Thursday, July 7, 2011

Experiencing the Alaskan Wilderness

When I wrote about hiking Denali, I did not know what to expect from the 49th State.

Having spent the last week in Alaska with my family and experienced the terrain, flora and fauna, I can now describe Alaska in all its grandeur.

We began our trip in Girdwood, 40 miles to the South of Anchorage.  This area of Chugach National Forest is a temperate rain forest, which receives 120 inches of precipitation every year and is reminiscent of moss covered forests of Olympia National Park.   I hiked the Winner Creek Trail to a hand trolley river crossing and then onto the Crow Creek trail a section of the traditional Iditarod route - about 10 miles for the circuit.  A truly beautiful walk through lush and dense forest.   Two great horned owl fledgelings serenaded me along the way.

We drove the Seward highway and explored the Exit Glacier via the Harding Icefield trail.   Amazing deep blue ice and deep crevasses

We moved on to Anchorage so that I could meet with IT leaders and folks working on statewide EHR/HIE projects.    After my lectures, Stewart Ferguson CIO, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and I hiked 20 miles with 8000 feet of elevation gain through the Chugach State Park.  We began at Glen Alps trailhead and hiked 6 miles to Ship Lake.  From there we went off trail and climbed a 1000 foot ridge, then a 1000 foot glacier to reach Bird Ridge.   We traversed the Bird Ridge Overlook and did a 3500 foot descent to Turnagain Arm.  A truly amazing day - no need for a headlamp because in late June at 61 degrees North latitude, there is no darkness.

The next day, my family traveled to Talkeetna, the gateway to Denali National Park and the amazing peeks of Foraker, Hunter, and McKinley.  We took the Talkeetna air taxi to Denali base camp and landed on the Pika Glacier.  I met two climbers (medical students from the University of Washington) and we discussed the rock routes of Little Switzerland, moderate granite climbs of 5.8-5.9.   So far this year, there have been 9 deaths on McKinley and the surrounding mountains.   Foraker was particularly intimidating because of its cornices - rock edges covered with snow that looks like whipped cream - one step through a cornice is fatal.

An amazing trip.  I look forward to returning and exploring the mountains/rivers of the Kenai Peninsula   by driving along the Sterling Highway to Homer, Alaska.

I have long admired the work of Richard Proenneke  (the book One Man's Wilderness and the PBS documentation Alone in the Wilderness) and hope to visit the Twin Lakes region  of Lake Clark National Park, the least visited national park with 4 million acres and 5000 visitors per year.

Although I'm steeped in technology and sometimes described as an alpha geek there is something to be said for he homesteading lifestyle, defined as “a lifestyle of simple agrarian self-sufficiency".   Alaska may the the ideal spot for my version of Thoreau's cabin in the woods.


Bernz said...

Yes, an alpha-geek, but I read enough of your blog to know that you're equally an eco-geek. Your admiration for home-steading does not surprise (so long as you can make your own low-power sensors for assisting in agricultural work).

Tom Augello said...

Hey John, that was my honeymoon 20 years ago, although you did more extreme trekking. And we made it to Kenai--which you'll love when you return. This is our first year not at the Farm, by the way, in about 15 years! See ya 'round

-Tom Augello

Anonymous said...

Hey John, just got back from AK myself, amazing country/state where I spent most of my travels heading down the peninsula. Definitely plan on getting back there.