Gulkana Glacier… Try, Try Again

We couldn’t see a safe way to actually get on Gulkana Glacier during our previous hikes – we were stymied right at the edge of the glacier due to being unable to cross the crashing current. We know that some people have hiked right up onto the unstable moraine in the brittle zone at the foot of the glacier in previous years, but glaciers morph every year… and that way, too, seemed risky at this point. We decided to try an “over the top approach”.

Gulkana Glacier Overlook

Gulkana Glacier Overlook

We waited for a good weather day, and packed for a 2 day overnight trek. This time, after we crossed the suspension bridge, we stayed alert for a trail to the right, which we hoped would enable us to ascend to the peak of the moraine and get past the the unstable end moraine and the creek coming out of Gulkana – success!!!

Only about a tenth of a mile or so after crossing the suspension bridge we encountered a very small trail that did a right diagonal in the general direction we had hoped to be able to go. We took it – it was narrow and at times hard to see, but it did gradually rise, until we were actually on top of the moraine and headed in the right direction.  After a mile or so, we were able to see some beautiful tundra, far down to our right, which would have been much easier walking than the moraine peak we were on, however there didn’t seem to be any reasonable way to reach it off the moraine, and we were not sure where it might lead if we did the work to get down to it.  (In retrospect that would have been a good approach.)

Rugged Landscape on the Moraine

Rugged Landscape on the Moraine

To look at a moraine, you would think that it was like any other rocky boulder climb. But it isn’t. Most rocky slopes (such as along a shore) have some degree of stability. Most piles of boulders have been around for a long, long time, and have “settled” and interlocked in place. In many cases they are firmed in place with dirt or sand or loose gravel. Sometimes they are stabilized by a thin layer of topsoil created by the action of mosses, lichens and other plants that break down the rock itself. Given enough time. Not so with a moraine. It is as if a giant spilled his enormous pile of blocks in a heap. Yesterday.

A Multitude of Alpine Plants Stabilizing Rocks on an Older Moraine

A Multitude of Alpine Plants Stabilizing Rocks on an Older Moraine

Lichen Rock Art

Lichen Rock Art

Once-Upon-a-Time Mud Now Rock

Once-Upon-a-Time Mud Now Rock

We stuck with the path we were on, though the footing was difficult, and in another mile or so we could see Gulkana Glacier below us to our left.

Meltwater Streams on the Glacier

Meltwater Streams on the Glacier. It Looks So Close. (It Isn’t!)

The moraine we were on descended to a creek basin that we felt was probably created by glacial run off. It was dry, with no water flowing through at that time. Once we got ourselves down to it, we located a high point where we could pitch our tent on sandy gravel. (In retrospect that was probably a dangerous idea. Every year campers die when their campsite floods unexpectedly, and we could see clear signs of water flow in the sand bar. Hmmm.)

Tent Camp Behind Moraine

Tent Camp Behind Moraine

Gulkana Glacier Tent Camp

Gulkana Glacier Tent Camp

We set up the tent, and once finished, grabbed our “kitchen” and walked a couple of hundred yards upstream (and upwind) to cook our supper, good “bear country” camping practice. (Side note: on this entire expedition we have seen no evidence of bears – no tracks, no scat – but we have continued to carry bear deterrent spray and treat our food and trash as if bears were present.)  Anyway, continuing up wind, we found a flat rock and set up our Whisper Jet stove and boiled 2 cups of water for our Mountain House meal of Chicken Rice Teriyaki, which was delicious!

Whisper Jet Set-Up

Whisper Jet Set-Up

Once supper was done, and the dishes washed and put away, we decided to ascend the moraine between us and the glacier. Our goal was to descend the moraine onto Gulkana’s surface and walk about a bit. That’s one great thing about this time of year in Alaska – the day just never ends until you’re exhausted. It was quite a hike – both Linda and I have no problem with up, but the descent was pretty stressful, with 4 different levels. We’d think we had one more ridge to get over and down to the surface of the glacier – 4 times!

Ric Descending Moraine

Ric Descending Moraine

Finally, we reached the level of the ice, which was mostly covered with gravel and rocks. We donned our micro-spikes and set out. It was probably a good 200 or 300 yards until we were past the rocks and gravel and actually on the ice. Then we took our time to explore the amazing world of glaciers… It was a hard won reward to be sure!

