Thursday, September 30, 2010

Moose River rescue

This is a strange place, a place where you can find yourself 15 or 150 miles from the nearest person and be in pretty much the same pickle. Earlier this week two canoeists found themselves in the former, about 15 miles to be precise, from where I'm comfortably typing this post. The two were airlifted to safety via the wonders of cellular technology. I've posted the article below.
I should note that I left out a small detail in the story that was picked up by a very vocal Alaskan journalist (LINK) and my conclusion to his question, though unconfirmed, is that the first person who makes it 15 miles up the Moose River can claim their prize, though after the description of the conditions, I can't imagine there'll be too many volunteers.

"Float trip ends with copter ride
By Dante Petri Peninsula Clarion
Two canoeists were plucked from the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge on Monday after calling for help.
Patrick Leadbeater, 68, and his daughter, Janelle Leadbeater, 25, both of Honolulu, contacted Alaska State Troopers around 11 a.m. using a cell phone from the banks of the Moose River, about 15 miles upstream of the tea-colored river's confluence with the Kenai River.
Leadbeater, who was reached at Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna on Monday afternoon, said the two had fallen behind schedule on their trip from the west entrance of the Swan Lake Canoe Trail system to the outlet of the Moose due to strong winds and less than ideal traveling conditions.
Troopers responded by dispatching a helicopter stationed in Soldotna to the coordinates Leadbeater provided, and later sent a LifeMed helicopter after locating a suitable landing site for the chopper nearby.
The older Leadbeater was transported to CPH for treatment while his daughter was taken by the trooper's aircraft to Kenai, according to AST Capt. Pete Mlynarik.
Leadbeater said he and his daughter set out on their trip a week ago on the afternoon of Sept. 20.
The route, which can be traveled to connect to the Moose River for a multi-day trip, is located in the refuge's northern lowland region and can be accessed via Swanson River Road in Sterling.
They had planned to be done well before Monday, with their flight back to Hawaii scheduled for Sunday, Leadbeater said.
"We'd already been held back on Swan Lake for two days because of gale force winds," he said. "We were getting low on food and water."
Leadbeater said when they reached the Moose River on Sunday afternoon their troubles really began.
"The water was very low and it was really quite difficult moving," he said, referring to deadfall that blocked their passage. "We decided to camp for the night. That's when we got into trouble."
Leadbeater said that while setting up camp on a rough patch of ground that was not a designated campsite he fell, "a couple of times."
When Leadbeater fell a second time he said he needed help from his daughter to get back up.
He said Janelle was also wearing thin from the lengthy trip.
"My daughter was not real bright this morning," he said. "It's just the extra days and the temperatures got down, I think they had an effect on her."
Temperatures dipped to 21 degrees in Soldotna on Monday morning, according to the National Weather Service.
When the two got up on Monday morning, Leadbeater said: "I was simply unable to proceed, so we called 911 to ask their advice."
Leadbeater said that he had been given medications for his back injury and expected to be released from the hospital by Monday evening.
"It doesn't appear to be anything more than a real severe muscle problem," he said.
The two have rebooked their flight home to Hawaii for Wednesday.
Leadbeater, a veterinarian, said he had wanted to do this particular canoe trip for a long time, and that he had vacationed in Alaska before.
He said as well that he's done numerous camping and travel trips around the country.
While they were prepared for cold temperatures, Leadbeater said he did not expect to encounter the difficult canoeing conditions.
He said he only asked about current stream conditions from the outfitter he rented the canoe from in Sterling.
According to Scott Slavik, a backcountry ranger with the refuge, crews did some work on the canoe trail system over the summer, chiefly improving portages between lakes, but they did not do any work removing deadfall from the Moose.
He said that typically for the trip the Leadbeaters set out on, he would recommend three full days and two nights.
He noted, however, that the area is a designated as wilderness.
"There's an expectation that as you enter those areas that there's a need for skill and an acceptance of risk," Slavik said on Monday. "

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Johnson and Crescent

With the autumnal equinox past, the clear days and nights no longer mean warmth. As the sun's rays weaken by the day and the window of light grows shorter, these high pressure systems that sit tight for weeks become synonymous with cold snaps.
Just this morning the mercury made it to 27 degrees and Anchorage saw flurries.
In the mountains fall has hung on for an exceptionally long time but a kicked up north wind is shaking loose the leaves, and higher up white is becoming a common sight.
This weekend I put in two mountain rides.
On Friday I met up with Adam R about mid-day and we headed up to the south end of Johnson Pass. (MAP LINK)
With another week without rain the trail was just a little bit better, though the carpet of yellow and orange was noticeably thicker.

