Saturday, July 25, 2009

Classic Gear List (Top Secret)

Resting Gear 1.7 lb

Soto “Micro-regulator Stove” 3 oz

[Fuel in can 6 oz] w/Forrest

Ti cook pot w/lid ¾ quart 3 oz

Sleep Gear: 1 lb 5 oz

Wool socks, light weight 2 oz

Wool bottoms, Patagonia "Wool 2" 6 oz

Hooded insulated jacket, Backpacking Light "Arctic 1000" 11 oz

Dry bag, P.O.E. 5 L 4 oz

Sat phone w/battery 0.6 lb

Travel kit: 8.6 lb

[not including ** items or Forrest’s group load]

Vintage, Cascade Designs Seal pack 21 oz

Vintage 2003 modified Alpacka inflation bag/stuff sack 2 oz

Custom two-person boat 84 oz

[Paddle blades 7 oz] w/Forrest

[Sawyer Paddle 28 oz] w/Forrest

Patagonia pullover shell (vintage 2006) 7 oz

Shell pants, Montane Pertex 4 oz

Smartwool "Hoody" 10 oz

needle, lighter, 2 batteries, memory card, thumb light 2 oz

compass 1 oz

camera Pentax Optio W60 w/gorillapod 6oz

Plastic TOPO 1:250k map from REI 1 oz

**Polyester pants, light colored, Patagonia 7 oz

**Wool short sleeve top, Patagonia "Wool 2" 4 oz

**Wool socks, light weight 3 oz

**Saloman “Speedcross 2” shoes 23 oz

**Trekking poles 8 oz

10.9 lb pound pack wearing short sleeve shirt, polyester pants w/capilene briefs with sticks in hand

Food w/packaging 6.9 lb

Almond butter in a cut-off Platypus 1 lb 5 oz

Mini cliff bars x 6 (6 oz)

Salty stuff in plastic bag: 2 lb 2 oz

Turkey jerky x 2 (3 oz total)

Beef jerky x 2 (3 oz total)

Teriyaki Beef jerky x 2 (3 oz total)

Doritos Cool Ranch (1 oz) X 5

Doritos Nacho Cheese (1 oz) X 5

Lays Classic Potato Chips (1 oz) X 5

Lays Barbeque Potato Chips (1 oz) X 4

Lays Sour Cream and Onion Potato Chips (1 oz) X 2

1 Pringle mini can 1 oz

Sweet stuff: 3 lbs

500 g Cadbury Roast Almond (100 g bar) X 5

400 g Cadbury Milk Chocolate (100 g bar) X 4

300 g Cadbury Dark Chocolate (100 g bar) X 3

Hershey’s Nuggets 12 oz

Copenhagen snuff 1 oz

Total weight without ** items

18.5 lbs

Friday, July 24, 2009

Wilderness Classic

Ahhhhh…. the Wilderness Classic.

It’s been, I guess, 27 years (2009 – 1982) since my first one. That was a defining event in my life. It affected how I did every subsequent trip, really, from family trips where we needed to make room for kids’ stuff, to hellbiking for National Geographic, the Arctic 1000, and a packrafting book. Ultimately, it led to conventional adventure racing (Eco Challenge, Raid Gauloises, Primal Quest, etc.) and television dollars.

But more importantly than money and a bit of notoriety, it led to long lasting friendships.

So, this year, the 28th version, a longish course from Gerstle River on the Alaska Highway near Delta Jct to McKinley Village, Forrest McCarthy and I have teamed up.

The Competition looks fierce. The Air Force’s PJs, who’ve dominated the race of late, redeeming the military’s poor showing in the early years, will be there. And so will Coloradoan Andrew Skurka, who’s been skulking around the Kenai, Chugach, and Talkeetnas for the last month or so and looks to be the strongest Outside entrant since the Master-Blaster team of Adrian Crane and Tom Possert. Then there’re the Alaska Mountain Winter Wilderness Classic ski race winners like Luc Mehl, and sumer/winter winners Tyler Johnson and Craig “Chunk” Barnard, and last year’s summer champs, Butch Allen and Jim McDonough.

Ugh. My feet ache just thinking about keeping up with these young bucks. My soul’s chilled thinking about the shivers in my open boat and wind gear on the icy Yanert, paddle-paddle-paddling to stay warm and hold a third place finish at best.

