Kicking Horse

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     Adjacent to the tiny village of Haines, Alaska, and across the emerald saltwaters of the Chilkat Inlet, lie the deceptively remote and jagged peaks of the Chilkat Mountains. These peaks are of a particularly steep and heavily glaciated nature and include the enormous mass of the Cathedral group that includes the mighty Mt Emmerich, clearly visible from town. Emmerich is the visual centerpiece of this group and rises out of the Kicking Horse River valley just east of it’s convoluted mass. The Kicking Horse River is a river born of the ice; it’s scant origins flowing from the snout of the Garrison Glacier situated at the northeastern end of the range, where it flows for a relatively short distance to it’s confluence with the heavily braided and Salmon infested Chilkat River. At the point where this confluence occurs, the Chilkat narrows to perhaps a half mile across, and on this 9th day of February 2017, winter temperatures has frozen the Chilkat solidly enough to allow crossing on foot.

     This winter in Haines has been one of mostly consistently cold temps, with snow on the ground for the entirety of the winter season so far; only once or twice has rain been allowed passage to our winter Alaskan landscape. This is the way I like it and having the rivers frozen over has gained me the chance to explore the “far side” of the Chilkat several times this season. The far, or wilderness side of the river gains access to the peaks of the Chilkat and home to a wolf pack twenty strong. Once, last fall, I had the ultimate pleasure of viewing, with binoculars, several wolves attempting to take down two separate Moose. Ultimately, both moose escaped with lives intact. The visual experience left a deep impression on me and the deep wilderness just across the river has been enchanting me ever since.

     Earlier in the winter, I had the pleasure of wandering across the river in other places; once at 10 mile and across to the dense Alder thickets of the Tahkin River, and another time near to 8 mile where once across and beyond the barrier of Cottonwoods lining the shore, I found open snow covered meadows full of Moose, Wolf, Lynx, and Rabbit tracks a plenty. For me though, these were just to test the waters of crossing the Chilkat and the ultimate goal was to reach the confluence of the Kicking Horse River. While there are other, more remote rivers that flow from the Cathedrals, the Kicking Horse to me was one that had a special interest. It was more accessible and equally as wild. So today it was to be…

     Parking on the Haines Highway at the state fish and game run fish wheels, I meander out onto the ice and instantly feel the bitterness of the biting wind. The surface is a mixture of crystal clear ice several inches thick and more opaque sections requiring more care in regard to judging the thickness. As I walk the slippery clear sections, I look to see the bottom of the river a few feet below and imagine the thousands of Salmon swimming upstream as they do every year as they have for thousands. Chinook, Chum, Pink, Sockeye, and Coho all run in these waters. Soon I am near the other side and the frozen Kicking Horse is a mere 300 feet ahead. However, there is a channel of open and running river water just in front of me, blocking access to my destination. Further east, I can see that the channel slides under the winter ice pack and disappears. How thick is this newer ice I ask myself? I walk further downstream to where the ice re-appears and gingerly step into this new zone. I can see immediately that is is very thick and soon I am completely across the Chilkat and standing on the gravel shores of the braided Kicking Horse confluence.

     It feels downright sublime to be standing here and looking up the Kicking Horse for the first time; gravel bars and Alder thickets lead to a narrowing of the river before it disappears into the bowels of the wilderness. I walk these frozen river banks, occasionally crossing thinly veiled ice sheets over rocky surface, boots crunching loudly and the stiff breeze from earlier dissipating. A long stretch of snow leads to the forest where hundreds of Wolf tracks appear. At least part of the pack has traveled through here recently. I look around and see more Wolf tracks than I have ever seen and realize that the Kicking Horse must be some sort of Wolf highway; a passage leading from the wilderness of the Cathedrals to the shores of the Chilkat herself.

     I travel further into the corridor till passage is barred by river ice with a couple inches of running water. Here, the forest at river’s edge are many dead Cottonwoods stripped of their bark and treetops. They stand like monuments guarding the inner access to the wildness beyond, Mt Emmerich towers over head, displaying intricate ridge lines, towers, gendarmes, and gullys. This is the closest I have ever been to this peak and I am awestruck by it size and complexity.

     This is my turning around point and it is getting late and the temperature is dropping, so back through the Adler thickets and gravel bars and the multitudes of Wolf tracks to the frozen Chilkat, where an easy stomp back to the highway is in order.

     The Kicking Horse has always held a great deal of fascination for me and today was a teaser that strengthened that notion.

     I will return …

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Gear – Part I: Powering Up

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Being the sort person that thrives on being out on extended adventures in remote places as wells  having the utmost desire to be as completely self contained as possible, and also being of the the sort who needs to utilize a certain degree of technology in order to accomplish my mission as a photographer, I thought I’d share some of that technology here.

