Last year- Fat tires and beaches
This year - Light bikes and Big mountains!
Established mountain biking trails and even dirt roads in Alaska are limited at best. Creativity is needed to fully come to terms with using a mountain bike as a form of travel in the great land. Not just riding.. but travel, movement through a landscape. No roads, no established trails.
here we go.
The Wrangell Mountains are the western mountains that form the gigantic backbone of peaks making up the Wrangell - St.Elias Range. From the western edge of Mt. Sanford the range is so massive and glaciated, it is a literal sea stretching hundreds of miles past Mt. Logan into Canada and forming the coast range of British Columbia. Amidst the hulking glaciated peaks however, there is one small weakness. The Nabesna to McCarthy Route, which sneaks through passes and around glaciers and canyons to create the only non-glaciated north-south route for hundreds of miles. This 150 ish mile route had been established sometime in the 20's when gold was discovered at Chisana - about half way and was used for years by hardy prospectors and horse trains. In modern times, this route has been used in the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic race. Bikes? why not.
After 300 miles of driving from Anchorage, finally starting out at 6:00 pm with 5 days of food anxious to get moving.
A quick ride down an ATV trail brought us to Little Jack Creek.
Lets go packrafting! Little Jack was a fun creek, but the whole time we were watching clouds from Mordor circle...
After 2 hours we headed straight into the black, and the confluence with the Enormous Nabesna River. The contrast was sever, going from a mellow fresh water creek to a heavily silted glacier fed river roaring at flood stage.
We passed through the rain at our take out at the entrance to the gravel wash of Cooper creek. I was already really glad I brought the extra weight of drysuit.
Heading inland away from the river - we were stoked to finally be biking in the evening hours.
We both started to fall asleep so we stopped around 11:30 and fired up. The next morning was beautiful and we were psyched to get moving.
Heading up Cooper Creek - lots of bashing through Cobbles. We would take this drainage up and over its very top...
The hours ticked by and the canyon grew deeper and the cobbles bigger. The pushing began in earnst.
In winter this creek is wall to wall solid ice, so even in Mid June there is still allot left increasing the "gnar" factor quite a bit.
Leaving Cooper Creek behind and entering the alpine. Finally tundra..
From the pass we could ride again at last, but there was lots of unstable weather in the Notch Creek Valley.
Arriving at Notch Creek, we decided to try packrafting it, but this was stupid, It was not good. Dylan ended up putting a hole in his boat and I severely bruised my left butt cheek.
Picking up the pieces, we kept riding down Notch Creek, finding it to be pretty good for the most part for biking.
Sleep and food at last... could not ask for a nicer spot.
What's for breakfast? This is what happens when you just throw another stick of butter in the food bag for good measure. Butter coated goodness everywhere!
The morning brought sunshine and we got back to riding pretty quick after patching up Dylan's boat, Good gravel and not too many big cobbles.
Notch Creek was inviting though, so we blew up the boats and jumped in it again for a good float until it got really braided and shallow near Cross Creek.
From here we traveled inland, picking up a horse trail that short cutted over to the Chisana River. It was strange to see signs of humans again, some parts of the trail were marked with old steel traps. The trail was ridable a bit, but quickly turned to a muddy and buggy slog.
Reaching the Chisana River, the first channel was big so we had to blow up the boats and do a "lazy" crossing.
Keeping the boats inflated in case another big channel came up, big country..
Then things got interesting, as the entire east side of the river plain was still solid ice - well ice slush actually. Feet were not too happy here.
Finally we were back on solid ground and moving up the Chisana River. The settlement of Chisana is still active with about 10 people living year round with only bush plane access. A few hunting guide outfits also run out of there. We saw what looked like a target range from the river and followed that to an ATV trail and the next thing we knew were were in the back yard of a big cabin complex and greeted by John, one of the guys that works for Pioneer Outfitters. It was a bit of a shock to go from stark solitude to having people around. They invited us for dinner which we accepted (of course) Moose Stroganof and fresh watermelon !? I was feeling pretty claustrophobic and although invited to spend the night (and eat pancakes and moose steak for breakfast) we headed out, hoping to get an early start the next morning. Riding into the Chisana town site however, our extremely full bellies took the better of us and we stayed in a public use cabin.
Leaving Chisana we got on Geohenda Creek, another creek which we would take up into the Alpine.
After a few hours of riding, we began the push again up the cobbles. We were wishing for slightly lower gearing on our bikes because we probably could have kept riding a bit.
