Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Through a Recent Burn: NE Washington's 231 / Springdale Fire

Yesterday Reed & I took a hike in NE Washington, off of highway 231. It's a highway that I crossed last summer while I was hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT). For that hike, I started on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington and headed east. Midway through the state, I encountered trail closures due to wildfires. At the time, I was thrown for a loop, not knowing what to do in order to keep working towards my goal of completing the whole trail. I rerouted by jumping on Amtrak's Empire Builder line and got myself to the trail's easternmost terminus, in Glacier National Park, where I resumed my hike. I did a sort of flip flop of the trail and ended up covering all of the miles. It wasn't my first choice of how to do the hike, because I had desired continuity, but it worked and, as a bonus, it allowed me to spend a few days with my brother Nathan & his wife, Mary Elizabeth, who were working in Glacier. 

At present, we are on a self-determined winter sabbatical. We finished our summer jobs outside of Denali at the end of September and we've been traveling this past month. We're visiting Reed's grandpa, John Fifield, who lives over here in the NE corner of Washington. This past July, there was a wildfire near his home, across the highway. According to John, the local people are satisfied with the fire fighting response, as they were able to save all of the residences, and properties. We walked along Rail Canyon and up CB 15, climbing for a couple of gentle yet constant up. We left the road in order to get to the top of the hill / mountain. Most of the burned lumber has been logged off the mountain and new grass and succulent-like plants are already starting to grow. 


The sky and view were gorgeous. It was interesting to walk through a recent-burn after having routed around an active burn last summer. Further, it was encouraging to find that there is beautiful hiking right across the highway from Reed's grandpa's house. I'm grateful that I became thoroughly acquainted with walking on logging and forest service roads last summer. It's allowed me to see hiking 'trails' in places where they didn't previously exist for me! 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Gavan Hill & Harbor Mountain: The Joy of Hiking in Pouring, Sopping Rain in Sitka, Alaska

Yesterday I was determined to do a tough hike, something that would get my heart rate elevated and fill me with a sense of satisfaction. We chose the Gavan Hill & Harbor Mountain loop. The day was wet and overcast all morning. I hoped that once we started hiking that the air might clear a bit. It did not. Instead, the rain drops grew larger and colder and eventually turned to hail. The climb up Gavan Hill was done by climbing a tremendous number of wooden stairs, which alternated with rock work steps. The trail construction clearly took a great deal of ingenuity and stamina in order to complete. At each turn, we were met with more stairs ascending as far as we could see into the foggy day. 

Finally, after "1 mile" from where we started climbing the stairs, we reached the viewpoint. We had been walking at a steady speed for more than 40 minutes, which is why I call into question that it was only 1 mile. This was the view that met us. There was no time to pause and look out at the clouds, because cold began to set in as soon as we stopped moving. We grabbed a chicken salad sandwich out of the backpack and ate while keeping walking. The viewpoint was not at the top, and so the stair climbing continued. 

Here we are at what I thought was finally the top. It wasn't. The fog had once again obscured our view such that I couldn't see the higher points along the ridge ahead. I was to be tricked a number more times. In any case, you can see that I was wearing an especially poor choice of clothing - a white cotton long sleeve. I'm inclined to blame my poor choice of fabric on the running enthusiast and author, Dr Sheehan, who's 1975 book "On Running" touted the virtues of running in a long sleeve cotton turtleneck. Times certainly have changed in regards to running attire. 

The constant rain made it difficult to take photos. This picture of Reed trudging through the wetness gives a good feel for the day. 

Then finally, a bright spot in our day --- we reached the "Shelter" at supposed mile 3. I had expected to find a 3 walled decaying structure such as I encountered in the Pasayten Wilderness on the PNT. Instead, we enjoyed 10 minutes inside of a snug and completely dry respite from the elements. Amazing. We ate our second sandwich, dried prunes and changed into dry shirts and readied ourselves to continue plodding along.

This trail sign brought us a great deal of relief to know that we were going in the correct direction and that we were making progress. 

Satisfaction at having completed the trail portion! Grateful for rain jackets! 

Trail sign at the beginning / our ending of the trail section of our hike. More road walking was ahead. 

