Winter is a great time of year for exploring local wilderness generally too out of reach during summer months. Some of the local watersheds and glacial valleys become severely overgrown with dense thickets of Alder and Devil’s Club, essentially turning these locations into Alaskan Jungles
I’ve been up the Kicking Horse River on several occasions during the winter months in past years and this year is no exception… The Chilkat River is covered in anywhere from 4-10 inches of solid ice, making acces to the confluence of the Kicking Horse a simple matter. In summertime, a packraft or other vessel is neccesary to cross the raging highwater torrent. Not today; an easy (if slippery) stroll to the other side from 7 mile Haines Highway sees Angela and I snowshoeing up the Kicking Horse (also mostly frozen, making for easy travel) and all the way to the base of Mt Emmerich.
One day before winter ends, I would like very much to ski or snowshoe all the way to the Garrison Glacier for an overnighter.
Today is an exemplary day; crystal clear blue skies, plenty of snow on the ground, and temps in the mid 20’s beckons a long day out. Once reaching the Sitka Spruce at the base of The Cathedrals and Mt Emmerich, we eat a snack, take in this special and not often visited place, and happily agree to come back for a closer look before the snow melts.
As one drives north over and beyond Chilkat Pass, a broad and beautiful alpine valley is entered; the beginnings of the White and Black Spruce, Aspen, and high Tundra dominate the landscape here. Once past Kelsall Lake, the road climbs up and over an ancient moraine and drops to an expansive river filled valley; the birthplace of the fantastic Tatshenshini River at Goat Creek and the terminus of the short but spectacular Parton River. Fitness training and gear testing for an upcoming alpine adventure sees me driving up near the Yukon border for a solo ski into the Parton River region. I wish to scout the take out of the Parton River area for a future summer packrafting trip trip and get a layout of the landscape.
For me, the primary reason as an American to live in Haines is the access to the great and mighty Yukon Territory; a land full of wilderness, mountains, rivers, glaciers, and animals. Similar to the interior of Alaska, it too offers a lifetime of exploring, climbing, and packrafting that beckons me as often as I can muster.
Parking the truck on the shoulder of the Haines Highway, a short one mile ski down a dirt road leads to the first of three put-ins for the Tatshenshini known as Bear Camp. Here, the Tat is frozen and I ski across happily and pick up the faint and snow covered old mining road beyond; shortly after, I come to the frozen Parton River and once again ski across and beyond into the fields of stunted arctic Willow and deep snow. Someone else has been in the area recently, and at first I begin to follow a relatively fresh set of snowshoe tracks, but soon veer off course to find my own way.I spot Arctic Hare tracks and soon spot Wolf, Lynx, andPtarmigan tracks… A couple of miles skiing in and out of the Willow thickets and up and over several creeks finds me entering the White Spruce of the Parton River corridor where it enters a canyon to the south and it’s headwaters lie.
A quick snack and a few clicks of the camera see me skiing back to the Parton River, this time further upstream to inspect the river herself. Always fun skiing down frozen rivers this time of year… easy skinning with no obstructions gives me the opporotunity to inspect the area for log jams, debris, and other future packrafting concerns.
With the sun getting low, I head back down stream, cross the Tatshenshini, and skin back to the truck just in time to see the beginning evening Alpenglow.
Ok… the cat is out of the bag, as it were – Armed with a couple of friends, I’ll be heading to climb and ski Mt Sanford in May 2019. Sanford is the third highest volcano in Alaska, and the sixth highest peak in the United States at 16, 237′. We will be skiing up, and down the Sheep Glacier on it’s north side… This is the first time I’ve mentioned here on JRB, but there will be coming updates as the trip unfolds.
Working on a fun little logo for our team for this and future expeditions…
An early winter stomp up in Northern BC at Kwatini Creek in search of skiable snow produces little snow but a great hike up Kwatini Canyon past the old cabin there and into the alpine… complete with a mountaineering finish. A perfect day marred only by me pretty much destroying my brand spanking new (first time wearing) Arcteryx bibs…😫😢
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn” – John Muir, 1901.
It had been quite some time since I had been up on 7 Mile Saddle; the views of the Chilkat Range and glaciers, the Lynn Canal, Coast Range, and the craggy peaks NE of the upper Chilkoot River are catastrophically fantastic. The saddle itself, a series of alpine meadows interspersed with bouts of tundra and stunted Mountain Hemlock and Spruce. The summit of Peak 3920 lie just above, and all within a couple hours hike from the Haines Highway. The stomp up to the saddle although only about three miles, but gains over 2800 feet in that short distance, meaning it is a very steep stomp indeed. Having only weekends to utilize these days, and wanting to maximize my training for the upcoming Sanford Expedition, I decide that a fast overnighter to 7 Mile is in order; I’ve never camped up there before, but had always wanted to, so I load up the pack with the intention of not going light, but instead loading it up rather stoutly for “training” purposes. Camera gear, tripod, lenses, binoculars, more food than I could possibly eat, and a bit of wine to enjoy the alpenglow with.
The weather is nothing short of spectacular on this mid September day; a time in Haines that generally exhibits pouring rain and temps in the mid 30’s, producing brutal conditions. Not today – the sun is out and the sky is serene. I stomp up to 7 mile with the relatively heavy pack, stopping often to take in the views and use the camera. Once on top, a fine camp is found amongst the tundra overlooking the commanding Chilkat Range, with the sun setting and the glow becoming me. The temperature drops and supper is prepared as darkness envelops the landscape; soon I am in my down cocoon, eye lids glued shut, and generating Z’s. In the morning dawn, the temperature is hovering around 20 degrees F and I am up firing the stove for water and coffee. The early light splattering the glaciers on the other side of the Chilkat Vally is awe-inspiring and soon I am packed and dashing down the trail… Back to the truck by 8:30 am, the sun is shining brightly once again, promising another rare Autumn day of golden
Looking for a bit of fun and adventure finds Angela and I heading north out of town and up into the high country to parts unknown. We packed the truck with bicycles, packrafts, hiking paraphernalia and some snacks. About halfway up Marinka’s Hill, we stop to gawk at the Northern Takhinsha/Southern Alsek’s baring their blue and stoney ice in the spectacular late summer light. I have never seen these peaks so devoid of the previous winter’s snow. The result is visually striking; the glaciers are on full display and the rocky summits piercing the deep blue hue above. Once past Three Guardsmen, it is decided a paddle across the mystical Kelsall Lake is in order, and soon we are bouncing the truck down the 4WD track to it’s shores.
Once in the water, a pleasant paddle two or three miles to the inlet stream that feeds the lake comes around and we stop for lunch and a swim on the sandy beach below the glacier of Kelsall Peak. Back in the boats, a great wind swells up and we fight the lateral rollers all the way back to the truck and happily scurry back over The Pass and head back home.