Off the river, we picked up a caribou trail which was pretty sweet singletrack riding for a ways.
all was well until I double flatted in the rain. So I walked on to the Solo Mountain Cabin.
The Solo mountain Cabin was built in the 20's for use as a shelter cabin for gold prospectors. The trails leading to and from it are long gone, but it has been maintained through the years and has significant historic value. It was a welcome reprieve from the cold rain. I got my tubes patched, a black wolf trotted past the open window... we sacked out...
Something happened though in the middle of the night, the sound of the rain on the cabin roof stopped. uhmmm must be getting nice out right?
3-4" of heavy wet snow/sleat had accumulated. Dylan and I mentally prepared for the worst and began the slog over to the White River valley.
Navigation was still pretty straight forewords -stay high and avoid the brush. This was my low point of the trip for sure, numb feet and slush packing up on the wheels kept locking up the bike.
Enter the bushwack. We got totally soaked going through this stuff.
Onward down to the Expanse of the White River Valley, the weather started to clear, and with it so did our morale. The White River is the main valley that the Snout of the Russel glacier feeds into - Enormous! The next crux would be to skirt the Glacier's edge and go through Skolai pass - something we did not want to do after coming out from the snow. But in time, the weather broke... and we entered The Throne Room.
I was inspired here by the title of Galen Rowell's book "In the Throne Room of the Mountain Gods" the title was a fitting description to this place. I was simply floored.
With the awesome weather, we were psyched to pull a long night and get over Skolai pass. We stopped to fuel up before leaving all the wood behind. Little did we also know that this would really be the last biking we would do until the 10 mile road into McCarthy in 2 days...
Starting the Skolai Push, we basically skirt the right side of the glacier, just left of the big peak on the right side.
We Joked that we might get attacked by Afgan Rebels here...
Lots and lots of this:
It was an amazing night, although hard work, we simply felt lucky to be here and gawked at the view every chance we had.
16,400' Mt. Bona came into view, the highest peak in the Wrangells.
In 2003 I hauled my butt up there and snapped this photo looking down the opposite way, the pass we were working through is on the lower right.
Onward, finally over the pass and working our way around Skolai lake.
we are nothing here...
Completely thrashed we crashed out in View of the next big hump - getting up and over Chititstone pass. From the pass we would head down the valley, skirt Chititstone gorge on "The Goat Trail" then Float the Chititstone and Nizina Rivers to finish it. We woke up to unstable weather and lots of snow looming above.
Working our way up the steep slippery tundra.
Trying to avoid body-holing in the rotten snow.
Topping out Chititsone pass we gave it a big old "F-U" and continued on.
Leaving the snow behind, we got our first tastes of an actual trail and a view of the gorge coming up.
Starting out on The Goat Trail - I was thinking we were going to able to ride parts of this - I could not have been any more wrong...
Mountain Goats make goat trails - not bike trails!
The path was ever so faint. It would cross the steep eroded gully's, then vanish on the tundra benches. We spent a bit of time route finding, but pretty much 100% of the time - it meant climbing up. The blowing sleat did not help any...
We stripped everything off both our bikes and turned them into 20 lb barbells.
The gully crossings got more and more serious, we were both really on edge when we saw this one from a distance. Kinda a "don't tell mom" sort of thing.
With the worst behind us, we worked our way down tundra benches to get down to the Chititstone river. The valley we came down is to the left.
A long day was ended with a stout bushwack to cliff out. We spent about 2 hrs bashing around before linking scree slopes to get finally "off"...
Waking up to a good morning before floating out the Chititstone. Polished off the last of our food and got moving.
The river is border line class 3 for its upper stretches. So decided to walk down stream a ways. After about 45 minutes of going through more brush we quickly felt "done" and got in the boats- Rapids or no rapids..
no photos from here on - splashy whitewater and one cold Dylan was then name of the game for a few hours. We built a few fires on the way out.. I was again glad I carried a drysuit.
Once we met the Nizina River it was smooth Sailing on the big one, then 10 miles of Dirt road riding to Finish in McCarthy.
I'll end this here. Its rare that a trip can have such a profound effect. During this adventure it felt a little like going through the motions and moving on through. Reflection hit me like a brick wall on the Glenn Highway after we shuttled to my truck for the drive back home. Randomly listening to "Hard Sun" by Eddie Vedder, I just broke down, in the best way possible... feeling so rich in life and encompassed in the shear beauty of this world cranked up to 11.