Elaine and I signed up for a two month intensive backcountry ski season preparation program and we did our first workout today. Ouch! That said, it feels good to be an athlete again, get that runners high, live exceptionally clean and go to bed with that relaxed feeling that only a great workout can provide.
We have an interesting phenomenon around here. I think there is a juvenile Golden Eagle living here that has been raised by a family of ravens. They seem to hang around together all the time, and I swear I saw a mother raven trying to feed the eagle. The eagle obviously flies very different from the ravens, and I get the feeling he or she will be leaving that family soon. While the ravens flap, the young eagle coasts through the air, abeit not with the confidence of an adult Golden.
Golden Eagles are amazing creatures – we saw a lot of them in Denali. Apparently they can see a mouse on the ground from a mile up. I remember one morning, before we slung on our packs, we saw a Golden overhead, circling. He flew in this pattern for awhile, and then, without a flick of the wings, started rising, scoping the land. And then, nearly out of sight, he suddenly veered from the rising circle, due west, straight towards ice covered Mt. McKinley. It was an incredible moment. Already this trip is fading into dreamland – so wild, quiet and beautiful a place it almost seems unreal.
Congrats to Elaine for completing her first ever "ski all 12 months" season. We went to Skyscraper Glacier and enjoyed a nice 800 vertical foot swath of corn snow. I suppose skiing in the high mountains is as close to eagles as we'll ever get.
Dead Dog Couloir – the narrow strip of snow that ends in a gully on the right – starting to fill in. One of my favorite ski lines in the state.
Another snow event or two, and the north face of Greys Peak will be skiable.
Climbed Torreys today to see how altitude felt and get a scope of where the snow is for some September turns. Got some fresh snow too – my first in Colorado for the year. Yippee!
The land is huge and it's hard to capture on film. Hopefully these panoramas help. You can click on each photo to make it bigger.
Mountains looking north from Sled Dog HQ.
Alaska Range from camp 1 up Glacier Creek.
Distant AK range from camp 1.
Mount Mather on left, Mt. McKinley on right. McKinley is actually a double summit. The peak on the far right is the North Summit, which is 19,000 some-odd feet tall. The higher peak is the South Peak, which looks more rounded, but is 20,230 feet tall. Highest point on the North American continent. I would be interested in skiing this mountain someday.
Evening light warming up at Camp 3.
Light going off on camp three.
More camp three splendor.
Elaine leads the way up no-name pass as Scott Peak rages above. The crazy thing is that mountain is barely 8,000 feet tall. Hard to imagine how burly it must be at 20,000.
Alaska range from heart of no-name glacier.
Finally, the Alaska pictures.
To summarize…this past August was one of the warmest in Colorado history. Elaine and I, being autumn and winter people, needed a respite. We took advantage of $280 tickets from Denver to Anchorage and a plethora of vacation time I had accrued from work and decided to head on an adventure for the first half of September. I've always been intrigued with the great white north, and have made a number of trips up there for NOLS and various random ultra-endurance bike races.
I've always been intrigued by Denali National Park. I went there once, years ago, with a quick spin around the visitors area, but it was not a proper look. The nice thing about Denali is you can get there and get around completely carless, as they have a very accommodating bus system. Actually, you can't drive into the park at all, so it's almost better to not have a car.
We wanted autumn, we wanted adventure and we wanted wilderness. We got all three in spades. I can't really think of a more beautiful place, and there is much to be said about suddenly being thrust right into the food chain – and not necessarily on the top of it.
We ended up doing a backpacking trip in the Alaska Range for the bulk of the trip. It had been awhile since I had done an extensive packing adventure, and Elaine had never been to Alaska. It will not be our last time for either. There is an undeniable call in my soul for this place, and very early, on a hike in the park while we were waiting for our permit itinerary to clear, Elaine expressed to me that she was, "falling in love with the land." It's hard not too in Alaska. Yeah, we'll be back.
We shot some photos of the trip. There are many more, but here are some of the best. Special thanks to Neptune Mountaineering, Deuter Packs and Big Agnes for their support and awesome gear.