A Travellerspoint blog

May 2010

The Cascade Creek Expedition

Exploring a Beautiful Creek in the Alaskan Wilds

semi-overcast 55 °F

In survival situations, a common technique used to find your way home is to find a watercourse and follow it down stream until it meets a larger body of water, and civilization. Alternatively, one of the best ways of getting yourself out of civilization and into the wilderness is to find a watercourse and follow it up into the mountains. Prospectors, mountain men, adventurers, and wanderers have been using this technique for eons, with terrific success (Check out the bio on John Colter for a great example).
Earlier this month, I followed the Sitka cross trail to its end at Cascade Creek. I followed a small streamside trail a little ways up to where it ended at an old concrete dam. No more trail, just a creek, and I could see a waterfall just around the next corner about 200 yards upstream. To get there, I knew the easiest way would be just to walk through the water. I needed my Xtratuffs, the Alaskan’s choice for footwear. I could use these rubber boots to easily hike up the stream in the water. To make the same journey on the shore, a jungle of slippery, moss covered logs and deadfalls would block my way. I vowed to return, properly prepared.
Since that first peek at the distant waterfall, I couldn’t seem to get the idea of hiking up the creek out of my head. I looked at topo maps, recreation maps, and made a plan: I would hike upstream as far as I could into the valley, following the water until it ended. Then I hike up the steep, valley wall until I found the Harbor Mt. to Gavan Hill trail which I would follow back to town. It was a hike of about 6 miles, climbing from sea level to over 2000 feet before dropping back down to sea level. It was a solid plan, and I meant to follow through on it the first chance I had.
Today, I walked outside to a beautiful blue sky. Bright sunshine lit up the green foliage, and I knew I wasn’t going to be working much today. It was a day to play outside if I’d ever seen one, and it wasn’t hard to convince my boss that I ought to have the day off. I quickly packed up my day pack, it’s always ready to go, but I had to pack in my hiking boots for when I reached the higher elevations. I made a quick lunch, filled up on water, grabbed “ol’ hickory” (my trusty hiking stick) and set off.

When I stepped into the cold, clear water of the creek, I knew I had made the right choice in footwear. My feet were dry, and the flat rubber soles gripped the rocks and boulders easily. I began following the creek up to the first waterfall that I saw all those weeks ago. When I reached the waterfall, I saw that the river was impassable. The terrain was too steep and slippery to climb up the falls. I looked around, and saw the faint markings of a trail heading around and climbing up into the forest. I hoped others had found a way around the falls, I didn’t want my adventure to end so quickly. The trail, if you could call it that, snaked its way through the green mossy forest roughly following the creek, but some distance away. The woods were thick, full of rotten logs, dead falls, brush, thorny brambles, and completely covered in spongy moss. It was kind of like a vertical swamp, very wet and slippery, black muck holes sucked at each step, but it was set on a steeply angled pitch. It wasn’t easy to walk, but I was glad to have the “trail.” It was far better than trying to navigate the river, which through this section was quite narrow with 3 sets of impassable falls.
After about a quarter of a mile, the foot path returned to the creek, and I once again began slogging through the water. It wasn’t easy going. I had to climb over, scramble under, around and through dozens of logs that had fallen across the creek. When the water was too deep, I had to fight my way through the thickets on the bank, sinking in muck, slipping on rocks and boulders, and impaling myself on the ever present spiny plants. It was a grueling workout; one that I relished, however.
Cascade creek is aptly named. Dozens of small waterfalls make up this beautiful creek, and I was enjoying most of them. Some of them I named, some I simply admired before moving on. All of them were bordered with green moss making for a fetching portrait. Indeed, the white aerated water of the rapids and falls was a perfect compliment to the green world in which it tumbled through. Gorgeous.
Eventually, the creek split into two main tributaries that fed the main water course. It was a beautiful location, that for some reason I called Shangri La. On the right, a twenty foot high waterfall fell down from a mossy wall, spilling over the ledge rock before meeting its partner. On the left, a long tumbling waterfall, dribbled down through myriad boulders before joining the other branch to form the larger creek. It was an appropriate beginning to “Cascade” creek.
I had a decision to make: Left or right. I chose the right branch of the creek. I liked the look of the waterfall, and I figured it didn’t really matter which course I followed. I climbed up a near vertical moss wall next to the waterfall, and took a rest at the top. The high ridges of the valley walls were all around me now. Harbor Mountain towered over me to the north, and I could see almost all of the horseshoe shaped valley behind me to the west. I knew somewhere ahead of me to the east, high up on the ridge, was the trail I wanted to find.