I told Forrest we’ll just take our time, have fun. But as Sunday’s start grows nearer, I weigh my gear to the ounce and shuffle and skimp and do what I can to save scraps of weight. It’s stimulating and creative to enter a race without real gear requirements, where the checkpoints are more than 4 hours apart and the entrants some of the wildest characters you’ll ever meet.

Maybe, like Dick said, it's true that “Old age and treachery beat youth and skill every time.” Pushing 50, I just hope I’m old enough for successful chicanery.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Long-hairs in baggy pants and red-necks in camo swirled in the eddies of Fred Meyer aisles, the Kenai’s fish harvest in full swing.

“This feels so Alaskan to me,” commented Jazz, her mom nodding. “Just the buzz in the store and the eclectic blend of people gearing up for the outdoors.”

We were in Soldotna, picking up Jazz after her camping trip with a couple Homer friends. She’d suggested we come fishing, since we’d be down there to get her anyway.

So there we were, part of the swirl, getting our tags for the Kenai River’s dip-net fishery. That’s what kids are for: inspiration to do the right thing for the family

It’d taken years to recover from the last skunking I’d gotten here, when an emergency opening had sent fleets of commercial boats into the inlet to scoop fish with industrial sets before the runs would reach our own wee nets groping blindly from a sandy river bank.

But I’d also been “that guy”, the one next to you standing chest deep in gray water, hoping to feel the bump of fish muscle in your net. The guy who catches fish after fish, who drags them to shore and while he subdues them for his cooler, you take his place in the river line of nets and he takes yours only to catch one in your old place, while you catch nothin’.

The guy next to you, who after standing in the icy water through a tide turn, you finally ask in desperation, “Heh, can I try your net?” and he takes yours and catches another fish with it while you pull in nothing but a fish head.

Yea, I‘ve been that guy, but yesterday, alas, I wasn’t.

Still we caught 5 reds in about 2 hours water time and 2 hours prep and break-down time. Enough to send me down again. Soon, I hope, as the peak has passed.

Happy Cheap

The Happy River can be done for less than $300/person, even without pilot friends and their boats (which could bring price down even more) by judicious use of walking and timing. For example, assuming that the mail plane from Skwentna to Anchorage leaves on Tuesdays:

1. On Thursday, charter a wheel plane (like a 206) from Willow with 4 people going lean and light to land at Puntilla Lake airstrip (i.e. Rainy Pass Lodge) early in AM. Here leave a cache of food and shelter for rest of trip to Skwentna so you can hike upstream and run the best bit of the Happy. Follow awesome horse trails to above Sheep Lake. Ask Shane [one of the stars of the reality show "R 5 Sons"] at Rainy Pass Lodge for trail beta. Looks to be 15-16 miles up to above Sheep Lake; carry just one overnight worth of food/gear. Maybe sleep in cabin/wall tent at Sheep Lake? but watch out for bear there.

2. Friday, float Happy down to crystal clear Indian Creek -- my favorite part -- lots of granite boulder gardens and beautiful views of mountains. River's a beautiful color as it's not mucked up by Moose Creek's glacier melt yet. Follow good horse trail back to Rainy Pass Lodge to get remainder of gear, hike back to river and camp [or pay $100/person(!) to sleep at lodge].

3. Saturday, paddle and play down to end of Happy (side trips en route....Glacier Creek?)

4. Sunday, paddle down to Hayes River (side trips en route) on mighty Skwentna. Moves pretty darn fast -- we made it from Happy to Old Man Cr in less than an hour.

5. Monday, paddle to Skwentna. Again, very fast float, if a bit chilly and sometimes sleepy -- wake yourself up by standing in the boat and/or hitting eddy lines and corner stacks.

6. Tuesday, catch mail plane (check on times and days) to Anchorage, or have pilot friend pick you up in boat or plane.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Three Happy Days for $300

Gordy Vernon, Thai Verzone, Brad Meiklejohn and I stood on the scale at Willow Air. It read 810, ten pounds too many. Brad wore his “Sheri Dry Suit” (a much-coveted Alpacka prototype) and held his wooden Sawyer paddle (28 oz). I wore blue Crocs Jazz gave me for Fathers’ Day. Tossing aside Thai’s PFD and helmet, our throw bag, and half my food we got to 700 pounds of people and a 100 pound pile of gear.

Thai convinced the pilot to let him include his PFD and helmet, two safety items that Gordy left behind. Gordy also left all clothes but the single layer of Expedition Weight Capilene on his skin, one extra shirt and what no-longer passes as a “dry-suit”. But Gordy's a four-time Wilderness Classic winner and has no insecurities to pack.