A peak at Lark Mountain through the trees.

(click to enlarge) This ride Adam and I did go all the way to the pass. Here's a shot on the way back passing Jonson Lake.
The ride was a good mix of bantering and hammering, and Adam was great partner as he pushed me on the climbs while I pushed him on the descents.
Though we had comfortable temperatures in the pass, on the way back down as the sun set the cold air felt especially biting.
Interestingly enough, we also noticed about 6-7 miles from the trailhead on the way back there appeared to have been a skirmish between a moose and an unidentified attacker between the time of our passing.
The trail was covered in moose fur and big skidding hoof tracks, but with the soil so dry and neither of us having any intentions of hitting the brakes, I couldn't make out what other tracks, if any, there were.
While moose are in rut now, I wasn't under the impression that their battles involve much more than horns. Had it been a bear going after a moose, which seems very likely, I would have expected to have seen some large claw scratches in the ground, even traveling. Maybe wolves?
It's a little mystery that I guess I may never know the beginning or end of, but I can say I'm glad we didn't round the next corner and find a big griz sitting on a fresh moose kill.

On Saturday, still feeling a good buzz from the previous day's ride, I headed up Crescent Lake Trail on my own.

(CtE) The 12 mile round trip ride was just what the doctor ordered I think.

In a slide path where snow held through much of this cool wet summer (Photo flashback LINK) I found a vertical line of vegetation that, having only been out of it's icy lair for a few weeks, was growing like it was late June. Here a Pushki, or cow parsnip, most of which have been dead since late July, is still blooming. It was quite the contrast next to all the dieing growth.

Looking back down the Crescent Creek Valley.

The long ridge of Wrong Mountain.

Wrong Mountain.

Peak 5320, the high point of the Wrong Mountain massif though not the official summit. Notice the dusting of snow.

Peak 4730 south across the lake.

The forest service cut a new access path to the beach at the outlet of the lake so hikers and riders don't have to walk next to the cabin. With the water down, I ride along the shoreline, dipping into the shallow waters to get around a few patches of willows, to the campsite beach, to make a nice loop.

Somehow this picture sort of described my state of mind for the half hour or so I spent on the beach. Not focused, but not unhappy about that either

Is it next weekend yet?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Yankee envy

The last two weeks here could make even a hardened old Yankee jealous.
A high pressure system has been holding tight over Southcentral bringing cool, foggy though not quite frosty mornings that warm into bright sunny days made only nicer by the foliage which refuses to brown or shake from the trees.
This was a perfect weekend to take it all in on two wheels.
On Friday after checking all the items on a lengthy to-do list, I hit the road on the skinny tire rig, heading across the Sterling Flats to the Skyline Trailhead and back for 40 something miles.
It’s a nice early season base builder which is just what I need right now, and though it typically involves a stiff head wind one way and a free ride the other, it was dead calm, so I was really able to work on steadying my pacing.
On Saturday I met Ethan up in Moose Pass at the south end of the Johnson Pass Trail.
This was the second time I rode J-Pass this season, the last time back on the Fourth of July with Justin.
On that ride LINK our plan to go from end-to-end out-and-back was foiled when Justin was hit by a bug and had to bail 9 miles in.
I lucked out in the deal and got a free shuttle run, but in the end I was a bit envious of Justin’s descent back down the south side as I soon realized it was the nicer of the two halves.
Now, months later, the north end is out of the question because of its thick vegetation cover and lack of sun exposure.
Ethan and I rode about 10.5 miles in to a small overlook of Johnson Lake, about a half mile south of the actual pass.

Click to enlarge (CtE).

The first 5 or so miles of the trail is a roller coaster along the shores of Upper Trail Lake climbing in and out of small drainages. It's a real XC ride compared to a lot of the other epics which are a long time of up and a long time of down.

Ethan makes use of a dead branch to do a little on the trail tuning.

One of the best parts of the south end of the J-Pass Trail is that the majority of it is wooded. Most mountain biking here is above treeline which is indeed epic, but sometimes it's nice to play in the forests.

Johnson Creek. After lots of up and down in and out of small streams the trail cross Johnson Creek and begins its long mostly uninterrupted climb to the pass, setting the stage for something epic.

Out of tree line the colors were still bright.

Looking north at Johnson Lake and the height of land past that. Over the low ridge is Bench Lake which flows north into Granite Creek and eventually the Six Mile.

Maria Peak seen from above Johnson Lake.


A colorful garden somewhere along the descent.

The other neat thing about the south end and riding through all the forests was the constantly changing color scenery. In the thick hemlock forests it was still green and even summery looking, but out in these mixed forests and openings everything was full on fall. (CtE)



Sometimes when taking pictures it's about the rider, other times, it's about where the rider is. This is an example of the latter as Ethan rides along the shores of Upper Trail Lake with a towering Lark Mountain in the background. (CtE).

The Trail Lakes Fish Hatchery and past that Wrong Mountain.

I rode back so Ethan could take this pic of yours truly. (CtE)
This felt like the ride of the year, but we'll have to wait and see what the Kenai Gods do this week.
Is it next weekend yet?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Getting back in shape

After a long summer of cleaning fish and not a lot of play, these last few weeks I've been getting my tail end back into gear.
Fish camp is hard hard work, but it's a different kind of work that drains you from the inside out with long hours and a never ending chores.
Now that's over, but the muscles that have benefited from all that work don't do a whole lot for biking, or soon enough skiing.
It;s hard to shake the base, but while I worked the many little muscles that one doesn't think about have lost their edge, and I can feel it.
I can still for example, go do a 40 mile ride in the mountains, the base is still there to support it, but ouch, don't ask me about my shoulders or my sit-bones after a ride like that.
Ontop of that, a ride like that isn't too bad by itself, but to try and ride everyday, 5 days a week plus a cross training run one day, starts tapping into reserves that my body isn't used to storing.
It's a tough gig and it can be more than a little deflating of a feeling when a 1/3 of the way up a climb I'm already at the bottom end of my gears.
It's tough as well because just 3.5 months ago I was in strong condition, able to pedal for hours or spend my days climbing up and down mountains like it was all I was ever made for.
I remember that, it wasn't long ago, but three months is a long time for the body.
This is especially relevant since I've been working so hard in a different way.
As a result, my body has adjusted to keep.
For the last two months for example, when the work did stop, my body knew to chill out and take any rest it could get.
Doing a run might have been good to keep my cardio up, but it also would burn calories that I might need later.
Now, after I've put in a few consecutive work outs I feel like I better lay low.
Part of this is also related to the way I've been storing energy. Over the summer I'm working all the time, but I've rarely got the throttle to the floor for more than a short while. It's more just a constant.
Now however I spend most of my day in idle, except for a few hours of the day at which point the pedal is theoretically on the floor to darn close.
As a result I notice that I tire out a lot sooner on my after work rides much more quickly than I would have last spring.
Then there's the psychological. Like I said, it sucks to feel like you're making up for slacking off and that I'm not strong enough to enjoy the rides I want to do.
On top of that is the nearing winter.
Who knows for sure when we'll get snow on the ground this year, and while the weather is really great right now, riding season is fast coming to an end.
To a certain extent it would almost make more sense to just start doing dryland training for skiing, but I hate that.
So I'll ride, and just try and get all the systems back online, and come October, I'll start snowdancing, aka, dryland training.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Combo folliage ride

