Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Revisiting Hope 2017

Hope is one of my favorite places in Alaska to visit, with some of my top activities:  camping, hiking and mountain biking. As Douglas headed up to Fairbanks to provide administrative coverage for softball state, the kids and I headed to Hope for a long weekend of fun.

Gate to our campground of choice was closed
However, the weekend took an unexpected turn when we arrived in town, because the gate to the Coeur d'alene Campground was closed, where we were planning to camp out at and make our base to explore from. Luckily it was a Thursday evening so there were still spots open at the Porcupine Campground a few miles away at the end of the road. In fact, we even got an ocean front view spot, quite a rarity and I was questioning how that was possible until the next morning when we were informed there was a mistake and we needed to move to another site.

A view of Turnagain Arm from the Porcupine Campground
The next day we decided to bike the road that was closed to the campground. It turned out that an avalanche had covered the road and was still deep enough to make the road impassable. As we discovered when we biked out there, the mountains are still completely covered with snow, so we wouldn't have been able to do all the exploring we'd hoped to do, so it was a good thing we weren't all the way out there. 

I hadn't realized how far up that road climbed from the gate to the highest point, but it took me a full hour of uphill biking to reach that point (which, by the way, took me only 12 minutes to coast down on the return trip!). Whew! A downhill never felt so good, though I was soon stopped by avalanche areas--first branches covering the road from already-melted avalanches, then the one avalanche that needed to be clambered over.

The kids also climbed a 4200 foot peak off to one side of the valley, choosing one for it's lack of snow. They were rewarded with miles and miles of peaks in the distance, a treat they said was worth the climb.

A summery day for a bike ride up the Palmer Creek Road

This avalanche is responsible for the road being closed.
Apparently plowing it isn't an option??

A couple of other areas with branches littering the road are
telltale signs of avalanches that have melted already

The Coeur d'alene Campground is petite with 6 tenting only sites, but it is free and remote!

The mountains past the campground were still snow-covered, and warm temperatures
meant soft snow not conducive for exploring the mines and area

A beautiful view of Turnagain Arm looking towards Anchorage was worth
 braking for on my 12 minute downhill coast back to the gate

The next day we decided to climb Hope Point, and despite predictions of possible rain, turned out to be another scorcher by Alaska standards (65-75 degrees). I regretted not wearing shorts, figuring it would be cooler up higher. I was more comfortable once I rolled up my tights to my knees. The 2000 foot climb went by relatively quickly with the new switchbacks that lengthened the trail to 3.5 miles, but made it a moderate climb rather than a straight-up grueling one.  The main highlight was seeing 4 mountain sheep reclining on the rocks of a nearby peak as I reached the saddle for the final push to the top.

The mountain sheep looked like patches of snow at first 
The kids have been pushing their limits beyond trails this summer, so after reaching the summit of Hope Point, moved on to another nearby peak.

View of a nearby peak the kids climbed, as seen from Hope Point
Our final day, the kids decided to bike the entire length of the Resurrection Pass Trail, all 36-39 miles of it (depending on which trail map to believe; Denver's GPS said it was 37.65 miles). This was going to be a stretch for them, as the longest mountain bike ride they'd done before was 25 miles on the Russian Lakes Trail a few years ago. We plotted and planned, packed backpacks and filled waterbottles, and at 7:30 am the next morning I snapped a picture of them before they headed down the trail, looking all clean and eager.

Juneau Falls off the Resurrection Trail, swollen with spring runoff
They estimated, on the high side, it would take them 12 hours to bike it. My guess was 8 hours, which would put them just over 5 mph. That meant I had a long day to fill before picking them up at the other end of the trail, in Cooper Landing. But between getting breakfast, breaking camp, and driving to the Cooper trailhead, I had a little bit of time before the early estimate of 8 hours. I hopped on my bike and headed up the trail, with my goal Juneau Falls 4.5 miles away. It took me 50 minutes of mostly uphill to get there, and just as I was getting ready to hop on my bike to head back, the kids pulled in on their bikes. I snapped a quick picture of them in front of the falls, now looking tired and muddy, and we careened down the final miles to the trailhead.

