right for the time I had planned to be gone, and I had
all day the rest of the day to walk that far.
I did NOT jump out of my sleeping bag. I lay there doing a mental inventory of each moving part of my body to see if it could still move. I inspected my feet. So far, so good.
|Not too bad. Some red spots, some taped spots, but doing okay.|
As to dressing quickly, I needed to do this in my single width tent to avoid a massive bug attack. Picture the helicopters in Apocalypse Now. I was either lying down or sitting up, depending on which half was receiving clothing. Have you ever tried getting dressed while lying down? With a bum shoulder? That is not a situation to which “quickly” could be applied.
I DID break camp as quickly as I could because the bugs were after me again. I DID stuff everything in my pack willy-nilly because the food and cooking gear were a hundred yards away in the bear box. Still wearing the surf shoes, I carried everything up to the bear box spot.
|Great camp spot at mile 6.9.|
It was so late in the morning, I no longer felt like my morning cup of Constant Comment tea, so I had lemonade with my peanut butter sandwich. I put on my hiking boots, packed everything, saddled up, and headed to the trail.
Twenty steps later, my right hip called for attention. I stopped to
meditate medicate. Two blue Aleve should take care of that, I figured, plus keep the feet numbed for a while.
The terrain was flat. I was in a sub-Alpine elevation, not yet above tree line, but where the trees didn’t grow too tall and there was lots of open space. I walked through a small patch of brush into the open. Immediately I recognized a healthy spruce tree all alone in a small open area.
|The napping tree on the right. I paused here to tell the tree how happy I was to see it had grown into a fine specimen. Okay, I really paused here to remember my dog team.|
In April of 1973, a group of us who lived in Girdwood went on a spring ski trip through here. I carried most of the heavy supplies on my dog sled. At this very spot, I’d brought the team to a halt to wait for the skiers to catch up. My lead dog and swing dog walked off the trail and settled on the moss under this tree for a nap in the warm spring sun. I have a photo of that nap somewhere, and the tree then was a small sapling.
I walked on. My bear song changed. I was tired of “Hello, Dolly.” I have never been able to remember the words to songs, so while I was searching the memory banks for a song I could recall, I heard myself singing, “Hickory, dickory, dock. The mouse ran up the clock….”
A robin led the way up the trail for about a hundred yards. It would fly fifty feet ahead, wait for me to approach, then fly another fifty feet and wait.
I met four guys who’d been fishing, and then a short time later three young women approached. We stopped to chat. They had started from Hope and walked nineteen miles the first day. I was impressed.
They were carrying fairly light packs because with three, they could share equipment. They were also a third my age. And I’ll bet they didn’t have bunions, either. Anyway, they were very nice young women and I don’t envy them as much as it sounds.
After I’d been walking about an hour, I came to Falls Creek, and stopped to fill my now empty water bottle. A bicycler passed me, heading in the same direction I was.
|Bridge over Falls Creek.|
The vegetation had changed again to thick cottonwood and spruce and I reached what is called Romig cabin. It’s called that because it replaced what used to be a picturesque log cabin owned by the Romig family of Cooper Landing.
|Romig public use cabin.|
This was the first time I’d seen the new (to me) design of Forest Service cabins and I like it a lot.
|Dining table and kitchen area at Romig cabin.|
|Bunks for four or a friendly six.|
|View of Juneau Lake from the front porch.|
|Canoe for use by those who reserve the Romig cabin.|
I spent about an hour in the cabin, rearranging my pack so it didn’t pull so much on my shoulders. I finished off the cold Chili Mac and ate a Fiber One bar not because I was hungry, but because I didn’t want to carry them any longer.
Then I headed for my next stop, the Juneau Lake cabin. I knew the trail would wind along the lakeshore, and I was looking forward to this section.
The trail along the water is lovely, lined with wildflowers, and scenic overload.
|Don't think I've ever seen a lilac-colored moth before.|
I paused for a while at Juneau Lake cabin, just to look around and take a few photos.
|Juneau Lake public use cabin.|
|The diabolical steps at the Juneau Lake cabin. Lots of hard work went into building these.|
I have many fond memories of staying in this cabin, both in summer and winter, though the cabin then was the old style, not this spacious, lovely style. It’s also on a much higher hill than the old cabin had been, which I thought somewhat diabolical when I climbed the steps up to it.
On my way again, I came across the bicycler I’d see at Falls Creek. He was engaged in fishing, rod in one hand and a huge Fosters beer can in the other. He was a man at peace with his world. We talked for a while and then I continued on my way.
I had about two and a half miles to my intended destination for this day.
I knew what was coming next. At the end of the lake, the trail make a sweeping right turn in a narrow neck between two mountains and crosses a small creek in an abrupt left turn.
Almost forty years ago, at that creek and on the bridge that spans it, I had two experiences. One could have been life-threatening; the other was life-affirming.
|From the Trout Lake area I headed north. My intended destination to camp this day was just under the words Resurrection Trail on the upper left of the map, just before those squiggly lines that look like a seismograph's earthquake reading.|
Monday, July 25, 2011
Ever wonder where you'd end up if you took your dog for a walk and never once pulled back on the leash? ~Robert Brault
Day One, Part Two
I walked on in temperatures in the low 70s. My mini-breaks became more frequent. My feet hurt, but the rest of me was fine.
Where the trailside vegetation was higher than my head, I grabbed my little bear bell and rang it for extended periods. My friend JJ says bears don’t pay attention to bells because they think they’re birds.