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I tend to, on long road-worthy bike trips, carry what I need. In other words, on extended trips that are not intended on “light and fast”, I don’t go light, generally speaking.  That said, I carry a heavy Canon 60D DSLR, a 24-105mm lens, a 10mm super wide/fisheye lens, an intervalmometer, 3 camera batteries, a tripod, a 12 volt Canon charger, 2 hard drives, a laptop, an ipod, and a basic cell phone.  Holy shit that’s a lot of junk to be hauling into the woods!   Word.

Keeping things charged and protected can be a real pain in the arse on long trips into remote areas. Especially when you may be encountering a certain degree of discomfort or hardship; day after day of rain, grueling hill climbs, lack of food or water, mechanical breakdowns, or the threat of predatory animals in the area you might be in. These types of circumstances make it difficult to be motivated enough to put the effort in that may be needed to keep those DSLR batteries charged or the Laptop fired up to offload photos and back things up.

I have put a bit of thought into how to make this as easy as possible, while maintaining my own set of rules regarding self reliance.

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The Apple MacBook Air 11″ is the smallest, lightest, most powerful unit in it’s class on the market. Being a non PC user, this is simply the ticket. The model I have is an older one; intentionally sought out in order to run Mac OSX Snow Leopard (my top choice in order to run Final Cut Pro 7 properly for video editing). It has a1.6ghz processor and 1g of RAM.. not much, but just enough to get the job done in the field. As a bonus, it has no optical drive and has a solid state HD, which means NO MOVING PARTS!

To offload photos, I have choices:  I carry a Nexto Extreme 500G HD that requires NO COMPUTER to operate. It has a button menu, it’s own battery, SD and CF card slots, and will offload your cards to it’s HD, and then give you a confirmation!  Then, depending on how much spare time I’ve had recently and how much the sun has been shining for photovoltaics, I can then choose to use the Laptop to back up this drive to another external drive. The one I have is a Toshiba USB model with 1TB storage.

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Now, the solar panel I have is a beast… The one I used to carry was a Brunton 26 watt unit that was small and light, but it was always a problem keeping ipods and camera batts charged. This was back when I didn’t carry a laptop to back photos up. It was risky business in regards to my photos to say the least.

I now have a PowerFIlm 50 watt monster… It connects to a Voltaic 60 watt multi voltage battery. The entire package is certainly heavy; no one ever said that doing this stuff on yer own, way, way out for extended periods of time was going to be easy, did they?

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The battery can connect to the panel with a long cord, so as to be in the tent at camp, while the panel is out there doing it’s job.  There is a switch on the Voltaic to select voltages as 12v, 16v, or 19v, depending on your laptop needs. A full sized MacBook Pro would use the 19v setting, but the MacBook Air uses the 14v setting. I use the 12v setting to plug in my Canon LP-E6 car charger for the 60D batteries. Voltaic will even, for just a couple of more bucks, supply you with an in house-made adapter for the mag-safe on apple laptops, which will, in turn, connect to the Voltaic battery. Sweet!  The voltaic unit also has a USB port to run your phone, ipod, etc. I use tent stakes to lay out the panel in camp, run the long cord to the tent, and all gets charged, assuming there is sun.

For the majority of my USB charging needs (Nexto unit, ipod, basic cell phone)  I have devised a system that was not too easy to set up, but now that it is up and running, it works like a charm.

I begins with an IRD, disc only, 36 hole, 3 watt, 6 volt front generator hub, that I have laced to a Veloicity Chukker rim. The hub also features a clutch that can be turned to switch the unit off when it is not needed, extending it’s life, I hope.  In order to get 5 volt, 4.5 watt power from this unit, I purchased a german product called “The Plug II”. This adapter is designed to be installed in your head tube and the unit sits on top of your stem. To me, this is a piece of over engineered, overpriced, gadgetry. But I need one to do this, so I bought one and modified it to suit my needs. I didn’t want the unit permanently installed on my bike as it makes the whole front end of my ride even more complex than it already is, so I built an enclosure for the electronics and mounted the Plug unit to the end. I accomplished this utilizing copper and PVC parts from the local hardware store and mounted to my front rack with velcro straps, for a portable, bombproof USB charging unit. The unit then plugs into the IRD hub.

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For my ipod, I have a Pelican case that, again has been modified to suit.  I mounted an aluminum plate to the back, drilled a small USB cable hole in the appropriate spot, and hose clamped it to the fake stem mount that I also made in order to accommodate the mounting of an Ortlieb handlebar bag to a Jeff Jone Loop Bar.

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The Ortlieb requires utilizing the bar AND the stem for it’s rock solid, proprietary, mounting scheme. But, one cannot do this with a Jeff Jone Loop Bar, because it has 2 crossbars.  By cutting a stem in half, and using shims for the diameter, I was able to mount the bag to the most excellent Jones Bar. I have utilized other scenarios in the past, such as a second stem below they main stem, but this is sleeker, cleaner, and tricker, for sure!

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Now, my ipod, etc, are always plugged in and as long as I am in motion, they are charging. The solar panel is still the only way to charge everything else however.

I have some other thoughts on how to possibly rectify this, but that’s for another story.