Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Rainbows and butterflies

It's official, I've completed all of the Kenai Epics. On Sunday Justin and I rode Johnson Pass, a 23 mile point-to-point I'd only ridden half of, some 6 years ago when I first visited this place.

J-Pass runs north-south, in a glacial valley directly east of Summit Pass and the Seward Highway, connecting the village of Moose Pass with the south end of Turnagain Pass. We often look into this area for spectacular views when skiing in Turnagain in the colder months.

View J-Pass in a larger map

The trail, a popular Kenai backcounty mountain biking epic or multiday backacking trip, was part of the original Iditarod Route.

Justin, aka the MacGyver of the Kenai, and I had been talking about riding J-Pass for a a few weeks as a 46 mile out and back before it got too grown in.

That was the game plan when we left Sterling on Sunday morning. I was particularly excited to ride the south end of the trail too as I had only ridden the north end so many years ago and skied a short section of south end in November of '08 (LINK).
LV Ray Peak across Upper Trail Lake.

Justin rides along the lake's rocky shore less than a mile from the southern trail head.

Unfortunately, Justin was feeling the effects of a long week both on the bike and in the office. At 9 miles in, just a mile shy of the pass, he decided it would be best if he turned around and headed back rather than risk really running himself into the ground. I carried on to the end with the plan that he would meet me at the northern trail head.
I wasn't too keen on splitting, but I trusted Justin's decades of experience to get him back safely. Despite it being a holiday weekend, we'd only seen three people in those nine miles.
On a separate note, it's also of great value to have riding partners who know when they need to call it off rather than putting both people or a group at risk when they should back down and play it safe. Justin's call was much appreciated, though going from having a partner to solo in a place where 8-10 inch (across) brownie tracks are a common sight can leave one a bit mentally rattled for a few miles.

Johnson Lake.

The Pass.

Bench Lake.

A familiar sight. Once over the pass I was on familiar ground. Six years ago, I descended the 13 miles back to Turnagain "solo" on the last day of my 6 day mountain bike adventure. The ride was a real turning point for me I've always thought.

A very familiar sight, the sunny side of Turnagain.
Despite what I remembered, it turned out the south side of the trail, which I'd been told was overgrown and rough, was much more enjoyable than the northern side. The incessant rains this year have left it slick in places and the poisonous cow parsnip was thick in some of the meadows.

Not surprisingly, there were four remnant snow field in slide paths, all of them within 2.5 miles of the northern end of the trail. A cool summer and above average snowfall in Turnagain Pass last winter has left snow in places where it's not usually seen in July.

I finished the trail in an elapsed time of 3 hours and 50 minutes. For comparison, last fall I rode the 40 mile Resurrection Pass Trail from south to north in about 5 hours elapsed time (photos, snacks) and I don't think my riding speed is much different, just the terrain.
Justin pulled into the parking lot just 15 minutes after I got off the trail and only a minute after I'd finished my smoked salmon sandwich and was preparing to hit the road. Justin chugged water after turning around and combined with the descent, began to feel much better making for enjoyable rides for both of us.

On Monday the wind was ripping but the sun was out, so Rach, who was down visiting, and I climbed Cecil Rhodes Peak, a 4,405' peak that towers above Cooper Landing.
There is no actual trail up Cecil, just a herd path that goes straight up.

Breaking out of treeline and looking westward through the Upper Kenai's valley.

The climb is the definition of an SFU accent.

Shoots bursting through remnant snow at ~2,800' on July 5.

Cooper Mountain's north face ice bowl and summit buried in clouds directly above.

As we approached the ridge a rainbow formed over Cooper Landing with it's two ends at either end of the mountain village. Now you know.

I stuck the camera out over the edge of Cecil's northface, which plunges nearly a full 3,000' vertical feet back down to the river. A 40+ MPH wind was tearing across the ridge while we lay on the craggy rock.

A goat was hogging the summit. This guy sat on his perch watching as we approached him to within 20 yards before he finally sauntered down the craggy northface to a spot he knew we'd never venture and proceeded to have a snack.

Iron cross on the summit.

A repeater site on Stetson Peak.

Summertime in an Alaska forest.


Alaska Jack said...

The Kenai trifecta is Johnson, Resurrection, and ... Lost Lake?

My ordering of the Kenai epics would be:
1. Lost Lake
2. Resurrection
3. Johnson
It's really a toss up among all 3.

On your next trip to little LA of the north, here's a suggestion: ride a short out-and-back on Winner Creek Trail (start at Alyeska.) Hiking beyond the bikable to the pass overlooking 20-Mile is a lot of fun. Also, Blueberry Trail on Alyeska's flanks is a fun lap(s). You'll get your fill of fun boardwalk on both Winner Ck & Blueberry. Another fun variation on Winner Ck is to do the loop across the Glacier Creek handtram and ride back to the hotel on Girdwood roads.

Anonymous said...

I never get tired of looking at your Alaska photos. I think they redeem the state from the whole Sarah Palin thing. Bob

Andrew J. Bernstein said...

Glad to see that you're able to get out for some epics, even during fish season. Speaking of which, we should talk soon -- I'd like to arrange the purchase of some Salmon, if it's feasible this year.

Dante said...

The Kenai MTB Epics, in my book anyway, are, in order of favorite:
1: Lost Lake Loop (Iditarod trail to Primrose to Lost)
2: Russian Lakes Trail
3: Ressurrection Pass/Devils Pass
4: Johnson Pass

One should not forget the Kenai short list though, the three sub 20 mile out and to Juneau Lake, Crescent Lake and Lost Lake from Seward. At some point I'll hit all three in one day for a hat trick.

Dante said...

Bob, I do what I can.

Alaska Jack said...

Of course, how could I forget Russian. I've only done it as an out-and-back. Primrose to Lost Lake must be the most scenic, but all 4 are terrific experiences.
And, Crescent is a terrific trip, too. I've got to try the 'new' access to Primrose via the Seward ski trails.