Typhoon Nuri passed over us finally leaving a few days of glorious sunshine in our wake. We celebrated by receiving numerous notifications that our blog was featured in an NPR article about eating bear! Apparently, the general attitude that bears are cute and cuddly is slowly changing around the US as bears become more numerous in populous areas. Maybe this will keep the anti-hunting YouTube comments down for a change on our Boat, Beaches, & Bears series for a change. Or maybe not.
That was the first piece of good news. The second was a combination of a high aurora activity alert coupled with crystal-clear, calm weather. When Nuri passed over us, she left relatively warm weather in her wake. Sorry Lower 48, but Alaska sent another blast of cold down to you guys. This makes for the most ideal aurora borealis viewing because one isn’t constantly running in and out trying to warm up on those cold Alaskan nights.
The aurora was so bright that we literally stepped outside and watched it from our driveway. Our neighbor’s cat, Dusty, came by to wonder what we were doing at this crazy hour outside.
Two nights of excellent aurora viewing allowed us to play with the settings on our camera. In reality, the aurora at our latitude is quite light in color, though you can see it both dancing and changing from green to orange with the naked eye. A long exposure on a camera is what creates those brilliant pictures plastered all over the internet. We played around with our exposure time, sometimes exposing the image for as long as 90 seconds.
In between the two clear nights, we headed out to the Snow River delta on Kenai Lake for some unsuccessful duck hunting and packrafting. We were taking it easy on our usual extreme adventures because Krystin came down with a nasty head cold the week before and was still recovering.
We first paddled out to the delta to try our hand at duck hunting. Even at this time of year ducks hang out in Snow River, but they are few and far between. The Seward Highway transects the delta, so one needs to be careful when shooting. No ducks for us, but an interesting place to explore. This time of year the rivers in Alaska are running at low water (or frozen), exposing all kinds of interesting features.
We then paddled along the far side of Kenai Lake, an area we’ve never fully explored. Kenai Lake is also at low water, exposing a beach along the shoreline. Because of our relatively snow-free winter so far, bears are still out and about as evidenced by the numerous bear tracks along the shoreline.
The weather might be warm, but the sunlight is still disappearing at its usual rate. By 2:30 pm we were losing our overhead sun to the mountains and paddled back to the car. We do have a great idea though: packrafting far out along the shore of Kenai Lake and camping at an indeterminate location. Next weekend, maybe? We’ll see if the weather holds!
It’s happening! We are in the throes of editing the still-unnamed Boat, Beaches, & Bears 3 full length feature. We’ve had several requests from viewers wanting a preview of our third installment of the Boat, Beaches, & Bears series, so by popular demand, here is the official trailer! Enjoy!
Well, winter is upon us, sort of. We did have some snow at our house, then a giant warm storm moved in and it promptly started raining down here at sea level. We wanted to do an attempt at the Resurrection Pass Trail over Halloween only to find that the trailhead was snowed in on the northern end! Yikes! Guess that was an abrupt end to our backpacking season. Right now it is 36 degrees and raining. Rain this cold borderlines misery, so what better day for a blog post to recount what we’ve been up to this winter so far.
Buying a giant Alaskan truck
Ever since we moved to Alaska we’ve had a giant truck-shaped hole in our lives. After several weekends of borrowing a friend’s little Nissan, Bixler developed an itch to find a similar truck. A small, gas-powered, manual transmission truck quickly changed over to a diesel beast. Why? Because every Alaskan needs a truck so large it requires more than one parking space to properly park it.
Enter our new truck. She is a beautiful, 1-ton beast, a 1992 Ford F-350 with dual diesel tanks and the same wonderful sounds and smells as Carpe Ventos’ engines. We found out that Seward only has a handful of radio stations and surprisingly the best one plays Rush Limbaugh in the morning and country music in the afternoon. *Grabs belt buckle* Time to drive over some liberals!
In all seriousness, we’ve found the truck to be surprisingly useful and we’ve used her on numerous wood gathering and dump runs. A second car is a great for such activities like packrafting!