Our plan was to fly-in and fly-out to run the entirety of the Happy River in three days for $300 each. The Happy (Class III+) is one of four rivers in Fast and Cold that Embick gave a rating of 5 stars. It’s 32 miles from its birth as a crystal stream to its gray wedding to the milk-chocolate Skwentna. There’re alpine, granite boulder gardens, forested floating, and canyon paddling. The river’s never hard, always moving, always happy.

It’s the best intermediate-level packrafting river I have yet encountered.

Three of us had history with the Happy, of sorts. Thai had bruised a boat and a relationship during an epic run of Honolulu Creek, a consolation trip when his plans for the Happy fell through in 2006. Brad has longed for the Happy for years, going so far as to once offer a fly-in subsidy. My own experience with the Happy extended back to 1989. Mark Stoppel and I walked to Puntilla Lake from Healy as “Noodle Eaters en route to Lake Clark”. With our boots worn out from 3 weeks and nearly 300 miles of wild willows and rocks, we thought maybe we could float out the Happy in our open Sherpa Packrafts, but instead struggled through game-free brush to the Skwentna, intimidated by the sound of whitewater deep in canyon.

On this trip we found the granite boulders’ drops and tongues and the schist canyons’ waves and corners exhilarating and fun, while the water in between with its big boulders for play and practice were instructive for boosting skills and confidence. On the way down to our pick-up at Finger Lake the four of us got our ya-yas out on a side trip that included steep creekin’ down Glacier Creek canyon (2 miles, 225 feet/mile, PR 5+) and a nostalgic-in-style, braided bar run of Old Man Creek (1.5 miles, 100 ft/mile, PR 2), first descents both.

We’d all be more than happy to pay $300 again for what’s an ideal use of a packraft: a lightweight trip down remote rivers that offer fun side trips as walk-up and creek-down runs. So jacked up on the trip were we afterwards that Thai and I did an 11 PM run of Ship’s lower canyon on our way back to Anchorage. Yee Ha!

I’ll be posting video on YouTube …...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Happy River Packing

Ran Ship today with Brad M. Forgot my drysuit and swam the "Sticky Little Kitten" hole.... Later gave advice to three hot-shot yakkers headin' in to do Ship, too....times are changing when we packrafters give advice to hardshellers....

Brad and I are planning to do the Happy with Thai and Gordy Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Our flight-in has an 800 pound limit. Here's my sub-200:

Me, naked
165.1 pounds

Food (might dump to 4 pounds or less)
6.0 pounds

Camping stuff
5.5 pounds
Shelter, Go Lite Hex-3, w/ 6 Ti stakes 28 oz
Gallon cookpot w/stuffsack, TP, lighter, spoon, water bottle, toothbrush, floss, needle, lighter, firestarter 17 oz
Sleeping bag for 2, synthetic, Backpacking Light "Arctic 1000" 24 oz
Wool socks, medium weight 4 oz
Wool bottoms, Patagonia "Wool 2" 6 oz
Bug headnet 2 oz
Camera, Pentax, “Optio W60” with Gorillapod 7 oz

Paddling Clothes (all going)
4.6 pounds
Hooded insulated jacket, synthetic, Backpacking Light "Arctic 1000" 11 oz
Insulated pants synthetic, Backpacking Light "Arctic 1000" 8 oz
Polyester pants, light colored, Patagonia 7 oz
Wool bottoms, Patagonia "Wool 2" 6 oz
Wool short sleeve top, Patagonia "Wool 2" 4 oz
Smartwool "Hoody" 10 oz
Insulated hat 2 oz
Wool socks, medium weight 4 oz
Patagonia boxers 2 oz
Innov8 Mudroc 180 trail running shoes 20 oz

2.25 pounds
Vintage, Cascade Designs Seal pack 21 oz
Liner Wx-Tex Dry Bag (65 L) 10 oz
Sleeping stuff Wx-Tex dry bag (15 L) 5 oz

Rafting kit (all going):
14.5 pounds
Red “Yak” w/bow line, Fun Rail, ’08 deck, dial-style closure 99 oz
Werner “Shuna”, 215cm, 4 piece carbon fiber paddle 32 oz
MTI Livery PFD rigged w/knife, whistle, and retrieval line 16 oz
Old whitewater helmet 13 oz
Vintage ’96 Kokatat Gore-tex Dry-suit w/goretex socks 59 oz
Throw rope w/fanny belt 17 oz
Three (4 ft x 1, 5 ft x 2) lash straps 2 oz