This photo above was the view we encountered as we descended the road from the trailhead to Harbor Mountain. The clouds had lifted just enough to be able to see the ocean and physically orient ourselves to our surroundings. We walked about 2+ miles down the road and then were offered a ride from a Forest Service worker, Vaughn. I usually decline rides on principle. This time, though, we gratefully accepted and were treated to a narrated tour back to the town of Sitka. Vaughn had worked in Sitka for 40 years and had plenty to share about his experiences working for the Forest Service, including the recent major landslides which had brought down tons of old growth trees and sediments and had destroyed a home and caused the loss of three lives. Vaughn dropped us off right back at the door to the place where we are staying here in Sitka. Last night I read a Bob Marshall story about exploring along the Koyukuk River near Wiseman, Alaska, in the Brooks Mountain Range. At the end of his story he described getting back to the warmth and dryness of the Road House in Wiseman and being fed. He explained that one of the great parts of adventuring is getting back to safety and warmth afterwards. That's how I felt while showering and eating a warm meal back under a dry roof! 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Welcome to the Rainforest of Sitka, Alaska

We're in Sitka, Alaska today. We arrived here yesterday afternoon by taking the Alaskan State Ferry from Haines, Alaska to Sitka, with a brief stopover at Juneau to let people and cars on and off. It was a most pleasant ferry journey, and even though it was from 7:45pm until 1pm the following day, it felt brief. We got on, found a place to sleep (settees in the Aft Lounge), took showers, watched the movie "Maleficent" - our first movie on a screen since we left Seattle back in April and then it was time for bed. When we woke the next morning, we ate our leftovers for breakfast in the cafeteria using the *free* microwave and toaster! Afterwards, we made our way to the forward viewing lounge, read, watched the incredible scenery slip by and then arrived to Sitka. It's gorgeous here. I can certainly see the appeal for people to live here now, and as a port for fur trading back in the 1700s & 1800s. 

This morning we were moving slow, and it was pouring rain. Even so, we eventually made it to the Totem Pole Historical Park and enjoyed walking all of their trails (about 2 miles total). The poles are quite impressive in size alone, and then there's the detail and the explanation of the colors that made me appreciate and see them in new ways. 

We've been on the road for three weeks now. Our car could use a good vacuuming, and we're grateful each night that we have a roof over our heads. We're learning new skills and enjoying ourselves. This is the view from the Totem Pole park during a rainstorm. Gorgeous! 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Alaska Railroad: Denali to Talkeetna

Snow had blanketed the peaks a few days before our train ride from Denali to Talkeetna. And then the sun had come out, highlighting the brilliant landscape. The ride was stunning with its sweeping views of the Alaska and Talkeetna Ranges of Mountains. While it wasn't technically an adventure by foot, it certainly felt closer to the landscape and more historic than the times that we've driven from Denali to Talkeetna. One of the best parts of having a seasonal job in or near a national park is getting to do the activities that highlight the area. We've gotten to do a large number of spectacular activities this summer. This train trip was one of them, a delightful way to see and smell and experience the area and one of the early forms of transportation that brought people to Denali. 

We departed the Denali Bluffs Hotel on the 11:30am shuttle to the train station. From there, we picked up our tickets at the station and boarded the 12:20 southbound train. We rode for about 4 hours, with no stops, but a few slow downs in order to allow other trains to pass and for us passengers to better see and photograph particular points of interest. 

We overnighted in Talkeetna, which allowed us to do a bit of walking on the trails near the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge and around the town the following morning. We enjoyed a hearty breakfast at the Talkeetna Roadhouse. We squeezed in a short visit to the Ranger's Station to watch their short documentary about climbing Denali. It helped me better understand what it is like to climb a major mountain like Denali. It solidified my stance on preferring hiking to climbing. The climb doesn't look like any fun to me; it's all on snow and requires a tremendous amount of specialized gear. I don't like either of those things - walking on snow or specialized gear.  

It was a quick trip, we were back within 28 hours of our departure. It was a welcome respite from work and great to get away one final time before my work schedule gets too full to allow for such time away. I'm grateful to have been here in Denali this summer. 