Woah! A gift of knives!
Peter Demmer, owner of Terrier Blades in Canada, commented on one of our Boat, Beaches, and Bears (here and here) videos and offered a gift of knives. A few email exchanges later, he dropped two of his handmade knives in the mail. When we got them, our first reaction was “wow.” These knives are awesome! If you are looking for some quality knives, check out his website in the link above. We were incredibly thankful for the gift, so much that Bixler decided to start editing Boat, Beaches, and Bears 3. Hey, we are a trilogy now!
Its snowing profusely, so let’s go packrafting!
On a blustery snowy day we decided to celebrate the coming of winter by going packrafting down Snow River just outside of Seward. Snow River normally runs high, but as the glaciers that feed the river freeze it up, the river becomes more manageable. In late winter the river is frozen solid, so we took the opportunity to do a Snow River float from the turnout where the two forks of Snow River meet almost to Kenai Lake. Our truck can in handy to haul the still-inflated packrafts home.
Future Boat Projects
On the agenda for the future, we finally decided to replace the opening ports on Carpe Ventos. We’ve been tenderly opening and closing these ports for five years and we aren’t sure how much longer they are going to last. Krystin did ample research and finally settled on Beckson ports over New Found Metals, which makes stainless steel ports. As much as stainless steel would be beautiful, it seems far to impractical up here because of the high humidity and freeze-thaw cycles. We are hoping to install these this winter.
“This is not the cat you are looking for…”
Our neighbors headed out of town over Halloween for five days and called to warn us in advance that their cat Dusty might come by looking for social interaction. They said we could ignore him, but we have big hearts for cats, so when Dusty appeared at the door, we had to let him in. Immediately he made himself at home, hanging out with our cat Jupiter, playing with his Star Wars action mice (yep, we couldn’t resist buying Petco’s Star Wars cat toys), and sleeping on our bed and the guest bed. Having Dusty around made us think about making the big decision of adding a second cat to our household. We were doubly sold on the idea when Bixler walked into the Ace Hardware store in town and saw that the owners had adopted a cat named Lion to keep the shrew population down in the store. Awwww….
We’ve been spending a lot time traipsing around National Forest land to cut and gather large quantities of wood for next winter. Nothing says fun like carrying massive rounds of wood out of the forest to be stacked at home. Well, that didn’t stop there. Bixler had the brilliant idea of renting a log splitter, which he towed with his new truck, and spent 7 hours splitting all that wood. We then restacked all that wood over a two-day period. A friend of ours says “wood warms you twice,” because you gather it then burn it. We calculated that wood warms you 7 times because apparently we kept moving our wood into circles. At least we will be warm next winter!
Tiehacker is a mountain behind our house that we had heard from numerous sources has a trail up it. What our sources didn’t say is that the trail is straight up hill and the top had a good foot of fresh snow despite there being no snow at sea level. It was a brutal, tiring hike, but the views of Seward were worth it. Sadly, no ptarmigan. We hope to head back up there sometime soon!
We’re taking a break from doing awesome Alaska stuff to blog about our nomination for a Liebster Award by Gone Floatabout! Thanks, Gone Floatabout!
The Liebster Award is an award passed around by the blogging community to recognize blogs by other bloggers. Essentially it acts as a chain letter where you are nominated for an award, you answer a handful of questions and then pose new questions and nominate other bloggers. There are several variations on the award, but we are going to follow Gone Floatabout’s method and pass on the award to others. But first, their questions:
1. What has been your favorite moment on (or in) the water so far?
So, we found this question surprisingly difficult to answer because we’ve had so many amazing moments on the water aboard Carpe Ventos. Seriously, how can we pick a favorite moment when one weekend we are basking in the midnight sun drinking local brews and listening to Hawaiian slack key and the next weekend we return to the dock with a black bear hide draped over the stern? We chose to answer this question a bit more philosophically: our favorite moment is that second when we have full sails up and we turn the engine off. Seward is in our wake and the wilderness is at our fingertips. The next adventure in the Last Frontier is just around the corner.
