2011-08-25

They're right about the Whites



In Interior Alaska, it's common knowledge that you don't really travel INTO the White Mountains National Recreation Area on foot, when there isn't snow covering the ground. Sure, there's a few hiking trails leading in a ways, but almost no one ever steps foot off of them, due to the tussocks, wet ground, thick brush, old burn areas, etc. It's really a winter rec area.
Well, I've had this 'great' idea of connecting the three major peaks of the White Mountains (map) - Cache, Lime, & Prindle - on a hiking trip... in summer. It would involve crossing Beaver Creek and hiking about 20 miles through the previously mentioned hell to get to the higher (& drier) ground. Follow the ridgelines east, then drop down from Prindle to Nome Creek Road, off the Steese Highway. About 75 miles, so since it's off-trail and has some bad hiking conditions, let's figure 5 days. That's 15 miles per day, which should be do-able, even with bad tussocks or brush, carrying a light load.
We managed to get the 20 miles in the first day, even with a noon start time, after shuttling the vehicles. However, day two, with steep ridgelines, long unstable rock slopes, and horrendously thick brush growing on some of the same unstable rock, kept us to only 11 miles before we had a circular conversation regarding whether or not we should continue, based on how 'good' the hiking was compared to the first day, but how slow we actually traveled over it. Considering even steeper terrain to come, knowing the Rocky Mountain (Lime Peak) region was potentially too rough/rocky to travel over (meaning we'd have to hike in the valleys, i.e., brush), and, since day two was so slow, realizing we would have to cover more miles per day over rougher terrain for the next three days, the decision was obvious to make a turn south and head back to the car the next day.
We woke up with our pride, over 25 miles from the trailhead where the car was parked, overlooking the wooded, brushy creek valley below. We'd follow the creek to the winter trail, take that to a cabin for a break, then haul butt over the terrain we had already covered the first day (and back across Beaver Creek), on our way to the car. Fortunately, I've pretty much been on this exact route three times in the past two winters, while biking the White Mountains 100 route. It was really cool to see it all in the summer and know where I was the whole time.
Yeah, I'll admit, the hiking was truly terrible in some sections for miles on end, by nearly everyone's standards. But, if you can suck it up and walk the uneven, wet ground to the high country, the hiking is pretty darn good up there if you can stay above the brush. It's a circular process of convincing yourself you're hardcore, both to do trips like this and by experiencing these (what some would call) uncomfortable conditions.
Overall, there are probably better places to go on long hiking trips in the summer, but I had really been wanting to see that country in summer, after having such incredible experiences out there in winter.
They're right about the Whites, but will I go back to try and complete the route? You betcha.

Side Note:
Regarding the rock & 'almost Aron Ralston-ed' incident from the video
While hiking one particularly unstable boulder slope, I thought, 'Gee, I should turn around and get a picture of Brett walking through that.'
As I was about to turn, I heard him yell, 'Ah!'
With, 'Are you ok?' on the tip of my tongue, he screamed, 'Dude, hurry, get the F--- over here!' The big boulder that moved when he stepped on it had just slid on the rock below, trapping and pinching his entire lower leg up against an even larger boulder. I scrambled the thirty-plus feet over to him as he threw off his pack, with bottles, etc, flying out into the surrounding boulders.
He was trapped, with no way of freeing himself.
I pushed, pulled, and lifted the boulder every way I could get a purchase on it. Nothing. Not even a release in pressure. It was big and I was starting to think I wouldn't be able to move it. There had to be a way.
I have a strong ability to tell my body to do something that I think is beyond it's capabilities and, somehow, be able to do it well. I knew I had to tap into that. My hands searched for a place to lift on the rock, hopefully, near his leg. Being blocky, there wasn't much to grab.
Then, I found a knob and placed both hands on it, stacked like a rock climber's, and pushed my left knee up against them, heaving upward with my entire body and every drop of adrenaline I had left.
'You got it! Keep going,' Brett yelled. I gave it all I had. With one last, desperate, screaming push, I watched Brett, out of the corner of my eye, throw his body forward, ripping his leg from the grasp of the two behemoths.
He said I never really moved the rock, but merely released the pressure of a couple hundred pounds of earth squeezing his bones. Sitting down, he removed the torn shoe and assessed his foot. After an initial broken bone scare, he realized one or two bones were probably just bruised (we think). In a few minutes, we were moving again, but seemingly 'hitting the emergency brake,' as Brett later said, every time we walked over the big rocks.

4 comments:

  1. Sweet!
    Some of the winter trails in the whites are great walking in the summer, some suck. Don't give up on the whites in the summer - there is lots of good hiking and interesting places to explore in there the summer.

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  2. Agreed, Jay. Nice trip involving packrafts.

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  3. If you try that loop again you should consider coming in from near the end of Nome Creek road. The hiking is pretty good from Nome Creek road to Richards Cabin, and the walking is fantastic from that point to Cache Mt divide. I expect the ridges from the divide to the Mt Prindle area would be good walking, though I have only hiked them on the west side. Once you get to the Mt Prindle area you can take quartz creek trail (very fast but boring walking) or one of the ridges off Prindle back to the road.

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