Lake near Broad Pass, the highest point on the Alaska Rail Road

The morning after staying at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge

The strong engine that pulled us. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Snow comes to Denali

We had our first snow of the season today. The peaks and high ridges have had fresh powder for a few days. Today the flakes flurried around the hotels. They didn't stick to the ground because the ground is still too warm. It was 32 degrees this morning, the ground was covered with slush as we walked up to breakfast at the Grande. All day long, the temperature stayed low and the rain was steady. I worked from 9-6, then this evening took a night jog over into the park. I jogged for 25 minutes, got warmed up and then stopped along the Riley Creek Trail to pick lingon berries. I picked sixteen ounces, then jogged for another ten minutes. Then I came upon another thick patch of berries and couldn't resist more picking. I had a cold jog back to the hotel after the picking was finished. Flurries of snow fell on my arms. Darkness is complete now by 10pm. I am grateful to be in my warm housing unit, with the space heater assisting the wall heaters. Winter is coming! 

View of Mount Healy from the Grande Denali Lodge

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Fall Hike up Mount Healy

This has been a summer full of work and worrying. My job as employee housing manager has proven emotionally draining and difficult. Even so, Reed & I have gotten out to enjoy the landscape on a regular basis. We've had our days off together almost all summer, which has meant that we've had two days per week with which to recuperate and explore. In terms of weather, summer has come and gone. It is now rainy fall here in Denali. The temperatures remain well above freezing here in the canyon, but up high, there is new snow and howling winds. I know firsthand how cold it is up on the peaks because yesterday we climbed one. Mount Healy overlook trail departs from the entrance area of Denali Park.

 After reaching the Overlook, we continued up, on the "un-maintained trail." There isn't much brush up on the ridges, so an un-maintained trail was just fine, until we came to the outcroppings, which were scary to go around. I have grown increasingly afraid of heights over the years, even as my love for being up high, especially on ridges, has grown. 

It took us about four hours to reach the top. Along the way, we passed gorgeous patches of plants in gorgeous displays of color. A bonus was finding blueberries and lingon berries along the way. The higher peaks that are visible from the Denali Bluffs came into closer view, as we climbed. We needed to keep moving in order to stay warm. It's a challenge to keep one's body temperature regulated when balancing the massive sweatiness that comes from exertion with the chilling effects of wind and falling temperatures 

At last, we reached the top. We were in a cloud, so we didn't get any sweeping views from having reached the top. I did get a sense of satisfaction, though, and I insisted on climbing to the top of the very highest part, just on principle. At the top,  the temperature was just above freezing. We quickly changed into dry shirts, added back our layers on top and began our descent with cold pains in our hands and forearms. 


As we descended, the temperature around us and inside of us rose. The cold pains in my hands left me and the panic in my chest at being in a cloud left as we began to have visibility again.


I do so love the look of a trail extending out before me on a mountain ridge! It was a sweet descent, as our tired bodies carried us to the warmer climate of the canyon floor.

Here's our final excellent view, from back at the Mount Healy Overlook. 

Upon our return to the employee dining room at the Grande Denali, we remembered that we would be celebrating 'Christmas in Denali' with a Bulgarian Christmas dinner. The luscious meal was a delightful way to be rewarded after a tough hike. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Early Summer in Alaska

Lake One where we saw a Beaver previously
Reed and I have been living & working here in Denali, Alaska for six weeks now. We've settled into the daily and weekly rhythm of our jobs. Reed is doing maintenance at the Grande Denali Lodge. I am working as the housing manager for employee housing for the employees of Grande Denali Lodge and Denali Bluffs Hotel. We're learning a great deal in our new roles & enjoying the challenge.

We get two days off per week, and we've managed to have the same days off thus far. We've done a bit of hiking each 'weekend.' Last Sunday, we got dropped off at 229 Parks Restaurant, which was recommended to us as somewhere we had to go. The restaurant had sold out of their brunch menu, so we decided to purchase a few baked goods and be on our way. While I was in the bathroom, the owner of the restaurant saw Reed and took pity. She pulled together a tasty treat for us to enjoy - flat bread with chicken, pancetta and greens.
229 Parks Excellent Brunch

Our hike was the 'Triple Lakes' hike - a point-to-point hike on the edge of Denali National Park. We had done the hike once before, but in the opposite direction. This time our hike began with 30 minutes of road walking to get from 229 Parks to the trail head. It's a lovely hike - pretty mellow on the elevation, passes by three lakes and includes a ridge walk with scenic vistas in both directions.