It wasn’t long before the creek began to shrink. I climbed up small waterfalls like steps, as the water playfully splashed me, welcoming me to it‘s home. The chutes the water ran through were narrow and slippery, so it was just easiest to scramble up the boulders and ledge rock in the water. Soon, I topped out onto a relatively flat open meadow. There were trees dotted through it, but I was clearly nearing the end of my water walking and the beginning of the stream.
The crick had really shrunk now; barely 2 feet wide. The water gurgled along through every shade of green I could imagine. Brilliant green slime, moss and plants made up the micro world of the passing crick. It was truly amazing, and I was enthralled with it. This was icing on the cake, and I took my time walking the last one hundred yards of the crick before it disappeared under the snow. I was satisfied. I had followed the creek up to its snowy beginnings.
From there, I hiked southerly towards Gavan Hill where I would pick up the trail. I had to climb up a steep hill through a thick forest. There was no trail, and I was navigating by dead reckoning alone. I paused once in awhile enjoying the quiet forest. The creek was noisy in comparison, and I liked tuning into the birdsongs of the forest.
Finally, I reached the top of the ridge and found the trail. I love it when a plan comes together. To the south, Mt. Arrowhead was still snow covered, but it wouldn’t be long before I climbed to its peak. I took a brief rest, guzzling some water before starting the long walk back down the hill, completing my trek.

Posted by Rhombus 22:41 Archived in USA Tagged foot Comments (0)

Sitka on Two Wheels

The Advantages of Biking Through this Beautiful Alaskan City

semi-overcast 49 °F

One of the better decisions I’ve made this year was hauling my mountain bike up here to Sitka. I’ve been riding a lot in the evening-after dinner and before the sun sets. I usually go on an all out power ride, riding as fast as I can for as long as I can for a solid workout. Beyond the physical benefits, it’s a great way to see the scenic beauty of the city.
Mostly I’ve been riding along the city streets, making a huge loop through the waterfront, downtown, and up into the neighborhoods. I’ve also biked on some of the narrow trails that meander through the thick woods on the outskirts of town. This was a very technical ride, but I had fun jumping roots, avoiding boulders, and carefully navigating around the obstacles without crashing. I haven’t done many technical rides, so it was interesting to see how well I could handle the rough trails. I have a long way to go to consider myself “good“ at technical riding, but I relish the challenge. I’m not ashamed to admit I had to walk my bike around some of the gnarly sections on the Cross Trail.

Sitka has been certified by the League of American Cyclists. The city has made bike lanes on the main thoroughfare, offering bikers a great way to get around town. Since there are only 14 miles of paved road in town, there really isn’t a lot of traffic to deal with once you get on the side streets. I see a lot of people on their bikes around town. A lot of them commute by bike, many others just like biking to get around.
I’ve been very fortunate over the last couple of weeks to find very dramatic lighting on my rides. The intense sunlight of the setting sun has lit up the town several nights in a row. The surrounding mountains, islands, ocean, and the city and sky have been bathed in beautiful hues of brilliant gold, silver, and green. On evenings such as these, I’ve pulled out my camera along the way, and have taken some satisfying photos of the city, sea, and landscapes.
When I find some more time off, I plan on branching out a little further onto the old logging roads north and south of the city. My first ride will be out to Green Lake south of town. There is a seven mile gravel road that winds along Silver Bay. These roads lead to more adventure. I can easily park my bike, and start hiking or paddling around the many mountain lakes in the Tongass National Forest. At many lakes there are boats moored to small docks giving you the opportunity to paddle out instead of hiking or biking.