It was an intense weekend of hiking and biking, and we returned home sore and happy having fulfilled the goal of summer in Alaska:  adventures!!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

South Fork Eagle River Trail

Looking up Eagle Valley towards our destination, Eagle and Symphony Lakes

Last year Doug and I were killing time between events in Eagle River and were randomly driving down roads. We drove down one just off the first Eagle River freeway exit. There were no houses at first, but the further we got up the valley, the more houses there were. And then we saw a trailhead sign, which is nearly irresistible to check out. Ironically, when we pulled in we ran into a lady we know from Homer, who said this was her favorite hike in all of Alaska because it is mostly above treeline and fairly flat. That day, an ambulance was parked in the parking lot, as a young girl of about 10 or 12 had passed out while camping with her family and was being hauled out by medics.
The Hanging Valley Trail to the left will be
one of our places to explore another time

We put that hike on our "someday" list, and that someday came last week since state soccer was in Eagle River and track in Palmer so we were in the area for four days. There are other trails besides the South Fork Eagle River Trail, but we decided that would be a good one at 11 miles round trip to Eagle and Symphony Lakes and back, with less than 1000 feet elevation gain.

The trail was in very good shape the first half with hard-packed gravel and dirt, while the second half, when getting into the muskeg, was a bit boggy in places. Once we reached the terminus of Eagle Lake and the bridge, it was a mile of boulder hopping to a shelter between the lakes. There were lots of people on the trail, many dogs, and an impressive number of backpackers who were going to camp in the valley overnight. There was no sign of bear, but the kids went along Eagle Lake around the corner to look up the valley to Finger Glacier (out of sight) and saw bear tracks up that way.

View of Eagle Lake from the shelter between the lakes

Symphony Lake, still frozen

Eagle Lake with shelter

Much of the trail is in good condition

Overall, it was a nice hike, and 11 miles went by quickly. It was a bit windy at times, and snowflakes floated down at times, though it was in the 40's. It was also nice to be able to scout out other possible hikes, such as Rendezvous Peak, which begins at the same trailhead. I saw some folks coming back to the parking lot with downhill skis on their backs, so they were likely catching some late season snow up top.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Pioneer Ridge-Austin Helmers Trail in Palmer

A few years ago I was driving around exploring and found the trailhead for the Pioneer Ridge-Austin Helmers Trail near Palmer, off the Knik River Road. A flyer said it was a 5000 foot climb, which immediately piqued my interest, along with the part that said, "experienced climbers with gear only for the final ascent."  Sounded good and knarly to me, and I've wanted to go back ever since.  A weekend of sports in Palmer (state track and baseball regionals) meant I was in the area, and my daughter was fresh back from Colorado and itching for some uber hikes. The weather for the day we were shoot for said partly cloudy and 50's, which is about as perfect as it's going to get.

View of the Knik River from a few thousand feet up the Pioneer Ridge Trail
In my mind, over the years, the trail has gained mythic porportions--there aren't a lot of trails that are 5000 foot climbs! But really, it was just another typical Alaskan mountain trail. It was a nice single track, with sections that were muddy. A couple of picnic tables marked distinctive alpine meadows with amazing views of the Knik River and Knik Glacier. I made it to about the snow line, which I'm guessing was about 2500 or 3000 feet, judging by the other mountains across the valley.  The grade of the trail was a steady uphill from the very first step, so that was two hours of solid climbing! But it didn't seem too steep and it was never a scramble, and the trail was fairly smooth, making for sure footing.  It only took an hour to get back down to the two up, making for a good three hour mountain workout. 

We were entertained by the simplicity, and unhelpfulness, of the trail map

A few walkway systems helped avoid muddy sections of trail

Before I did this climb I didn't even realize there was a Knik Glacier

Most sections of trail were hard-packed dirt.
Trees were quite leafed out at the bottom but not further up.

I would go back to this trail again if I was in the area, not necessarily with the expectation of making it all the way up. Aurora went an hour further than I did, and got two ridges further up than me to the serious snow that involved post-holing, which isn't fun. From her spot the knife edge of a ridge and the peak were visible, and it was clear why climbing equipment was necessary!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Wolverine Peak Climb

It is the beginning of summer and my travels and adventuring are revving up. I was in Anchorage for a week and got in six 2-4 hour hikes in seven days. Some I've done before and some I didn't take pictures of so you won't see a blog post for all of them. But I have a few new ones worth sharing. 

