Coal Wood Glitter: The Third Time's A Charm

I had an idea, I planned, I tried, and now I finished.
90 miles through the Alaska Range, this time with Ed Plumb & Ann Farris.
Day 1: Suntrana to Cody Creek via Healy Creek (27 mi) & 10 hrs of sleep
Day 2: Cody Creek to Edgar Creek  via the Wood River (25 mi) & 8 hrs of sleep
Day 3: Edgar Creek to McKinley Village, aka 'Glitter Gulch' (10 mi hiking & 28 mi packrafting).
          First vehicle I thumbed it to picked us up.

The Route:
About 95% of this route offers some sort of trail or path, whether it be ATV or game trails.
One 4500 ft pass and one 5400 ft pass. Lots of creek/river bed walking & thick brush (mostly alder & birch) in drainages up to 4000 feet.
The Yanert is swift glacial current, running at least 6 mph, with a top floating speed of 11 mph. It's mostly a class I-II float, with some hard & tight eddy lines that require precise paddling and a few class III bends and holes, almost all of which are avoidable.
I unintentionally danced with the Devil and ended up running two big wave trains, without a spray deck or PFD, that each led into a class III hole, but managed to stay dry & upright. Sorry Mom, but I guess I learned something from all those Roman Dial packrafting videos.

Trip Insight:
- It's a great route: walk past the old coal mines and up Healy Creek for 20-some miles, up & over Cody Pass & down Cody Creek to the Wood River, up it to Big Grizzly Creek & the pass to Edgar Creek, then follow Edgar Creek to the Yanert, float out the Yanert to Revine Creek (5 hrs) and hike back to the Parks Highway at McKinley Village. It's very straight-forward and easy to follow.
- As you can see in the video, we used the GPS a lot, but that's only because we forgot the maps in the truck. I also had a mental image burnt into my brain after two years of planning. We found that it's perfect for someone looking to 'go bigger' with their backcountry adventures, but still have some sort of path to follow and information about the route, with not too big of terrain and modest safety hazards.
- I typically don't eat that much during the day, but like a big meal at night. It replaces what I burned during the day and helps me sleep at night. But, if it's cold, windy, & wet, I need a lot more calories during the day.
- Ultralight is great, but if it's nasty weather, it may be best to either have extra time to wait it out or bring the extra food it will take (calorically) to keep on truckin'. Extra time might be nice to catch up on sleep or rest sore muscles/feet from all the mileage you probably were doing because you are going ultralight.
- I took my pack off three times each day and never sat down the first two days, until we made camp. We averaged between 2.5 & 3 mph hiking, depending on the brush intensity. Continuing to hike and not taking more than a few minute breaks was actually nicer than stopping and resting, as it kept my body in motion.
- I dipped a liter bottle in small creeks for water, without filtering, and found that every creek tastes different, depending on the rock and minerals deposited into the water. It kept me in touch with the environment in a way I've never experienced before.

The Gear:
19 lbs including boat & paddle, not including worn & consumables
Six Moon Designs Comet backpack (& 2 webbing straps to tie to packraft)
Marmot Hydrogen sleeping bag & torso size blue foam
Patagonia wool 2 zip-t & wool socks (for sleeping, in silnylon bag)
GoLite Shangri-La 3 & 6 Y-stakes (to sleep 3 people)
Ti pot, Cat stove, pot grabber, spoon, windscreen, & matches (to cook inside shelter)
Bear spray, knife, & firestarter
Rab eVent jacket & OR PacLite pants
Montbell Thermawrap Vest & Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody
Alpacka Yukon Yak (also to sleep on)
AquaBound Manta Ray paddle (also shelter support)

