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quite as shiny as the new ones?
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Western Arctic Spring, March 2006 Photo Gallery and Report
Part 1: Southeast Alaska
Click the photos to see enlarged versions. Click your back button to return to this page. Hold your mouse pointer on the photos to see captions. Special thanks to the various participants for the use of some of their comments.
We met in Prince Rupert, British Columbia on 1 March. The following morning, we boarded the Alaska ferry and the trip was on. Our first stop was Petersburg, a fishing town with some good walking in the hills behind. We spent the day doing some short walks and preparing for our first overnight walk. At this time of year, the Sitka deer come almost into town -- our first wildlife for the trip. It was a grey and somewhat gloomy day when we set out the next morning. The first part of the Ravens Roost trail was flat and easy. This was followed by a steepish climb through the forest. After the forest, we hit open country and snow -- time to put on the snow shoes. Just before lunch we arrived at the Ravens Roost cabin, our home for the night. The heating stove at the cabin had broken down some months earlier, but the US Forest Service decided that having a group from Australia was a good reason to replace it so they helicoptered a new stove in and installed it the day before we arrived. With temperatures far below freezing, it was great to have a bit of warmth that night. The morning dawned crisp and clear. We spent the first half of the day playing in the snow and enjoying the views before heading back down the trail to town after lunch. All too soon, our first walk was over and we were on the boat once more. The boat to Sitka provided us with glimpses of a variety of marine wildlife, seals, dolphins and killer whales. Unfortunately, none was close enough for a decent photo. The route took us through some fairly narrow channels such as the one shown at right.
The ferry schedule didn't permit a long stay in Sitka so we contented ourselves with the Gavan Hill day walk. And what a walk it was. The first landmark was a magnetic observation area where we saw a sign showing how the magnetic variation here in Sitka had changed over the years. In about 90 years, it had changed by 7 degrees – quite substantial.
Not long after that, we began to climb ... and climb, and climb some more. The higher we got, the icier it got and the deeper the snow. By noon, we were on an exposed ridge with the snow coming down and a fairly strong wind blowing. Snow was knee deep. Some of us thought enough was enough, some wanted to continue so we split into two groups. The climbers got a lot further, eventually reaching a peak of some sort. They also both sank chest deep into the snow at one point. I think we were all pleased with our choices.
From Sitka, we took the boat to Juneau, arriving in the late afternoon. The following morning we set off on the Auke Nu Trail to the John Muir cabin. It was fairly steep with relatively little snow up to the Spaulding Trail junction – took half an hour. Somewhere not too far beyond that, we put on snowshoes. It took another two hours to a Mile 2 sign and another half hour (total 3 hours) to reach the cabin. We saw only one other person on the way up, no one at the top. The snow got progressively deeper the farther we went. Even with snow shoes, we were sinking 15-20 cm deep in some places. It was lovely and sunny, clouding over a bit in the afternoon.
Then, there it was, home sweet home. The John Muir cabin contains three levels of bunks and is larger than most. A small plastic sled that had been left at the hut provided us with some afternoon fun. There is a propane heater, turn the timer on, set the thermostat and you have heat. It wouldn't boil water, but it would melt snow – plenty for drinking and cooking. The hut was renovated in 2001. It gets a lot of use and contained log books going back to 1985 – not quite far enough for my first visit in Sept 1984. As the sun set, we were treated to a magnificent sunset. The photos below don't do it justice, but they should give you a feel for what it was like.
Although the new maps don't show a trail from John Muir to Peterson Lake, old maps did have one. The land looked fairly flat on the map so we decided to give it a go. Sure enough, we found the trail and arrived at the Peterson Lake cabin in time for a late lunch. The first part of the walk the next morning was the easiest of the whole trip -- dead flat across the lake. Then we hit the real trail. The trail was boardwalked for a lot of the way but the boards were mostly covered in snow and ice. Most of the trail was in dense forest, quite dark and cold. But no wind. Almost a pity given the clear blue skies. Some bits were incerdibly icy, pure ice for 20-30 m at one or two places. Sometimes walking off the track was safer than on. But it wasn't too hard and we were at the bottom by 11 am. We phoned for a ride and were soon back in Juneau.
We phoned for a ride and started walking as it was a bit too cool to stand around. Southeast Alaska is on the coast and much warmer than the interior. It does, however, get quite cold compared to Australia and they do get a lot of snow. The photo at right shows the only way they can keep access to their fire hydrants. Put them up high and put on a flag.
After lunch, we made a visit to the Mendenhall Glacier (left below). This had retreated noticeably since my last visit in 1994. Next morning, it was back to the ferry for the ride to Skagway and the end of the first stage of our trip. The scenery is spectacular, but, scenery or no, I'm not sure that I'd care to live in the lighthouse shown at right below.
We arrived in Skagway that evening and took a bus to Whitehorse in the Yukon the next morning. The story of the full trip won't fit on a single web page so you can read about and see the photos from the Yukon Dogsled part of our trip on a separate page.
Most of the group weren't quite finished with Alaska. We returned to Skagway two weeks later.
First on our aganda was the Buckwheat Ski Classic. The really serious competitors took part in the 20 and 40 km cross country ski races. Two of us went in the 10 km ski race and two in the 5 km snowshoe race.
The Buckwheat Classic is as much a social event as a competition. Prior to the event, people spend days creating snow sculptures for the drink stops like the one at far left.
The Australian contingent didn't do too badly. Fergal McGrath, who at age 62 had never been on skis before, finished 15th out of 25 male starters in the 10 km event. Russell Willis won the men's snowshoe race.
It made headlines in Darwin. The link at left is page one. Here's the link to page two. That story makes Russell sound like superman and gives Fergal a good mention as well. The NT News is, however, noted more for for it's wild headlines than for the news. If you'd like the full story, have a look at the results on the Skagway News website. (They didn't get all the Australian's labelled correctly. Carolynne Smith and Russell did the snow shoe race. Fergal and Kathy Haskard did the 10 km cross country ski race.)
We weren't finished yet. We had two days before our boat, so we put on our packs for one last time for the walk up the rail line to the Denver Caboose, one of the more interesting wilderness cabins run by the US Forest Service. We finally got back on the ferry for the two night trip back to Prince Rupert. (We got a four berth cabin for an amazingly cheap price.) The photo at left shows the front of the boat as we passed through one of the narrow sections. The photos below show the scenery near Wrangell jusat before our final night on board. The next morning we docked in Prince Rupert and went our separate ways. This wonderful trip was over at last.
The photos here tell only a part of the story.
- Our Canadian Arctic Spring trip notes give you more information about what you can expect if you join us.
- Our Yukon Dogsled photo gallery shows you a very different part of the trip.
Words and photos are no substitute for the real thing. Why not join us and see for yourself?