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Best Hike in Chugach State Park

Birdwood Girdle * * * *
11 miles 1 day
Penguin Ridge from Bird to Gird Hike
Man-trail; sheep/goat trail; steep meadow; B2 descent (alders/woods)
6,000 feet gain
6,000 feet loss

This must be the best day-hike in the Chugach. Go only when day is beautiful and will stay clear and sunny. Walk from Bird toward Gird as the views are much better, the trail improves, and there’s more water on the eastern end. Resist the urge to start at California Creek – just don’t do it that way!

Drive to Bird and take Konikson Road to the Chugach State Park parking lot in the gravel pit. Walk up the dirt road past the gate. Take the right branch (left goes to put-in for Bird Creek.) Look for sign saying “Penguin Ridge Trail”, or something like that, on a post to your right. Follow this up to the microwave tower, gain the ridge and take it until you can see Girdwood. Carry at least three quarts water and some food. Camera and map of whole Chugach also worth carrying, maybe binoculars, too, but now your pack’s getting heavy. Go Lite!

Plan on about 2 hours from parking lot to ridge top, then 5 hours along ridge to where the ridge swings north and you can see Girdwood train station. Work your way down meadows (oh so steep be careful at top and don’t get cliffed-out in any gullies – keep to buttresses or ridges as you descend) between alder patches for 3,000 feet in a bout a mile and an hour and a half.

Walk to Train Station. Meet your date there. Go to Double Musky for dinner. Drive home.

Sleep well.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Back in the Saddle

Did some tree work today with Doug Jewell. Not really work – more like re-creating our forest canopy access and sampling scheme for a talk I’m giving at the Ecological Society of America meeting next month. We climb trees and then rig a doubled traverse rope between them. From this horizontal traverse we suspend a vertical rope for sampling. We can move it along and go up and down it without relying on trees. That way we can visit just about anyplace inside a forest and some parts above the forest. Looks sort of like this:

It was really good to be up in even the low canopy of birch and spruce here in SC AK – only 40 feet or so up. Doug and I did this stuff in some really tall forests – pushing 300 feet tall – near Mt St Helens back in ’06 and ’04, collecting data on “canopy structure”.

Every time I’m up there two things come to mind: (1) how exceedingly slow and laborious it s to move around above the ground and between trees, but how exceedingly appealing it is to “canopy trek”, something I developed in California redwoods and sequoias, Australian Eucalyptus, and Borneo's Dipterocarps from 1999-2002 with Prof. Steve Sillett. Steve's an amazing scientist and tree fanatic, made famous by Richard Preston in The Wild Trees . Steve and I had a bit of a falling out, so don’t expect to see my name in Preston’s breathless prose. But every time I get into a tree, the second thing comes to mind: (2) I use big-tree techniques that Steve taught me, techniques he and others developed to climb and move around the crowns of the tallest trees in the world. And I am forever grateful to Steve for that.

Through Steve I met Tom Greenwood and Brett Mifsud, Australian big tree climbers and hunters, with whom I’ve traveled to Borneo in search of the world’s tallest tropical trees. We’ve found a 290’ monster there, which we climbed of course. Tom is the most adept person I have ever seen move through trees. While Sillett taught me the equivalent of rock climbing’s direct aid, Tom is like a 5.12 free climber. I have yet to get the gear appropriate to learn his techniques, but someday, before my old man joints give out and while his are still functioning, I hope to get some lessons.

Anyway, unlike a lot of the packrafting and landscape trips I enjoy so much, forest canopies are a delightfully slow paced place to be and I look forward to climbing trees again, if even little birch and spruce in Anchorage.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

June's Awesome Alaskan Adventures

June's gone, and July's going strong, shockingly sunny and bug-free here in SC AK.

June's my favorite month generally, the peak of summer in the sense of sunshine and sunlight, and I managed to get out packrafting with Brad M and "worming" with Peg, Louis Sass, and Luc Mehl in the local Chugach. I hiked with Jazz and paddle-rafted a 16 foot Avon with Cody Rome and his girlfriend Carolyn on Eagle River. All good, but as for the high-end adventuring, I did none, really.

Left that to other, younger wild folk.