2. What brought you to sailing/solo voyaging (Glenn)/diving (Pink Tank) in the first place?
Sailing has been something that has been a part of our lives for a very long time. Bixler learned to sail with his father and has been aboard sailboats since he was little kid. Krystin learned to sail in college because she had a schoolgirl crush on a dorm mate that also happened to be a sailing instructor. She learned to sail through him and ended up liking sailing more than the dorm mate.
As for sailing in Alaska, we decided to get a sailboat to explore Alaska’s 50,000 miles of coastline. If you’ve ever looked a road map of Alaska, you will notice that there aren’t too many roads. Much of Alaska is inaccessible by road, so most people invest in some sort of alternative vehicle. We chose a sailboat because of our love of sailing and as a means to get out and explore the seemingly endless wilderness.
3. What is your biggest passion outside of sailing (or diving for PT)?
While Question 1 was difficult to answer, this was extremely easy. Our friend Larissa summed it up best: Resource Extraction. Enter the modern homesteaders. We love all the means of living off the land from hunting to fishing to berry picking to mushrooming. We spend a good portion of our time finding ways to pull food from the Alaskan wilderness and cool, old-school ways to preserve them. Another friend of ours always notes that if the world ever ends, he is going to come over to our house. Thank you pressure cooker and dehydrator!
4. What is your favorite book and why?
We are both avid readers, especially during the sailing season. Our two favorite genres are Alaskana and sailing, both of which are small genres. We do throw about 90% of the books across the boat either because they are just terrible or we are sadly disappointed by the end. Between the two of us, we do have conflicting opinions over which is the best book.
Bixler: The Long Way by Bernard Motessier. If you consider yourself a hardcore sailor and you don’t know who Bernard Motessier is, you need some serious education. Motessier is one of the most renown sailors in modern history, having participated in the first ever non-stop around-the-world race, the Golden Globe Race. He was the major contender set to win, but then decided to go halfway around the world again to meet up with friends in Tahiti rather than pursue fame and fortune. Motessier grew up in French Indochina (now Vietnam) and his writing reflects a sort of East-meets-West philosophy. Seriously, you sailors, download this to your Kindle.
Krystin: Coming into the Country by John McPhee. If you haven’t read anything by John McPhee, you need to do so right now. He writes exclusively non-fiction, but it is written in a creative and insightful format. His book Coming Into the Country is probably the most famous and centers around his time in Alaska. The book is observational and McPhee does a fantastic job of characterizing numerous types of Alaskans. Though it was written in 1976, much of his observations translate to today. It is one thing to read Coming into the Country and speculate about Alaska; it is another thing to live it.
5. What has been your most difficult/challenging moment out on (or in) the water?
Again, a non-specific answer to this question: The most difficult moment out on the water is facing uncertainty. It is one thing to sail in a place where you know you always have cell or radio service, or there is always someone willing to help you around the corner, but it is another thing to sail in a completely remote location. Self-sufficiency is a must, and the idea of being completely self-sufficient is very daunting. We have to anticipate every iteration of “what could possibly go wrong.” Many nights aboard Carpe Ventos are not restful, even in the most placid of waters.
Blogs We’ve Nominated
Now here’s the part where we nominate blogs for a Liebster Award! Here are our picks:
Hunt/Fish/Play: Amber’s adventures in and around Madison, Wisconsin. A self-described “greenhorn,” she focuses on a lot of the same stuff we do: hunting and fishing.
Memoirs of a Skydweller: Andrew’s around-the-world adventures. He started his blog after meeting Bixler in Anchorage during the grounding of the Kulluk on Kodiak.
Empiricus Embarks: Jesse, our friend and former neighbor, recounts his two-summer quest through the Northwest Passage, thoughts, and future sailing goals.
Bearly Alaskan: Kristen and Andrew started this blog to relay their experiences as newly minted Alaskans. We met them this summer in Seward and they have since relocated to Anchorage and are loving life!