Ric Hiking Across Gulkana Glacier

Ric Hiking Across Gulkana Glacier

Rock Wall Riddled with Intrusive Igneous Dikes

Rock Wall Riddled with Intrusive Igneous Dikes

On Gulkana - Looking Down Valley

On Gulkana – Looking Down Valley

On Gulkana - Looking Up Glacier

On Gulkana – Looking Up Glacier

The surface was like a very icy, knobby, snow (firn) and gave a satisfying crunch as we tramped around. We encountered some very small crevices in progress that were easy to step over.

Lin Walking Across the Glacier

Lin Crunching Across the Glacier in Her Microspikes

Lin on Gulkana Glacier

Lin on Gulkana Glacier. Worth the Effort!

 

In the course of our 2 hour or so meander we actually came across 3 different moulins, which we had read were the cause of death (a much larger one than those we saw!) of a 9 year old boy out on a snowmobile outing with his family. Moulins and crevasses can be exceedingly dangerous. Even the small moulins we saw were pretty impressive features – not that wide, but extremely deep from what we could see. You can hear the sound of the water swirling and falling and echoing, as if into a deep, deep well.

 

A Small Moulin on Gulknana Glacier

A Small Moulin on Gulknana Glacier

I estimate that we walked between 1/2 and 2/3 of the way across the lower end of the glacier when we decided that given our days’ walk and what we had left to do before we got “home” we would head back. When we felt we had reached the edge of the glacier and bottom of the moraine, we found a rock to sit and doff our micro spikes. Looking at the moraine, we could see how the ice continued inside (beneath the rocks) and up quite a ways. Kind of makes you wonder where solid “ground” began!

Lin Hiking Up the Moraine

Lin Hiking Up the Moraine

By the time we made it back to camp, we were both very tired. All thoughts of reading or journaling quickly evaporated once we were in the tent and horizontal. As we approached camp, I noticed that there was a significant flow of water that had not been there when we left. Apparently it had rained higher in the mountains and we were just now getting the run off. We began to doubt the wisdom of our tent placement and used rocks to deepen the stream bed around the tent and built small banks to help the water divert around our tent. Soon we had water flowing on both sides of the tent (which was only 3 or 4 inches higher than the channel the water was flowing in).  Still, there was really no better place to put the tent, the sky was fairly clear, and the forecast was favorable. So we called it a night (a very restless night.)

The next morning, amongst grunts and groaning, mostly by Ric, we popped up right around 5 AM. It felt very cool – somewhere in low 40’s. Lin was VERY pleased with the new sleeping mat that Lyric and Matt had sent her bought for her birthday. The mat plus the thermolite liners and Jack R Better Sleeping Bags kept us warm into the 30s for very little pack weight.

Ice on the Water in the Morning

Cool Indeed! There is ICE on that Water!

The water which had been flowing on both sides of the tent when we went to sleep, was completely dried up – though another stream was still flowing out from rocks, just downstream from our camp. While Lin got organized, I walked the 100 yards or so to our food stash and retrieved it for our breakfast and day’s travel. Once we had some chow, we broke camp down and packed for our return hike. We were able to establish the route along the peak of the moraine. After a quarter to half a mile, I noticed a trail at the foot of the moraine that appeared to be parallel to our path and we decided to check it out – which meant another moraine down slope to negotiate. Once on that trail, it led to the tundra section we had seen during our hike in.

From that vantage, we could see College Creek, and we decided to head along the base of the hills and try to get to a point where we’d be able to see College Glacier. We named this valley “Cross Glacier Valley” because you could get to either glacier from that point.
The tundra was much easier hoofing than the moraine and at one point we both thought of the them from the “Sound of Music” – you know – “The Hills are Alive, with the Sound of Music…”.

The Hills are Alive with the Sound...

The Hills are Alive…

Ric Approaching College Glacier

Ric Approaching College Glacier

We saw some critters along this portion of our hike, including what we thought might be a fox, but then decided was an arctic ground squirrel of giant proportions, and a mama Ptarmigan and her chicks.

Ptarmigan Wearing Granite Camo

Ptarmigan Wearing Granite Camo

Once we got back to our packs, we had lunch and decided to try and get down to College Creek and hike along it to get back to the suspension bridge, reasoning that it had to be easier hiking than going back up and along the peak of a moraine.

College Creek Overlook

College Creek Overlook and Our Route Home

Once we got down to the creek – which was a bit of a challenge – we followed the creek for a couple of hours, encountering some stretches that were very narrow and close to fast flowing water, and then finally spotted the bridge – both quite relieved due to fatigue. It was still another half mile along the river so we elected to try bushwhacking to the trail that we had come out on. This meant scaling a fairly steep alder brush embankment.

Bad idea. After a grueling bit of this, we still had not encountered the trail and we were both completely bushed and annoyed by the small (non-biting) black flies that we disturbed in the brush. The flies tries to fly into any orifice they could find… eyes, nose, ears, mouth. We never could figure out what they wanted from us! We forged ahead. It was grueling, but we knew the direction where the bridge lay and we were not really THAT disoriented. Just dissatisfied with the available choices!

Twenty minutes later we found another trail that did in fact lead down to the suspension bridge. Only a half a mile to go to get to the truck! As soon as we got a very short distance onto the bridge it started to rain – then to pour. A suspension bridge is no place to remove your pack and don rain gear so we got fairly soaked getting across. Once there, we donned raincoats and put pack covers on, and walked the remaining distance to the truck.
As always, these kinds of hikes present challenges and we make mistakes and learn from them. They also serve to remind us of the comfort of such things as comfortable car seats at the end of the hike; a warm, dry and relatively bug proof roof over our heads; and a cold beer in the fridge!

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Gulkana Glacier. In a word: “Amazing”

There is just so much about this place to share. This is the place where we really felt like we had accomplished some of our goals for this trip. If we could choose just one place to spend an entire summer in Alaska, this would probably be it.

To begin with, while we were at our boondock site near Paxson and the Denali Highway, we explored north on the Richardson Hwy to Summit Lake to try to find a certain long suspension bridge over College Creek which provides access to Gulkana Glacier. Dan (remember Dan? The Audubon guy from our last post?) had told us about this legendary bridge. It sounded like just our kind of adventure.
We turned onto a gravel road and onto the outwash plain for the Gulkana River. The area is used for primitive camping and we scouted for a good site . It didn’t take us long to decide that, while our site in Paxson was good, this site would be spectacular!

Gulkana Camp

Gulkana Glacier Camp

We then drove out a long ways on this gravel road, until it deteriorated and looked more like a stream than a road. We found a good place to park the truck and hoofed it the rest of the way. We found the bridge without too much trouble (one minor detour – our mistake).
The bridge was “as advertised” … and awesome.

Crossing the Suspension Bridge

Crossing the Suspension Bridge

Looking Down Over the Creek

Looking Down Over the Creek

Ric at the End of the Bridge

Ric at the End of the Bridge

Crossing the bridge provides access to a path that leads to Gulkana Glacier. Gulkana is monitored very closely by the USGS. (It is currently receding about 0.4 meters each year.)  It’s rugged terrain has also served as a winter military training ground for decades, as well as a training ground for geology students, and a proving ground for Mars Rovers.

Gulkana Glacier

Gulkana Glacier

From a visual standpoint it is a lovely sight, with sweeping curves defined by its medial moraine stripes. It has a dramatic cliff on its left side, with deeply crevassed, overhanging ice. It was love at first sight.
This first day we determined that we would cross the bridge, and then just see how far we could go without any serious equipment. The trail was distinct after crossing the bridge, and took us over an overgrown, stabilized moraine to the creek flowing out of the glacier -a typical braided glacial creek with milky bluish white water, laden with rock flour. Here’s a short video of the walk up to the foot of the glacier:

As we approached the foot of the glacier, we could see that the creek would be formidable to cross, so we kept hiking along the right shoreline to the mouth of the creek, where it gushed from from a small cave beneath the glacier.
We spent a bit of time searching for an easy access to the ice, but got the impression (as we watched small avalanches of small rocks and pebbles sliding off the moraine) that it was probably not the safest place to hang around for very long. Many of those large boulders surrounding us had begun their journey higher up! We sat on a boulder and had a quick (very quick) lunch as we listened to the music of these little rock slides.
At the end of the day (really – at the end of the day), we were determined to find a reasonably safe way onto the glacier, however. But decided to give it some thought and try again another day, armed with a little more planning and our microspikes.

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Birding and Blooming on the Denali Highway

On our last trek to Alaska, we somehow missed the Denali and Richardson Highways and the region called the “Interior”.
Yah. I know. I don’t know either.

Our plan this time is to spend more time in different regions, settling into an area and really exporing it for a week or two, rather than just cruising through and skimming the surface.
So, having by-passed this region last time, this time it was on our A-list. Good choice.We found a great boondock spot in Paxton on an old highway road alignment right near the junction of the Denali Highway and the Richardson Highway.

Paxton Boondock Camp

Paxton Boondock Camp

It had a wheeler road for hiking up to a higher elevation. A little muddy in spots, and a place where you really want to have that bear spray ready.

Ric Foot and a Bear Print

Ric Foot and a Bear Print

During our stay here we were richly rewarded with absolutely stunning scenery, beautiful wildflowers, glaciers and great birding all in one package.

Gulkana Glacier and Summit Lake

Gulkana Glacier and Summit Lake. Taken from the Denali Highway. Dimmed by Smoke from the Many Fires that Were Burning in Alaska – But Still Beautiful.

The Richardson Highway runs all the way from Fairbanks to Valdez. We accessed it from Delta Junction at the end of the Alaska Highway, and then headed southwest toward Paxson and the junction of the Denali Highway (Route 8). (If you were to follow the Denali Highway all the way, it would take you to the town of Cantwell, which is just a short distance from Denali National Park.)

Interior Alaska Map

Map of Interior Alaska Region

We found an excellent boondock site conveniently located near the Richardson/Denali Highway intersections. It was on an old section of hardtop that paralleled the highway, but was abandoned for a highway re-alignment. It was a bit mosquitoe-ey, but that is to be expected in Alaska, and besides, we are fairly used to dealing with mosquitoes from our time in Maine.

"Mosquitoes" at Delta Junction

“Mosquitoes” at Delta Junction

One of our first explorations out on the Denali bought us to a great roadside rest with interpretive signs. This one picture pretty much explains why the scenery is so spectacular…

Diagram of Alaska Range Geology

Diagram of Alaska Range Geology. Yep. That’ll do it.

This area is, of course, riddled with faults. You can’t just push mountains into the sky without some sort of payback. The Denali fault produced a 7.9 magnitude earthquake in 2002. It’s probably overdue. But we only think about that constantly.
At about 13 miles out on the Denali Highway we came to a BLM rest area. There was a hiking trail across the road so we decided to explore. The path quickly rose into alpine tundra. Luck was with us as we soon encountered another birder (named “Dan”) who was a board member of Audubon and did birding walks for members. He gave us a lot of his time and wonderful advice about what birds to look for in the area… plus some excellent tips on binoculars for birding. We really appreciate his taking time for us. It just turns out that this location (13-Mile Hill) is one of the primo birding hikes in this area.

Ric on 13-mile Hill

Ric on 13-mile Hill

We would come back to this trail again in a few days, and between the two hikes here, plus one at Landmark Gap, we managed to bag most of the birds he mentioned, including American Golden Plovers, Lapland Longspurs, and Arctic Warblers. (The Ptarmigan are a gimme in Alaska.) Thanks again, Dan!

American Golden Plover

American Golden Plover on 13-mile Hill.

Rock Ptarmigan?

I’m leaning toward “Rock Ptarmigan” for the ID. Please comment if you disagree!

We really hit the wildflower timing right on this trip. June and early July  are a good time to catch them in bloom. We have taken many photos, and are working to ID them using an excellent wildflower guide we recently purchased. We’re not always thrilled about every field guide we purchase, but this one is a good one:
Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers: Commonly Seen Along Highways and Byways

Book - Alaskan Wildflowers

Alaskan Wildflowers by Verna E. Pratt. I Love This Book!

One of Linda’s goals this trip is to create an album of Alaska flower reference photos for future botanical paintings. Here are a few highlights of the kazillion floral pics we taken. We’ll post the best of the rest in a Flikr album, and add to that as we go along. As always – feel free to correct us if we screw up an ID!

Mountain Avens (Dryas octopetala)

Mountain Avens (Dryas octopetala)

Pink Plume (Polygonum bistorta)

Pink Plume (Polygonum bistorta). An easily identified edible plant. Leaves may be eaten raw or cooked.

Nagoonberry (Rubus arcticus)

Nagoonberry (Rubus arcticus). Love that Name!

Here’s the link to Linda’s Alaska Flower album on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/34102695@N00/sets/72157656113830226

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Cross Canada Plains to Alaska 2015

Ric is Ready to Drive the Alaska Highway

Ric is Ready to Drive the Alaska Highway

We had figured on taking about three weeks to cross Canada from the Sweetwater/Coutts border crossing to the US border at Poker Creek. We’d be taking the “plains” route  through Calgary and Edmonton, rather than the “Icefields Highway” that we took last time (in 2011).

As we crossed the border from Sweetgrass, Montana to Coutts, Alberta our young Canadian border officer raised his eyebrows when we said we would be three weeks crossing Canada.
“Three weeks?” he queried. “The truckers can do it in 3 days!”
“We’re old” we said. “We move slow, we only travel 180 miles a day.”
“Ah, OK then, I guess that works out about right if you visit some Provincial Parks.”

Turns out the young man was right. Three weeks was a bit on the long side, especially since we didn’t stay at any Provincial Parks. It only took us a week to get to Dawson City, where we lingered a few days to goldpan in the Klondike. In fact, we stayed at no campgrounds at all across Canada, boondocking the entire way (right about 2,000 miles).
We didn’t spend a single loonie on camping.
We didn’t miss out on the sights, however, at least not the ones that are important to us. Like this GIANT beaver in Beaverlodge

Giant Beaver in the Town of Beaverlodge

Giant Beaver in the Town of Beaverlodge

and plenty of roadside wildlife through the Canadian Rockies…

Stone Sheep along the Alaska Highway

Stone Sheep along the Alaska Highway

Mom Moose and Baby Crossing the Alaska Highway in Canadian Rockies

Mom Moose and Baby Crossing the Alaska Highway in Canadian Rockies

The WalMart boondock RV camp in Whitehorse was the most extreme we had ever seen. Three-quarters of the lot was filled with overnighting RVs. Lots of RV-er dinero being spent inside from what we could see (including us!). Bless you WalMart!

Whitehorse WalMart RV Overload

Whitehorse WalMart RV Overload

A special treat was the Yukon river trail, right across the road from where we parked our RV at the edge of the WalMart lot. The islands on the river host the largest nesting colony of Mew Gulls in the Yukon. We had a nice break walking the trail after a day of driving.

Mew Gull Sign in Whitehorse

Mew Gull Sign in Whitehorse. The Gulls Have Added a Few Artistic Touches.

Mew Gull - Nesting and Preening

Mew Gull – Nesting and Preening on an Island in the Yukon River, Whitehorse.

From Dawson City we took the ferry across the Yukon to the “Top of the World Highway.” We only had to wait about fifteen minutes for the ferry to come back across the river,and then we were on our way…

We crossed the border at Poker Creek, on June 9th, well ahead of schedule.

Inukshuk Management Near the AK Border

Inukshuk Management Near the AK Border

Poker Creek Border Crossing Station

Poker Creek Border Crossing Station. The Most Northerly Land Border Post in the USA.

Poker Creek Border Crossing

Poker Creek Border Crossing Stamp. A Nice Touch!

From there we made it to the Taylor Highway and started to scout around for a suitable campsite, somewhere in the Jack Wade Creek area. The BLM allows public gold panning for a considerable distance along the Taylor Highway in this region. As luck would have it, we found an idyllic “back-in-off-the-road” site, right along the creek. It was more level than a lot of campsites that we have paid good money for, and we were ready to stay in place for a few days for R and R. We did a little panning, and found several wheeler trails nearby for hiking, as well as a maintained trail (rare in Alaska) to the Lost Chicken Creek Dredge.

One of the Last Groomed Trails We Will See in Alaska!

One of the Last Groomed Trails We Will See in Alaska!

Ric Hiking Near the Taylor Hwy

Ric Hiking Near the Taylor Hwy

We also put the canoe in the water on the South Fork of the Forty-mile for a short paddle, and saw this rather incredible sculpture in the boat launch parking area. It is made up of debris and wreckage taken from the river…

River Debris Sculpture. Flotsam from South Fork Forty-Mile River.