While leaves have popped out at the trailhead, up the trail no green is showing yet

One of my greatest discoveries is that there are 4 trailheads all accessing the same Chugach National Forest trails on the Hillside area of Anchorage:  Glen Alps/Flattop (the most popular, judging by the extensive, paved parking lot), Huffman, O'Malley and Prospect Heights. I'd only been to the Flattop trailhead before and now feel deprived of years of not knowing about lots of other great trails! The Flattop area starts nearly at or above treeline, so when it is windy, there is no protection. The other areas are more treed and offer protection on blustery days.

What would we do without the wonderful bridges that allow us access to the backcountry?!

I started the Wolverine Peak trail from the Prospect Heights trailhead, taking a left at the Powerline Trail and following it up on a gradual climb on a wide, hard packed trail. It was pleasant walking, till I came to the intersection with Near Point (straight) or Wolverine Peak (a right). I opted to try the peak trail and it began a steeper ascent, resulting in frequent short breaks as I caught my breath on my first climbing hike of the season.

A view of Anchorage (a clear day would also show us Denali in the distance) from the trail up Wolverine Peak

Only one section of snow remained, 50 feet or so, on my climb to the saddle, at which point I decided that for my fresh-to-hiking legs, that would be enough climbing for the day. I can see how it would be a pleasant hike, really not too difficult, once I'm back in hiking shape for the season.

When climbing, I thought Wolverine Peak was to the left after climbing this slope, but when I was driving the Seward Highway later and looking up, I saw that it was to the right up this section, a peak that's about 4200 feet

Monday, May 29, 2017

A Cat Walks By....

As I was thinking it was about time to go to sleep while on my annual retreat at the Holy Spirit Center last week, I glanced out the window and saw a cat walking by.  Hm.  Then I was like, "Whoa, that cat is big!"  As it continued to walk I thought, "That's no housecat! Look at those paws! And tufted ears! That's a lynx!"  It complied by walking slowly, obviously hunting, and allowed me to get a picture and then a video.

A lynx walked by my room

As the lynx walked around the corner of the building, I dashed to the next room, the library, and as I peered down, the lynx paused and then pounced, walking away with something gray hanging from its mouth.  I'd seen a rabbit hopping about the lawn earlier that day so suspect it was rabbit that it nabbed, as it was larger than a mouse.

After that, no amount of peering out of windows got me another view of the lynx. Of course, for the remaining days there, I spent more time than usual looking out the window in hopes of seeing another view of a lynx or other wildlife!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

First Local Slush Cup at Ohlson Mountain

Spectators in costume watch as someone pulled a kayaker down the hill through the slush cup
When I first heard there was going to be a slush cup at Ohlson Mountain as a fundraiser for a local boy who has a rare form of cancer and will be in chemo in Seattle for almost the next year, I was like, "What's a slush cup?" But I recalled watching the annual slush cup at Alyeska, and quickly connected that event with Homer's event, though I couldn't quite picture a huge pit of watery, snowy, slush at the bottom of Ohlson Mountain. However, via a many, many hoses run from the nearest house, they made it happen!

This was actually was of the funnest events I've been to in Homer in awhile. It was a beautiful 40ish degree day, with a mix of sunshine and snow. A downhill ski slalom preceded the slush cup, with kids and adults competing for prizes on skis, snowboards and with costumes and style.  A huge turnout made Ohlson Mountain Road look incredibly busy, with cars lined up quite a ways up and down the road. (As an aside, with such nice weather I was afraid we were going to be in the middle of spring breakup and the road would be a mess, but despite warm temperatures the road was mostly still frozen.)

Lots of food, a silent auction, music, many Homer neighbors made it what we call a "so Homer" event.  The slush cup got the spectators seated on the snow in perfect viewing, some around the fire, some on tarps, others in chairs. A teacher from the high school went first and made it across the slush without dunking. Then came a couple of Hoxie's cross-country ski team teammates, also dressed in costumes. It seemed like about 40 folks attempted the slush cup. Most made it over. Some dunked on purpose. Some made it over with help of a couple assistants in the water. The big sled made it, pulled and pushed over the water after crashing a few times down the hill. The kayak made it with assistance as well.  It was all good for lots of laughs and a good hunk of change was made to help out the family with expenses in this coming challenging year.


