Two great weekend trips

I got two trips in over these last two weekends. The weekend of August 25th Shena, Jason's daughter Zoe, and I did a nice structured trip to Palmer Creek. Palmer creek is almost becoming an annual destination. We car camped in the valley with a campfire the first night. Then hiked up the hill and alpine camped the second night. We caught bait fish in the hanging valley lake again this year. Then we hiked to the car Sunday and rode bikes out the 15 mile dirt road while Shena drove the pace car.

Then, on labor day weekend I did an insane trip with Ray & Shena. Ray wanted to explore an old mine site in the Wrangells he had geo-located earlier. Having Tuesday off, we made it a 4 day and 3 night trip. We drove all night and micro napped at the beginning of the Nugget Creek Trail. We biked to clear creek, hiked down clear creek, crossed the Kuskalana river, and then bushwacked up the mountain to the mine sites.

We biked our 100+ pounds of gear each the 8 miles to Clear Creek where we camped and cooked over a fire. It's a good thing Ray brings extra everything and that we were able to cook with fire often because I managed to leak all the stove fuel out of my bottle that first night. We hiked down the creek the next day to cross the Kuskulana river.

Crossing the Kuskalana river deserves special mention. The river is probably 40 degrees Fahrenheit coming off the glacier, moving at least 15 miles an hour, and probably 3 feet deep at the shallowest crossing we could find. We experimented with ropes and a raft with disastrous results. Ray tried to drag the raft & rope across the first time and was swept away. So, he crossed back and took a rope across to try and pulley the raft across with gear. The drag on the rope and the raft is too powerful. Shena and I were dragged in one side of the river while Ray saved the raft and pack with much grunting and anchoring down. Finally, Ray shuttled all the gear across while Shena and I fended for ourselves. I got swept away about half way across and sputtered my way to the opposite shore after a few hundred feet of floating. Don't take my nonchalant writing for granted. We are talking death defying stuff here. All our legs look like they been beat with the ugly stick from smacking into silt hidden granite rocks under the surface at high speeds. Do not try this at home. Shena got swept really far down when she tried to cross. I ran along the shore soaking wet and cold to finally catch her a few hundred yards down. She was short a keen sandal and pretty banged up. Everyone was across. Ray had crossed some 5 times. We commenced to boil food, put on dry clothes, pitch camp, start fire and generally prevent hypothermia. We knew we had to cross back later.

The next day we made for a mill like building we had spotted from clear creek. This was a collection of cabins from the mining operation. The cabins were at the bottom of the mining mountain. There was a huge tram pulley, oar carts, and just lots of old mining and household items. The tram cable still ran up the hill. We kind of used it as a guide up the hill. Let me stress that there is no trail. We were flat bushwacking it through alder, willow, spruce, and a dense squishy carpet of moss and lichen. It was like running in sand; like hiking up a marshmallow hill. Total maybe 2 miles and 1,000 feet that took us 4 hours. There was a large trailings pile at the top that once served as the roof to the mine entrances which were all blasted in. Ray said they were the wrong types of mines anyway because they were not limestone (aka Copper Mines), but gray rock (aka Gold Mines). Limestone is much more stable. The artifacts, exploration, and stunning view of Mt. Blackburn made the trip worth it even if we did lug a bunch of caving gear to no avail. The hike down the marshmallow hill took less than two hours, returning us to our riverside camp site and fire pit. We spent the rest of the evening contemplating the river crossing required to get home. It was a soul searching experience.

The crossing the next day had two key elements of success; experience from the day before and necessity so we didn't starve or freeze to death on the wrong side of the river. We found a better crossing point. Ray made the first pass with the most important cold weather gear and some pre-heated tang. I followed this time with gear. I fell again and have to give special mention to drowning with your pack on. I wriggled out of it after a few missed breathes, managed to stroke to retrieve it, and drag myself to the other shore; a good crossing. Ray carried Shena's pack. She crossed with the life vest and her hiking pole which despite one quick dip resulted in a successful crossing. All people, all gear, no injuries; a successful crossing. We commenced to hike out of the wind and boil some warm food.

The hike up the creek was simple. We returned to where we had stashed our bikes. We rode the 8 miles out. It was mostly down hill and even all geared and chalk full of momentum it was a fun downhill. Then, just like Palmer Creek the week before, Ray and I downhilled the road out (sans gear) while Shena pace carred us in the Subaru.

In retrospect, a better river crossing strategy seems to be to go with the current rather than trying to resist it in a perpendicular crossing. In a slow moving, warm-ish water river, you could just swim across at the expense of a few miles down stream travel. Time is not a luxury in a glacial river, but still the float and strike strategy has merit. So, of course you need exotic gear, a kayak dry suit (or equivalent) to the tune of $500 - $5,000.

Both trips were awesome. They both had mixed travel modes like biking, hiking and swimming. They both were a little different from our typical alpine camping because of the car camping starts and camp fires. Cold, wet, exhaustion, lacerations, contusions, and sore muscles aside. Both trips were exceptionally fun.