Doing manly things (mostly): Andy’s adventures through fatherhood while hunting and fishing and doing other cool stuff.
Questions to Other Bloggers
- Why did you decide to start blogging?
- What has been your favorite experience you’ve blogged about so far?
- What would be your dream adventure/trip?
- What is your favorite movie (or movies) and why?
- Seriously, cats or dogs?
A little over a week ago, we woke up to our first hard frost. We noticed that the sun no longer reaches our backyard and we find it more difficult to wake up every morning with a 9 am sunrise. Outside perpetually looks like late afternoon sun, and it is cold. And we aren’t talking about that “let’s put on a light jacket cold.” This is the “holy crap time for snow pants” cold and “what the hell, why is the deck still icy?” cold.
Our last two weekends were occupied by visiting Crescent Lake, north of Seward. We’ve covered in the ins and outs of using the Forest Service cabins at the Crescent Lake Saddle (here and here) and at the end of Crescent Lake, so this post offers more of a commentary on our observations at each cabin.
Crescent Lake Saddle Cabin
Our favorite cabin of the two is by far the saddle cabin. This was our first weekend destination and we were excited because the saddle cabin is the ultimate in remoteness for being relatively close. It lies along a difficult ankle-busting primitive trail that keeps most of the daytime mountain bikers away. The cabin sits on a bluff overlooking the lake at ground zero for any potential winds that might pipe up in the afternoon. We’ve spent many a night at the saddle cabin listening to sheets of rain and the wind rattling the door. However, the wood stove is skookum and we’ve slept comfortably in below zero weather.
We were lucky enough to pick a weekend where the weather was agreeable to the point a fog formed on the lake our last day. We had excellent views of sheep and goats on Wrong Mountain across the cabin and the night air was so still we actually heard an earthquake traveling towards us before it hit the cabin!
The only problem with this cabin along with many public cabins is that they are public. The saddle cabin was a mess when we arrived. No wood, dirty, filled with trash and a summer’s worth of crap. Time better spent cutting and storing wood was spent burning heaps of garbage and packing up the non-burnables. There seems to be a huge disconnect between the type of people to visit during the summer months and those during the winter months. The “summer” crowd notes in the log how they left a used sleeping bag or expired coffee for the next users (how generous!) while the “winter” crowd only grumbles about said “presents.” We’ve starting becoming stewards of the Kenai Peninsula cabins and packing out enormous quantities of trash because this is our home and these cabins are technically owned by the American people.
After cleaning and gathering wood, we spent the rest of the weekend trying to catch Arctic Grayling. Grayling are an elusive fish and picky eaters this time of year as their watery world starts to freeze. The cabin is generously provided with a rowboat (which was stolen at one point during the summer according to the cabin log) that we used to pursue these little fish at some islands on the lake.
Bixler nabbed one on the spinning reel and Krystin got one right out in front of the cabin by dropping a dry fly on top of the water just above it. Cabin users note that grayling are far more abundant at the end of the lake where the lake dumps into Crescent Creek. This is also the location of the Crescent Lake Cabin, our adventure for the following weekend.
Crescent Lake Cabin
The cabin at the end of Crescent Lake is almost identical to the saddle cabin with a slightly different layout and fussier stove in dire need of a new gasket. The trail is far more agreeable to beginning backpacker with a gentle grade up to the lake. It follows Crescent Creek, and much to our surprise, there was a fair amount of snow on the trail!
When we arrived at the cabin, we were expecting the scene to be the same. Luckily for us we were surprised to find a clean cabin stocked with wood. There were still a few junk items we packed out, but overall we were pleased to see that some cabin users actually posses a soul and think of the next users down the line when leaving the cabin.
Like the saddle cabin, we made use of the rowboat and enjoyed the calm weather. This weekend was significantly colder than the previous, and the lake was edged with ice that extended more and more to the lake center each day.