Fall has arrived in the high reaches of the Kenai Peninsula. Don't blink or you'll miss it.
Nothing will ever hold a candle to the vibrant colors of New England at peak foliage season, but for a short time, this place lights up in intense shades of yellow, gold and red that gives the northeast a fair run for its we don't have all those out-of-state leaf peepers poking around on our roads!
I knew that with bright sun in the forecast I wanted to do a ride in Devils/Resurrection Pass area this weekend, leaving me with a few options. Ideally I was hoping to arrange for a shuttle and ride up Devils Pass to the Resurrection Trail junction, head north over the pass and down to East Creek Cabin (about as far north as it's worth riding on the trail) and then double back continuing on Res to Cooper Landing.
Unable to rally up the forces, and not feeling like doing an out-and-back from Cooper Landing to East Creek, I decided to do the loop, with a combo bike twist.
I've ridden the Devils Pass to Cooper Landing loop before, putting up with the 18.5 mile road ride connection on my fat tire rig.
While the 25 miles of ensuing single track was well worth it, riding a mountain bike on a flat-ish highway is a chore to put it mildly.
Modern full suspension trail bikes like mine aren't really suited to be ridden with the rider in the same position for long stretches. They were intended to traverse terrain where the rider will, by necessity, continually be changing position with fluxxes in trail conditions i.e. up-down-steep climb-switchback-rock garden-etc.
Additionally, the bike isn't geared for speed on the open road, and it's fat knobby (not cheap by any stretch) treads are ground down by the pavement.
As a rule, I try to keep paved road ride connections to 10 miles or less on a trail bike. I'm much more tolerant of dirt roads however like the long Snug Harbor Road, that connects Russian Lakes Trail.
So, in this case, I decided to try something different, and packed up my road bike as well.
On Saturday I headed first to the Devils Pass Trail Head, pulled in and unloaded my mountain bike, found a suitable tree, and locked it up. There, I also left my Camelbak and mountain bike shorts, leaving only food and water in the pack and keeping valuables with me.
I drove back down to the Res Pass Trail Head in Cooper Landing and suited up for a quick 18.5 mile road ride back to Devils Pass Trail Head.
The ride there was uneventful, though the section along the Kenai River is a perilous one for road biking with no shoulder, a windy road and damaged and uneven pavement.
The road ride took an hour, at least a half hour shorter than it would have been to mountain bike as I recall from last summer.
After a quick changeover, I locked up the road bike and hit the trail.

Click to enlarge

A view south from the power line overlook a mile and a half in.

From left, Tern Lake Peak and the north face of Wrong Mountain.

Salmon berries were still around and just as bitter as ever.

Tie dyed mountain. (Click to enlarge)

Looking toward Devils Pass.

A few muddy wet feet west of Devils Pass. Trail conditions were generally good but it has been a wet summer and sections of the trail were definitely soft. To compound that, not to start a user group mudslinging match (cheese anyone?), but there has been quite a bit of equestrian use and a few places have been torn up.

Devils Pass Lake.

The upper valley south of Resurrection Pass from the junction.

The colors in this area are always especially intense. The little glimmer below is Juneau Lake.

Between Swan Lake and Cooper Landing foliage is mixed. Some stretches looked like this, while others were still lush and green.

Cecil Rhodes.

Right Mountain.

Anyone wanna clean my bike? The good thing is the mud around here, if allowed to dry on, can be cleaned off easily with a stiff bristled brush and a rag.
Is it next weekend yet?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Lost Lake

Coast Guard Jared, Jane and I rode Lost Lake on Labor Day under clear blue fall skies. Here's a few pics.

Mt Ascension's glacial bowl was melted out to blue ice and the summit field was wasted. Still neat to look back at the peak with a different perspective.

Some rando below the cabin.

All smiles under sunny skies.

After having lunch and a snack on a bluff above the lake we climbed back up the plateau before making the descent back down.

Pictures like this get me through my week and remind me that on this spot not so many years ago is where this adventure all began.

Reflections off of the lake from the plateau.

Seward and the trails 2,000' vert trajectory.