I joked with someone that we need to do a slush cup every year...we're guessing it would grow, though a good cause helps. Here's to wishing Hoxie well!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Cooper Landing Spring Break with Alyeska Add-on

Last year with so litte snow we decided to do a Cooper Landing Spring break to get some early season hiking in. This year we ended up there by different circumstances.  Our goal was to go to Alyeska Resort and downhill ski/snowboard, but the resort was full when we called a couple weeks before break.  Lots of people stay in Anchorage and drive the 45 minutes to an hour to Girdwood, but we really didn't want to go to Anchorage so we decided to stay at our usual motel in Cooper Landing, the Sunrise Inn, and drive to Alyeska from there--also about an hour drive.  It ended up working out very nicely for timing and enjoyment, and we got to explore some new places as well.

No new snow for weeks made for a firm base, despite 346" of snow so far this year at Alyeska 
Waaaaaay up there is the top of Alyeska's aeriel tram.  On the other side of it is "the bowl".
A little closer view shows the North Face, supposedly the longest continuous double black diamond in North America
Moose Meadows is an outdoor playland at the base of Alyeska:  groomed cross-country ski trails, marked as multi-use for fat-tire bikers, hikers, snowshoers, runners and more.

Moose Meadows in the other directions, with the biking single-track on the left.
Bike trails wove throughout the woods all over.

The Alyeska snowcat trail is also multiuse and made for a fine, fast ski mostly uphill one way, and mostly downhill back!

We decided to let Denver snowboard for the day and we explored the many multi-use trails around Alyeska Resort.  It was almost deserted in the morning, but after noon when the temperatures rose out of the single digits folks came out enforce. Bikers, skiers and walkers populated the trails simultaneously, which only worked  with a dose of patience as sometimes families blocked the trail, dogs jumped on me as I skied or skiers came zipping down  hill as I was about to head up.  

All in all, these newly developed trails add a lot to Girdwood and for us, the value of Alyeska Resort. 

A quick hour back to Cooper Landing after a day on the slopes and trails got us back to our comfy hotel room.  A delicious St. Patrick's Day dessert at the Sunrise Inn Restaurant topped the day off nicely.


Heading out the next day, we weighed our choices of trails to hike and opted for Fuller Lake. Denver hadn't done it for 10 years since we'd used it as a practice run before backpacking the Chilkoot Trail. Again, no new snow for weeks plus cold temperatures keeping the thaw cycle to a minimum made for almost perfect walking conditions: hard packed, crunchy snow with good traction.  The only non-perfect part was the temperatures, which were -3 when we got up in the morning and were hovering at about 6 above by time we started hiking. Sunshine and 3 miles of uphill hiking got us to a sweat fairly quickly despite the cold temps and both Doug and Denver stripped down to 2 layers of shirt, no jacket.

Snowmachine tracks had helped pack down the trail and widen it
And more trail...

Lower Fuller Lake winter view

View of Skilak Lake from Fuller Lake Trail

Winter gear:  tights, pants and thermal skirt on the bottom; thermal shirt, wicking layer and two jackets on top; balaclava, hat and neckwarmer to start (now tucked in my waistband, adjusting as temperatures changed); multi-layer gloves; sunglasses

Overall, it was an active and outdoorsy quick get-away which we enjoyed despite cold temperatures. Dressing right was important, but having calm and sunny weather was preferable to last year's expedition to Alyeska when it was pouring rain and 32 degrees and windy. That can be miserable to be in and difficult to warm up once chilled. Meanwhile, we're reveling in a "real winter"!  And the greatest revelation for me was that we can go hiking all year round and don't need to wait till the snow is gone. In fact, we've found winter hiking conditions to be better than summer (lack of bugs and bogs), so we may make this our new winter hobby!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Visit to Nikiski

The Region III 3A basketball tournament was this past weekend in Nikiski. I decided to keep Doug company as he did his supervision duties. The draw for me was that across the parking lot from Nikiski Middle/High School there is a cross-country ski trail.  My kids have moaned for years about how brutal the hills are here as a cross-country running course, but I have never actually been out on the trail here. So this was my golden opportunity!

I was disappointed at first to discover that only half of the trails were groomed; the rest were ungroomed. The first day there I headed out on fishscale (waxless) skis and decided to take the ungroomed trail. It was delightful to explore, and while it took some concentration to maneuver on the steep hills with 90 degree turns at the bottom with ungroomed snow, I only fell once!

The second day I headed out on skate skis and explored all the groomed trails in the morning. Thirty minutes took me over most of them twice.  After watching the Homer girls play, I headed back out for a snowshoe on the ungroomed trails I'd skiied the day before.  It was interesting to note how much more difficult snowshoing is than skiing. Gliding gets me down a hill quickly, but on snowshoes I have to step every single step.

Here is a brief photo gallery of some scenery on the trail.  It is a small little system, but provided me a couple days of skiing and snowshoing with the trails all to myself!

A view of the Nikiski track and stadium from the trail
Moose impressions abounded along the ungroomed trails, along with droppings and hoofprints.
Some strong winds must have blown up sand onto the trail. It was a very small section that was dirty snow.
An oil rig dominates the skyline near the trail.
The thunk thunk of helicopters going to the offshore rigs was nearly constant.
A couple boats off shore.
This was a hill I sweated up. Taking a picture was a great excuse to stop and catch my breath!
Snowshoe tracks, looking down the hill (opposite direction of the last one!)

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Moose-y Scenery

The high school ski team had their end-of-season banquet at the Homer Elks Lodge on Monday night.  We were treated to a gorgeous sunset and a wandering moose!

Moose silhouetted above Bishop's Beach with Mt. Douglas in the background

Beautiful view of Kenai Mountains, Kachemak Bay and a moose at sunset.
(And a spruce tree hit by the spruce aphids.)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!

After two years of scant snowfall in Homer, warm temperatures and poor winter sport conditions, many folks are reveling in the snow.  At the same time, we have been complaining about the snow, like last week when Homer got dumped with 16" of wet, heavy stuff in a day. The plows are dashing about town and our backs are aching from shoveling. Sometimes we disclaim the bellyaching with "I'm not complaining," as if saying something bad about the weather will make the snow go away. Really, we don't want it to go away. We love snow!  As I came off the snowshoe trail this afternoon, a lady was heading onto the trail with her skis. This stranger gave me a big smile and said effusively, "Aren't we lucky?!"  And thinking about snow makes me chuckle at the thought of a bumper sticker I saw in town last week:  Snow makes me horny.

Miles of bike path in Anchorage become a multi-use winter sport path in the winter
Last week I was in Anchorage for a conference at the Hotel Captain Cook, which is a favorite of mine because it is only a couple blocks from miles and miles of bike paths along the shore. I'd never been in Anchorage when the snow on the path was good, so I didn't realize quite how amazing it is:  the bike path is groomed (it seemed like daily when I was there) for cross-country skiing, with a single track and skate track. How cool is that?  I could have brought my XC skis to Anchorage, walked out of my hotel and skied to my heart's content.  I didn't have skis, so instead I walked.  Which was still cool, to hang out with mom's pulling their kiddo's in sleds, fat-tire bikers, walkers, runners and of course the skiiers.

The Homestead Trail with lots of fluffy snow

Sunshine and skiing--what more could one want?!
Upon returning to Homer (having missed the 16" of snow--my poor husband having to shovel it all by himself!), I headed up Baycrest to Roger's Loop, a 5 minute drive from town. It is my favorite trail for skiing for it's convenience for a quick spin around the trails when I don't have much time. It has been 3 years since there's been enough snow to ski here--good snow.  That lack of snow is why the Sea to Ski run-bike-ski race has been cancelled the past couple years.  As you can see--it's gorgeous! (Snow makes me horny!).

There is indeed a trail hidden under that dimple in the snow

My hard work pays off in a nicely stomped trail
As I'd skiied the Homestead Loop I noticed the snowshoe trail hadn't been opened up, having been snowed over. It was awaiting a hardy snowshoer with the conditioning to stomp down over a foot of snow. I was feeling ambitious and helpful, so got out my snowshoes over the weekend and headed to the Homestead snowshoe trail, which roughly follows the summer Homestead Trail route. Whew! That got my heart rate up and the sweat pouring! My legs were quaking with fatigue and although I'd hoped to stomp the whole loop, I didn't make it. I figured the next person out would be able to take it a little further.

Sunshine and warmth
Today I was able to make the whole loop. There was yet more fresh snow; I've snowshoed three times this week and it has been fresh snow to break trail each time. Today the temperatures soared to 37 degrees, rivers of melting snow ran down the roads, and on the trail it felt like and sounded like it was raining from all the snow melting off the trees (be sure to turn the volume up when you watch the video below so you can hear the melting snow!).


Spring sports start in Homer next week. We're making our guesses as to how long it will be before the soccer, softball and baseball teams are playing outside (a month, at least). But then this is 'normal', and the past two years were a fluke, so we're back to being the snowy north, for now!