Like Joe Stock and Matt Hage skiing Chamberlain in the Brooks Range -- seen no photos, heard no details, yet, but the ideas of Joe's and the photos of Matt's are great so I can't wait to see what happens there. Wondering if they had a packraft along.....?

Andrew Skurka linked a Hope to Homer Wilderness Classic route to a sea-rafting trip from Nuka Bay to Seward, then onward up the Seward Highway trails (Lost Lake, Primrose, Johnson Pass) and over Center Creek Pass to Placer River, then down the Arm to Girdwood, completing a wonderful grand circle traverse of the Kenai Peninsula. He's still out there -- headed to Cantwell, SOLO, and on his first trip to Alaska -- the kid's awesome. Follow his passage while he's still out there here.

Thai Verzone and his Ozzie sweety Sharon Roche did a wild trip, too, that mixed helicopter fly-in with a kite-ski/climb trip using packrafts as sleds on the Sargent Icefield and then floated out in a packraft to Prince William Sound where they sea kayaked back to civilization. Thai’s trips are creative and intense, but this one seemed mostly creative and fun.

Finally the trip nearest and dearest to my heart: a repeat of the original Hellbiker's route, Nabesna to McCarthy by Epic Eric Parsons and Dylan Kentch, who took their fat tired beach bikes and made them true mtn bikes. This is the route that Carl Tobin, Jon Underwood, and I did in August 1988 with a single Sherpa packraft to cross the Nabesna and Nizina Rivers. Eric and Dylan each pedaled fat tired snow/beach bikes and carried their own Alpackas, so I know they rode less than we did:) Eric's blog found no riding (and little trail) on the Goat Trail, and they each rafted Jack Creek, Nabesna River, Chististone River, and Nizina Rivers, missing some of the good riding as they floated. Anyway check out Epic Eric's story and photos. Can't wait to see what those wacky kids do next.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Waikiki Video

Here's a You-Tube video of Honolulu Creek and the walk-in. Thai Verzone and Gordy Vernon (Mean Mr,Mustard) were great companions on this trip. Funny, skilled, talkative, strong. Gordy fed us breakfast, lunch and dinner.

We are hoping to do Happy River next as a three day trip.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Update July 15, 2018: The upper section is no longer "yukky" but better described as "yummy" especially if in a modern Alpacka, like the Gnarwhale. There are several Class IV drops, but it's certainly not "yukky", especially if you like Class IV.

There's a 15 mile beautiful walk in to Goat Lake. Camp there, walk to the confluence with Honolulu, put camp in the zipper, and head down if water is clear and maybe in the 250 cfs range below the confluence. There is still a nasty drop that even now, we all portaged, although we hear the kayaker's run it. It's the "Upper Sand Bag Falls" described in the "Honolulu Hoop" description and shown in the photo with Brad portaging high above it emptying into a pool.

Waikiki * * * *
20 miles 1 day
Moderate Expense
N. Talkeetna Mountains Hike
ATV trail; alpine scree; mostly tundra
2,940 foot gain
10 mile walk
Honolulu Creek paddle
PR 4(5)
Low volume –100 feet/mile
10 mile paddle

The “Waikiki” section of Honolulu Creek is a Ship Creek for Talkeetna. An incredible, scenic walk-in, followed by super-fun (at low water), technical packrafting makes this an Alaskan classic. Honolulu Creek has been called the best Class IV kayak run in the State of Alaska. For packrafters who have mastered low water runs of Ship Creek and Willow Creek’s Guard-rail, this backcountry alternative to Honolulu Hoop cherry picks the best of Honolulu Creek, its lower two canyons. An ATV trail from the Hurricane Canyon Bridge leads to high country hiking with wonderful views. The hiking is easy and enjoyable with no brush and dry feet. While this trip could be done as a camping trip, the low water that’s best for packrafting will necessitate a super-light load.

Waypoints (NAD 27)

Waypoint 010
Little Honolulu Pass

Waypoint 011
Edge of plateau

Waypoint 009
Viewpoint into creek

Waypoint 008
1st meadow

Waypoint 007
2nd meadow

Waypoint 006
3rd meadow

unmapped waypoints
meadows en route



Waypoint 005

Waypoint 004
“Cave Rocks Drop” PR 4

Waypoint 012
“California Ledge” PR 5

Waypoint 013
“Slideways” PR 5

Waypoint 014
“Monkey’s Garden” PR 4

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