Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sailing across Gulf of Alaska

I finally joined Pat & Rebecca on their journey from Anacortes, WA to Seward, AK aboard their 46' Pan Oceanic bluewater sailboat "Koni Loa". I met up with them and their buddy Moody (who joined them in Sitka) in Yakutat Monday evening and the next afternoon we were off to Kayak Island, something like 140 miles from Yakutat, pretty much the only place in that vicinity to find protection. After several hours of sailing I started to get a bit nervous about the building seas because I'm not very experienced with sailboats so the whole sail art and keeling over, etc. are foreign and unsettling to me. Here's Rebecca standing on a tackle box to better look for lights mid-crossing...

Pat running the helm:

Then a bit later the mainsail ripped in two places - not good, and no replacement sail! So we went on with the stay sail and jib and at times the engine (Pat and I joked that this was a purely utilitarian voyage). About 24 continuous hours of sailing later, we neared Kayak Island and began to hunt for a place to hole up in an upcoming storm that was supposed to have SE winds. We found a decent anchorage, got hooked up on the first try, and relaxed in our calm semi-cove.

Caught a couple posers on the aft deck slacking off...

But not for long...the winds built and came at us from the NE, directly into our little cove, and soon had a 4' sea whipped up, with the boat straining and banging away on anchor. For 24 hours, we endured a relentless raging gale-force storm with winds often exceeding 60 knots (70 mph), and almost always over 30 knots. We often had to go out on deck to secure loose items, sails, and try to put tension relief devices on the chain anchor line. This was VERY gripping work with the boat pitching around and the hard rain plus heavy winds stinging any exposed skin, making the most pedestrian of tasks seem herculean. At one point the fore starboard cleat got ripped entirely off the deck, leaving a 4" hole in the deck which we stuffed with a towel. It's a miracle to me that the anchor and line held up. I was scared pretty bad the whole time and even now, days after, I'm still shook up about it.

Finally the storm blew itseld down to 20-30 knots so we began to take action. I used some plywood, screws, and a screwgun to patch the hole in the deck while everyone else hustled around getting things lined back out to travel again. Then came time to pull anchor...we still had a 20+ knot wind blowing into the cove with 3-4' seas and the anchor windlass clutch was slipping some, so Pat, Moody, and Rebecca began the process of hauling anchor by hand while I ran the helm. It took some coordination and calming of rattled nerves but finally we began to make progress and were nearing the anchor when chaos broke loose on the front deck. All of a sudden Moody sprawled across the port deck clutching his face while Rebecca and Pat chased him down. Moody got up and lumbered into the cabin with Pat and Rebecca in hot pursuit, blood streaming from a nasty cut on or above Moody's right eye! It looked really nasty and I was deeply bummed for Moody who must have been in a lot of pain. However, since we had almost no chain out and the anchor still attached, I still had my hands full keeping the boat into the wind and steady. I suggested to Pat that he should leave Moody with Rebecca and he should get back onto the anchor, pronto because I was getting nervous. After Pat played with the anchor a bit more, I sensed that we were losing ground and drifting toward the beach so I put more throttle in and pretty soon Pat had the anchor up! That was a huge relief, and much needed at this point. We got the boat stabilized, Pat and Rebecca doctored Moody up a bit more with a wet compress and ice pack, and we soon began to motor toward Wingham Island hoping for smoother water. We indeed did find smoother water but motored through it to poke into the ocean on Wingham's north side to see if we could just get on with it and start sailing toward to Cordova, especially since Moody's eye needed some serious medical attention. We found the seas favorable and all opted to "go for it". Soon after we got into the groove of some pretty decent sailing and could relax slightly, although we were gripped about getting into Cordova before another storm. Moody was doing pretty good although it certainly didn't look it...

Rebecca taking a shift:

Eventually we made it to Strawberry Channel and we all decided to attempt navigating the channel, which is notoriously difficult for non-locals to find. Sure enough, we got caught in the surf with almost no water and came super scary close to grounding the boat in the sand and surf. Ultimately a local fisherman came all the way out and escorted us into a safe anchorage behind the sand bars and took Moody to the hospital. The next morning that same fisherman aboard "Ragtime" came out at 6am and escorted us the rest of the way into the dock at Cordova, where we finally got tied up and let out a huge sigh of relief.

But not me! I was a day and a half late to a tango festival and was due to DJ that very night, so I hustled over to the airport, got a flight at 11am to Anchorage, and another flight at 2:30pm to Seattle...whew!

