Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Crow Pass Trail

On July 21st I sprained my ankle playing softball. It hurt, but I finished the game and the next day I could barely tell anything had been wrong with my ankle. On July 28th, during the next softball game, I was sliding into second base and I sprained my ankle again. This time it hurt worse, but I still finished the game. By the time we got home it was already swollen and there was a golf ball sized protrusion on the side of my ankle. The next day it was worse. The third day it started bruising. I couldn't walk until Saturday (I just hopped around the apartment on 1 leg).
That weekend our friends Brian and Sarah told us they were hiking Crow Pass Trail (#28 on the list). Crow Pass Trail begins in Girdwood and rises fairly quickly to Crow Pass, the highest point along the Historic Iditarod Trail (which some may remember we saw the sign for the historic starting point in Seward). It is about 3.5 miles one way to the top and we had originally just planned on hiking up and back.

However, the trail continues for a total of 24 miles through Chugach State Park to Eagle River. And the entire hike from Girdwood to Eagle River is what our friends were doing. It is supposed to be a great hike, so we said yes contingent on my ankle.

Well after resting and rehabbing the ankle, as well as consulting with a medical professional (my sister Christina), we decided to give it a go. We rented backpacking packs from REI and purchased freeze dried meals (surprisingly good). Early Saturday morning we made the drive down to Girdwood where we met up with 2 more friends and began our ascent.

The hike up was gorgeous. You pass by some mining remnants. The most notable are the heavy duty metal cables that cross the steep pass in a few places. We took our time and didn't press too hard, since after all we had an additional 20 miles to go after reaching the summit.

The weather was overcast, but it was warm and wasn't raining so we didn't complain. At the top we met up with 4 more friends who had camped there the night before. Right as you reach the top of the pass Raven Glacier comes into view. It is a fairly large glacier that dug out the valley we would be hiking in for the rest of the day.

After pausing for some pictures we began the descent. On the way down we came across some snow patches (left over from the previous winter).

Most were tiny and crossed without problem, but the last one we came across was rather large and steep. The crossing was towards the top of the snow patch and there was about 50 feet of snowy slope beneath us before it ended in rocks. Rebekah and I were the last to cross, so unfortunately the foot holds had become rather worn and slippery. We slowly made our way across with the help of poles, but the tracks were just too worn. Rebekah slipped and slid about 5 feet down where she caught herself again (as she screamed "Steven!!!"). As she tried to take her next step her legs went completely out from under her. She slid all the way down to the bottom, but with the help of the pole and her feet was able to control her speed and stopped short of the rocks. I slipped down a few feet as well, but was able to make it over to the other edge without additional incident.

At the bottom was our first river crossing (there is typically only 1, but the rain level was high and this creek was above all of the stepping stones). I had bought cheap flip flops for the crossing, which I realized was a mistake as upon my first stop the flip flop slipped off my foot and floated away. We stopped for lunch shortly after as we watched a rather large Black Bear roaming around the slope (and what looked like 2 hunters tracking it).

From there the hike was mostly flat and the going was easier.

We came across a bridge over an impressive waterfall flowing down into a gorge (the same creek we had earlier forded).

Right after the bridge it began to rain. The trail took us deep into some brush for the next few miles. There were roots and stumps in the trail, but the brush made it hard to see the ground. The rain made the trail muddy and slippery. Morale was low and we hiked quickly and silently hoping for the weather to clear.

In one clearing we noticed a moose up ahead. One big old male with a giant rack eating right next to the trail. We waited about 10 minutes and he finally moved off far enough for us to safely pass (but still close enough to get a decent picture).

Now I wore my winter boots with winter socks (only ones I had high enough to wear with the boots) on this first day to give my ankle some support. However, the heavy boots made my feet sweat which led to blisters. And it was about this point in the hike that I began to notice them. They hurt worse and worse with each step until just about the point where I could no longer walk we came across a campsite along the trail. Since the campsite was just before the main river crossing (also known as the halfway point) we decided to set up camp.

Luckily, right after we set up camp the rain stopped and we were able to set up a fire to warm up and dry off. Without that break it would have been a long, wet night. To save on space we had bought a new tent (the Hiker/Biker II) and new smaller fleece sleeping bags. They were both much smaller and lighter than the current ones we owned. However, we neglected to notice the tent was technically classified as a 1 person tent. And I would say it was barely that. The tent was shaped like a long diamond, with the longest points being in the middle on top and the middle on the bottom. And if I was stretched out by myself in the tent my head was pressing against the top and my feet were pressing against the bottom. And Rebekah had to sleep there as well. On top of this, the sleeping bags were not nearly warm enough. And we had no pillows. Needless to say it was a fairly miserable night of shivering, tossing, and turning.

The next morning we woke up rejuvenated (kind of) and to sunshine! We quickly made up camp, ate breakfast, and headed for the river. Now the river is cold (it begins at a nearby glacier) and the bottom is very rocky. And I had lost my flip flops so I was crossing barefoot. And I already had blisters on my feet. We crossed in pairs and had some difficulty with our pair. Rebekah wanted to hurry since the water was freezing and I wanted to go slow since if I didn't step in just the right spot the sharp edges of the rocks would dig into my feet. Finally, we made it to the other side, rested, and changed.

I got to pop and clean my blisters (the ones that didn't pop from the rocky crossing) and put on Second Skin, new socks, and my tennis shoes (which I decided to go with on the second day for comfort).

We finally got back to hiking and this day was definitely easier going. The trail was open, it was flat, and much more interesting. We had to deal with ladders,

and ropes, and many different types of river crossings (luckily all out of the water).

The only real concern on this day was the bears. This area has a very large Brown Bear population and there was bear scat everywhere. On some spots on the trail we would see bear scat every 20 feet (and this was just looking on the trail itself). Luckily, and probably due to our large group size, we did not see a single bear the entire second day.

We just hiked enjoying the beautiful weather and scenery. There were some very large waterfalls along the way.

Finally we began to see signs of civilization. However, no one told us (and we failed to realize) that the first signs of civilization we would see (which were actual signs from the Eagle River Nature Center) were still 3 miles away from the Nature Center and the parking lot. Those last 3 miles were torture. We knew we were close, but didn't know how close. We were exhausted. We were hungry (we skipped lunch to try and get back at a reasonable hour since we all had to work the next day). Our shoulders were sore from carrying the pack. Our legs ached. My feet ached. Somehow my ankle was fine and hurt the least out of any part of legs.

After all of that we did make it to our car. We collapsed, then drove immediately to Red Robin where we devoured burgers, milkshakes, beers, and about 4 helpings of their endless fries. We slept very well that night.

I hope this post didn't come across as complaining, but I wanted you to know the ordeals that went into this hike. It was definitely worth the adventure and I would do it again or another one like it, just maybe in another year or two. I think it definitely completes #36 on the list of hiking throughout Chugach State Park.


1 comment:

  1. Looking back, compared to this, those hikes with Dad weren't so bad afterall!.
    Steven- you can ask Rebekah what I am talking about.
    And - uh- you neglected to mention your big slip down the mountain :(