My bell definitely didn’t sound like a bird. It sounded like a frantic dinner bell. That’s a joke. Dinner bell for bears? And the bear spray, which is really hot pepper spray? Flavoring.
|Dinner bell and flavor spray.|
To make sure everything out there knew I was in the neighborhood, I sang: “Take a load off, Gully. Take a load off now… Take a load off, Gully,” And in my deepest basso profundo, "Sit your butt down now."
I really empathized with that song and I sat frequently.
I truly was alone now. I met no others on the trail. The vegetation turned from tall spruce, birch, and cottonwood to shorter spruce and more open spaces, indicative of a higher elevation.
I had no map of this trail. I'd gone into the Forest Service office in Seward the day before I started and picked up a map for Resurrection Pass North trail, not realizing that I also needed South if I wanted the entire trail. Then, when I changed my starting point, I tried to download the South map, but the website was down.
All I had with me was a topographical map and a printout of someone's mile-by-mile blog to guide me. The blog noted all the side trails and tent sites along the trail. I had to rely on the blog to know there was a tent site with a bear box at mile 6.9. The blog noted the site was just beyond a small wooden bridge, but also pointed out there were a number of small wooden bridges in the area.
I also had a sheet from the Forest Service that noted the mile points of tent sites and bear boxes on various trails in the greater area, but no map showing where they were. This trail is minimalist in its markings. Only where the trail intersected other trails were there mileage marks. The more my feet hurt, the more I wished for mile markers, but I totally understood the lack thereof.
|A lovely light lavender lupine.|
By referring to the topo map, I was able to pinpoint where I was but had no way of knowing what trail mile that was as I'd not copied the map's legend.
More walking. More breaks. Feet hurting.
|Over-grazing on an Arctic rose.|
“Hello, Dolly! Well, hello Dolly!....” I made noise. I talked to myself out loud. Not gonna git et by a bear when I’m so close to 70 years old.
I crossed a wooden bridge over a small creek. A hundred feet farther a 4x4 post in the ground noted the tent site. I almost wept with relief. The last two miles had been painful. What a dope—seven miles on the first day with a heavy pack. Only the promise of that bear box had kept me going.
|Oh, yeah. This massive pile of bear scat is exactly what I needed to see a short distance from where I would camp this night.|
In a grove of spruce trees, the brown bear box waited for my supplies. Another post indicated tent sites farther back in the woods. Not a good idea to camp near the bear box.
|The bear-proof steel box for storing food.|
Finally. It was now 8 p.m. I was averaging a mile and a quarter an hour, even with all my breaks and picture-taking.
I selected a spot in a mossy clearing and got rid of that pack as quickly as I could. The boots were the next to go and with great relief I slipped my feet into those surf shoes.
|Blessed relief from the boots.|
The bugs had already found me. Mosquitoes, moose flies, white sox gnats, and no-see-ums swarmed around me. I dug the mosquito headnet out of the pack and put it on. Next I donned a long sleeved shirt that was for protecting skin from the sun, but worked just as well for ravenous biting insects.
|All netted up. This was the only time I wore a long-sleeved shirt on the entire trip, quite unusual for Alaska.|
I walked back to the bear box and stored my food bag. Back at the campsite, I erected the tent and situated everything, discovering that my pack fit in my tent perfectly and I could lean against it to read. I stretched out for a rest.
|Sleeping bag draped against the backpack for a lounging pillow.|
By this time, I’d exhausted my water and lemonade supply and had only the bottle I’d filled at four-mile, so I walked down to the creek, refilled and treated two bottles. This wasn’t working at all. I needed more water than this and waiting four hours for the treatment to work wasn’t cutting it.
I also wasn't hungry. I lay in the tent thinking that if I didn't eat anything, I'd still have the same amount of weight to carry the next day. I'd been looking forward to diminishing the weight by diminishing the food supply. Sigh. I made myself get up.
Back at the bear box, I boiled water for re-hydrating Chili-Mac. I polished off the last of the treated water from four mile. This really was a lovely spot. I could tell it had been used often.
I ate all I could of the Chili-Mac. Even realizing that I had to carry the weight of reconstituted freeze-dried food couldn’t make me finish it. I left it and all the cooking gear in the bear box. Returning to my tent, I crawled in, turned on the Kindle, and stretched out for a rest.
It was 9 p.m. and the sun was shining in the tent.
|My one-person tent, just wide enough for one sleeping bag.|
All those nasty insects were crawling around between the mosquito netting top of the tent and rain fly. I started to snicker at their hopeless searching, then thought better of it. Best not to tick off the biting insect gods. I already had a mosquito bite on my right wrist that was itching but which I knew would go away within a half hour.
I found a BB-sized red spot of unknown origin on my right arm. White sox bites on my neck and the palm of my left hand wouldn’t start to itch until the next day, but would continue itching for more than a week. Those were the only bites I would suffer for the entire trip.
|This huge pile of shredded spruce cones caught my eye. The squirrel held perfectly still, apparently thinking I couldn't see it.|
I stuffed foam earplugs in my ears so every noise during the night wouldn’t be a bear.
The temperature was too warm (high 60s) and the sun kept me awake. Sleep was long in arriving on this first day of my late-in-life experiment.
Follow my progress from the start, lower left, about four and a half section squares until the trail heads somewhat straight up. Note Trout Lake on the left. I camped the first night in the area where the creek from Trout lake crosses the trail. I think.