Day 2: Snow, Fog, and Near Death Experience #1

An early morning breakfast followed by a trip to the local Alaskan Walmart (framed nicely by mountains jutting up behind its grey and blue trademark) and we were on our way towards the first of our epic adventures for the week.

The drive down from Anchorage to Girdwood is impressive in and of itself. We stopped at Beluga Point for a few shots:

Beluga Point

Even caught the ‘Great Alaskan Railroad’ heading past chocked full of tourists snapping photos of us snapping photos. How quaint.

AK Train

A mere five miles later and we caught our initial first-hand encounter with an avalanche recently cleared from the road:

avalanche

We met up with some of my old friends from childhood who were along for the hike as friends and as much-needed guides. The Crow Pass hike is listed as 26 miles at the trail head. It’s a long way from Girdwood to Eagle River through the mountains. Snapping one or two inaugural photos of a nearby waterfall and the group at or most well rested and anxious moment of the trip:

Waterfall 1

Group Start

I’m not a hundred percent sure what the elevation was at the start of the hike, but that’s something I’ll have to do some research on and get back to you all on.

All packed up and ready to go, the six hikers start up the path in full stride, accepting a last minute offer for ski/walking poles. Ten minutes into the hike – possibly less – we break because we are winded and FAR over dressed for the 50 degree weather despite heavy mist and promise of snow at the top.

tarps and start

Shedding a few layers and donning rain ponchos to cover our packs and gear, we proceed up the hill, taking a few shots along the way:

throughthetrees

We walked past an abandoned mine with a plaque. How they ever got all that gear up into the mountains is beyond me. Further up the hill, we begin to run into snow in the shadows and north facing sides of the trail. Stopping for a breath, we take in the sites near a washed out part of trail and opt for a better traveled shot straight up the mountain.

Climbing

monument stop

Resting 1

keith by falls

Hearty Mountain Flowers

Upon reaching our first major animal along the hike, I silently point and whisper “look… eagle…” photos are snapped from afar and we proceed closer.

Hmm, maybe it’s a hawk.

Er.. no. It’s a flightless bird – Alaska’s State bird the Ptarmigan to be exact. Mr. Quiet tells Cousac to throw a rock at it or whack it with his ski pole – “we can eat it”. Cousac opts for shooting it with his DSLR instead:

Ptarmigan

Slightly up the path we run into our first significant encounter with snow on the trail. Mr. Quiet and Fast Legs don their snowshoes as Cousac and I trod on steadily, only breaking through every tenth step or so. I am very happy for my water resistant pants, high ankle hiking boots, and faux wool REI socks.

Snowshoes

Reaching the summit ahead of the rest of the group and recognizing the ‘what the f*ck have I gotten myself into’ looks on two of our four traveler’s faces as we trek up the 1500+ foot climb to the summit, I shout down that we are not, in fact, as far along as we thought and were only half way up the mountain.

(I gaze down at the A frame a few hundred feet up trail)

Clay Gazing

Seeing resignation, disappointment, and steadfasntess on said hiker’s faces, Cousac and I chuckle as we munch on Cliff Bars and sip water from our bladders kept icy cold in the mountain air, all the while looking down at the cabin close to the summit which makes the first of many markers along the way of our hike 4 miles in.

A Frame

Reach first milestone in vacation adventure: CHECK

The A-frame cabin is maintained by the state and friendly hikers and we added our names to the registrar in the form of ‘group of six’, using the dry home as a place to air out sweaty feet and grab a quick bite before hitting the trail again.

A Frame frontal

The four ‘tourists’ (myself included) opted to get ahead of the group and ran into a few bear hunters on their way back down the mountain. They warned us of somewhat heavy snow & washed out trails ahead. We stopped at the true summit at 3500 feet and marveled at the dense fog.

Summit

After hiking a bit further, we were unable to recover the trail and waited around for the locals to catch up.

Leaving Forest

Rocks

Looking about, Mr. Quiet, upon being asked by Mr. Brown where the trail is, responds ‘I don’t know… somewhere this way I think’ and proceeds across what can only be described as a washed out avalanche covered in snow and ice with no true end in site through the fog. NICE.

I laugh, and resolve myself not to be nervous.

An ominous slide mark comes from above in the fog and disappears far below out of sight. Mr. Brown asks Mr. Quiet warily ‘what’s that?’ to which Mr. Quiet responds ‘Probably where that guy died last week’

I laugh again. Mr. Quiet does not. Mr. Brown looks a tad green. We hike on.

Mr. Quiet falls behind looking for alternate routes and playing in the snow as Cousac and I persevere on across an even longer snow covered washout. I’m not nervous, and long ago kicked my fear of heights, but a sense of vertigo cannot be avoided when one peers into the bright white gloom disappearing into the unseen depths below. One wrong step or falter could quite literally mean death at this point.