Gear Insight:
- Denatured alchohol is great, but up at 4500 feet on Big Grizzly Creek was the first time I've ever had problems with the cat stove. Even nestled behind some rocks, it took almost 10 lights before it stayed burning and boiled water. Every time I set the pot on the stove, it would go out. Sensitive to the wind?
- Having the liter bottle cinched to my backpack shoulder strap with an orange ski strap was fantastic. I stayed more hydrated than I ever have in my life, as the water was right there to drink and monitor how much I had or needed for the next stretch. If I was hiking along a creek, I'd dump it out and carry an empty bottle, as I could dip whenever I was thirsty.
- The Rab Latok Alpine Jacket with eVent fabric doubled as a wind & rain jacket. It was so breathable, I only took it off for one mile! While hiking into the driving rain, however, it did wet out, but conditions were pretty gnarly and I'm not disappointed, especially when I compare its performance to all the other waterproof/breathable fabrics I've used.
- We had to stop hiking the second night (in the driving rain) not because we were tired or it was late or too nasty of weather, but because my gloves were saturated and after three hours, my hands finally got too cold. Couple that with the conditions and time and it was a mighty fine opportunity to pitch the shelter and hit the hay. Take home message: bring shell gloves/mitts or a way to keep hands dry (& warm).
- The GoLite Shangri-La 3 slept all three of us with just enough space to sprawl out, except for the driving rain night, when we had to hunker in a little to keep away from the wet nylon. Plenty strong and storm-worthy.
- We slept on our packrafts, which created a huge dry area, allowing us to lay out gear and clothes next to our bags and keep it all dry. The 2011 boats are even bigger than previous models, with the long tail, and work really nicely.
- 100% humidity, being showered by dripping condensation all night, and a very wet insulated jacket couldn't wet-out my Marmot Hydrogen 30 degree down bag. While it was unsettling to see the clumpy balls of down when I got into the bag, it was completely dry by morning, while being warm all night.
- As nice as the 2011 Alpackas are to sleep on, they're equally bad to sit in. The boat has an overall narrower design, which smashed my hips to the point of pain during and after the float. Both feet were crammed in the bow, one in front of the other as there wasn't enough room to wedge them side by side. The narrow dimensions also make the boat slightly tippier side to side, compared to the previous model. However, the tail is amazing. As Roman pointed out, it completely prevents bandersnatching. If you have an old boat, send it in to Sheri and have a tail installed.
- I'm a hiker and I like to go light, so carrying 7-10 lbs of floating gear is not cool unless there's enough floating to make it worth while or the route just isn't possible without it. But, if I am going to carry a boat, etc, I'm taking the biggest boat I can, as they are so much more stable and float through skinny water better, plus being idyllically spacious. Sure, it weighs a little more, but so not as much as the whole floating gear compared to my basepack weight.
- Last trip, I carried my trekking poles the entire time. This time, I left them at home. Never once did I miss them, because in my hand, instead, was my DSLR. With my hands free, I took 1200 photos in three days and even had the camera put away for 4 hours during the driving rain and 6 hours the next day while packrafting. The DSLR allows me to get shots that are straight-up impossible to get with a point and shoot, plus the quality is far superior. And since it's in my hand all day long, it doesn't weigh down my pack.

As I learned last year when J.R. & I attempted this trip, I may be out of school, but the education continues.


  1. Found this via BPL, loved it! Thanks for sharing. Dave C.'s challenge should produce some quality trip reports, yours should be a candidate for the win. cHEERS.


  2. Thanks, Eugene. It's hard to keep worthy content flowing, among all the all-stars like Roman Dial, Eric Parsons, & Luc Mehl, up here in AK.

  3. Thanks for posting this trip, great report wonderful images.

  4. Sweet trip report Josh, liked it a lot. Good use of video, photos and music. Nice description. You got my vote =)

    PS: Maybe time to install the Disqus comment system? It is easier and a lot more user friendly than Blogger's own!

  5. I am a DSLR guy too, and I recently got a Nikon P7000. I now leave my DSLR at home and go light. The P7000 is every bit as nice as the DSLR, with a fraction of the weight. I packed it in a ziplock for the wet but it performed everyday.

  6. "Stay sane. Sleep outside." I love it!

  7. Sam,
    I came up with that and made the stickers a few years ago.
    I should probably print more... Thanks!

  8. Josh,

    Cool Trip! And nice write up.

    Did you guys run the Yanert Canyon, too? That's pretty burly in mid summer.

  9. BTW is the "Keep THE F*CK out" on Edgar Creek? WE saw that back in the 90s, too.

  10. Thanks, Roman! We didn't run the canyon - got out at Revine Creek and took the ATV trail 6 mi back to the Parks.
    KTFO sign was on Healy Creek in the woods, on private property. There are a few cabins about half way up or so.
    There's another one but on Edgar? lol!

  11. Annie Farris? Skied with her in Antarctica. She could ski some mileage. Annie if you read this ... miss ya and look me up in Fairbanks. Scott Sample. 385-7036

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