Tomorrow I have an appointment to get my bike a tune-up. I figure if I’m going to be riding this hard, I may as well get my bike in optimal condition for the ride.
“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.” ~ H.G. Wells

Posted by Rhombus 22:16 Archived in USA Tagged bicycle Comments (3)

On the Ferry

Taking it slow on Alaska's Marine Highway System

overcast 45 °F

For me there is always a sense of excitement while waiting to board a ferry on the Alaskan Marine Highway system. I look forward to the novelty of taking a long ride on a sizeable vessel. It invokes the adventurous side in me, romantic visions of sailing the high seas. I’ve made three trips so far. All of them have been traveling between Prince Rupert, British Columbia and Sitka, Alaska. This particular trip usually takes about a day and a half on the ferries I’ve been on (the Taku and Matanuska). If you are fortunate enough to get on the “Fairweather,” the trip will take a lot less time. The Fairweather is a catamaran styled vessel and flies through the water. It’s cool to see this ferry at full speed traveling through the narrow straits of Alaska’s Inside Passage.
Boarding my van involves a lot of patient waiting in organized lines being supervised by competent deckhand and cargo handlers of the shipping line. Just follow the hand signals and park, set your brake and you are done. I usually get a cabin. The cabin are bare bones accommodations; small, compact, but comfortable enough. They come with compact full bathroom, with shower, sink, and commode. In the roughly 8 by 8 foot room, there are two table chairs, two bunk beds and a small nook for your luggage. I don’t have a problem spending the money on a cabin. Between two people, spending two nights on the ferry it comes to about 30 dollars a day. Very reasonable in my mind.

I usually bring a lot of stuff onto the ferry, because I know I’m going to have a lot of slow time to enjoy. On the last trip, I brought: A laptop, mp3 player, 3 books, binoculars, sketch pad, journal, camera, GPS. This was just for entertainment purposes. Beyond that, I have clean clothes to change into. A good pair of comfortable sweats are important, as there is no reason to dress up on the boat, and you might as well be comfortable. Pajama days are common for me. I also have a windbreaker, chook, and gloves in case I want to go outside for longer periods of time. I like bringing a lot of my own food and drink on board. There is a full galley with breakfast, lunch and dinner, but I like my own options. The boat has 2 buckets of ice for 25 cents, so I can keep food cold in the bathroom sink.
After settling in my cabin, there isn’t much to do except start killing time. Fortunately, I like chilling out. It’s relaxing being on the boat, you know you don’t have any obligations for 2 days, so I take it real easy. My days go something like this. I get up when I wake up, no need for an alarm. I’ll go get a cup of coffee from the galley, I bring my own coffee cup aboard. I’ll wander to the stern of the ship and go outside, breathing the fresh, cold north Pacific air and sipping strong, hot sailor coffee. YEAH! I love that black liquid gold! I’ll head in to my cabin and have a light breakfast. Than I’ll settle in to the days activities.
The days activities include a lot of gazing out at the rugged coastline of Alaska and British Columbia. There are myriad islands around. Every piece of land you see between PR and Sitka is an island. The islands are thickly forested, usually with Sitka Spruce. Sometimes there are open grassy areas, and they usually have a small, rocky shoreline. I like using my binoculars to look for any sort of wildlife that might be living on the islands or in the ocean. I’ve seen Humpback whales, sea lions, porpoises, deer, birds of all kinds, sea otters, and one mountain man.
Along with landscape gazing my onboard activities revolve around all my distractions. I’m a voracious reader, so it’s easy get immersed into my literature. It’s a good time to catch up on my journal if I’m behind. When traveling, I like to keep a daily journal. I’m pretty good at keeping up with it, but sometimes I need to do a good session to catch up. A laptop is invaluable. Games, writing, movies, music, picture editing, are great ways to get through a long voyage, and I spend a lot of time doing all of them. I like going outside to get some fresh air. I take pictures if I like the conditions. It’s nice to take a nap or two. Snacking and meals are taken whenever the urge occurs.

I love Islands.

The ferry makes regular stops along the way at the small coastal towns located on the islands of the Inside Passage. The time at each port varies, most stops are about an hour. At bigger ports, like Ketchikan and Juneau, a stop of five to nine hours can happen. On the last trip, we stopped at Ketch for about 10 hours, so I got off the ferry to stretch my legs, check out the town and eat a good meal at a restaurant. It was a nice break.
Taking the ferry has a lot of slow time to it, but it’s good time as well. I like taking the ferry, and I’m looking forward to my next voyage.

