Sunday, May 27, 2012

Gradient (ft/mile): elevation vs. distance plots

The Local Anchorage Creeks:
The Mat-Su Regulars (Little Su, Upper Willow, Kings Magic Mile)
The Talkeetna Fly-in Creeks (Disappointment, E Fork Iron Ck, Damnation):

The mid-Alatna Valley Creeks:
The Arrigetch Creeks:

I have been using Spruceboy's USGS maps over Google Earth to estimate gradient, then R to make some contour plots of local steep runs and some creeks in the Arrigetch-Alatna Area. Too satisying.

I should have gone paddling, but no, I made these graphs instead.

They are pretty informative and suggest that the Arrigetch offers up the closest to California style granite creeks we have in Alaska. What makes the Arrigetch unique is the paucity of glaciers combined with steep glacial carved terrain, much of it above tree line and so wood free.

It looks like the two local boofy-creeks, Lower Ingram and Upper Willow, aren't as overall steep as they feel, while the granite boulder garden creeks, Little Su and Kings, are steep. This holds for Disappointment and E Fork Iron, too, as Disappointment is not as overall steep as East Fork Iron Creek, surprisingly, but is bigger volume and more pool drop. So pool drop, ledgy creeks hide their steepness on these gradient plots, while boulder garden creeks tend to be steepest.

All the kayakers already know this, of course, and this is just like a little homework assignment to see that clearly.

The Aiyagomahala Creek (aka Hot Springs Creek or South Arrigetch Creek) is super steep at top where it's full of slabs and slides and waterfalls. Just above its hot springs it's a boulder garden, like Magic Mile. Upper Awlinyak, I have not yet seen, but I expect that it is a gorge full of granite blocks, like the the Deceptive Pass branch of Awlinyak. Arrigetch Creek is least known to me. It's hidden in the bushes and glimpses I get of it are broken gneiss, rather than boulders.

All the little Alatna Valley creeks offer up a bunch of variety. None seem too hard for beginners, except the inner gorge of Nahtuk, which I have seen and expect to be Class III+ if not IV. Unakserak and Kutuk look like class II, maybe some wood, and Pingaluk is Class III (walked that a couple years ago). Awesome game trails in the Pingaluk. So a basecamp in the Alatna valley offers everything from Class I on the Alatna to Class VI in the Arrigetch, all in a ten mile radius.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

AlaskaCross 2012

Unless you're a PJ or one of the "Luc Mehlons", the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic is a 5-7 day challenge of sore feet, sleepless nights, and a wet butt. It's a big commitment and for first timers and vets alike, it can be a disappointment to drop out due to lack of prep.

For those who aren't sure they want to commit to the main event (July 16), or for those who want a little prep, or if you just want to travel light and fast with other like-minded folk, there's the new Alaska Cross June 16 at 10 AM, starting near the old Valdez Creek Mine, north of the Denali Hwy-crossing of the Susitna River.

From there, head east through the Clearwater Mountains (there are sure to be scads of ATV trails), then south on the MacLaren. Or head south on the Big Su for thirty miles, then east across scenic high ridges of the Alphabet Hills. In either case, the goal is the Gulkana River drainage and the finish at Meiers Lake, just south of Paxson Lake.

Last weekend at Doug Buchanan's Memorial a scientist informed me that he had some good imagery, "a lot better than Google Earth" as he put it, and that the route "looked brushy". He's an experienced skier, climber, and winter traveler, but so far as I know he has yet to do a summertime Classic, nor paddle a packraft for that matter.

He sounded  like the pilots out there who fly around and look down and tell you about "all the trails" they see or how "that area doesn't look so good". Often -- unless these folks are into ground truth trekkers, like Bob Kaufman or Chris Flowers -- what they say looks good is not, and what looks bad is actually not so.

In other words, imagery is great. Flights are great. But without the experience to interpret the images from air or space -- well, let's just say that the Thompson Pass to McCarthy route also "looks brushy." And so does Hope to Homer, Mentasta to McKinley, Chicken to Circle, Chena to Circle, and all the rest of the routes over the years, except Nabesna to McCarthy.

In fact, if a route doesn't "look brushy", then it's likely not very interesting to me. Because the "Bushwhacker's Race" is just that. It's not a trail race -- well it is, but you have to find and hold the trails, the animal trails, and you need to know how to stay out, get out, or make peace with the brush.

And if a route "looks brushy" to a snowmachiner who doesn't packraft, well, my feeling is we are likely not really speaking the same language, nor may we be able to communicate without some collaborating experiences.

So, if you are interested in a short route of 3-4 days (24 hours or less maybe for a PJ or "Luc Mehlon") mixing swift glacier headwaters of the Susitna with the clear headwaters of the Gulkana,  write and get the full details for the 2012 Alaska Cross.

It looks like the best new route to come out in years.
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