Saturday, June 25, 2011

Day 8: Yanert River to the Land of Cold Beer and Soft Beds

It was exciting to wake up and realize that we had one more float and then 8 or so miles on ATV trails and we would be back to civilization. The Yanert river was a super mellow float with one section of easily avoidable rocks. It was amazing after walking so slow for days to have the miles fly by with little effort, it made carrying the boat well worth it.

Ryan Floating the Yanert


We took out at Moose creek and found evidence of humans before us, a fire ring and trash.  There was a small trail that paralleled the river and eventually dumped into a larger four wheeler trail on the other side of Revine Creek. 


Pretty amazingly easy walking took us to a neighborhood where we could hear the highway but not see it.  I wanted to cut over through the trees but Lynn and Ryan definitely put the kabosh on that plan. 

Eventually we could see the airstrip and cut across the end of it and ended up at a lodge right next to the highway.  With cell phone service we made reservations at a hotel and arranged a pick up to take us to McKinley village.


My good buddy Rapheal drove up to get us, we were supposed to stay out late and dance to Big Fat Buddha. But after gorging myself I went into a food coma and needed to lay down.  No amount of heckling from Rapheal could bring me out of my stupor,  I was done for the night.

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Although my GPS was broken for the last 2 days I left it on while we traveled and was able to down load the tracks when I got home. The trip was about 130 miles with 19,000 feet of elevation gain.  We crossed 2 glaciers, and went over numerous passes and rivers. It has taken a while to digest the vast swathe of land we walked across, and go through the hundreds of pictures along the way.  A worthy trip, although one I probably won't do again.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Day 7: Little Grizzly Creek to the Yanert River

I can't adequately describe the joy and optimism for life that I felt when the early morning sun hit my face. It felt like days since it had been nice out, if it was sunny everday could I ever be this appreciative of it?

After a lot of debate we put back in the Wood river and decided to take out at Little Grizzly creek with the hope of finding a horse trail I had read about on one of Roman Dial's posts. We all just wanted some nice easy walking.


A flash of aviation orange caught my eye as we were approaching Little Grizzly creek, we pulled over and found a large airstrip and about 100 yards into the trees the Denali Wilderness Lodge. No one was home, I guess its for sale. If I was a gazillionaire I would buy it in a second. It was a huge compound comprised of a large lodge, numerous private guest cabins, an old tractor, and horse pens. It was all the more impressive considering everything there was flown in.


There was no sign that marked the start of the horse trail, and I would have said it was more like a game trail, except that it didn't dead end as often. We followed it up the creek, lost it and found it as it crossed the creek back and forth, once above treeline though it was awesome to the top of the pass.


We should have stayed left instead of right when we lost the trail, but we didn't know how or if it went all the way to Yanert river anyway. The important thing is we saw it where it crossed Dick Creek and went up the left bank about 500 ft. I have no doubt that it would have never ending bushwhack on the opposite side.


It felt like miles to get through the trees and down to the Yanert. Luckily the summer days are long because we didn't make camp till midnight. Our feet were wrinkled, and aching, but we were grinning because now it was time to float again.

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Sun Setting Over the Yanert River



Thursday, June 23, 2011

Day 6: Another Pass to the Wood River

Five days of walking on tussocks, rocks and through rivers took its toll on our feet.  Ryan's ankle was swollen and his feet covered in duct tape.  Luckily for us the walking was really good up the West fork of the Little Delta.


Across from a little cabin that seemed grossly out of place on the river in the middle of nowhere we cut up an unnamed drainage following a creek with iron stained rocks.  The clouds threatened rain, but only produced brief sprinkles.


We climbed to another 6,000 foot pass through the clouds.

As we came down we could start to see the Wood River, the prospect of floating at this point sounded like entering heaven.


We got to the Wood River at about 7 and were all excited to start floating.  We debated going up Grizzly creek, or floating another 4+ miles to Little Grizzly creek across from the closed down Denali Wilderness Lodge.  The Wood river was running swift through small braided channels, there was quite a bit of intermittent but scooting through shallow sections.

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I pulled my GPS out of my life jacket to see how fast I was floating and immediately saw the cracked touch screen.  No amount of further touching would bring it back to a functional state.  I'm embarrassed but I cried like a baby for at least 2 hours.  I love knowing exactly where I am and the ability to satisfy my curiosity about my exact distance, pace, elevation gain/loss, way points, ect was swiftly and unexpectedly gone.  We pulled out at Grizzly creek and camped for the night.

Geekery Courtesy of Garmin

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Day 5: More Passes To and From Buchanon Creek

Rain and mosquitoes, my favorite morning combination of suffering. I've never seen such an impressive amount of bugs in a mega mid before, needless to say it wasn't a place that encouraged loitering in the morning. We packed up and headed up valley. Shortly after starting out Lynn says, "bear" we all stop and about 100 yards ahead of us is 3 bears, a mama with two cubs that looked at least a year old. We backed away, and they stood on their hind legs to get a better look. Although they were initially curious, they decided they didn't like us either and headed up the opposite side of the valley, thankfully in a different direction than we were trying to go.



Ryan Looking Down to Buchanon Creek


Walking up the Buchanon was a welcome relief from the sponge land tussock crap we had been unable to stray from, it was not however a smooth river bar, virtually no sandy sections. Lots of jumbled rocks, wherever we saw snow we changed course to walk on it.


As we winded up the river into the clouds, it narrowed and the mountain of scree came in closer.


The pass I'm sure was spectacular as we were at 6,000 feet surrounded by big mountains we could only see on the map. I always feel like when I miss the view I need to go back, this trip might be the exception. It felt like we were super remote and everything was farther away than it looked!

We descended the pass into another valley with another creek we ping ponged down and across. There were some wet aching feet, and no duct tape or blister remedy could withstand the constant wetness. We stopped shy of the West fork of the little Delta in a pause from the rain on a flat spot that seemed made for the mega mid.

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A little geekery courtesy of Garmin

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Day 4: Whistler, East Fork, and Above the Gillam Glacier

Its hard to get going when its raining out, but it helps when its also raining in the mega-mid when people move. Our bug shield was effective, but the buried flaps caused the sides to sag...needless to say it wasn't a beautiful morning.


After much debate due to high water and lots of rain we decided not to go down Hayes creek to the East fork river and instead cut across a bench and dropped into Whistler creek which took us to the East fork. From there it was a nice change to walk on rocks, gravel and cross the creek.


The channels on the East fork river varied but some of them were deep, others swift, and some swift and deep. We spent a fair amount of time in the water.


There was lots of debate the whole way up river about whether we could cross the main channel on foot, but it never looked quite good enough. Eventually the river hugged the side of the mountain and we had to cross. There was a little debate, but in the end we all blew up our boats and crossed, it would have been gnarly to try and cross by foot.


Near the toe of the Gillam glacier we cut over to the base of the unnamed valley that would take us to Buchanon creek. It was a little bit of a bushwhack, and when we stopped to get some water Lynn noticed her poles for the paddles were missing from her pack. In the rain, surrounded by bugs and bushes, I think we all wanted to cry. Instead we left our packs and tried to follow the GPS track back. It was quite difficult to stay on route, but we found one pole, went all the way back to the river, and on the way back to our packs found the other pole. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Losing the paddles could have significantly altered our trip.

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From there we schwacked hard uphill in the pouring rain for about an hour until we reached the ridge where an amazing game trail was. I love game trails, its amazing how much easier they make traveling. We made it to a bowl above the Gillam glacier, found a reasonably flat place and set up the mega mid.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Day 3: More Passes and the Hayes Glacier

Walking up the small creek was fast and easy, we should have taken the small right fork, but the left side was so nice we overlooked its importance. We topped out on a pass a little disoriented, but just walked back to the right side, and were back on route. More sponge land, I was really beginning to hate this stuff, wet feet, high energy output, slow travel, and horrendous mosquitoes. There was a herd of caribou, lots of tracks, but no trails through the wet open mountains, my theory was that any game trail would just become a creek.

Photo by: Lynn Peterson

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The mosquitoes had been bad this whole trip, but when we reached the bushy covered lateral moraine of the Hayes glacier they came out in full force. It was to the point where literally hundreds were around me, the noise, and yuck factor are indescribable. Ryan almost lost it, at one point I had to tell him he was going in the wrong direction. The urge to flee is so strong, but there is nowhere to go.

The East Hayes "creek" was flowing fast and high, there was no way we were going to cross it, instead we crossed the glacier right where it quite literally bubbled up from the edge of the ice. I've never seen anything like it.


It was pretty straight forward getting across and we lost some of the mosquitoes along the way. Once on the other side we debated whether to go around the twin hills, or over. I was ready to do anything to stay out of sponge land, but got out voted. There are lots of ways to get to the same place sometimes, Ryan and I don't always agree on the best route, so we ended up taking turns getting to decide. Lynn wasn't as opinionated as me and Ryan.

Lynn Above the Hayes Glacier


Lots of Big Beautiful Mountains


The bugs, slow travel and high energy output wore on us and by the time we got to Hayes creek on the other side we were all spent. All of us wanted a reprieve from the bugs, so we buried the flaps of the mega-mid in the sand, we lost some real estate, but all slept more peacefully.




Sunday, June 19, 2011

Day 2: Down a Pass, Across a Valley, and Crossing the Trident Glacier

We all woke up feeling re-freshed, plus we were only about 1/4 mile to the pass which is a nice way to start a day. From there it was mellow spongy walking across broad sloping valleys.



We debated where to cross the Trident glacier as we paralleled it for miles. It looked cleaner and smoother up high, but the lateral morraine looked unappealing to travel on down to the next valley....When we were directly across from the valley we wanted to go into, we crossed the Trident.



There is no such thing as walking a straight line on a glacier, some unexpected obstacle always pops up. The crossing was relatively straight forward despite the zig-zags, just time consuming.


We finally made it across the glacier and crossed into another valley, with a low flowing creek and an amazingly flat spot perfect for our mega mid. Unsure of what we would find above us we all were content to stop right there.

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Day 1: Delta River to No Name Pass

I have wanted to do the Donnelly to McKinley village trip for a couple years. My good friend Lynn was able to get a little time to come up from DC, and Ryan managed to convince his work to let him off for 10 days. It sounded like a perfect combination of hiking and floating amidst big mountain scenery. My Dad is always looking for an excuse to go on a road trip and was easily on board to drop off us in Donnelly.


The Hayes Range


We blew up our boats and crossed the Delta River right across from McGinnis creek, it was a super easy crossing although the Delta was moving fast.


A little ways up McGinnis creek we headed right and got on a tractor trail that took us up above tree line, its always nice to avoid a bushwhack! The mountain views were spectacular.


We crossed a broad open valley of sponge land then started heading up a small drainage. Walking across wet, bouncy land with a fully loaded pack takes some energy, its frustrating to work hard and go slow! We stopped shy of our pass by a small creek, set up the mega mid and were at home.


I tracked the route on my GPS and then downloaded it to Google Earth.

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Slide Show of Ryan, Lynn and My Pics