Our Backpacking Group
I am a member of several Colorado “Meetup” hiking groups, and I stumbled across a backpacking trip to Alaska. I have always wanted to visit Alaska in the summertime (been in the winter), so I signed up as soon as I saw the post and there was already a waiting list.
It didn’t take long, however, for a few people to drop out, so my friend Ross and I were able to join what turned out to be a group out of El Paso, Texas and Las Cruces, New Mexico. Ryan, who led the group, is originally from Alaska and now lives in El Paso.
Yvonne, his girlfriend, who lives in Las Cruces, communicated all the details to the group. We were to meet at the Embassy Suites in Anchorage in order to leave by 7am on Saturday to drive to Hope, Alaska, where we would begin our approximately 40-mile backpacking journey over Resurrection Pass.
Others who joined us on the trip were Bojan, Tina and Fan. Bojan lived in Bosnia and now works for Sandia Labs in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Tina also works for Sandia Labs, and I am jealous of her four-day trip to Katmai to see the bears (as I only spent a half-day which was AMAZING). Fan is from China, but has lived in Phoenix for the last 20 or so years.
We all stayed at different hotels though arrived timely at the Embassy Suites for our drive along the Kenai Peninsula to the Resurrection Pass Trailhead in Chugach National Forest. The 6.9 million-acre area is the northernmost rain forest in the world and home to wide variety of vegetation, wildlife and lots of rain.
Day One (9.5 miles)
After nearly a two-hour drive, we arrived at the trailhead parking lot, organized our gear, and donned our packs, raincoats, bear bells and bear spray to begin our 9.5 mile hike to White Creek Campsite. The path, which was once used by gold miners in the 1890’s, begins with a bridge crossing the creek.
As we passed through the dense vegetation beneath a light drizzle, it didn’t take long to find bear scat and big bear tracks in the muddy trail. Evergreens and aspens towered above us as mushrooms, moss, fern, and berries including currants, raspberries, blue berries, goose berries, and crow berries lined the trail.
We enjoyed occasional views of the creek that intermittently smelled like fish from the dead salmon which had spawned and died upstream. We reached our unreserved, designated campsite with a bear box in the middle of the afternoon and were able to set our tents during a break in the rain. Luckily for us, it only rained for about another hour, and we got to enjoy the rest of the evening by a small fire that Ross and Ryan built!
Day 2 (13.5 miles)
The following day we continued enjoying a reprieve from the rain for the first few hours of our hike as we climbed out of the treeline beneath overcast skies toward Resurrection Pass. Soon, however, the clouds opened up and most of the rest of the day we walked through intermittent rain as we supplemented our dry food with fresh blueberries. I soon named Bojan, Yogi the Bear as he went from the front of the line to the back of the pack as he consistently picked and popped blue berries in his mouth as if he hadn’t eaten in days.
The wildflowers flourished above treeline at just over 2,000 feet. Wild dogwoods, shoulder high fireweed, monk’s hood, Indian paint brush, daisies and the biggest blue bells I have ever seen were just a few of the flowers which peppered the hillsides surrounding the trail now full of water puddles.
Soon we reached Resurrection Pass at a whopping 2,600 feet (much lower than Colorado), descended past a few lovely lakes, enjoyed views of rolling hills turning progressively golden with the changing season beneath low hanging clouds, and eventually reached our campsite complete with a toilet a few miles farther down the path than we expected. After 13 miles, we scoped out the Devils Pass Campground which was in the open tundra next to a patch of trees, a portion of which were subject to an underground root fire.
We had hoped for a short dry spell to set up our tents, but as soon as we dropped our packs, the darkest clouds we had seen on our trek moved overhead, thus we took cover in the trees from the now heavy rain. It’s amazing how well the low trees protected us. Eventually the rain slowed and we rushed to set up our tents prior to the next heavy round of showers. We spent our dinner under the trees and turned in early.
Day 3 (11.5 miles)
The rain continued through most of the night and into the next morning. After breakfast under the cover of the trees, our group, a little less enthusiastically donned our rain gear and headed out for a 11.5 mile day. Ryan continued leading with his fast pass as we carried on through the open tundra, back down into the forest with far less berries on this side of the pass, and to the enormous Juneau Lake.
We used one of the cabins at the lake for lunch in order to take a few minutes to dry out from the rain. There isn’t a day use option for the cabin, so technically we weren’t supposed to be there, but for safety alone (drying off to keep from being hypothermic should the temperature drop) seemed like it was worth breaking the rules briefly.
From the cabin, we hiked about four more miles to our next campsite at Juneau Falls. This area was dispersed under trees, and we ended up a little spread out as we looked for flat places to sleep. I think we arrived to camp around 3 pm, and I didn’t leave my tent until the next morning when it stopped raining except to go to the bathroom.
I (and I think others) succumbed to eating dry food like a peanut butter sandwiches and protein bars for dinner instead of cooking a camp meal as a break in the rain seemed unlikely. It did, however, stop for 30 minutes around 7:30, so Ross got to eat a hot dinner by himself. At any rate, we were happy to see blue skies in the morning.
Day 4 (4 miles)
The original plan was to pack out four miles the final day, drive to Crow Pass, and begin our next backpacking trip. With virtually everything we owned wet, and the forecast for three more days of rain, we opted out! After the last of our trek took us by awesome waterfalls, beautiful views, and countless mushrooms, we loaded into the van, drove to lunch and then checked into a variety of hotels with limited room options during high season.
I think I felt slightly relieved that we weren’t continuing the backpacking as my multiple blisters from soaking wet socks and shoes were slowing me drastically. It’s amazing how much a small piece of skin out of place can hurt so much. Ross was in the same boat. We were the last two off the trail, though I was also a picture taking fool which didn’t speed up my progress any.
In addition, our gear, despite dry bags, trash bags, and pack covers was simply soaked. I thought I was prepared this time as I got rained out of trip last year in Colorado, so I purchased a new tent, a better sleeping bag, and pack cover, but it appears after awhile foul weather gear eventually fails in consistent rain and grey skies with no chance to dry out. My hotel room, which I shared with Tina, became a large “laundry line” with all of our stuff hanging over the furniture.
The next half of our backpacking trip turned into day trips from Anchorage…to be continued. ETB