It was a truly memorable trip, a certified EPIC, and a real learning experience. I've had my fear quotient for the summer for sure!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Wolverine Cr backpack/climb

Peter spoke with a ski buddy and got the skinny on a local contact willing to let us park at their place to access the country to the NE of Lazy Mountain and Matanuska Peak, an area I'd always wondered about but never put much thought to. There's no official trailhead although the route of the trail itself is legitimiate, following a dedicated BLM right-of-way over a series of civilized (not torn up) ATV trails through what seemed like the rolling hills of the "Alaska Savanna" that leads to a creek crossing and horse trail up valley. This couple is from New England and have a very interesting and progressive operation going on their property - obviously they enjoy themselves out here:

Peter taking a GPS reading deep within the Savanna:

Already through the Savanna and over the log creek crossing, now heading up the horse trail:

Getting a view of the high country, tantalizing us as we slog the lowlands:

Finally in the high country above an old hunter's cabin - this part of the trip strongly reminded me of the country my dad always took me hunting in as a kid - a wave of memories passed by me:

Black bear in the meadow, didn't pay us much mind:

Upon sighting the bear, getting tired, and wanting to camp high, we bee-lined for the north benches above the valley and ended up running into a cow moose and calf, very healthy and really spooked by humans. The valley was taking on a very wild, not-often-visited character:

After a nice evening, Felipe and I went for the ~6800' peak above camp while Peter & Amy, with an extra day of time on their hands, went over this pass en-route to a nice circuit that ended by going over the pass just south of Matanuska Peak and out the Mat Peak trail. They didn't even need the extra day, arriving back home Sunday evening reporting smooth sailing!

From where we came, looking down-valley with Palmer in the distance (our tent is at the bottom of the ridge at far left of photo):

Misty ridge, hoping for a break in the clouds so we could have a view:

Wish granted! Awesome view of the Talkeetnas:

Fun scrambling, typical Chugach-style 3rd class ridge run, but on shattered granite rather than Chugach crud:

Photo taken from summit looking back along route:

Felipe on the summit, looking ~ E by SE

Heading down the other side of the cirque, wondering what we're getting into:

Lunar red landscape:

We opted not to climb down this to avoid having to go in/out of the steep draw back to camp, so instead exited stage right for a scree slide:

Mission accomplished, totally stoked, totally worthless:

It rained all of the last night starting ~ 7pm (just after we had dinner) and all of the next day. It wasn't a heavy rain but enough that we were instantly soaked on the downclimb to the trail on brushing against all the foliage on the way out - soaked to the bone. And the log was too slippery to walk over (which we did when it was dry) so we did a tail-slide across, happy we didn't have to cross the stream which was 12" higher than 2 days prior:

Super fun, unique trip - thanks Peter, Amy, and Roxy for the great company the first day!

Archangel climbing

After warming up on Raina and Peeking, watching Spain win the Euro Cup Soccer Final, and assembling our gear, Felipe and I went to Archangel for some rock climbing and hiking.

Showing some Basque blood....

On the first day we went up to the Gargoyle above camp, something I'd been curious about for quite awhile. Spare yourself the hike, we didn't think much of it. So instead we hiked up the ridge to the top of this peak:

Phony-looking summit photo:

Pretty worthless after a day of climbing and a good meal !!

The next day it was raining so we went for a hike to Reed Lakes. Lower was still mostly frozen:

Upper was locked in winter still (June 30!!)

Lynx Peak:

Good Hope Towers to the right have my attention - they're on the list for an ascent this year sometime:

We did actually get some rock climbing done, including the slabs on the Monolith, my normal routine on the Slot and Zig-Zag, and then humped up to the Aurora Slab and Yellow Brick Road. Felipe was stoked to lead the slab and I led YBR, apparently for the first time because I had to dust the moss and dirt off EVERY hold, making it a particularly nervy, rather than just fun 5.9. Great stuff, and I'm feeling a bit better on rock this year than last.


To start a week of climbing with my tango and mountain buddy Felipe Martinez from Spain, on Saturday June 28 we climbed Raina and Peeking accessed via Ram Valley in Eagle River. I took my relatively new mountaineering boots, expecting snow, but we had virtually no snow, and I ended up with a hot heel which I taped in time, and a nasty blister on the side of the ball of my right big toe which I did NOT tape in time. I had to tape it every day for the next 7 days but thankfully it did not cause me much pain. Here's the write-up and photos, no need to duplicate the effort here: