1/31/11

Back To The Mountains


Our time on the Kenai Peninsula seemed like a vacation from our vacation.  We utilized vehicles; boats, planes and cars, for seeing the sights far more than we are used to.  We did little hiking or backpacking and it just seemed wrong somehow to be allowed to see so much after expending so little effort.  But that would end soon enough and we looked forward to trading boats for boots and returning to our first love - hiking in the mountains.

Where we have been - Wrangell - St Elias National Park in Alaska and Mt Robson Provincial Park in British Columbia


After leaving the Kenai Peninsula we headed to Wrangell-St Elias National Park in Alaska.  Wrangell is another Alaska park where access is more limited without a plane or a boat.  The weather was unsettled and had turned colder ...

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Wrangell Mountains in Wrangell - St Elias National Park, Alaska

... so we opted to stay in the comfort of our motorhome and day hike rather than backpack.  We drove out the Nabesna Road and camped (for free) in a turnout ...

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Our free campsite off of the Nabesna Road in Wrangell - St Elias National Park, Alaska

... with a million dollar view of the Wrangell Mountains.

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Our "million dollar" view of the Wrangell Mountains in Wrangell - St Elias National Park, Alaska

We did two day hikes in Wrangell, the most scenic being the Skookum Volcano Trail with sweeping views of the ­­­Mentasta Mountains to the north. 

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Mentasta Mountains seen from the Skookum Volcano Trail in Wrangell - St Elias National park, Alaska

This trail also provided us with our best views of Dall sheep.  At one point I counted 23 from where I was standing.  Later on a flock headed closer to us, they seemed almost as interested in us as we were in them. 

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Dall sheep seen in Wrangell - St Elias National park, Alaska

We also did a dayhike on the Caribou Trail and thoroughly enjoyed the view of the valley and the fall colors.  All of our Wrangell - St Elias National Park photos are on Flickr.

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Jean on the Caribou Trail in Wrangell - St Elias National park, Alaska

We left Alaska and re-entered Canada.  The Wrangell Mountains continue east and merge with the St Elias Mountains Kluane National Park, Yukon.  We reluctantly passed Kluane by, wanting to keep heading south and settling this time for just a few photographs taken from the road.   All of our Kluane National Park photos are on Flickr.

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Golden Larch trees and the St Elias  Mountains in Kluane National Park, Yukon

We took the Stewart-Cassiar Highway south and found it to be wonderfully scenic and in surprisingly good repair (summer construction projects had been completed), a far better choice than returning on the Alaska Highway.

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A "Yukon sized" rainbow seen while driving on the Stewart-Cassier Highway, Yukon

Our next stop was Stewart, British Columbia for access to the adjacent small community (and veritable ghost town) of Hyder, Alaska.   Hyder offers unique bear viewing opportunities as the Forest Service has provided elevated wooden walkways to allow better viewing of bears fishing in Fish Creek (tourists are “protected” by wooden railings and gates).  However, as it was so late in the season the annual salmon run had diminished and only one bear was seen while we were there.

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A lone bear seen catching salmon in Fish Creek in Hyder, Alaska 

Driving 25 miles up a gravel road outside of Hyder (and back into BC) provided us with great views of the Salmon Glacier.  All of our Salmon Glacier photos are on Flickr.

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Salmon Glacier in British Columbia, Canada

We then did some marathon driving heading southeast toward the Canadian Rockies stopping first at Mt Robson Provincial Park.   We did a 3 day/2 night backpack trip to Berg Lake, at the base of Mt Robson.  This park is purported to have the best maintained trails in the Canadian Rockies which felt luxurious after the sketchy or nonexistent trails in Alaska.

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Jean on the trail to Mt Robson in Mt Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia

The trail passes Kinney Lake ...

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Kinney Lake in Mt Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia

... and continues up through what is called "Valley of a Thousand Falls" including the outstanding Falls of the Pool ... 

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Falls of the Pool in  Mt Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia

... and Emperor Falls.

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Jean with Emperor Falls in  Mt Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia

The campground at Berg Lake, where we planned to spend two nights, contains a number of constructed tent pads and we found one far enough away from other campers to have a good sense of privacy.  The park has provided a hut adjacent to the lake, complete with a wood stove, for day use; cooking, eating, drying gear etc, and most campers seemed to prefer being closer to it.  Out of curiosity we looked in and found it surprisingly crowded and noisy given the dry, albeit cold, weather.  We felt no desire to be indoors with such great views available outside. We cooked and ate supper right on the lake.

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Our "kitchen" with a view of Mt Robson and Berg Lake in Mt Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia 
 
Mt Robson is the highest point in the Canadian Rockies and rises sharply, about 7500 vertical feet, out of Berg Lake.  On the second day we did a dayhike up to the Mumm Basin which first passes the appropriately named Toboggan Falls. 

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Toboggan Falls in Mt Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia 

Later on this trail crosses over briefly into Jasper National Park in Alberta.  We had some great views of Rearguard Mt, the Robson Glacier as well as Mt Robson and Berg Lake.  On the way back to camp we took the short side trail for closer views of Robson Glacier.

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View of Mt Robson (far right) Adolfus Lake (left) Berg Lake (right) from Mumm Basin Trail in Mt Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia

As the trail continues back toward Berg Lake we got a closer look at Robson Glacier ...

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Robson Glacier in Mt Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia

... and the lake below it.

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Lake below Robson Glacier in Mt Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia

On our last night we were treated to one of the most beautiful sunsets we have ever seen!

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Sunset over Mt Robson and Berg Lake in Mt Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia

We awoke on our last day to falling snow with several inches already accumulated.  The temperature had dropped and it felt as though winter had arrived over night.  We cooked and ate breakfast in the warm, dry but very crowded hut.  The hike out was initially in the snow until we lost enough elevation for it to turn to rain.   We took a break at the shelter located next to Kinney Lake and admired the positive attitude of some Kiwis who were headed up to Berg Lake on this wet day but given the climate of New Zealand I suppose it felt "normal".  All of our Mt Robson Provincial Park photos are on Flickr. 

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Golden Larch trees and Kinney Lake in Mt Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia 

Our next destination is Jasper National Park and more mountains!


This next bit is just something Jean has been thinking about.

If I were King of the Forest

I am not a brave person and I identify with the Cowardly Lion in the “Wizard of Oz” because I too can scare myself by simply “pulling my own tail”.  I have been cursed with an overly active imagination that can form vivid images of disastrous outcomes for any given situation.

When I was a kid the favorite family outing was driving to Natural Bridge State Park, located within the Red River Gorge in eastern Kentucky.  There is a rock formation visible from the road, Chimney Top Rock, and while I was always excited to see it I never once thought about climbing to the top of it.  Little did I know that years later I would fall in love with a guy who did. 

 John before I met…

 …  his “inner adventurer"

One weekend in early January 1977, while John and I did some winter camping in Red River Gorge, he decided we should get to the top of Chimney Top Rock.  We were exploring around the base looking for a likely route when we came across 2 guys arguing.  One was adamant, “You can’t climb up there without a rope.  You’d be crazy to climb up there without a rope”.  While that got my attention John was unimpressed.  He quickly walked by them and said something I have since heard many times, “Come on Jean”.

Chimney Top Rock

I was anxious but I did manage to get to the top…where I came to the unhappy conclusion that I would have to climb back down.  I realized that being airlifted by helicopter really wasn’t an option.  Before long we headed back down, John in the lead.  It was January, it was cold and there was snow.  I was wearing blue jeans, cotton long underwear and wool mittens.  Everything was wet.  My hands were cold.  My fingers numb.  I tried to reassure myself that it would be okay because I could depend on my feet to climb down.  However I reached a point where I couldn’t see anywhere to put them.  So I called down “Hey John, where do I put my feet?”  His reply, “There’s no place to put your feet, you’ve got to use your hands”, made my heart sink.  I could “see” my crumpled body in the rocks below.  I did manage to get down safely but became quite upset immediately afterward.  The plan had been to find a good place off the trail to take a break and eat some brownies we still had with us but all I could think was ‘I want my brownie… I need my brownie…I need my brownie now!’  So I sat down in the middle of the trail and ate it.

We both learned something about the other that day.  I learned that John would encourage me to get into situations where I would be afraid but that I could probably trust his judgment and I would most likely survive.  John learned that I was willing to try and I just might be able to keep my head long enough to get myself out in one piece... but he had better have chocolate ready for afterward.  We both apparently found this acceptable as we started living together later that month.

Surviving life with John...at least so far.  Louisville, KY in 1977

The past 34 years with John have provided me with numerous opportunities to exercise my imagination and experience my fears and phobias.  In each instance I could “see” some disaster befalling me (and “read” the subsequent headline)…learning to scuba dive in the cold, deep, dark waters of Puget Sound (“Diver eaten by giant Wolf eel!”), hiking toward  molten lava flowing out of Mount Kilauea on Hawaii’s Big Island (“Pele demands sacrifice - seeks virgin, settles for middle-aged married woman!”), crossing exposed rock slopes in the Canadian Rockies (“Hiker falls to death – innate clumsiness blamed!”), backpacking after dark in Glacier (“Husband reports wife disappeared after seeing ‘glowing eyes’ in Glacier backcountry!”), facing bears in Denali (“Bear attacks menopausal backpacker in Denali - chocolate thought to be involved!”) and so on... 

Lava flows from Mount Kilauea had obliterated a town as well as the road and the trail. 
The sign said the trail was closed but we were just getting started.

While I was nervous in each instance I treasure the memories and the sense of accomplishment I felt when I was able to work through my anxieties and calm my fears. I’m still not a brave person but over the years my comfort zone has expanded a bit and I’ve learned I can choose between becoming immobilized by my fears and focusing on the task at hand - surviving.

Hiking the Alpine Circuit near Lake O'Hara, Yoho National Park, BC

I’m reminded of the time we were headed up Red Mountain in the North Cascades.  We were part way up a steep scree filled avalanche chute.  I have lousy balance, weak ankles and I dislike the sensation of my feet sliding underneath me (I hated roller skating, downhill skiing terrified me and I even managed to dislocate a hip cross-country skiing!?!).  So I resorted to crawling.  However, I was dismayed when all 4 points of contact began sliding beneath me.  I could “see” myself sliding all the way back down, being buried in a big pile of sharp rocks (“Search continues for hiker lost in rock slide!”).  Just at that moment John looked back and, seeing my predicament, asked me how I was doing.  I looked up at him and said “My next husband is going to be a dancer”.  He laughed and said I had to survive this one first.  Well, so far so good.

“Come on Jean”, Cape Kiwanda, Oregon
(“Woman buried alive after bluff collapses - foolishly ignored 'Danger' sign ")





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