Day 39 of Lupe’s Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska
6:20 AM on this beautiful early September morning found Lupe already on the road, heading SE on Yellowhead Highway No. 16. Ever since leaving Alaska, Lupe had made her 450 mile daily quota or a little more. Today she didn’t need to go so far. She could spent part of the day visiting some favorite places in the Canadian Rockies.
Lupe’s first stop came before mid-morning when she reached her favorite picnic ground in Jasper National Park. For some unknown reason, there’s no signage for this great picnic area right along the E bank of the mighty Athabasca River. It’s located 5 or 6 miles S of Athabasca Falls along the W side of Icefields Parkway Hwy 93.
The Athabasca River was much lower than Lupe had ever seen it before, but until today she had never been here this late in the season. Previously, the river had always come right up to the bank at the edge of the picnic ground. Now a wide expanse of riverbed was exposed beyond the bank. Lupe went down to the riverbed, and trotted over rounded stones to the water’s edge.
Every other time Lupe had seen the Athabasca River, it had been a light gray color, running high, and full of silt. Now the river was a beautiful blue.
Time for a late breakfast. After checking out the river, Lupe returned to the picnic ground. While SPHP heated up soup and Swiss Miss, Lupe had a fine time barking at squirrels in the trees. When breakfast was ready, Lupe helped SPHP devour the soup. She didn’t get any Swiss Miss.
Lupe got to spend nearly 2 hours at the picnic ground. She took short walks through the forest along the river with SPHP, barked at squirrels, and returned to the Athabasca River.
Late in the morning, another vehicle pulled in to the picnic ground. No doubt more would be coming as lunch time approached. Lupe and SPHP hit the road again. Icefields Parkway Hwy 93 through the majestic Canadian Rockies is always a spectacular drive.
Lupe and SPHP enjoyed the scenery, passing by many gorgeous places Lupe had explored on her 2013 and 2014 Dingo Vacations. Lupe didn’t stop again, however, until she reached the trailhead for Parker Ridge(7,612 ft.). By now it was early afternoon, and the trailhead parking lot was packed. SPHP had to wait for a parking spot to open up.
Parker Ridge is Lupe and SPHP’s favorite short day hike in the Canadian Rockies. A well-traveled trail switchbacks up the side of the ridge. On the other side is a tremendous view of the huge U-shaped valley carved long ago by the Saskatchewan Glacier. The glacier can still be seen in the upper part of the valley flowing down from the Columbia Icefield. The trail gains over 800 feet of elevation on its way to the ridgeline.
The Parker Ridge Trail was very busy, but the glorious view of the Saskatchewan Glacier from the other side of the ridge made dealing with the crowd totally worthwhile.
The way the terrain is configured, Lupe’s view of the Saskatchewan Glacier actually improved as she followed the trail on the other side of Parker Ridge away from the glacier. More of the toe of the glacier could be seen from here.
Lupe followed the Parker Ridge trail far enough away from the Saskatchewan Glacier to where she could see its entire toe.
Several groups of people had gone this far along the trail, too. Everyone was hanging around enjoying the glacier view. After several minutes, Lupe realized people and Carolina Dogs weren’t the only ones interested in being here. A mountain sheep wandered up the steep side of Parker Ridge from the valley below, likely more interested in finding something to eat than the grand view.
After all, mountain sheep are so used to splendid scenery they pretty much take it for granted. A good meal can be harder to come by.
For a few minutes, Lupe and the mountain sheep had a stare down. Lupe was a very good American Dingo. She did not bark or lunge at the sheep. She wouldn’t have gotten anywhere anyway, since she was on her leash.
When Lupe didn’t do anything except stare in rapt attention, the mountain sheep decided maybe it was safe to come farther on up Parker Ridge. It turned out this sheep was an advance scout. Several more mountain sheep suddenly made their appearance.
A total of six mountain sheep came up onto Parker Ridge from below. Lupe still didn’t bark, but the sight of all these mountain sheep wandering around nearby was almost more than she could bear. The Carolina Dog was trembling with excitement from nose to tail. She kept glancing up at SPHP pleading to be turned loose. She was absolutely 110% certain fresh mutton would taste better than the soup she’d had for breakfast.
This situation wasn’t going to be sustainable. To Lupe’s enormous disappointment, SPHP insisted that she head back away from the mountain sheep. She was most reluctant to comply, but in the end, she had no choice. Parker Ridge had certainly been an exciting adventure, but oh, how much better it might have been!
Lupe and SPHP returned to the G6 (3:48 PM, 48°F). Lupe continued S on Icefields Parkway Hwy 93. Her biggest adventure for the day up on Parker Ridge was over, but she still had some fun ahead of her. Overcome with drowsiness from the gorgeous, relaxing drive, SPHP eventually parked the G6 at Lupe’s favorite picnic ground in Banff National Park on the SE side of Bow Lake.
After an hour’s nap, Lupe got to go see wonderful Bow Lake.
The picnic ground was completely deserted, even though it was dinnertime. After a good look at Bow Lake, SPHP prepared dinner at a table near the shore. At this late stage of Lupe’s Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation, supplies were almost completely exhausted. Lupe and SPHP shared the last of the soup and sardines.
Good thing Lupe was well on her way home! Swiss Miss and tea was all that remained to sustain SPHP, though Lupe still had some Taste of the Wild and Alpo in reserve.
By the time this feast was over it was 7:00 PM, but there was still light in the sky. Lupe and SPHP drove over to the Num Ti Jah Lodge at the N end of the lake. Lupe went down to the shore and saw a curious thing. A piece of wood was swimming around as if it were alive!
Lupe had spotted a beaver! The beaver paddled around near the shore completely unconcerned by Lupe’s presence. Lupe wasn’t really certain why that piece of wood seemed so lively, but finally lost interest in it since it never came out of the water where it could be properly sniffed and inspected.
The beaver eventually swam away farther out into the lake. Lupe never did figure out what made that floating piece of wood so much livelier than any other she’d ever encountered.
Off to the SW, part of Bow Glacier and Bow Glacier Falls were in view. A trail that Lupe took once before on her Summer of 2013 Dingo Vacation goes all the way to the base of Bow Glacier Falls. It would be dark long before Lupe could do that again, but there was still time to follow the trail partway along the N shore of Bow Lake.
Lupe and SPHP only took the trail to Bow Glacier Falls along the N shore of Bow Lake for 20 minutes. Lupe hadn’t even made it to the end of the lake yet when the time came to turn around. Darkness was coming, maybe rain, too. The sky was clouding up.
On the way back to the Num Ti Jah Lodge, a gentle steady rain did start falling. The lodge was lit up and looked inviting when Lupe returned. The soggy Carolina Dog couldn’t go in, though. She had to return to the G6.
Around 8:30 PM, SPHP parked the G6 for the final time. The steady rain was coming down harder. The temperature was only 38°F. Maybe Lupe was going to get snowed in overnight in the Canadian Rockies? It sure seemed like a possibility.
Lupe had only made 250 miles today, but that was OK. She’d spent a lovely day in the Canadian Rockies. Maybe it wasn’t the most spectacular day she’d ever spent here, but she’d seen many beautiful sights, gone to some favorite places, and had several pleasant, relaxing outings.
Lupe’s only regret was that with supplies running desperately low, SPHP hadn’t allowed her to secure a great new supply of fresh mountain sheep mutton!
Sigh … Carolina Dogs try to be man’s best friend. They really do. Humans are hard to understand, though. Sometimes they don’t have any sense at all.Note: The Parker Ridge trailhead is located at a pullout right along the southbound side of Icefields Parkway Hwy 93 several miles S of Sunwapta Pass, the border between Banff & Jasper National Parks.
Day 38 of Lupe’s Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska
Lupe’s morning started at 7:00 AM with a quick side trip into nearby Fort St. John for fuel for the G6. Then it was back N a few miles to the turn SW onto Hwy 29 to Chetwynd. Making that turn, Lupe left the Alaska Highway for the final time on her Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation.
Hwy 29 was a beautiful drive. For a while, the road followed a stretch of the Peace River valley. However, that feeling of being in the truly far N, which Lupe had while in the Yukon and Alaska, was fading fast. At Chetwynd, SPHP turned W on Hwy 97. It would eventually turn S and take Lupe to Prince George. This was still gorgeous, unspoiled territory, all wild, forested, and full of rivers and lakes, but Lupe saw no more snow-capped mountains, not even on the most distant horizon.
Nearly all day would be spent driving, but Lupe did have one adventure in store for her. She was going to take the trail up Teapot Mountain, sometimes touted as one of the best day hikes of central interior British Columbia. The trail isn’t long, only 0.9 mile (1.4 km). It climbs an ancient steep-sided basaltic plug which survived the last ice age, while gaining 650 feet of elevation (200 meters).
The sky clouded up. Light rain showers dampened the highway. Miles rolled by. Suddenly, ack! Talus Road! Wasn’t that it? Yes, and SPHP had missed the turn. Oh, well. At least the sign had been spotted. SPHP found a place to turn around. A few minutes later, Lupe was turning W onto gravel Talus Road.
A kilometer later, SPHP missed the R turn onto Caine Creek Forestry Road, too. The whole area seemed to be a maze of gravel roads, and the signage wasn’t great. Nevertheless, after a brief exercise in futility, Lupe did make it back to Caine Creek Forestry Road, which wound around for 2 miles (3 km) before crossing a bridge over a creek connecting a couple of skinny, swampy lakes on either side.
As the road started curving L after crossing the bridge, a sign could be seen tucked back at the edge of the trees near a dirt side road on the R. Nearby was enough parking space for several vehicles. The sign said Teapot Mtn. An arrow pointed into the forest along the side road. Not another soul or vehicle was around, but this had to be the trailhead.
SPHP parked, and Lupe got out of the G6. The sky was clearing a little again. The sun was trying to break through. On the way here, Lupe had seen densely forested Teapot Mountain a little to the W. It didn’t look very big after all the mountains Lupe had seen on this Dingo Vacation. The trip up Teapot Mountain(3,009 ft.) wouldn’t take long.
Lupe had plenty of time. Why not take a look at the swampy lakes and the creek from the bridge, before going up the mountain?
The water in the creek, which was actually the Crooked River, looked clean and clear. From the smaller skinny lake, it flowed N under the bridge. Both skinny lakes were part of the river system. Lupe didn’t see any fish in the river, but no doubt there must be some. The lakes had plenty of water and looked like great habitat.
In the 15 minutes Lupe spent sniffing around the Crooked River and the swampy lakes, 2 vehicles had arrived and parked at the Teapot Mountain trailhead. Hikers were already somewhere on the trail ahead of her by the time Lupe started out. The first part of the trail followed the side road, which curved NW as it led Lupe into the forest. The side road dead-ended after only a few hundred feet.
Where the side road ended, a wide path strewn with leaves led off to the W toward Teapot Mountain. Lupe hadn’t gained any elevation yet, but she was about to. The path started climbing steadily, slowly at first, but it quickly became steep.
The well worn trail was easy to follow, but soon became a real challenge for heart, lungs and legs. It worked its way over to the SE face of Teapot Mountain, where it began to climb even more steeply heading almost straight up the mountain.
The dense, lush forest hid all views. Many tree roots and rocks were exposed on the trail, which was hard packed. This part of the Teapot Mountain trail must be very slick when wet, but it wasn’t bad as Lupe made her ascent.
Teapot Mountain hadn’t looked that big from below, but felt bigger with each step up. The relentless steep rate of climb continued until Lupe reached a junction close to the top of the mountain. Here, the trail divided. Lupe could go L or R. It didn’t really matter which way she went, since both directions were part of the circular loop trail around the upper rim of Teapot Mountain. Lupe went R (N), hoping to catch a view of the Crooked River below.
Just because Lupe had reached the loop trail didn’t mean she could see anything. The top of Teapot Mountain was as densely forested as all the rest of it was. The trail had come up near the SE end of the mountain, at a part of the rim that proved to be a little lower than most of it. The summit area contained within the loop trail was acres in size. The interior terrain sloped gradually and unevenly up toward some unseen high point.
The loop trail was an easy, almost level stroll. Lupe didn’t have to go very far N before she came to a break in the trees where she could see a long, skinny lake down along the Crooked River off to the NE.
On her way around the N rim of Teapot Mountain, Lupe came to no more viewpoints until she reached some cliffs at the NW end of the mountain. Lupe could see a large shallow pond in a clearing far below.
From the cliffs at the NW viewpoint, Lupe didn’t have far to go to reach a big tan-colored rock formation at the SW end of the mountain. Up until now, Lupe hadn’t seen anyone along the trail. She found everyone here, congregated on the rock formation which offers the premier view from Teapot Mountain.
A friendly dog wanted to play with Lupe, but with cliffs so close by, the humans put a quick end to all the mad dashing and chasing around. A wooden bench was nearby to the E. Lupe got up on it for a look at the big view. Summit Lake, which is quite large and has an interesting irregular shape, was the main attraction. Lupe could see the N end of Summit Lake dotted with forested islands not too far away to the S.
While everyone else remained congregated on the tan rock formation, Lupe and SPHP went off in search of the true summit of Teapot Mountain. The highest point Lupe found was a nice mossy spot at the end of a very faint trail into the interior. The summit wasn’t far from the SW viewpoint at all.
Lupe returned to the loop trail. People were getting ready to depart. Before long, Lupe had the premier viewpoint on Teapot Mountain all to herself.
For a little while, Lupe and SPHP stayed together up on the tan rock formation enjoying the view of the lakes and forests of central British Columbia. Before long voices were heard approaching from the E. More hikers. Time to go and let them enjoy this beautiful spot in peace. Loop still had many miles to go today anyway.
Lupe saw more teapots placed on rocks and in trees along the S rim of Teapot Mountain as she completed the loop back to the trail down. The clouds hadn’t so much as sprinkled any rain for a while. On her way down, Lupe encountered several more groups of people who had decided to come up. Apparently, Teapot Mountain really is quite a popular hike.
It was mid-afternoon by the time Lupe arrived back at the G6 (2:55 PM, 50°F) ready to resume the long drive S. Teapot Mountain had been a pleasant break from being cooped up. The whole trek had taken a little over 2 hours at a leisurely pace.
By evening, Lupe was far SE of Prince George near the small town of McBride. Her day ended with a pleasant twilight stroll exploring a quiet park next to the Fraser River. Up until her Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation, Lupe had never been even this far N before in her whole life. Tomorrow she would return to more familiar territory in Jasper and Banff National Parks in the fabulous Canadian Rockies!
Days 36 & 37 of Lupe’s Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska
Day 36, 9-3-16, 6:40 AM, 32°F – Time for Lupe’s last walk down to the shore to say farewell to Kluane Lake. As soon as the G6 defogged, Lupe would be leaving. Another 450 miles to go today. By the end of the day, she would leave the Yukon and reach extreme northern British Columbia.
The huge lake was calm, the smoothest Lupe had ever seen it. More exciting adventures remain for Lupe in Kluane National Park in this wild, remote corner of Yukon Territory, but not on this Dingo Vacation. Who knew when, or if, Lupe would ever return to do them and see fabulous Kluane Lake again? No matter. It was time to go.
The sun wasn’t even above the horizon yet, as Lupe and SPHP started S in the G6, but would be illuminating the Kluane front range peaks of the Saint Elias mountains before long.
Yesterday evening, SPHP had seen Mount Decoeli(7,650 ft.) from afar. Lupe climbed Mount Decoeli earlier on this Dingo Vacation. What a tremendous adventure that had been! Now Decoeli was sporting a cap of new snow. The Alaska Highway would soon take Lupe only a few miles E of the mountain. She wasn’t too many miles from Kluane Lake, before there it was, looking majestic, clean and white!
The Kluane front range mountains all looked even more impressive with snow on them, than when Lupe had been here in early August. SPHP stopped frequently for photos. These were the biggest, most gorgeous mountains Lupe would see all day!
Lupe enjoyed all the stops. She didn’t mind posing for pictures. Each stop was another chance, however brief, to explore fields and forests near the Alaska Highway.
On the way to Haines Junction, SPHP decided Lupe ought to take the 14 mile (one way) detour S to have a look at King’s Throne(6,529 ft.) and Kathleen Lake. King’s Thronewas the first mountain Lupe had climbed in Kluane National Park, and another super adventure! Maybe Lupe could get a great photo of King’s Throne covered with new snow and shining brightly in the morning light?
Lupe only got 10 miles S of Haines Junction, though, before it was apparent there wasn’t much point in going farther. Clouds already screened King’s Throne from the sunlight, and more clouds were moving in fast. From what could be seen, King’s Throne hadn’t received any of the recent new snow either, perhaps because it is lower than Decoeli.
Near Quill Creek, Lupe and SPHP turned around to head back N. The mountains here were still in brilliant sunshine. However, large clouds were moving in from the SE. Lupe’s best bet was to enjoy these gorgeous mountains while they were still in view. All the way back to Haines Junction, Lupe and SPHP stopped frequently to gaze upon the beautifully sunlit Kluane front range.
At Haines Junction, Lupe headed E on the Alaska Highway. The dazzling splendor of the Kluane front range of the Saint Elias mountains receded in the rear view mirror. Within a few minutes, the mountains disappeared entirely as Lupe entered a dense fog bank.
For miles SPHP drove slowly in the fog. Lupe finally emerged from the fog bank, but the mood of the morning was different here. The sky was overcast. The dull, gray clouds weren’t dark or threatening, but the cheerful sunshine was gone. Lupe snoozed as the miles rolled by. E of Whitehorse, Lupe crossed the Yukon River again. By now it was 11:15 AM, and even SPHP was drowsy.
Lupe and SPHP stopped at a rest area on the E bank of the Yukon River. Even though it was practically the middle of the day, and the Alaska Highway was busy, SPHP took a nap. An hour later, feeling better, it was time to press on. Before leaving, Lupe was ready for a short stroll down to the river.
The clouds were lighter and starting to break up as Lupe continued E on the Alaska Highway. After a slow start in the morning, Lupe was behind schedule on reaching her mileage quota for the day. She needed to keep rolling. She was allowed fairly frequent short stops at rest areas, but other than that, Lupe had little to do but continue dozing or watch the scenery go by.
Forests were everywhere. Lupe saw many lakes and streams. Although Lupe saw lots of mountains, too, they weren’t nearly as large or rugged as the ones back at Kluane National Park. Hours went by. Finally, a cluster of higher, more impressive mountains appeared in the distance ahead. They had a good dusting of snow and were quite beautiful.
On the way to the Yukon near the start of her Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation, Lupe had traveled up the Cassiar Highway (Hwy 37). This time, when she reached the junction, Lupe stayed on the Alaska Highway going E instead of turning S. This was an alternate route home. Lupe was going to see a lot of new territory!
The new territory featured forests. Trees stretched from horizon to horizon. Mile after mile. Not that there hadn’t been plenty of vast forests before. Here, though, there were hills, ridges, and deep river valleys, but no real mountains, not like Lupe was used to seeing up to this point. Everything was forested. Nothing was above treeline.
E of Watson Lake, the Alaska Highway left the Yukon for good. Lupe was now back in far northern British Columbia. The highway wound around near the Liard River valley. In many places, the forest was clear cut for 50 to 100 feet and mowed on both sides of the highway. The resulting miles long skinny clearings proved attractive to wildlife.
Lupe sprang to life when she realized there were animals out there! She’d been mostly resting in the G6 for two whole days. The American Dingo was bursting with energy and enthusiasm. Time for the barkfest to end all barkfests! Many buffalo, 3 bears, and 1 fox were all cause for ear-splitting excitement.
A little after 8 PM, with light fading fast, Lupe arrived at Liard Hot Springs Provincial Park. (Note: The 6.5 minute video on the front page of this link is worth watching. Be sure to expand it!) SPHP drove in at the entrance finding no one at the entry booth. It was Saturday night and lots of people were around. SPHP parked the G6, and Lupe was happy to get out.
The main attractions at Liard Hot Springs are a couple of hot water bathing pools along a flowing stream. A wide boardwalk led off toward the hot springs. Lots of people were coming and going on the boardwalk, so Lupe and SPHP took it, too.
The boardwalk went through a forested swamp. It was far longer than SPHP expected – 700 meters! Lupe did get to see the hot springs, although, sadly, it was already too dark for pictures. A couple of wooden changing rooms were next to a deck overlooking the hot springs, which had significant flow. A warm fog rose from the waters where bathers were enjoying soaking in two natural pools.
SPHP asked around how this all worked? As it turned out, there is normally a seasonal day use fee ($5.00 adult, $3.00 child, $10.00 family) charged for park admission at the entry booth at the front gate. A camping spot costs $26.00. However, the entry booth closes at 8 PM, and no day use admission is collected after that. Somewhat oddly, the gates close at 10 PM, after which no entry or exit is permitted.
Of course, Lupe couldn’t go in the hot springs, but there was still time for SPHP to enjoy them. Back to the G6, where Lupe was sad and worried about being abandoned. SPHP tried to cheer her up, promising to return before too long.
The changing rooms at the hot springs were rustic, with only benches and hooks. No lockers, showers, restrooms or anything like that. Not even electricity or any lights. The upstream pool was too hot for SPHP, but the downstream pool was great. Despite the excellent flow, the water cooled off quickly going downstream, so it was easy to choose the temperature zone that felt best.
Liard Hot Springs was totally awesome! Where else can you relax in soothing warm (hot, if you like!) waters outdoors in the middle of a boreal spruce forest in a giant swamp? SPHP soaked and chatted with people, who were mostly from Fort Nelson.
At 9:15 PM, someone came to announce the time, and that the park’s gates closed in 45 minutes at 10:00 PM. SPHP soaked for 10 more minutes, then got out into the chilly night air to get changed and return to Lupe. After a joyous reunion, Lupe and SPHP left the park at 9:48 PM with 12 minutes to spare. Onward! But only for a little way. Lupe had already made 500 miles today.
Day 37, 9-4-16, 6:19 AM, 35°F – Beneath a bright blue sky with thin little clouds, Lupe was underway early. She was in far northern British Columbia, only a little S of Liard Hot Springs. The terrain rapidly became increasingly mountainous as Lupe headed SE on the Alaska Highway. For a while, a long stretch of road construction slowed progress to a crawl.
SPHP hadn’t done a bit of research during pre-Dingo Vacation planning on Muncho Lake, and it was a real surprise. This was an area of unspoiled, remote snow-capped peaks. The Alaska Highway went right through it all, and hugged the E shore of beautiful Muncho Lake for miles. Lupe was thrilled to see more buffalo, and even another black bear.
Such beauty was cause for several stops. Lupe was only too glad to get out of the G6, if even only for a short time. Too bad Lupe’s time was so limited now. Muncho Lake Provincial Park was surely worth exploring!
S of Muncho Lake, the Alaska Highway lost elevation and entered the beautiful Toad River valley. Although it was still early in the day, SPHP was overcome by drowsiness. Lupe and SPHP wound up taking a nap at a pullout along the highway. Nearly two hours slipped by before SPHP woke up again, feeling much revived.
However, Lupe hadn’t needed reviving. By now she was so bored, she was desperate to get out of the G6. For the next half hour she had a great time sniffing around a young forest near the pullout while SPHP picked up copious amounts of trash. People! Trash containers were provided right at the pullout, yet way too many people don’t bother using them. Totally disgusting!
A little farther on, Lupe left Muncho Lake Provincial Park. Before long she crossed a bridge over another wonderful stream, the Racing River. SPHP parked the G6 again at a pullout near the bridge. Lupe found an old road leading through the forest. The primitive road paralleled the Racing River downstream for a little way. Evidently this route is sometimes used for dispersed camping. Lupe passed several old campfire sites before the road turned and ended at the river.
After 25 minutes near the Racing River, Lupe and SPHP continued on. The Alaska Highway quickly left the Racing River valley, going around the N side of a mountain into another big valley. The highway now followed the course of McDonald Creek upstream toward impressive white mountains. Lupe was nearing Stone Mountain Provincial Park.
Shortly after entering Stone Mountain Provincial Park, Lupe saw something she had never seen before. A small herd of caribou were trotting across an open field toward a forest! By the time SPHP could stop and turn around, they had vanished into the trees. The field the caribou had crossed was at quite an elevation above McDonald Creek, and offered a good lookout point toward the mountains. Lupe and SPHP got out of the G6 to take a look.
After getting a little exercise and seeing the grand view of Mount Saint George(7,402 ft.) and the McDonald Creek valley from Caribou Point, Lupe and SPHP drove on. The Alaska Highway turned NE and in only a few miles reached Summit Lake at the top of a pass. At the NE end of Summit Lake were a campground and picnic area. Lunch time! Lupe and SPHP pulled into the picnic area.
Soup, sardines and crackers were on the menu. While SPHP was heating the soup up, Lupe found a new friend. A big dog arrived to sniff and wag tails with her. A young woman from Fort Nelson came over to retrieve Grommet, which was the big dog’s name. She stayed chatting with SPHP while Lupe and Grommet did dog stuff – sniffing, playing and growling.
The friendly young woman mentioned a trailhead over on the opposite (N) side of the Alaska Highway. When lunch was over, Lupe and SPHP went over to check out the trailhead. A map showed a 2.5 km (one way) trail going to Summit Peak(6,611 ft.) on the N side of the Alaska Highway, and several other trails S of Summit Lake.
It all looked very interesting, but Lupe didn’t have time to explore any trails. In fact, it was 2 PM already. Lupe hadn’t even gone 100 miles yet today! Definitely time to get underway again.
E of Summit Lake, the Alaska Highway lost elevation again on the other side of the pass. Soon Lupe was out of Stone Mountain Provincial Park, leaving the big, snowy peaks of the Muskwa Ranges behind. At Fort Nelson, the Alaska Highway turned S again. Off to the W, Lupe could still see high mountains with snow. The highway got close to them at one point, but then veered away.
After a great morning and early afternoon, with lots of little hikes and scenic stops along the way, the rest of the afternoon and evening proved disappointing for the intrepid American Dingo. She spent nearly all of her time stuck in the G6, traveling through the endless forest. The road wound over and around high ridges. Sometimes the Alaska Highway dropped down into big valleys to cross rivers, but it never took Lupe back to the high mountains.
Lupe had few chances to get out of the G6 again, but by evening she did make her 450 miles for the day. Most of northern British Columbia was now behind her. That feeling Lupe’d had for most of the past month of being in the far N, in Arctic lands, was fast slipping away.
The end of Day 34, plus Day 35 of Lupe’s Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska
Day 34, 9-1-16, 4:00 PM, 72°F – Well, it was over. After 7,500+ feet of elevation gain in the past 31 hours, Lupe was back at the Lazy Mountain Recreation Site trailhead. Blisters and a pulled muscle in the front right leg, suffered yesterday while coming down Pepper Peak, caused SPHP to hobble slowly onto the parking lot behind her.
Make that almost over. A tall, lanky, young guy immediately struck up a conversation. Both Lupe and SPHP just wanted to go the remaining 50 feet to the G6 and sit/lay down. Instead this complete stranger launched into a monologue about mountains and trails. He talked with a strange accent, or maybe a lisp, and seemed kind of, well – “off”, somehow.
Remind you of anyone, SPHP?
Oh, please! Silence, wisecracking Dingo of mine!
Actually the friendly stranger’s conversation would normally have been of great interest. He was a wealth of knowledge about Alaska, and what there was to do outdoors around here. Moreover, he was eager to share his experiences.
Where had he been for the last 3 weeks? Off or not, any other time SPHP would have enjoyed talking to him for hours, but not now. Not his fault, but his timing was atrocious. No need for his insight now. Lupe had just returned from Lazy Mountain(3,740 ft.), the last mountain she would climb in Alaska in 2016. Recuperation at the G6 was priority one.
After a seeming eternity, a brief lull came in the one-sided conversation. SPHP used the opening to wish the stranger well, and encourage his speedy enjoyment of the Lazy Mountain trail. Off he went, happy as a clam. SPHP limped 50 feet and unlocked the G6. Lupe eagerly leaped in. Now it was over! No more climbing mountains in Alaska. Sad, tragic really, but paws, feet, legs, and lungs all advised getting over it. Wow, it did feel good to rest!
With the G6’s windows down on this beautiful, warm afternoon so Lupe could sniff the air, SPHP drove the few miles back to Palmer. Brief stops for groceries and gas. A trip to McDonald’s. Lupe ate only one bite of cheeseburger. Surprising, but she knew how she felt. She seemed cheerful and perfectly fine.
At long last, off with the boots. What a relief! So much better! In stocking feet, SPHP drove E out of Palmer on the Glenn Highway, marvelously equipped with cheeseburgers, fries and a Coke. Lupe panted happily, looking out the window at the splendid scenery of the Matanuska River valley going by. A relaxing, astonishingly beautiful evening drive was ahead. After 22 unforgettable days in Alaska, Lupe was starting for home.
In a sense, Lupe had already been going home for 5 days, ever since she left Grace Ridge(3,136 ft.), back near Homer on the Kenai Peninsula. So far, though, every day had been mostly filled with adventures. She hadn’t really gotten all that far. The Carolina Dog was still more than 3,000 miles from home in the Black Hills. Time to make tracks. 450 miles per day for the next week should about do it.
The return trip would be fabulous! Endless forests, mountains, rivers, lakes, sky and clouds. A road trip made in heaven. Lupe’s Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon and Alaska had been a huge success! Time to kick back and enjoy the road home. Lupe would still have a chance for a few adventures along the way, if they weren’t too long, and there would be plenty of stops to stretch, sniff the air, and admire the world.
Lupe’s first stop this evening was to see the Matanuska Glacier again. She’d had absolutely fabulous views of it earlier on her Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation when she’d climbed Lion Head(3,185 ft.).
Lupe didn’t make it much beyond the Matanuska Glacier this evening, stopping near Gunsight Mountain(6,441 ft.) for the night. Gunsight Mountain was the highest peak in Alaska that Lupe had climbed. She had met Laura from Montana, and Luke Hall from Australia up there.
The best views from the highway near Gunsight Mountain were to the S. The peaks in that direction appeared to have fresh new-fallen snow.
Day 35, 9-2-16, Predawn, 32°F – Orion hung low in the E. The pale light of dawn hadn’t arrived yet, but there was a hint of it on the horizon. The North Star was high overhead. Northern lights, not a great display, but easily seen, streamed from the N toward the coming sun.
With the G6’s right headlight not working, it was still too early to leave the Gunsight Mountain area. Lupe and SPHP walked W along an abandoned stretch of the old Glenn Highway. Chilly out, but Lupe was in fine form, sniffing like mad among the bushes lining the old road. A mile, maybe a mile and a half later, it was time to turn around.
The were-puppy attacked SPHP! Once the were-puppy was fended off, the Carolina Dog showed off how fast and agile she was, racing up and down the road, running circles around SPHP. Ahh, to feel like that! So much energy and joy of living! Shrill Dingo barking filled the air for a couple of minutes before Lupe returned to sniffing.
On the way back to the G6, sunrise was on its way. Soon time to depart.
Heading E toward Glenn Allen, Mount Drum(12,010 ft.) came into view. Lupe hadn’t seen it before. When she’d first arrived in Alaska, the towering white monsters of the Wrangell Range were all shrouded by clouds. Now they basked in brilliant sunshine. Lupe saw them from various angles as SPHP followed the highway beyond Glenn Allen around to the Tok Cut-Off.
SPHP meant to stop at the same viewpoint overlooking the Copper River where Lupe had stopped before, but somehow missed it. The white monsters were far from the highway, but could be seen for many miles. After a while, though, they receded from view as the miles clicked by.
After all her many Alaskan adventures, Lupe was feeling pretty relaxed on this first full day of driving on her way home.E of Tok, Lupe crossed the Tanana River. She was happy to get out of the G6 to stretch her legs a bit.
With the majestic high peaks of the Wrangell Mountains now far behind, Lupe traveled through an area of lower hills, ridges and distant mountains. Fall was coming to Alaska, as Lupe was leaving. There were many hills with colorful displays of fall colors.
Lupe left Alaska, returning to Yukon Territory in Canada around 2 PM Alaska Time (3 PM Pacific Time). Soon she was seeing bigger mountains closer by again. She crossed the White River without stopping. A few weeks earlier, it had been wide and impressive, but now it was mostly dried up.
By the time Lupe reached the Donjek River, it was getting to be late afternoon. The Donjek was running low, too, but it seemed like a good time to get out of the G6 to stretch and walk around a bit. Lupe went for short walks on both sides of the scenic river, spending about 45 minutes in the area.
A little S of the Donjek River, a mountain with new snow on top caught SPHP’s fancy.
For the last 5 or 6 days Lupe had been in Alaska, the sky had been almost totally clear. However, there were quite a few clouds here in the Yukon. Near Destruction Bay on Kluane Lake, Lupe and SPHP drove through rain showers. Lupe saw a rainbow.
In Kluane National Park, Lupe and SPHP stopped again at the Tachal Dahl visitor center in the Slims River valley at the S end of Kluane Lake. The visitor center was closed. Not a soul was around. SPHP made use of one of the picnic tables to prepare dinner. Lupe was eager to help SPHP make the last can of beef stew and remaining cheese disappear, but she buried a cracker with her nose.
The mood had changed remarkably since Lupe had been here in early August. Back then, there had been activity. It hadn’t been crowded at all, but people had been around. The Alaska Highway had lots of traffic. The days were warm and bright, and the sun stayed up late. Dust had been blowing dramatically down the Slims River valley toward Kluane Lake.
Now there was new snow on the mountaintops. The air was chilly. The Slims River valley was still dry, but no dust blew. No one at all was around. Traffic on the Alaska Highway was only a trickle. The whole place felt deserted, like late fall with early winter knocking on the door. SPHP ate while watching two large herds of wild sheep high up on Sheep Mountain(6,400 ft.). Lupe sniffed around nearby.
Lupe was more than 500 miles from Palmer, Alaska now. She’d made her 450 miles for the day from where she’d left Gunsight Mountain this morning, so it was time to stop for the night. As the light of day faded much earlier than it had only 3.5 weeks ago, Lupe got to spend time playing and sniffing around the S shore of Kluane Lake once more.
One thing hadn’t changed. Beyond Kluane Lake, a line of mountains marched endlessly away to the N horizon toward the Arctic. The remote peaks were part of a vast wilderness only a little less mysterious than before, and as beautiful and romantic as ever.
Day 34 of Lupe’s Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska
Pepper Peak(5,381 ft.) had been a stupendous day and a glorious summit, but Lupe and SPHP hadn’t really recovered yet from yesterday’s huge 4,500 feet of elevation gain. No matter. Feeling it or not, Lupe was climbing one more mountain today. The calendar now said September. After 3 fabulous, unforgettable weeks in Alaska, this was the American Dingo’s last full day in the Land of the Midnight Sun.
Lazy Mountain(3,740 ft.) was destined to be the last peak Lupe and SPHP would climb together in Alaska in 2016, or maybe forever. Tired or not, it was time to begin (9:55 AM, 48°F). At least Lupe had another clear, bright day. She was guaranteed some great views of Palmer, the Matanuska River valley all the way to the Knik Arm off Cook Inlet, and mountains in all directions.
Right away, Lupe had a choice to make. Two trails diverge near the trailhead parking lot. They both go about halfway up Lazy Mountain to where they meet again near a picnic table situated on a point with a view. A single combined trail goes the rest of the way to the summit. The old Lazy Mountain approach was supposed to be the steepest. The newer Lazy Moose trail is an easier climb, but winds around a bunch on switchbacks that add considerable distance.
Even though energy levels were low, Lupe and SPHP started straight up the Lazy Mountain trail. The reports were no joke. The trail started out steep. It didn’t stay that way long. It soon got steeper, and then stayed that way. Whoever named Lazy Mountain must have realized what they were in for, and decided they were too lazy to even attempt it. Otherwise, the name makes no sense at all.
As usual in most of Lupe’s Alaskan trail experiences, the Lazy Mountain trail started in a forest. Gradually the forest thinned, and tall bushes started to dominate. The forest had thinned out considerably, by the time Lupe reached the picnic table near the intersection with the Lazy Moose trail. It had been a long, hard climb with frequent rest breaks, but Lupe was halfway up the 3,000 feet of elevation gain needed to reach the summit.
At the picnic table, SPHP chatted for a little while with a guy who came running (yes, running!) up the same Lazy Mountain trail Lupe and SPHP had just staggered up. He said he lives in Palmer, and runs this far up Lazy Mountain 3 times a week. He plays in a Christian music band, and was very surprised to hear that Lupe lives in South Dakota.
Why he was flying to Sioux Falls, SD tomorrow to play in a big concert there! He had been with his band to South Dakota many times, including Pine Ridge and Lupe’s Black Hills. South Dakota was a hot spot for his kind of music. He wished Lupe and SPHP well, before running off down the longer Lazy Moose trail.
Small world. Sort of. Lupe still had another 1,500 feet of mountain climbing left to do in Alaska. Somehow it still loomed large, not small. Lupe’s trek resumed. Still steep, but perhaps not quite as steep as before. Tall bushes dominated, but most of the trees were gone. On and on. Up and up, for a while longer.
Finally, Lupe was past the bushes. She was up in the tundra zone. Some places were devoid even of the tough, beautiful, little tundra plants. Bare dirt and small rocks were exposed. Lupe had made a lot of progress up the mountain by now. For a while, the trail leveled out. There was even a completely flat section! A high point that might be the summit was in view ahead.
The trail soon started climbing again, but never as steeply as earlier on. Below a ridge, Lupe passed a second picnic table. The built-in benches were in good shape, but nearly all the boards forming the table part were missing. Lupe did not stop. She kept on going. Her final climb in Alaska was dead ahead.
Lupe gained the summit ridge. It wasn’t terribly long, maybe 100 feet. At the far NE end, was a smaller ridge of solid lumpy-looking rock. The true summit of Lazy Mountain was perched at the far end of the little ridge, perhaps an extra 20 feet above the main ridge.
Lupe scrambled up to the highest point at the far end of the lumpy rock ridge. She was done mountain climbing in Alaska! This was it, the true summit of Lazy Mountain(3,740 ft.)!
Lupe could not be persuaded to stay up at the highest point on Lazy Mountain when SPHP tried to back down off the lumpy ridge for a more distant shot of her at the summit. There was quite a bit of exposure up there, and not a lot of room to maneuver.
It was OK, she had made it to the top for a good close up. Not to mention all the many other dramatic peaks she had climbed on her Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation! If the Carolina Dog felt better a little lower down, she had certainly earned a reprieve from posing at the top of precipices.
Mountain climbing in Alaska was over. Time to take a look around at what Lupe could see from her last Alaskan mountain. Unlike most of the mountains Loop had climbed, where the most impressive views were of other mountains, Lazy Mountain’s most dramatic views were down toward the Matanuska River valley.
More than 3,000 feet below Lazy Mountain, the braided confluence of the Matanuska River and Knik River could be seen to the SW near the start of the Knik Arm of the North Pacific Ocean off Cook Inlet. Bodenburg Butte(886 ft.) rising more than 600 feet above immediately surrounding terrain, looked like a little hill.
The most dramatic mountains Lupe could see from Lazy Mountain were very far away to WSW, in the direction of Mount Susitna(4,396 ft.), also known as Sleeping Lady. (See The Legend of Sleeping Lady) Well beyond Mount Susitna were impressive white mountains on the edge of vision.
Considerably closer, it was possible to see several smaller peaks with snow and ice on them in other directions.
Matanuska Peak(6,093 ft.) to the SE was easily the most impressive of the nearby mountains.
Even including the larger summit ridge, and not just the small, final lumpy rock part leading to the true summit, there wasn’t much exploring to be done up on Lazy Mountain. Lupe could see virtually the entire summit area at a glance. However, there was plenty of room to move around some from one end to the other, gaining slightly different vantage points.
Lupe found a shady spot close to the lumpy rock ridge to doze a bit. SPHP relaxed gazing off first in one direction, then another, seeing dazzlingly beautiful Alaska from the top of a mountain Lupe had climbed for possibly the last time.
Lupe stayed up on Lazy Mountain for 45 minutes. The time came to start thinking about moving on. Despite the rigors of the steep trail up, the perfect day and wonderful views at the top had made Lupe’s final climb in Alaska a lovely, memorable experience. Now only the return trip down the mountain remained.
When Lupe got down close to the first picnic table, she took the Lazy Moose trail instead of the Lazy Mountain trail. The Lazy Moose trail was considerably longer, but not nearly so steep. The trail had markers along it, which seemed to represent feet traveled along the trail, starting from the lower end.
The first marker Lupe came to said 15,800, implying that Lupe was about 3 miles from the trailhead. The markers were about 1,000 feet apart on the higher part of the trail. Lower down, they were consistently 200 feet apart. The Lazy Moose trail had lots of switchbacks and general winding around. The markers told the story of Lupe’s progress down her last Alaskan mountain.
Lupe enjoyed trotting and sniffing along the easier trail. Late afternoon on the first day of September was comfortably sunny and warm. Lupe led SPHP down Lazy Mountain, exploring for only a little longer the fabled Land of the Midnight Sun (4:23 PM, 72°F).
Note: Directions to the Lazy Mountain Recreation Area trailhead – From the Glenn Hwy in Palmer, go E on Arctic Road (Old Glenn Highway) for 2.5 miles. Take a L on Clark-Wolverine Road, 0.5 mile after crossing the Matanuska River. Proceed 0.5 mile to a T intersection. Take a R on Huntley Road, following it to the end. Stay to the R going down to the trailhead parking lot.
Day 33 of Lupe’s Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska
Yowser! Over 4,500 feet of elevation gain! Most definitely a long day ahead. Yet it would be a glorious one, if Lupe and SPHP could make it to the top of Pepper Peak. Soup, Swiss Miss and sardines for breakfast. SPHP was sick of sardines, but Lupe devoured the rest of the tin with gusto. Thank heavens!
SPHP paid the $5.00 daily trailhead parking fee, then Lupe went down for a look at gorgeous Eklunta Lake. Totally clear skies and nearly calm. Conditions were going to be perfect! After a few minutes along the lakeshore, Lupe and SPHP went looking for the trail to Twin Peaks. (9:19 AM, 39°F)
On the way to the trail, Lupe got a glimpse of what was in store for her – the long, long SW ridge of Pepper Peak(5,381 ft.). The view was a bit daunting. It didn’t look scary, or like something Lupe couldn’t do, just exhaustingly long. As they say, though, every journey starts with that first step. Lupe’s paws were already trotting right along. She would get up Pepper Peak, if SPHP could.
Lupe crossed a bridge over Thachkatnu Creek. The Twin Peaks trail headed off to the L (NNW). Lupe’s long climb began.
Such a beautiful day! The Twin Peaks trail started in a forest. There wasn’t much to be seen except the trees. The trail zigged NE. Right away, Lupe gained 300 or 400 feet of elevation on a relentless, fairly steep climb. The trail then zagged NW for a longer stretch on the way to the Thachkatnu Creek valley between Twin Peaks and Pepper Peak.
The trail wasn’t as steep along in here. Autumn was already on its way to Alaska. Leaves were beginning to turn yellow. Lupe sniffed and explored along the newly carpeted Yellow Leaf trail.
As the Twin Peaks trail reached the Thachkatnu Creek valley, it turned NE again, staying high up on the Pepper Peak side. Near the gradual turn, the trail had become steeper, gaining elevation even faster than before. Lupe gained another 300 or 400 feet before the slope slackened as the trail zigged back to the SE.
Lupe had gained enough elevation by now so that she was getting close to tree line. The forest was starting to thin out a bit. Along another steep climb to the NE, Lupe reached an opening with a gorgeous view of Eklunta Lake.
Two benches are positioned along the Twin Peaks trail. Lupe was almost to the first one. Another steep little climb and she was there.
SPHP had been looking for the benches for a while. Lupe had already come so far, SPHP thought it was possible she had somehow missed the first bench, but this was actually it. As SPHP learned a little later on, only the first bench has a view of Eklunta Lake.
From the first bench, the trail turned back to the NW again leaving Eklunta Lake behind. Lupe was still mostly in forest, but tall bushes were becoming more prominent. From here on, the trail kept climbing steadily. Lupe came to no more relatively level sections. It was all sort of steep.
Soon Lupe was back over toward the Thachkatnu Creek valley again. Once more, the trail turned NE going up the valley, remaining high up on the Pepper Peak side. The forest gave way to the tall bushes as Lupe went up. Lupe could see Twin Peaks towering over the opposite side of the valley.
Lupe must have been almost a mile from the first bench, when she reached the second one. This bench was located on the Thachkatnu Creek side of Pepper Peak’s SW ridge. Twin Peaks were in view, but not Eklunta Lake. There were still lots of tall bushes near the second bench, but Lupe wasn’t far from reaching bush line where the views would really open up.
At the second bench, Lupe faced a choice. She could continue following a trail, presumably part of the Twin Peaks trail, up the Thachkatnu Creek valley toward the saddle between the Twin Peaks and Pepper Peak. The other choice was to take a side trail going SE up to the SW ridgeline coming down from Pepper Peak.
According to information SPHP had found online, Lupe could eventually reach the top of Pepper Peak either way. However, the trail going up the Thachkatnu Creek valley would have limited views for a long way. On Pepper Peak’s SW ridge, Lupe would be able to see Eklunta Lake the entire time, plus lots of magnificent mountains beyond.
With no more to go on than that, the choice was easy. Lupe left the second bench following the trail toward the SW ridge.
The ridgeline was farther from the second bench than SPHP expected, but it didn’t take Lupe too long to get there. Beautiful Eklunta Lake was in sight again.
Lupe had already come a long way, but the real climb, the long one up Pepper Peak’s SW ridge was just about to begin. Lupe was no longer on any formal, maintained trail, but there was still a path leading higher. Even without the path, the route was plain to see. Just keep heading up the ridge.
Lupe climbed and climbed. The views kept improving with every step higher.
For a long way, Pepper Peak’s SW ridge was broad and rounded. Other than the steepness, there were no other issues at all to deal with. Up and up was all there was to it, as fast as heart, lungs, legs and desire allowed. SPHP was getting close to a high point near the end of this relatively easy part of the climb, when suddenly Lupe let out a tremendous WOOF!
SPHP looked around. Nothing. What on earth was she woofing at here? Lupe WOOFED again. Oh, there! SPHP looked up, straight up. Two parasailers were floating high above!
Wow! That looked both scary and amazingly fun. Time for a parasailer break! Lupe and SPHP went just a little higher to the top of the nearby high point, then stopped to watch the parasailers for a while.
The parasailers were moving quite fast. They lost elevation relatively quickly, but seemed to have no problem finding thermals to take them soaring again. It was incredible how far and fast they flew. The one with the pink chute soon flew miles away to the SE far beyond Shaker Peak, and ultimately completely out of sight.
The parasailer with the green, white and blue chute hung around for a while. He made a couple of passes not terribly far above Lupe, which excited her tremendously. She had never seen such a huge bird in all her life! Why it must be a Roc, or a Pterodactyl!
The second parasailer drifted away out of sight. Wow! SPHP wondered where they had started from, and how they would ever get back. Who knew?
Time to press on again. The way forward was becoming steeper and rockier. The toughest part of the climb was about to begin.
The ridge became rockier and rockier as Lupe progressed. There was still a trail, but it was less well-defined and harder to follow. The slope became steeper. Exposure increased. Lupe encountered more and more loose rock. She tried to stay up near the ridge line, but wound up a little below and to the SE of it.
Although the ragged part of the ridge wasn’t terribly long, it took a while to navigate it. Lupe finally got past it, though. The ridge was now leveling out. The going was getting a lot easier. It couldn’t be much farther to the top of Pepper Peak!
Ahead was one more big knob of rock. Lupe and SPHP had seen it from far, far below. SPHP believed it was the summit. Lupe seemed to be way up in the sky. Who knew what kind of precipice might be on the other side?
The trail was in much better condition again here. It wound up the SE side of the knob. Lupe headed up. SPHP followed close behind.
Lupe reached the top of the craggy knob. SPHP was glad to see Lupe had not arrived at a pinnacle surrounded by dangerous cliffs. The top of the craggy knob wasn’t terribly large, but had a nice, flat area where Lupe could relax with a fantastic view of Eklunta Lake.
As Lupe had approached the craggy knob, SPHP caught a glimpse of a rounded hill some distance beyond it. The truth became clear even before Lupe reached the top of the knob. This last knob of rock was not the summit of Pepper Peak. The true summit was over at the top of the rounded hill.
This wasn’t bad news. In fact, it was good news! The remaining distance to the true summit was an easy trek. The trail followed an almost level final stretch of ridgeline straight toward it. Piece of cake! When Lupe arrived, she was going to find a nice, big, roomy summit. She could be there in minutes!
The views were so amazing, Lupe and SPHP stayed on the last craggy knob of rock for a few minutes before continuing on.
The final journey to the true summit was joyous. Lupe was going to make it to the top of Pepper Peak! She arrived to find a large cairn at the high point at the N end of a spacious summit. This was it. More than 4,500 feet above where she’d started, Lupe stood at the very top of Pepper Peak(5,381 ft.)!
The summit of Pepper Peak was an amazing place! Lupe had sweeping 360° panoramic views. Nearby, she could see many peaks of similar elevation. Long, barren ridges, many knife-edged, connected one peak to another to another. In between the ridges were deep U-shaped valleys carved by long departed giant glaciers of the ice age. Eklunta Lake was a beautiful highlight, with big snow and ice-covered peaks in sight miles away beyond its S end.
However, Pepper Peak had a lot more to offer than just the glories relatively close at hand. Pepper Peak is a place for binoculars. Despite not being the highest peak around, Lupe could see tremendous distances in most directions. On the far horizons gleamed many white wonders of Alaska. SPHP knew the names of a few, but most were unknown places of mystery, glimpsed for the first time from afar here on Pepper Peak.
To the SW, barely visible beyond shimmering Cook Inlet, Lupe could make out Redoubt Volcano(10,197 ft.) and nearby white mountains of the Aleutian Range. Redoubt was so far away, it hardly even showed up in a photo. To the NW, still far off, but somewhat closer, were the colossal peaks of the Alaska Range. Mount Foraker(17,400 ft.) and Denali(20,310 ft.) at least showed up using the camera’s telephoto lens.
To the ESE, Lupe saw a huge, long snowy ridge. SPHP had no idea what the names of any of those mountains along the ridge were, but the sight was spectacular, and not quite so far away. In fact, the views toward the E and S were the most amazing of any Lupe saw from Pepper Peak. The amount of snow and ice visible, even from a distance, was incredible!
Of course, Eklunta Lake to the SSE and the snowy peaks beyond it were highlights of the views from Pepper Peak, too!
Before arriving at the summit of Pepper Peak, SPHP had given some thought to having Lupe go on to Shaker Peak(5,089 ft.), about a mile away to the SE. However, the views were so splendid from Pepper Peak, and it had been such a long climb to get here, that the Shaker Peak idea got dropped.
Lupe was fine with the decision. It meant she got a nice long rest on Pepper Peak, while SPHP continued to stare off into the distance in fascination.
Looper and SPHP stayed up on Pepper Peak for more than 2 hours. Only one other person came up to the summit during all that time, despite the perfect weather. An Alaskan named Craig appeared from the Twin Peaks route.
SPHP raved about the views from Pepper Peak. To Craig, though, Pepper Peak was just another pleasant summit among many in Alaska. Craig stayed all of 10 minutes on top, then headed for the SW ridge Lupe had come up. Another day, another amazing mountain in Alaska, ho-hum.
SPHP’s enthusiasm wasn’t diminished in the least. Lupe seemed happy here, too!
Lupe was just chillin’ up on Pepper Peak, while SPHP took more photos of photographed photos. Although time was moving on, SPHP found it difficult to tear away from the tremendous views. Mountain mania continued a little longer.
After more than 2 hours on Pepper Peak, it really was time to go. Even so, it was hard to tear away from the incomparable views. This climb had been so worthwhile! SPHP was very glad Lupe had made the trip. At last, though, Lupe had to begin the trek back to the G6.
On the way down, Lupe was going to take the Twin Peaks route, even though it meant not being able to see as much along the way. The Twin Peaks route did have one advantage. Lupe would avoid the rocky scramble along the upper part of Pepper Peak’s SW ridge.
Exactly how to get to the Twin Peaks route wasn’t entirely clear. One thing was for certain. Lupe needed to get down to the saddle between Pepper Peak and Twin Peaks. Craig had reached the summit cairn coming up from the N, which was the shortest route and probably made the most sense.
Lupe, however, started off going S back down toward the last rocky knob she’d reached on the SW ridge on the way up. Before she quite got to it, she turned sharply back toward the N, following sheep trails below and to the W of the summit of Pepper Peak toward the saddle to Twin Peaks.
The trail Lupe was following along the saddle seemed determined to stay up on the ridgeline. Perhaps SPHP gave up on the trail too soon? Lupe and SPHP left it to start heading down into the Thachkatnu Creek valley, expecting to find another trail down there before too long. That didn’t happen.
As is often the case, Lupe had most of her fun on the Pepper Peak excursion on the way back to the G6. She loved roaming the tundra in the Thachkatnu Creek valley! She ran far and wide, sniffing and exploring. At times she was just a distant speck of a Dingo. Once she reappeared from a completely unexpected direction after being out of sight for a few minutes.
The route back down via the saddle and Thachkatnu Creek valley had absolutely no scrambling, exposure, or areas of loose rock. So it’s perfectly possible to reach the top of Pepper Peak completely avoiding that kind of thing. Somewhere, there’s probably a decent trail much of the way, but it must have been closer to Twin Peaks than Lupe and SPHP went.
For a long, long way, Lupe and SPHP lost elevation without coming to a trail. The vegetation became denser and taller as Lupe went lower. However, she didn’t get quite all the way down to where the tall bushes and forest started in earnest. Lupe finally found a trail when she was about at the elevation of the second (higher) bench on the Twin Peaks trail. By then, she wasn’t that far away from it.
Lupe and SPHP lost even more elevation crossing Thachkatnu Creek, but immediately had to regain it, climbing steeply on the other side. Not too surprisingly, Lupe arrived at the Twin Peaks trail right at the second bench. All that remained was a long, pleasant downhill stroll on the Twin Peaks trail.
Near the first bench, Lupe saw Eklunta Lake in the evening sunlight one more time from above.
And one more time, Lupe followed the Yellow Leaf trail, this time all the way to the end of her magnificent Pepper Peak adventure. (8:38 PM, 58°F)
Day 32 of Lupe’s Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska
The replacement part didn’t look the same as the original one. Figures. SPHP didn’t have the tools, or the knowledge required to fix the problem. Better not mess with it any more. For some reason, lots of bees were flying around the O’Reilly Auto Parts store parking lot, and SPHP is allergic. Time to get out of here! Even though the G6’s right front headlight still wasn’t working, SPHP reassembled everything.
When SPHP had taken it all apart, hoping to simply replace the low beam headlight bulb, it turned out that wasn’t the problem. The bulb was fine, but the socket it fit into was partially melted. O’Reilly had the replacement part, or something that was supposed to work, for less than $10.
However, there was no telling what it would take to find someone here in Anchorage who knew where that extra wire on the replacement socket should go, and had both the time and tools needed to install it. A simple oil change had been $60, and taken hours to line up this morning.
When Lupe got home to the Black Hills in South Dakota, SPHP was going to just order a whole new headlight assembly and be done with it. That meant the $50 fix-it ticket would have to be paid, since there was no way an Alaskan state trooper would ever get to inspect the new headlight to confirm it worked, but that’s life. Que sera, sera.
No more wasting Lupe’s precious time in Alaska! The morning had already shot by. Fortunately, there was a nice little adventure she could do this afternoon. Lupe could climb Flattop Mountain(3,510 ft.), the most frequently climbed mountain in Alaska, with great views of Anchorage from the top!
Back to the Glenn Alps Trailhead (2:39 PM, 61°F)! Only yesterday, Lupe had started off from here for a fabulous day spent climbing The Wedge(4,660 ft.) and The Ramp(5,240 ft.). Glenn Alps, located on the SE side of Anchorage, was also the trailhead for Flattop. Having spent all morning lazing around resting up in the G6, Lupe was ready and raring to go.
Climbing Flattop wasn’t going to be the solitary, wilderness type experience Lupe had enjoyed most of yesterday climbing The Wedge and The Ramp. On this beautiful, warm summer afternoon, the trail to Flattop Mountain was packed with hikers (and dogs) of all descriptions.