I feel this is a good time for photos.

fog on ice

Good thing we grabbed those ski poles.

Note the large group coming up behind us and following our tracks. They ended up being a friendly group of Hawaiian tourists with a local guide up for the same two day hike as we are. Hell, if a group of kids from Hawaii can do this, we sure can. This becomes my morale manipulating mantra.

stooped over

Upon reaching the other side, Mr. Brown needs a cigarette and Sancho admits that he is ‘No longer having fun’ Cousac and I agree that we should have probably been more scared than we were, but that it all adds to the experience. Nobody complains, and life is good.

smokin

Survive Ice trail crossing: CHECK

At this small outcrop of rocks in the snow and fog, it appears that we are standing on an oasis of reality amidst a floating sea of white-nothing. The disparity from normalcy is reinforced by the large bumblebee hovering about between the mountain flowers poking through the snow and rocks. I feel alive.

oasis

From this point, we hike along some rocks, following trail markers which include a pile of rocks and an ancient Dinty Moore Ravioli can perched atop a boulder conspicuously.

We reach the end of the rocks and are unable to find a way down. At this point, Sancho finds footprints leading into the fog and note the odd sliding pattern that the shoes follow. We all tentatively start down the hill following the fresh slide marks. We are finally able to see the bottom and note that it is a nice and even slop that flattens out into a mountain meadow. We jump the rest of the way down and slide with reckless abandon and joy.

Mr. Quiet perches atop an uncovered game-trail looking for the best route down.

Ian on ridge

More hiking brings along another quick slide down and out of the snow.

slide

Our first major stream crossing results in a few wet feet, but gives us the opportunity to refill our water bladders and catch our breath.

calyjump 1clayjump 2

water bottle

stoic

A bit later we cross back over the stream which gushes through a deep chasm below us as we cross over the man made bridge and break for lunch on the other side at a small clearing.

waterfall 2

Mr. Quiet cooks in a miraculous little self contained thermous device that we use to boil river water and rehydrate our dehydrated food. Beef Strogonof is amazing.

lunch from above

Entering the valley, the fog begins to lift as we decend and Sancho is caught marveling at the scenery – I am in awe as well.

Green Valley

From this point on, the terrain begins to turn into high grass and trees – perfect Bear country. We sing, whistle, clap and generally make a racket while hiking about.

Stopping briefly at a large outcropping, I yet again decide to make an ass of myself and shoot some candid shots

haning out

Mr. Brown summits the rock, making my whole spectacle all the more ridiculous =)

Tom Summit

At this point in the hike, we’re all pretty worn out. All of us, that is, except Fast Legs who decides it’s a good time to begin running down the ‘boring’ trail. Those at the back miss the message that we’re ‘fun’ running and scramble to catch up wondering if we’re running from bears or moose or something else that could potentially kill us.

Once told that we were, in fact, running for the sake of running, the group decides (some reluctantly) that running is no longer an option. Ten hours of hiking and being outside is enough.

We spend the rest of the ever-lengthening walk in relative silence as knees begin to ache, packs become heavy with wear, and morale begins to drop as evening sets in.

Fortunately for us, it is nearing the summer solstice and nightfall doesn’t really mean much beyond twilight. WE turn a corner and are greeted with the sight of Eagle Glacier feeding a flat, wide river in a valley below. A quick twenty minutes later, we stumble into camp and set up just downstream from our Hawaiian brethren.

Campsite

You can make out Eagle Glacier behind the tents in the distance

Reach campsite alive: CHECK

fire socks

Drying out our wet clothing by the fire and enjoying another rehydrated meal (this time consisting of Beef Stew – also delicious) makes for a great night of sleep.

socks and sandals

note: it is still cool to wear socks and sandals in Alaska.

We ended up falling asleep around midnight with the idea of getting rolling around 9am.

Night is not discernable by any perceptible drop in daylight, but rather from the snores eminating from tents strewn about camp. I fall asleep happily on my mat, grateful for this thin insulation from the cold earth and for my +20 degree sleeping bag in which I sleep naked but for my boxer-briefs.

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2 Responses to “Day 2: Snow, Fog, and Near Death Experience #1”

  1. Keith (Cousac) Says:

    I love the blog so far not quite sure why your calling my Cousac or what it really means but I know if you Google “Cousac” this blog is one of the first hits so thats cool

  2. AKSam Says:

    Ah, it doth bring back memories. I remember my feet nearly falling off after crossing Eagle River. And being a bit more than slightly terrified of those snowy, foggy overpasses. And bear, of course.

    I’m sorry I couldn’t end up making it up there for the reunion this year. But I probably would have dropped a dozen annoying hints fishing for a Crow Creek Pass invite, so maybe it’s better that I didn’t make it. :-)

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