River Debris Sculpture. Flotsam from South Fork Forty-Mile River.

We stayed five days at the site, during which time we were blessed with blue skies and warm temperatures. It has been a warm and dry spring here and it is beginning to show in the water levels in the creeks, and in the forest fires burning across the state. The streams are surely looking bony. The trout, who liked to spend time in a nice deep pool nearby have started to move down stream. Probably an instinctual move to get to deeper and colder water. Lin spent a few pleasant afternoons panning for gold in the creek.

Lin Panning for Gold along Jack Wade Creek

Lin Panning for Gold along Jack Wade Creek

We decided to move downstream as well – onward to Tok where we can get a phone signal and touch base with friends and family, before moving on to the Denali Highway in the Alaska Interior.
But we couldn’t go to Tok without stopping in Chicken to see THE Chicken…

Muddy Rv at Chicken, AK

Muddy Rv at Chicken, AK

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Reptile Roundup

We always look forward to our close encounters of the reptilian kind when we winter in the southwest. This was a particularly good year, with our first ever encounters with rattlesnakes – both a Prairie Rattler and a Western Diamondback Rattler. We also enjoyed our meet-ups with a variety of lizards. They often move so fast that we question whether we have seen anything at all as they dart across our trails. We count ourselves lucky when they  “freeze in place” on a rock or among vegetation, relying on their considerable lizard ninja camo skills… then at least we can get a picture. Or two. Or twenty.

So as we work our way north and leave the desert behind, here is this year’s “Reptile Roundup” of some of our best reptile pics from New Mexico and Arizona in 2015. Using “herpwiki” we took our best shot at identification, but please understand that we are only amateur naturalists – so feel free to leave a comment to help identify any reptiles if you have a better ID!  (We have posted links to two good photo resource sites at the end of this blog to help you in your own reptile research.)

Prairie Rattlesnake

Prairie Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis). Photographed at City of Rocks State Park.

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake – (Crotalus atrox). Full View – Looks Like She Just Had Lunch!

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Close-up of Pattern). Thank you Jesus for telephoto.

Western Diamonback Rattlesnake (Tail)

Western Diamonback Rattlesnake (Close-up of Tail). Photographed at Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Arizona

Great Basin Fence Lizard

Great Basin Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis longipes). Photographed at the Grand Canyon.

Southwestern Earless Lizard

Southwestern Earless Lizard. Photographed at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park in the Riparian zone. We just call you “Rainbow Lizard”

Schott's Tree Lizard

Schott’s Tree Lizard (Urosaurus ornatus schotti). Photographed on the Dragonfly Trail in the Gila National Forest near Silver City.  First prize for camo.

Great Plains Earless Lizard

Great Plains Earless Lizard (Holbrookia maculata maculata). Taken at City of Rocks in Faywood, NM.

HERE ARE THE HERP LINKS:
herpwiki.com
nmherpsociety.org

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Climbing Superstition Mountain (Lyric & Matt visit, part 2)

 Superstition Mountain from lower Siphon Draw Trail 1Superstition Mountain from the Siphon Draw trail – summit is right up the draw – sort of visually behind that Saguaro Cactus.

 Saturday, May 9, 2015 – Lyric & Matt have been with us nearly a week. We have to take them back to the Airport next Monday and they (and we) really liked tenting at Lost Dutchman State Park – we couldn’t get site #8 which we had before, however site #6, next door was almost as good. Lyric and Matt were off exploring early and I wanted to get a good strenuous walk in, but got a much later start. After about half an hour of walking, I decided I would try to summit Superstition Mountain using the Siphon Draw trail which was supposed to be a 6 mile round trip with a 2000′ foot elevation gain over about 1 hiking mile from what is called the “basin”, probably a full mile to mile and a half into the hike.

The Basin of Superstition MountainThe “Basin” on the side of Superstition Mountain – feels steeper than it looks!

I had passed the basin and was probably less than half way to summit when guess who I came upon? Lyric and Matt! They had decided to give it a try and they stated that they were into a slow and steady ascent.  I was tryng to pump in order to get my blood sugar way down – because we had a big Mother’s day celebration dinner planned for the following day so after a short visit I went on.
It was pretty rugged going and it took me probably another hour and a half to two of hard work to make the top, including a couple of false turns causing me to lose the trail and adding a full mile (as I determined later when checking my GPS tracking software) to my hike making it 7 miles instead of the advertised 6 miles round trip. Fortunately the trail was crowded due to it being a weekend and there were lots of folks who had done this before – once I figured out my mistake and got back near the trail I spotted someone and shouted. The informed me that they were indeed on the trail and directed me to a a cross trail just a few yards from my location (but indivisible to me until they directed me!) and I was able to get back to the trail and continue my ascent. The upper half of this trail is in serious need of remarking. So many people have strayed from the trail, that it has created ‘false” trails that lure others away from the actual path.view from topPhoto down from top gives an idea of steepness of ascent.

The last 300 yards to quarter mile of this hike is wicked steep, with lots of spots where finger and toe holds and a clamboring attitude are what get you up.
At the summit, I met a couple of young men who asked me to take their picture with all of Phoenix as a back drop. They then took my picture as well.

Summit 1The Summit shot with the “Flatiron” at the upper left

There was a mile long trail along the rim of the top that went from where I met them to what is known as the “Flatiron” which was clearly visible from our campsite.

 Trail to Flatiron on top 1Trail over to “Flatiron” on top

 I ran into and visited with quite a few people – mostly younger and then started down, having spent about an hour or so up on the top, but not before meeting a young man who told me the legend of Superstition Mountain. It seems that back in the day, the Apache’s used to make 1 or 2 pilgrimages per year to the summit of the Mountain for spiritual purposes. One year, two groups made the ascent together and after they reached the summit, so the story goes,  they got caught in a severe thunder storm, with downpours and frequent, violent lightning. When, after a day or two, none had returned, a search party was dispatched. They found no evidence of either group, however there were two massive groups of Hoodoos that had never been there before. That’s the legend.

Hoodoos above Flatiron both groupsHoodoos that legend states were the remains of two groups of Apaches who climbed the mountain for spiritual reasons.

I got down to the bottom of the “cliffy” part – close to a quarter of mile or so from the top, when hear a yell – “Chard!” – well it was Lyric! She and Matt had kept on coming at a steady pace and were very close to summiting. After a short visit in which I described the remaining ascent and they told me about their climb to this point and people they had met coming down and asked about “an old guy with a Vietnam hat on” and got quite a few positive responses. Later, I felt that I probably should have reascended with them, but at that moment I was unsure if I had enough energy to make it back down myself so we promised to catch up later and they went up while I continued down.

A couple of hours and some seriously sore leg muscles later, I crawled into camp where Linda was glad to see me and hear news of Lyric and Matt. She had done a 2.5 mile hike around the base herself which she seemed to have enjoyed.
About an hour before dark, she decided that she would start up the trail with headlamps and extra water to meet them on their descent. I described the “basin” which was steep smooth rock area, and urged her not to go beyond there and in the same conversation, she made me promise to stay and protect the food she had made from the camp critters and to start a fire once dusk came.

I kept my promise until about an hour after dark, then started packing the food up in the truck, where the critters couldn’t get it, got my hiking boots back on and found my headlamp and was just about to leave camp and head toward the Siphon Draw trail when I heard “Chard!” being called, but from the wrong direction – the actual opposite direction I expected them to be coming from! We came with in about a minute of totally missing each other and them arriving at camp and me traipsing off to try to meet them! Close! We had an excellent taco supper and they told about finding 3 (!) rattlesnakes, right in the area I had trampled all over just an hour or so before them. We could still see a few headlamps shining in the darkness on the mountain side and summit – I don’t think I’d be able to do it in the dark – I had enough trouble in broad daylight!

The Flatiron at Superstition Mountain

The Flatiron at Superstition Mountain

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Filed under Alaska Journal, Family, Hike, Southwest

Lyric and Matt Visit Us in AZ (Part 1)

Lyric (our daughter) and Matt (her boyfriend) flew in to Phoenix to spend a week with us recently and to see some of the sights in Arizona.  We were missing each other terribly, so it was an immense pleasure to drag them from one end of the state to the other. We had an awesome time with them and only wish they could be permanent traveling companions –someday maybe!

Lyric and Matt

Lyric and Matt

Rather than bring the RV down to Phoenix (a long trip through mountains) we staged it near Flagstaff at a National Forest site and drove down to tent camp at Lost Dutchman State Park. (We’ll do a “Part 2” post about camping and hiking at Lost Dutchman). What a great State Park!

Superstition Mountain at Lost Dutchman State Park in Arizona

Superstition Mountain at Lost Dutchman State Park in Arizona

Located to the east of Phoenix, it is very much in the thick of the Sonoran desert, with it’s “ever-so-different-from the northeast” flora and fauna and Superstition Mountain as a backdrop. They seemed to enjoy that part of the trip as much as the spectacular Grand Canyon vistas. They also enjoyed the warmer temperatures of southern Arizona!

In fact, our travels around the state during their week-long visit was a great lesson in the effects of altitude on temperature. While in Flagstaff the nights began dipping into the low 20s, and the days were considerably colder than in Massachusetts – only reaching highs in the low to mid 50s. We drove through snow showers driving south from Flagstaff. (Ironically, the week they came here was one in which temperatures in Mass. pushed into the mid to high 70’s!). Go figure.

Of course we took a lot of pictures…but rather than try to post all of them (or even the very best of them) here on this blog, we’ll just post a few and put the rest in a Flikr Photostream link at the end of the blog.

Saguaro in Bloom at Lost Dutchman State Park

Saguaro in Bloom at Lost Dutchman State Park

DAY 1: So, anyway, we set up the tents at Lost Dutchman (it hit 90 degrees in the afternoon), then picked the kids up at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport and returned to Lost Dutchman to tent camp for the night. That way they wouldn’t have to get off the plane (at 8:30 pm) and spend another several hours traveling. By the time we got to camp, thunderstorms were in the area, so we just turned in early.

DAY 2: The next day we did the 3-hour trip to return to the RV at Pinegrove Campground in Flagstaff and just barely squeezed in a quick visit to Walnut Canyon National Monument in the afternoon. Walnut Canyon features cliff dwellings built into shallow caves lining the canyon walls. Archeologists believe that it was the women who built the homes, blocking in the shallow caves with rough cut sandstone cemented together with clay from local deposits.

Exploring Walnut Canyon Cliff Dwellings

Exploring Walnut Canyon Cliff Dwellings

DAY 3: The following morning we relocated 100 miles north to the Ten X campground near the Grand Canyon. We needed fuel but discovered to our dismay that gas prices in Tusayan were $1.00 more than anywhere else along the way. Sigh. Note to self… fuel up BEFORE you get to the “resort area”. We enjoyed our evening around camp, seeing elk walk through the campground and sitting around the campfire. (Matt is an expert fire builder so we had a great campfires every night.)

Lyric and Matt and Elk at Ten X

Lyric and Matt and Elk at Ten X

DAY 4: The next day we put in a full “Grand Canyon” day – putting in over six miles of hiking along the rim trail. We all agreed that was plenty of Canyon… and since we had to return them to Pheonix anyway to catch their flight home, we made a plan to head back south to Phoenix and Lost Dutchman State Park for the duration of the visit. The other motivating factor was the weather. Every night it was getting colder, and the next day’s temperatures were predicting a 22 degree overnight low!

Wings over the Grand Canyon

Wings over the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon and Lyric in Symmetry

Grand Canyon and Lyric in Symmetry

This temperature business made us nervous, to say the least. Our last RV had sustained water damage from burst pipes and we are determined not to let this happen to our new RV. Granted the Nash is four season – but we want to be around to monitor conditions.We could not rationalize leaving the RV alone for 4 days unattended under those conditions. With a bit of internet research we found a boondocking site farther south, in the Verde Valley (about half way between Phoenix and Flagstaff), where the weather conditions were much more favorable.

DAY 5: We pulled the RV to the new site, then loaded our camping gear for tent camping at Lost Dutchman. We would now have two full days to relax and enjoy the Sonoran Desert flora and fauna, and hiking the trails at Lost Dutchman.

Camping at Lost Dutchman State Park

Camping at Lost Dutchman State Park

and here’s the link to a few more of the pictures for the northern AZ part of the trip (really … we showed restraint):
FLIKR PHOTOSTREAM LINK FOR LYRIC and MATT AZ VISIT

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Filed under Family, Southwest, Uncategorized