The trail started off entering a forest, but Lupe was soon beyond that. She followed the trail gaining elevation gradually as it led her around the SW side of Blueberry Knoll(2,625 ft.). Flattop Mountain was directly ahead.
Once around Blueberry Knoll, the trail swept around the SW (R) side of another, steeper hill, part of the ridge extending NNW from Flattop Mountain. The trail steepened as it turned E (L) again back toward a saddle between this higher hill and the rest of Flattop Mountain. Lupe encountered a long series of wood framed steps filled with dirt and gravel on the way to the saddle.
Reportedly, there are two popular routes up Flattop Mountain. The steepest, most direct, route switchbacks right up the slope from the saddle to the top of Flattop. An easier route presumably goes somewhere more to the W (R). Lupe and SPHP never saw the trail for the easier route, although it likely separates from the steeper route somewhere close to, or a little above the saddle.
On this warm, dry, summer day, everyone seemed to be taking the steepest route right on up. Lupe took the steep route, too.
The switchbacks brought Lupe quite close to the top of the mountain, but the last 50 to 75 feet of elevation gain was more difficult. Here, the going was steeper, with large rocks and big steps up. A little light scrambling was required to reach the top. Nothing too tricky, but a bit of caution needed to be exercised along in here.
Lupe reached the top of Flattop Mountain a short distance W of an American flag flying at the N end of the summit area. Everyone was busy getting their pictures taken next to the flag. While Lupe was waiting for the crowd to clear out for her turn, she went to investigate some big cairns nearby.
Climbing Flattop Mountain, Lupe had gained about 1,300 feet of elevation, only a fraction of what she’d gained climbing The Wedge(4,660 ft.) and The Ramp(5,240 ft.) yesterday. However, she had a decent view of both mountains from Flattop.
Soon it was Lupe’s turn for a picture at the American flag.
Of course, with a name like Flattop Mountain, the summit area was very large, and rather, umm, flat. The top of the mountain was stony, and completely open with very little vegetation.
Still, there were a few things to explore. People had constructed big cairns, and even a large, circular stone fort. The true summit was at a collection of rocks off toward the SW. The mountain offered 360° views. While most people congregated near the American flag, Lupe went off to see what there was to see.
Too bad Lupe and SPHP didn’t do things in reverse order this day! The views of the Turnagain Arm, Cook Inlet, and Knik Arm of the ocean, plus all the surrounding mountains at sunset would have been a sight to behold! Shortly after that, Lupe would have had a sweeping view of all the lights of Anchorage at night.
Still, Lupe got a great look at everything under bright, blue skies on a warm, calm day, so she had to count herself lucky. Sunset was hours away, so it was time to press on. Lupe could have gone on to Peak 2, but after yesterday’s big adventure, SPHP wasn’t up to it and had something milder in mind. Lupe started back down Flattop Mountain the same way she’d come up.
On the way back to the G6, Lupe and SPHP left the main trail to make the almost trivial trek to the top of Blueberry Knoll. The views were good even from here!
Lupe reached the G6 again early in the evening (6:09 PM). Soon she was saying good-bye to Anchorage for the final time, heading NE on the Glenn Highway (Alaska Route 1). The drive was wonderful! It was 75°F! Lupe road perched high on her pillows and blankets with the windows open and a warm breeze blowing in her face.
Near milepost 25, SPHP took the Thunder Bird exit, parking less than 0.5 mile off the highway at the Thunder Bird Falls trailhead next to the Eklunta River (7:10 PM). Lupe’s last adventure of the day was to go see Thunder Bird Falls, a 200 foot waterfall on Thunder Bird Creek.
A wide, well groomed trail goes for nearly a mile through a forest to the Thunder Bird Falls viewing platform perched along the side of a bluff. The trail gained only 100 feet of elevation along the way. Lupe passed by private homes in the forest W of the trail. To the E, the Eklunta River flowed at the bottom of a deep, narrow gorge.
At one point, the trail went right to the edge of the cliff. A fenced viewing platform let Lupe peer straight down to the river.
Thunder Bird Creek is a tributary of the Eklunta River. At some point along the way, Lupe passed by their unseen confluence. The trail was now above Thunder Bird Creek. Shortly before reaching the Thunder Bird Falls viewing platform, Lupe passed by a short side trail that goes down to the creek near the base of the falls.
The view of Thunder Bird Falls from the platform at the end of the trail was somewhat surprising. The falls cascades down a very narrow gorge, twisting along the way. Only part of Thunder Bird Falls was actually in view.
Naturally, Lupe and SPHP were curious about what could be seen of the falls from below. After leaving the viewing platform, Lupe took the nearby trail down to Thunder Bird Creek.
As it turned out, unless one is willing to get wet, there was little to be seen of Thunder Bird Falls from below, although the valley was humid with mist and the roar of the falls came from just around a corner.
Thunder Bird Falls did provide a bit of excitement while Lupe was there. Three teenagers were crossing Thunder Bird Creek, intent on climbing the short, slick, steep muddy trail to a much closer and precarious viewpoint right next to the falls. The last girl slipped on her way across the creek. She plunged in getting soaking wet with a shriek that made certain big soft Dingo ears momentarily stand on end!
Despite her chilly reception in Thunder Bird Creek, the girl was tough enough to get herself up and out pronto. She continued across the creek and joined her friends to climb the muddy trail and see Thunder Bird Falls close up.
Lupe would soon make the peaceful, pleasant return trip along the Thunder Bird Falls trail as sunlight filtered through the trees on her way back to the G6 (8:11 PM). She’d had a pretty easy, relaxing day. Tomorrow she had a much bigger, tougher adventure ahead. For now, though, we leave Lupe along clear-running Thunder Bird Creek, near the roar and mist of Thunder Bird Falls.
Glenn Alps Trailhead directions: In Anchorage, from the Seward Highway take O’Malley Road E toward the mountains. Turn R on Hillside Drive, then L on Upper Huffman Road. Follow signs to the trailhead at the end of Toilsome Road. $5.00 daily parking fee applies.
Thunder Bird Falls Trailhead directions: From Anchorage or Eagle River, take the Glenn Hwy (Alaska Route 1) going NE to the Thunder Bird Falls exit near milepost 25. The trailhead is on the R about 0.5 mile from the highway. From Palmer, take the Glenn Hwy going SW. Turn at the exit for Eklunta Lake (milepost 26 or 27) to get on the old Glenn Hwy. Go SW past the turn for Eklunta Lake. The Thunder Bird Falls trailhead is on the L immediately after crossing the Eklunta River. $5.00 daily parking fee applies.
Day 31 of Lupe’s Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska
Glenn Alps Trailhead on the SE edge of Anchorage was a busy place. (11:52 AM, 55°F) It was certainly the first trailhead Lupe had ever been to where SPHP could pay the $5.00 parking fee by credit card. Spiffy. So uptown and 21st century.
Up town wasn’t where Lupe wanted to be. She was looking forward to adventures up mountain in spectacular Chugach State Park! Lupe and SPHP left the parking lot heading for the Powerline Trail. Turned out there was a closer, lower parking lot. Learn something new every day.
Lupe had a beautiful sunny day for her adventures. Not so long ago, SPHP had almost despaired of ever seeing the sun in S Alaska. Twice Lupe had been on the verge of leaving the state. However, she wound up spending the last few days exploring and adventuring in brilliant sunshine out on the Kenai Peninsula. A high pressure system must have finally chased the gloom away from the Anchorage area, too.
The Powerline Trail turned out to be an old road. Lupe took it SE toward Powerline Pass. The trail was busy with people jogging and biking. Mountains were in view ahead. From almost the very start, Lupe could see The Wedge(4,660 ft.), her first peakbagging goal, in the distance. For Alaska, it looked like an easy, not too inspiring climb.
To be honest, both Lupe and SPHP found the Powerline Trail rather dull. Too sunny, too warm, too busy, too low down, and far from the mountains. A long, boring trudge on a dirt road. It’s easy to get spoiled in Alaska! Hopefully the experience would improve.
It did. Gradually, the mountain views seemed less distant. To get to the valley leading to the saddle between The Wedge and The Ramp, Lupe had to leave the Powerline Trail after a couple of miles. A smaller side trail led down to a footbridge across the South Fork of Campbell Creek. As soon as Lupe left the Powerline Trail behind, suddenly everything seemed better and more beautiful.
After crossing the South Fork of Campbell Creek, the side trail went NE up a moderately steep slope. The trail entered a forest of stunted conifers. A couple of women came down the trail toward Lupe. They had seen a moose and calf only a little farther up, right on the trail!
Lupe and SPHP proceeded slowly, cautiously. Lupe saw the mama moose, but only got a glimpse of the calf. The moose were no longer on the trail, having wandered off into the forest. Lupe and SPHP got by them at a good distance without incident. Lupe was very interested in those moose! She was a good Dingo, though, and never barked.
Once past the moose, Lupe kept climbing through the forest on the trail. By the time the trail left the forest, it had deteriorated considerably. Only a simple single track path remained. Ahead to the ESE, Lupe now had a clear view of the big saddle between The Wedge and The Ramp. The saddle was still a couple miles away.
The trail crossed some fairly level terrain heading toward the valley leading to the saddle. Lupe arrived at a tributary of the South Fork of Campbell Creek. The trail could be seen on the other side, but there was no bridge, or even any decent arrangement of stepping stones across the creek. No problem for Lupe, but SPHP would have liked to avoid getting wet feet.
In the end, even though the stream wasn’t all that big, SPHP found no way across in this area without simply fording it. Squish, squish. Puppy, ho! Onward! Lupe climbed up the embankment on the far side of the creek and kept going.
It would have been better if SPHP had gone farther upstream before crossing. The trail vanished. Lupe soon found herself in boggy terrain on the S side of another small tributary. Higher, drier ground was over on the N side, but it took a while to find a reasonably dry way to get there.
Once on the higher ground N of the boggy creek, Lupe quickly found a trail again. Lupe and SPHP followed it toward the big saddle. For quite a long way, Lupe could run down to the creek for a drink any time she wanted. She enjoyed availing herself of this opportunity at regular intervals.
As Lupe continued up the valley, the trail became intermittent. In fact, there seemed to be multiple trails, but none of them was a firmly established dominant route. All started and stopped in unpredictable fashion. It hardly mattered. Lupe could always see the big saddle up ahead, and kept going toward it.
Eventually, the stream reduced to a trickle, then disappeared. Lupe was getting close to the saddle between The Wedge & The Ramp. She could have chosen to climb either mountain first, but went for The Wedge(4,660 ft.). It wasn’t as high, and looked like the easiest climb.
Lupe got up on a big rounded ridge that swept down into the valley from the saddle. On the other side of the ridge, she could see a large snowbank. Except for tiny tundra plants, nearly all vegetation disappeared as Lupe made the final climb up the rounded ridge to the saddle.
Lupe followed the rounded ridgeline all the way up to the saddle. The saddle was a very broad, rounded area as well. Lupe turned SW to ascend The Wedge. Although The Wedge had looked like an easy climb from way back down on the Powerline Trail, it was steeper than expected. Lupe roamed the wide slope at will, as SPHP trudged slowly higher.
The climb was steep, but not the least bit scary. The slope was covered with small rocks and plants. For the most part, it was all fairly stable. Lupe didn’t come to any trail going up, but she didn’t need to. Staying far from the cliffs was easy. Lupe could take any route she desired up the huge, broad slope.
It seemed like a long climb, but the terrain finally started to level out. Lupe reached The Wedge’s summit ridge near the NE end. The true summit wasn’t far away at a rocky prominence. While SPHP took a look an initial look around at the tremendous views, Lupe relaxed.
My, how those views had improved since Lupe started out way back down on the Powerline Trail!
The views of the nearby peaks were impressive, but far toward the E & SE horizons, Lupe could see even higher mountains and big snowfields. The camera’s telephoto lens provided a better look at what was out there.
Naturally, Lupe went over to the true summit of The Wedge to claim her peakbagging success.
After half an hour spent on The Wedge, Lupe started her journey back down to the big saddle leading to The Ramp. She stayed farther to the E than where she’d come up, hoping to see Ship Lake, which hadn’t been visible from the summit of The Wedge. As she lost elevation, Ship Lake came into view.
Lupe continued on down toward the saddle leading to The Ramp(5,240 feet). The Ramp is nearly 600 feet higher than The Wedge, and looked considerably steeper from afar. The upper slopes were much more rugged, and the top of the mountain comes nearly to a point. Lupe couldn’t expect any nice big summit area to relax on at The Ramp!
SPHP started wondering if Lupe could even make it to the top of The Ramp? Meaning, of course, SPHP wondered if SPHP could make it to the top! The first part of the climb wouldn’t be bad, but the closer Lupe got to The Ramp, the more concerned SPHP became.
Meanwhile, Lupe was leaving Ship Lake and The Wedge farther and farther behind as she progressed across the saddle and started up The Ramp.
For quite a long way, climbing The Ramp wasn’t any harder or steeper than climbing The Wedge had been. However, the way up was slowly getting progressively steeper. Lupe had already regained all of the elevation she’d lost going down from The Wedge and more, when suddenly a woman was in view above. She was coming down toward Lupe.
Lupe and SPHP soon met up with her. She had made it to the summit of The Ramp. She advised staying near the closest ragged, rocky ridgeline to the E. She said there was a sort of intermittent trail along there. Near the very top, though, Lupe should swing around to complete her climb along the W ridge. Going back down, Lupe could either return to the saddle or go down the W ridge, slowly turning SW into the valley.
SPHP thanked her for the advice, and she was gone. She was the only person Lupe saw all day after the two women who had seen the moose early on. The woman did seem to know what she’d been talking about, and apparently she’d made it to the top. Per her advice, Lupe and SPHP angled over to the ragged ridgeline.
The woman was right. An intermittent trail went up the ragged ridge. Lupe had less loose rock to contend with. There were also some fearsome drops only a few feet away on the E side of the ridge. Lupe and SPHP kept climbing. Lupe was getting there! More and more of The Ramp was down below. Less and less remained above.
As the woman had advised, and the terrain virtually dictated, Lupe gained much of the last 60 feet of elevation by moving over to the W ridge and climbing up from that direction. Very close to the top, Lupe traversed a narrow 30 foot long level ledge toward the SE, then scrambled 10 feet almost straight up to a small grassy area.
The narrow ledge had way more exposure than Lupe and SPHP are used to, but SPHP had good hand and foot holds all the way. Lupe seemed unconcerned. She had no problem crossing the ledge. She scrambled up to the grassy area as easily as if she were only part Dingo, with a good dose of mountain goat in her.
At the little grassy area, Lupe was only 15 – 20 feet below the summit. After a brief pause, Lupe and SPHP finished the climb. The last 10 feet were very steep, but once again, there were good hand and foot holds. Lupe managed to get all the way up to sit a only a foot or two below the tops of the highest rocks at the summit of The Ramp.
SPHP wouldn’t let Lupe go up that last foot or two. Huge exposure was only a couple feet away to the N. This was it. Close enough for Dingo work! Lupe was claiming her peakbagging success! With one hand, SPHP clung to the rocks, while operating the camera with the other.
Of course, the views were amazing from The Wedge. In fact, they were dizzying. SPHP clung to the rocks, taking pictures. At SPHP’s bidding, Lupe got down off the summit. She retreated to a less precarious position close to the grassy area where she could rest comfortably, while still enjoying the stupendous view. SPHP soon joined her. Wow, what an incredible place!
After 15 minutes doing nothing other than enjoying the views together, Lupe and SPHP started down. Once safely past the 10 foot down climb and 30 foot ledge, SPHP felt more relaxed about the situation. A long pleasant evening trek down the mountain ensued. Lupe took the alternate route down along the W ridge, eventually dropping well below it on her way to the valley.
The route stayed steep and rocky for a long way. Slowly the slope decreased. Tundra vegetation started taking over, and the way became less rocky. For Lupe, this was the best part of the entire excursion. For a long time, she ran free over great distances to her heart’s content. The tundra glowed with color in the evening light. The air was fresh and cool. Lupe was in American Dingo paradise!
Of course, Lupe always remembered to come running back to SPHP at frequent intervals, even though it was a chore having to constantly regain all the elevation she’d just lost.
Lupe and SPHP saw no one in the broad valley. The return trip was a glorious, peaceful, happy time.
By staying farther N in the valley, Lupe was able to avoid most of the boggy terrain lower down. SPHP even found a way over the tributary of the South Fork of Campbell Creek without having to ford it again. By the time Lupe was getting close to the Powerline Trail again, the sun was disappearing behind the mountains far to the W beyond Cook Inlet.
As Lupe and SPHP finally drew near the turn off the Powerline Trail leading to the Glenn Alps Trailhead, some of the lights of Anchorage came into view. Mountains were silhouetted against an orange sky beyond the Knik Arm of Cook Inlet.
SPHP remembered there was a small hill near the upper Glenn Alps Trailhead parking lot where the G6 was. Why not spend a view extra minutes to climb it and get a sweeping view of the lights of the entire city of Anchorage? It sounded like a great idea!
Lupe never got to. Someone else had the same idea, and had already claimed both the hill and the view as their own. (10:33 PM)Note: The Glenn Alps Trailhead is on the SE edge of Anchorage. To get there, take O’Malley Road off Seward Highway going E toward the mountains. Turn R on Hillside Drive, L on Upper Huffman Road, and follow the signs to Toilsome Road. The upper trailhead parking lot is at the end of Toilsome Road.
Day 30, Part 2 of Lupe’s Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska
Flashing lights. SPHP slowed down, pulling over toward the shoulder to let the cop go past. Instead, the patrol car came right up behind the G6. Uh-oh. SPHP had been driving 10 mph under the limit. Now what? Lupe started to growl as the policeman approached SPHP’s window. Not a good time for that, Looper! Shush!
Burnt out headlight. Which one? The right one. Good grief. That same headlight had burnt out a few weeks before Lupe left home on this Dingo vacation. SPHP had personally bought and installed a new bulb. Most aggravating.
The officer politely gave SPHP a $50 fix-it ticket. Fix it within 30 days and have the headlight inspected by an Alaskan state trooper, or pay the fine. Sigh. Well, onward. Nothing could be done about it on a Sunday evening. Loopster, that was an adventure we could have done without.
The adventure Lupe was on her way toward was the trail to Portage Pass to see the Portage Glacier. Only a few days ago, Lupe had seen Portage Lake and taken a nearby trail to see the Byron Glacier. However, Portage Glacier long ago receded from view from the NW end of Portage Lake where Lupe had been. To see it, Lupe would have to go through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel (also known as the Whittier Tunnel), and take the trail to Portage Pass.
At 13,300 feet long (2.5 miles), the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel is the longest highway tunnel in North America. The tunnel is only a single lane wide, and highway vehicles share it with the Alaskan Railroad. Railroad tracks are embedded right in the highway lane.
Logistically, the tunnel functions on a set schedule, with highway vehicles getting to use the tunnel for 15 minutes in each direction each hour. The 15 minute intervals alternate directions every 30 minutes. The tunnel is not open to highway vehicles at night. During 2016’s summer schedule, the first time slot in the morning was 7:00 – 7:15 AM. The last time slot in the evening was 11:00 – 11:15 PM.
Lupe timed her arrival at the Whittier Tunnel perfectly! SPHP paid the $13.00 round trip fee for the G6 at the toll booth. Only a minute or two later, Lupe had a green light to enter the tunnel.
The maximum speed limit was only 25 mph, so it took a while to get through the tunnel. It was spookier and more fun than Lupe expected! It was a little like going down a long dungeon passage in a video game, except there were no side doors, passages, turns or curves at all. (No wandering monsters, either!) The tunnel was completely straight.
In a few places, water dripped from the ceiling. At intervals, there were small pullouts for vehicles experiencing mechanical difficulties. Otherwise, no stops are permitted. If a train had been coming from the other direction, the Whittier Tunnel would be the stuff of nightmares.
Of course, the tunnel’s carefully controlled schedule prevents head on collisions from happening. Still, it was an odd feeling when, upon emerging from the tunnel, Lupe saw a locomotive aimed directly at the passage she had just taken.
Lupe was now on the Whittier side. Only a short distance (0.25 mile?) from the end of the tunnel, was a R turn onto a gravel road that promptly went over the railroad tracks. This was the short road leading to the Portage Pass trailhead. Another R turn led to a lane where vehicles were parked along both sides of the road. It was a strange trailhead with no formal parking lot. At first, SPHP wasn’t even certain Lupe was at the right place.
This was it, though! SPHP parked the G6 (7:02 PM, 57°F). Tall bushes dominated the area, and out of them flooded a horde of tiny black flies. Standing around meant getting chewed on by these little menaces. Lupe and SPHP looked around for the trail to Portage Pass, finding it near a sign. Lupe set off up the trail at once.
The Portage Pass trail was relatively busy, with people and dogs coming and going. Most were leaving at this time of day. Tall bushes grew everywhere off the trail. Biting black flies were everywhere, too. They weren’t too bad, as long as Lupe didn’t stop to look around. Going up the trail to Portage Pass, there really wasn’t much to stop and look at anyway, although the view back toward Whittier and Passage Canal was steadily improving as Lupe gained elevation.
The trail to Portage Pass is only a mile or so long. The trail is popular, so it was well-worn and in good condition. It starts close to sea level, and gains nearly 800 feet of elevation. Most of the way, it climbed steadily at a moderate pace. As Lupe neared the pass, the climb became steeper. The annoying black flies did an excellent job of discouraging any needless dawdling along the way.
Thankfully, a breeze was blowing up at the pass, largely solving the black fly problem. Ahead were magnificent sights!
Coming up, Lupe had been in the shadow of Maynard Mountain(4,137 ft.), but beyond the pass, snow-covered mountains gleamed in the evening sunlight. Beautiful Portage Glacier was directly ahead a mile or more away. Big waterfalls cascaded down nearby mountains from snow fields and smaller glaciers.
A maze of small trails climbed a variety of hilly rock formations and small ridges in Portage Pass. Lupe climbed up for a better look. A small pond known as Divide Lake was ahead to the SW. Divide Lake sat lower down on a broad, brushy flat area, beyond which Lupe saw Portage Glacier extending all the way down to the far shore of Portage Lake.
A trail continues beyond Portage Pass all the way down to Portage Lake, which is another mile away. Unfortunately, Lupe had arrived too late in the day to go that far. However, while she was up at Portage Pass, Lupe met Matt and Elisa from Nome. They decided they wanted to go at least to Divide Lake, so Lupe and SPHP tagged along, too.
From Divide Lake, it wasn’t possible to see the lower part of the Portage Glacier where it reaches Portage Lake. However, Lupe did have beautiful double views of the upper portion of the glacier and surrounding peaks reflected in the lake
Lupe, Matt, Elisa and SPHP went a little beyond Divide Lake, eventually reaching a bench. Bushes had grown up so much, anyone sitting on the bench no longer had a view of the Portage Glacier. SPHP could see it, but only by standing on top of a big rock nearby. Lupe saw only bushes in the direction of Portage Glacier, but she could still see big waterfalls on the mountains to the S.
Matt and Elisa talked about life in Nome. Elisa told of having to call in late for work sometimes due to herds of musk oxen blocking the road. Elisa was the first person Lupe or SPHP had ever met who had this problem. There can’t be too many places in the world where musk oxen in the way would be a well-received excuse for being late to work.
Sunlight was rapidly disappearing. Soon it would be gone even from the mountaintops. Lupe, Matt, Elisa and SPHP all started back for Portage Pass. At the pass, Matt and Elisa went on, but Lupe tarried. From another rocky hill in the pass, Lupe had a beautiful view of Passage Canal back toward Whittier.
A few late stragglers were still heading up the Portage Pass trail as Lupe headed back down to the G6. Before long, it would be too dark for them to see much of anything at Portage Pass. Most of the time, the trail was deserted. Lupe arrived back at the G6 (9:17 PM).
Even though it was getting dark, Lupe and SPHP drove into the town of Whittier, to see what it was like. Whittier was a strange place. There were few homes, and only a small run-down looking business district. Three high-rise buildings were perched up against the base of towering mountains, but only one of them was lit up.
On a Sunday evening, there wasn’t much going on, but it was easy to see that Whittier must ordinarily be a busy place. There were lots of commercial buildings around. Large parking lots were crammed full of vehicles and boats. Down by the shore, a great many boats were moored along illuminated docks in a cove of Passage Canal. Multiple railroad tracks ran through town.
The whole place had an abandoned industrial air to it, though what could be seen of the setting was spectacularly beautiful. Did Lupe want to spend the night stuck in Whittier? No, probably not. There was still time to make the 10:00 PM tunnel access back out of Whittier to the rest of the world.
So Lupe left spectacular Portage Pass, and the odd, beautifully situated town of Whittier behind. She made one more spooky trip trip through Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, emerging from the far end beneath a starlit Alaskan sky.
Day 30, Part 1, of Lupe’s Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska
No Dingoes allowed! Extraordinarily disappointing, but the place was swarming with tourists. Park rangers patrolled near the nature center at the start of the trail. Signs banning American Dingoes were prominently displayed. There wasn’t going to be any getting around this one. Lupe couldn’t go. Time to break out Plan B.
The day had started out well enough, with sunny skies full of promise. A gorgeous drive from the Mystery Hills almost all the way to Seward had taken up the morning. Lupe enjoyed beef stew for breakfast along clear, rushing Ptarmigan Creek. Now here she was, all ready for her next big adventure.
That big adventure was supposed to have been a hike from the Exit Glacier Nature Center along the Harding Icefield Trail all the way to the end. Lupe would have had a sweeping view of the 700 square mile Harding Icefield, the largest icefield entirely within the United States. Now it was clear that wasn’t going to happen.
What SPHP hadn’t realized was that the Exit Glacier and Harding Icefield are in Kenai Fjords National Park. Since US National Parks are forbidden territory for Carolina Dogs, Lupe’s Harding Icefield adventure was over before it started. At least Lupe had gotten to see the Exit Glacier from a distance on the way to the nature center.
Fortunately, there actually was a Plan B. Lupe could go to Tonsina Point on Resurrection Bay! Compared to the Harding Icefield Trail, Plan B wasn’t too ambitious, but maybe that was OK. Yesterday, Lupe had a big adventure in the Mystery Hills involving more than 3,000 feet of elevation gain. Perhaps an easy day was for the best.
SPHP drove back along Herman Leirer Road (the road to the Exit Glacier) to mile 3 on the Seward Highway, turned S, and drove all the way through Seward to a “T” at the end of the highway at the S end of town.
A right turn took Lupe to a gravel road perched slightly above the W shore of Resurrection Bay. The dusty road went S for 3 miles to Lowell Point, where it curved to the E. There was private property in Lowell Point, and signage didn’t mention Tonsina Point. Which way? SPHP had no clue, but stayed on the same road.
The road made another turn to the S. Happily, it soon ended at a trailhead. (Note: $5.00 daily parking fee). A path could be seen leading from the parking lot to Resurrection Bay, only a short distance away. This must be it! SPHP parked the G6 (12:48 PM, 72°F), and Lupe got out. Lupe and SPHP took the short path to Resurrection Bay.
The temperature was in the low 70’s °F, no doubt a warm day in Alaska, but SPHP was surprised to see Lupe had arrived at a public beach. Even more surprising was that a few hardy Alaskans were actually in the water. Resurrection Bay is an arm of the North Pacific Ocean. Streams and rivers pour glacial meltwaters into it. How warm could it be? Those Alaskans must be tough! Neither Lupe nor SPHP was tempted to take a dip.
Ixnay on the swimming, but a little sunbathing might be enjoyable. The beach certainly had a wonderful view of Resurrection Bay and the surrounding mountains, many of which still had snow or even small glaciers visible on them. Offshore, a small island rose dramatically from the bay. A large bird was perched up on top. It looked like it might be an eagle.
The camera’s telephoto lens revealed the truth. The big bird actually was an eagle – a bald eagle!
While SPHP wouldn’t have minded dozing and sunbathing on the beach at Lowell Point for a little while, the truth is, American Dingoes aren’t much into that sort of thing. Lupe wanted action! So Lupe and SPHP headed SW toward the end of the beach, where SPHP expected to find the trail to Tonsina Point.
The beach ended at a very steep forested embankment coming all the way down to the sea. No sign of a trail anywhere. Puzzling. SPHP finally concluded it was best to return to the trailhead for information on the trail’s location.
As it turned out, there were two trailheads, the one the G6 was parked at near the beach, and another trailhead for the Caines Head State Recreation Area. The second trailhead was only a short hike away up a hill. The trail to Tonsina Point starts from there. Lupe and SPHP left the G6 parked where it was, taking a muddy trail through an amazing forest up to the second trailhead.
Note: The Caines Head State Recreation Area trailhead has its own parking lot at the end of a short road (a R turn to the S) off the Lowell Point road from Seward. There was a sign for it, but SPHP hadn’t made the turn since the sign didn’t mention Tonsina Point. The same $5.00 daily parking fee applies here.
A sign at the upper trailhead showed a map of Caines Head State Recreation Area. The trail to Tonsina Point is only the first short section of a much longer trail to destinations near Caines Head. Lupe was only going as far as Tonsina Point. Beyond Tonsina Point, parts of the trail are flooded and impassable at high tide, possibly forcing an overnight stay waiting for low tide.
The trail going S to Tonsina Point and beyond started as a single track at the parking lot, but soon merged with a road leading to private properties, which seemed a bit weird. Farther on, it left the private road, continuing as a 5 or 6 foot wide trail improved with a layer of fine slate gray gravel.
All the way to Tonsina Point, the trail went through a thick forest providing not even a glimpse of Resurrection Bay. Tiny streams flowed next to the trail in some places, providing Lupe with fresh, cold water. The trail was relatively busy on this warm day in August, though it was a ghost town compared to the crowds Lupe had seen at the Exit Glacier.
After leaving the private road, the trail climbed steadily at an easy pace, ultimately gaining about 200 feet of elevation. The trail then became more primitive and switchbacked down a considerably steeper slope. At the bottom of the switchbacks, Lupe arrived at an arched bridge over Tonsina Creek.
From the bridge, Lupe had a great view downstream of Tonsina Creek emptying into nearby Resurrection Bay.
Once across the bridge, Lupe left the main trail to follow a path toward Resurrection Bay, stopping briefly to wade in Tonsina Creek along the way. Salmon could be seen swimming in the creek. Signs near the main trail indicated fishing for them was prohibited.
Lupe had arrived at Tonsina Point, the big delta formed by Tonsina Creek where it reaches Resurrection Bay. Being a delta, the whole area was flat. Away from the ocean, above the high tide mark, bright green grasses and other plants flourished in luxurious profusion. The tidal plain close to Resurrection Bay was all sand, mud and small stones. Seagulls congregated near the edge of the water.
When Lupe arrived, the tide was at least partially out, exposing a large stretch of tidal plain beyond the onshore vegetation. Lupe went way out near the water’s edge to check out the impressive views of Resurrection Bay and surrounding mountains.
Several old tree trunks, bleached white by the sun, were washed up near the high tide mark. People were using them as benches, from which they had great views of Resurrection Bay while relaxing and having lunch. That seemed like a good idea, so Lupe and SPHP headed over there to join them. On the way, Lupe found something on the beach which greatly interested her.
At the bleached tree trunks, SPHP took a break and had a bite to eat. Lupe wasn’t tired or hungry. She met a dog named Pinecone, and spent her time enticing Pinecone to play with her, at which she was partially successful.
After SPHP’s break, Lupe continued her exploration of Tonsina Point’s tidal plain, working her way around toward the S. A very large piece of driftwood with many branches was stranded out there all by itself. Lupe sniffed around it, and decided it made a good, scenic platform for her next couple shots of Resurrection Bay.
Near the S end of Tonsina Point, Lupe’s advance was blocked by another channel of Tonsina Creek. The main trail crossed this channel at a 2nd bridge located farther inland. Lupe went over to the 2nd bridge, but did not cross it.
At Tonsina Point, Lupe had only seen a small portion of Caines Head State Recreation Area. The main trail continues S beyond the 2nd bridge for miles leading to more trails, an old fort, various facilities, and lots more beautiful views. No doubt it was all worth further exploration, however, the tide was starting to come in. At high tide, parts of the trail S of Tonsina Point are under water.
Lupe and SPHP were not prepared to spend the night camping out, if Lupe got cut off from Tonsina Point by high tide. So Lupe took the main trail back N through a lovely forest to the 1st bridge over Tonsina Creek.
Lupe’s time at beautiful Tonsina Point was over. She had only scratched the surface of what there is to see at Caines Head State Recreation area, but Tonsina Point had been an easy, fun excursion. Lupe returned to the G6 happy with her Tonsina Point experience (3:47 PM).
Before leaving the gorgeous Seward area, Lupe played tourist in town. She dropped by a park where a statue featuring a prospector and his dog commemorates Alaska’s pioneering spirit, and the Iditarod National Historic Trail, which goes all the way from Seward to Nome. Lupe shares Alaska’s pioneering spirit. She was certain the statue could be improved by the addition of an American Dingo.
Lupe was enthused. She was all for setting out on the 958 mile long Iditarod Trail, but SPHP just doesn’t have quite the same degree of Alaskan pioneering spirit and chickened out.
Well, fine. Lupe had another idea. How about something less pioneery, and more decadently luxurious? There was a big, comfy ship in town that looked like it could take Lupe and SPHP to Nome in grand style by sea. American Dingoes love being pampered, too, you know!
SPHP had to admit the cruise ship was beautiful and would be a lot of fun, but whined piteously something negative about a budget. Most disappointing, but Lupe finally did manage to negotiate a consolation deal.
After a stop at Safeway, Lupe left Seward in the G6, perched in comfort high up on her blankets and pillows, heading N on a wonderful scenic drive along the Seward Highway while sharing ice cream sandwiches and chips with SPHP. Before the day was over, she was going to get to go through a long, long tunnel and take the trail to Portage Pass to see the Portage Glacier.
Of course, that’s another adventure for another post.