Thursday, June 4, 2009

From the Archives: Crow Pass, August ‘08

This is a partial re-post of an entry I did on another blog; it was a good hike, and worth reviewing!)

Okay, what we (Keith and I) did: a hike. But it was a big hike, 24-26 miles, depending on what guidebook you go by. Most people call it the Crow Pass trail, which is part of the longer "Historic Iditarod Trail." There's a race run on the route every summer called the "Crow Pass Crossing"...those folks run the distance in under 6 hours, some taking as little time as 2 or 3 hours. Blows my mind, despite my having recently run a marathon (ahem.) This is a rugged trail, and even walking it results in a number of falls for me (I've done this twice now.) Plus there's an ice cold river crossing. A freaking mountain to climb. Snow to cross on a 45 degree slope. Did I mention bears?

As you know, we do a lot of hikes. But never without the kids. Or more accurately, it's never just the two of us without the kids. We have been known to go off on solo hikes, or hike with other friends.

We've been wanting to cover this route together for quite some time. But it takes a fair amount of time (we did it in 12 hours), and well, there's the kids.

Finally, this year, we felt like Kyla had reached an age that she could handle the crew for the day. She's been doing a fair amount of babysitting, for us, and for other families. So, we equipped her with food, a schedule, and a list of emergency numbers, and Keith and I were off, our backpacks stocked with the essentials.

There are two directions in which to do this: Girdwood to Eagle River (the more popular way) or Eagle River to Girdwood, which is the way we chose. In the more commonly used direction, one gets the big climb out of the way in the first five miles, has a steep descent, then a number of miles of undulating, if less scenic trail. The way we chose, the undulating twelve mile part occurs first. Truly, that section seems endless. There are some pretty spots (well, pretty spectacular, actually), but it's mostly forest trail littered with scary bear poop.

You cross a river (more on that later), and the scenery improves exponentially from that point. My camera doesn't do the area justice. It's mindblowingly beautiful.

In my opinion, of course. Keith and I, at about mile 8, passed a couple of men who were toward the end of their three day backpacking adventure on Crow Pass, going in the opposite direction. One of them said wearily, as we came up to them, "You should really just turn around now." All righty then. Guess he didn't like it so much. I'm not sure I'd like it either if I had to carry three days worth of gear on my back..oh, and sleep out there! Have I mentioned I'm not so much a camper? I can do it, but, eh...

On with the pics...

We left home at 6:15 AM. The sun was technically "risen," but was hidden behind the mountains, so it was fairly dark and shadowy out. This was concerning to me, because of the bears, but I ceded this battle to Keith. No worries, I won my share too!

Strapping on the pack at the Eagle River Nature Center. We had to drive to Girdwood the previous day to leave a car at that end of the trail. This vehicle spent the day on the Eagle River side, and we had to retrieve it at the end of the day.

We got to hiking at 6:45 AM.


Here we are, on that forest-y, seemingly endless first bit of the trail:


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  • The first pile of berry-ful bear scat of the day; we ended up seeing, oh, 30-40 piles at least. But no bears that came out to greet us. I wore a "bear bell" on my foot, which was kind of annoying with its continual clanging, but served its purpose as a noisemaker. TheCDr and I suffer from a case of "Don't Like to Talk Much on Hikes," and aren't very good at producing a continual stream of bear-alerting chatter. When the kids are with us? Lack of noise is not a problem.

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  • We first hit the Eagle River about an hour or so into the hike; maybe a little less. It comes right off a glacier, and is icy-cold, as you would imagine. And while it's relatively shallow, the current is quite strong, and the bottom is slippery.

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  • Looks like that wind is trying to save me from a day of wearing an ugly trucker cap..but I won that battle! the cap made it to the end...

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  • The view from our first stopping point, a hour and a half into the hike, where we fueled up with Jelly Bellies and peanut clusters.

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  • Clouds around the peak...

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  • Moving on; I was insistent that our breaks be brief ones. When I did the hike two years ago, I was with a group of women who liked to linger. Which added four hours to the hike.

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  • Many sections of the trail crossed these areas of glacial moraine.


A few stream crossings utilizing log bridges. The trail is actually quite well-maintained, despite its remote feel. In some aspects, anyway.


From time to time, it could be difficult to identify the trail's location. These rock cairns were very helpful.


This bit reminded me of the pine-y trails in Georgia...


Reflection of mountain and sky in a clear pool...


Crossing what appeared to be a beaver dam, though I'm not entirely sure that is the case...


Hey! The sun came up over the mountain, and the sky is clear!


A pond with a magical aura...


There were many, many, many mountainside waterfalls...



The trail would come close to the river, then duck back into the forest. Over and over.


Had to scramble up the side of the hill using a rope...



Once we spotted the glacier (about 5 hours into the hike), we knew we were close to the spot where we would need to ford the river.


But we took the time to eat a burrito before attempting the cross.


Many people choose to bring an extra pair of shoes and leave them after crossing for other folks to use; thus the riverside pile of shoes.


We changed pants (Keith went with shorts), and shoes, and prepared for the icy plunge. I had a stick for support against the swift current, and Keith and I linked arms in the deeper parts. The water only went slightly past my knees, but it was truly painfully cold. The couple of minutes we were in it was excruciating. I can see how people would freak out, panic if they fell while crossing, especially with a pack on. A few people have died doing this, and neither of us took it lightly.
But I still managed to snap a photo or two, lol. Not in the deep parts.

"Seriously? You're taking another picture? Let's GO, dammit."


This log made Keith hopeful that he would be able to get across without contacting water (it was his first time on the trail.) Having done it before, I knew it was false hope.


"It's gonna get deeper, babe!" And it did.


Made it across, and we were on our way, after changing back into dry stuff:



Can you spot Keith? The grass was super-tall through here, which was slightly unnerving:




A glimpse back at the spot where we crossed the river:


Watermelon berries:


The weather was quite pleasant in this valley, but we could see clouds up ahead:




Bull moose, taking it easy:




Keith enjoying some fresh-picked blueberries:


Yep, lots of clouds ahead:


My camera really didn't capture the depth here; this was one scary view down into crazy boiling water (not literally boiling...)


I had forgotten to mention this second "we'll be getting wet" crossing to Keith, and he wasn't quite mentally prepared. But we made it. This was straight off the glacier as well. BRRRR!



The view back from whence we came:


We're climbing up, up, up at this juncture, about mile 19-ish. Whew! I'd say there was a good mile of steepness. Maybe more.


And it was getting cloudier and mistier, and eventually rainy.


This part made Keith pretty nervous. He has a mild fear of heights anyway, and crossing this area of snow, in rain, on a 45-ish degree slope that suddenly drops off into nothingness? His heart was racing. Frankly, I was too tired to have much fear of instant death.


Raven Glacier:


Here we are! The high point. Got my rain gear on, and Jelly Bellies in my pockets.

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Walking across the mountaintop pass here; much water:




Not quite the end, but for the last four miles I was too consumed with GETTING TO THE CAR FINALLY to take photos. Keith took a last break here; and thankfully, we were out of the cloudy, rainy stuff. The downhill slog was quite nice, weather-wise.


And, 12 hours later, we were heading home...I ordered a pizza the minute I had cell phone reception..

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