Posted by Rhombus 21:53 Archived in USA Tagged boating Comments (2)

Beautiful British Columbia-Part 2

Barkerville, Prince George Hospitality and The Trail of Tears

rain 49 °F

Turning north on highway 97, the highway quickly leaves the arid region and enters the Interior Plateau region. This region was also a bit of a surprise to me, as it reminded me of the upper Midwest forests of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. There were large forests of trees, long prairies along the road where farms and ranches have made their home. The plateau was still several weeks behind the coastal areas in spring foliage. It was colder here. Spring seemed like it had just begun.
Barkerville is about an hour drive east of Quesnel. This small village has been refurbished into an authentic gold mining town. At one time, Barkerville was the second largest city on the west coast, boasting over 30,000 residents; second only to San Francisco. Who knew? Now days, the town is a cool example of a thriving town during the gold rush. During the summer (May 10-Oct), the town hires actors to come in to play the townsfolk in authentic period clothing and mannerisms. There are even vintage items for sale at the local stores. Sadly for us, our visit was too early in the year, and we only saw a ghost town. That was interesting in it’s own right, however, the complete stillness of winter (it had snowed the night before our visit). I’d like to go back and check it out while the actors are playing. I believe it would be well worth the visit.
The Couch Surfing network came through for me again, this time in Prince George. After running a few errands, we met up with our host at her comfortable home. She turned out to be a gracious, interesting, inspiring host. She was very excited about her traveling future, and life in general. We talked a lot about our travels, which usually re-inspires me to think about my own travel plans.

I found myself on my way to an African themed dance at the African Café. For company, I was with two vivacious fifty-somethings who loved to dance and my ex-girlfriend. What are the odds? Prince George is about as far away from Africa as you can get. We met some of our host’s friends, got in a few words of conversation before the rhythmic music began. I had a great time. I dance like a fish out of water, gasping and flopping around, trying to move to the beat. Picture Steve Martin’s character on the front porch of his cabin in the movie “The Jerk” and you’ll have me. I’m not all that comfortable on a dance floor, but I decided to stop being so self conscious and have fun. And I did.

Part of what I really like about traveling is being put into situations that completely get you out of your element. On the road, you never know what situation you may find yourself in, and in dealing with your circumstances you can learn a lot about yourself, often times improving yourself for the better.

The drive from PG to “The Rupe” is a long drive, but it’s one of my favorite in BC. Driving west, the landscape continues through the forested lands of the interior plateau until you reach the town of Smithers. From here on, the mountains return, offering amazing scenery the rest of the way to PR.
Do you think the BC Tourism Board approve this Billboard?
I was driving late into the evening, trying to get to Terrace before the sun went down. We were cagey, hungry, sick of being in the van, tired of movement. I had driven almost 300 miles that day. In spite of my weariness, I was loving the scenery. Spring had returned, and the young green foliage was lit up by the setting sun, glowing. The snow covered mountains were visible in all their majestic splendor, towering over all. The road ran along side the rushing Skeena River, shining and glittering. The river was full of long gravel islands, forever changing with the flowing water. Rivers are great metaphors for life. It was a gorgeous drive. We made it to Terrace in time to order a pizza, get a campsite at the municipal campground and relax for a few minutes before it grew dark. Most of the towns of BC have very nice municipal campgrounds to stop at along the way. Many of the provincial parks are still closed until May, so these are a nice option to have. Most are inexpensive, less than 20 dollars, so they are easy on the budget.
On the last drive day, we had only 90 miles to go to get to PR. It was a nice day for a drive, overcast, with a little mist. I was relaxed, the long journey was basically over. Along the way, I spied a Brown bear walking down to the Skeena river. I stopped and turned back around for a closer look and maybe a picture, but when we got close, it hid in the nearby trees. Ah well, at least I finally got to see a grizzly. Hopefully this summer, I’ll see more. We got to PR in the afternoon. We went for a hike to the Butze Rapids. The rapids are a reversing tidal rapid that occurs twice a day during the changing of tides. A large body of water rushes through a narrow body of water to fill or empty the Wainright Basin. Basically, the water is trying to level itself out. While we didn’t see the water rushing through, we did enjoy the three mile hike through the flourishing coastal forest and open grassy areas.
We had made it. All told, we drove 4,330 Miles since leaving Minnesota. We got a campsite at PR’s municipal campground for the night. It was close to the ferry terminal, so we could have an easy morning on the day of our departure. We packed our bags, prepared some food, and relaxed. The driving was done, all that was left were 2 days on the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry System, taking us from Prince Rupert to Sitka.

Posted by Rhombus 21:54 Archived in Canada Tagged photography Comments (0)

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