Dylan Kentch and I decided to complete one of the old Alaska Wilderness Classic routes from Donnelly to McKinley Village, walking and rafting from the Richardson Highway west to the Parks Highway, in effect traversing along the northern Alaska Range. There aren't a lot of roads in Alaska, so it was super cool to connect two of the majors with a cross country journey of about 150 miles, especially when it involves walking in country with huge glaciated peaks like Mt. Hayes, Mt. Moffit, Mt. Shand, and all of their "little" foothills :-)
Our route (click to see a larger view)
We left late on Friday night and crossed the Delta River in the rain, then walked upstream to an unnamed creek N of Pilsbury Mtn.
Saturday included a ridge traverse of Pilsbury, followed by a descent to McGinnis Creek and crossing of the "creek" at the toe of the McGinnis Glacier.
Walking the ridgeline
Heading over the saddle to mellower terrain
Sunday, we travelled up the McGinnis Glacier east fork and then over a few passes until we dropped down to the Trident Glacier. We crossed the Trident and then traveled about 2 miles down glacier to a fabulously flat, open, and beautiful creek bed where we camped. This was a pretty big day full of changing terrain, but incredible and vast country. We started out bluebird, but the rain rolled in late afternoon. Thankfully it was dry during our boulder-hopping times!
We awoke to bluebird, and started boulder walking up the McGinnis Glacier
The scenery did not suck
Caribou on the rolling terrain leading to the Trident - they were super curious and scared at once.
Crossing the Trident
Monday, we hiked up a drainage and over to the Hayes Glacier. We crossed the west fork of the Hayes, then climbed up and over some fabulous tussocks and brush to drop down to the east fork and descend East Hayes Creek to the Little Delta River. The descent wasn't too bad due to some fabulous game trails, an easily crossable creek, and ATV trails for the last mile on the flats. I would have to say that this was the most arduous day for me though, especially cuz we made a few small navegational errors that added a bit to the day. I also started to develop some pretty painful tendonitis/bursitis on my left foot that made walking not so fun. Such is life though, and part of the adventure, I suppose.
Dropping down to the Hayes . . . it was hard to see the glacier in the fog, but we got there! About a mile before this, we saw a sow and 3 cubs, but she had seen us first and was in retreat.
Tuesday, we walked up the East Fork Little Delta River to the toe of the Gillam Glacier and over to Buchanan Creek. The sun came out at the Gillam and we were overwhelmed by the scale, beauty, and uniqueness of the area. I think this was one of my favorite places on the trip!
Crossing the toe of the Gillam through what felt like a lunar landscape
The upper Gillam
Heading from the Gillam to Buchanan Creek
Wednesday, we hiked to the top of Buchanan Creek and over the pass to descend an unnamed creek that we named "Pretty Nice Creek." From there, we walked up the West Fork Little Delta and up another amazing unnamed drainage. Again, we camped right at the headwaters of the creek and base of the pass in another incredible valley . . .
Heading to the top of Buchanan Creek and over the pass to what we named "pretty nice creek" since the travelling was, well, pretty nice :-)
Heading up the West Fork Little Delta to the unnamed drainage int the sun . . . again, amazing country! I could have stayed here for a few days to explore!
Thursday, we descended yet another great creek to the Wood River where we were able to float for about 6 miles. We also found some great trails on the way to the Wood that made travel super easy and fun. It was an incredibly beautiful day as well, that made napping a great idea!!! From the Wood, we followed a series of amazing game trails up Big Grizzley Creek before camping in the upper vally just below the pass.
Welcome to bliss!
Upper Grizzley Creek did not disappoint . . .
Friday we hiked over the pass to Edgar Creek, crossed a huge valley and dropped down through the brush to the Yanert River. We floated about 25 miles in the Yanert in ~4 hours, and took out just downstream of Moose Creek. From there, we walked 8ish miles on ATV trail to the airstrip in McKinley Village and a 4th of July bonfire :-)
Hiking out of Big Grizzley Creek
Dylan in the amazing place that is upper Edgar Creek
Me with the Yanert Valley in the background . . . what a way to end the trip!
Finally at the Yanert after about 2 hours of brushy travel - not too bad, all things considering! Getting in the river under bright sunshine was so amazing! We got some rain on the float, but nothing to complain about! Unfortunately, it had poured in Cantwell/McKinley Village area causing some insane mosquito action, but the hike out the ATV trail was still amazingly beautiful!
It's great to know people throughout Alaska to help with trip logistics and provide a smiling face at the end of a trip. My coworker Bob happens to be one of those amazing people, so he picked us up at about midnight and took us back to civilization :-) The next morning we had a huge breakfast and used his place to sort and dry gear before completing the second highway-to-highway by riding the Denali Highway from Cantwell to Paxson over the following two days . . . stay tuned for that story . . .
For the full story, check out Life According to Kellie
Labels: Adventure Report, alaska, packrafting