In front of 229 Parks Restaurant

So much beautiful water, I was grateful for the bridge! 

Lake Three

One of the glorious views afforded on this hike

A Sweet Treat at the end

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Hiking on St John Island, US Virgin Islands

Reed and I recently took a vacation to the Virgin Islands. It was to be a sailing trip, mainly. I was enticed onto the trip, in part, with the promise of hiking and camping on St John Island before the sailing portion began. I had visions of hiking straight out of the airport and across St Thomas Island to where we would catch the ferry to St John. Upon arrival at the St Thomas airport, we changed out of our airplane clothes, reloaded our backpacks and set out walking. Our first error was not applying sunscreen before packing it into the bottom of my backpack. Our second error was proceeding out of the airport in the wrong direction towards a dead end, while the midday sun beat down on us. We retraced our travel weary steps, used the bathrooms at the airport and got underway again. We walked less than a mile, with a long stop at a public park where we took a nap and it was enough walking for us, in the heat of the day and after an overnight flight. 

We solicited instructions from a woman standing by the road on how to catch, ride and pay for a bus, known as a "Safari." The ride took about an hour. I was grateful the whole time not to be walking. We rode a ferry boat over to St John Island, and this time took a taxi to our campground. It was another place that I had thought that I would walk instead of ride. It was not to be - my body was not willing and it wasn't forced to proceed on out of necessity. Instead we rode the 8 or so miles, up and down and around tight corners. We arrived at Cinnamon Bay campground near dusk. We found our site, set up our tent and I collapsed. Reed kept asking me when I was going to brush my teeth. "Later," I would answer, falling back to sleep. 

I woke in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. I hadn't brushed my teeth, nor was I going to that night. 

The following day, exhaustion. We took a short walk with a naturalist and a group, which introduced us to the trail system on the island. Yes, we will walk tomorrow. 
Tomorrow came and we did walk. We set out after breakfast. Up, up and more up. I love up. We climbed up and over the spine of the island, with a number of fantastic views along the way. One mile up, then more up (about a mile) along the road that runs the length of the island. We connected with another trail that took us around and down to the far side of the island. We walked around an old rum factory, enjoyed a snack on the beach and continued walking. I was confident that we'd be able to get a ride back out of the area where we were going and then connect up with the island's bus. It worked! We emerged at a beautiful beach, with a number of fellow tourist parties there enjoying it. One man from Minnesota agreed to give us a ride back to the town in his rented jeep. He dropped us at a grocery store where we experienced anew the staggering prices of food on the islands. We bought some anyway, as our existing supplies of builder bars were dwindling. We had a picnic with our supplies under the shade of trees and near the water. Our company over lunch was free range roosters, donkeys and a number of fiddler crabs. After lunch we set out to continue walking the road until the bus came along. It wasn't long and we were able to flag down the bus. Onboard, we enjoyed the ride along the curving, up and down good road. For fear of missing our trail back to the campground, I pulled the string too early. We got to walk a bit farther than necessary, although, that describes hiking in general. We connected back up with the one mile trail back down to Cinnamon Bay. Success. 
Our hike had been a combination of wilderness and urban hiking - in that we were able to hook up with an island bus to facilitate our loop and it included a grocery store stop along the way. It felt like a combination of hiking the Pacific NW Trail and urban LA's stairs, in a new setting. I loved it. A new place, hiking, food, success. 

Already showing the sweat! 

Freshwater on an island with very little

Hiking in airplane socks with my sandals because we only brought one pair of shoes - our chacos. 

Break time at the oasis

Near the fresh water source 
Giant fiddler crabs abound, noises all through the woods

Almost like the Galapagos - but where are the aquatic iguanas? 

Happy after Hiking

The heat of the day

Overlooking the ocean from about 30 feet up. I love the power of the water moving.