We were excited by the possibility of catching our limit of grayling, but had a heck of a time catching them. We speculated that it was because the water is near freezing and the fish were shutting down for the season. However, we were reading the cabin log for this cabin and noting that people were catching 100 grayling a day catch-and-release. This probably makes some of the fish slightly skeptical when an easy meal sparkles in front of them. We are all for catch-and-release if regulation mandates it, but sometimes it just seems like torture for the fish. We get so much pleasure out of catching one grayling and eating it and wish others could feel the same.
We managed to catch three for home consumption using the spinning rod to lure the fish up from the deep. We met a few other people who had hiked or biked up to try their luck fishing. Most people are courteous to cabin users, but some disregard the sign near the cabin and just wonder in.
We were fishing near the river mouth on the row boat when we saw two people standing on the bridge pointing to us. Bixler had a hunch they were headed to the cabin, so he rowed as fast as he could to the cabin beach. As Krystin got out of the boat, sure enough the hikers were right on the cabin porch. A stare-down and gesture later and the intruders were gone. Go Krystin.
Because of the relative accessibility of this cabin, it attracts some interesting people. The cabin log provided by the USFS is always a treat to read and Krystin even found a previous drawing she had made from last year’s visit. Some of the logs are simply a “we did this, we did that” description, but others are a real riot to read. A fellow from out of the country visited the cabin and berated Alaskans for calling eagles scavengers (they are) and fellow Alaskans commented about how they had to share the cabin with cold Californians, and then added “Californians with sleep apnea.”
We always leave a decent blurb about our weekend. When Krystin was filling out the log before we left on Sunday, Bixler was retrieving water from the lake and getting ready to brush his teeth. Krystin’s pen wasn’t working too well because of the cold and Bixler came in and noted his boots were frozen. He picked up the toothpaste and tried to squeeze it. It was frozen solid. We laughed and Krystin added it to our blurb.
You might encounter dirty cabins. You might find yourself packing out more than you packed in. You might even find that the fish aren’t biting. But hey, sure can’t beat the view! Especially at Crescent Lake, one of our favorite corners in Alaska.
People always ask us, “do you miss anything about living in California?” Our one and only response: Mexican Food. And we aren’t talking about the kind of Mexican food you find in Anchorage. We are talking about the kind of Mexican food where you have to look up your dish on your iPhone because you don’t know what it is. Ever heard of an Alambre? Yeah, that was a new one for us. Another new invention is the California-style burrito, popular in southern California. It goes a little something like this:
California Burrito = Regular Burrito – Rice + French Fries
And it is awesome!
What can possibly make it better? Smothering it in mole (that’s pronounced mol-aye) sauce and using wild mountain goat as the base meat, cooked fajita style.
A burrito can have just about anything in it you like, but to make it a California Style Fajita Burrito, you need some essential components. Oh, and you must serve it with horchata!
Horchata is a refreshing rice milk drink that pairs well with spicy Mexican cuisine. It must be be made several hours in advance to allow the rice to absorb water and meld with the flavors. The longer you let it sit, the better the flavor. For a quick version of horchata, try using rice milk instead. We used this recipe, but soaked the rice much longer than what was called for.
- 2 cups of milk
- 1 cup uncooked long grain rice
- 5 cups of water
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2/3 cup of white sugar
- Mix the rice and water and let sit at room temperature for up to 4 hours. You can use it in as little as 45 minutes, but the longer you let it sit, the better the horchata.
- Blend rice and water mixture thoroughly. Strain out rice particles and discard.
- Combine rice water with milk, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and white sugar. Mix thoroughly.
- Chill in the fridge and serve on ice with your favorite Mexican dish!
Mole sauce is a rich sauce used in Mexican cuisine that balances the heat of peppers with the richness of chocolate. If you’ve never had mole sauce, you probably haven’t lived a full life. It is one of the best sauces to use, but should be used sparingly because it is both time consuming to make and quite rich on the palate. If you plan on attempting mole sauce we recommend you invest in an immersion blender like they always use on Chopped. This way you aren’t constantly transferring your sauce between sauce pan and conventional blender. Our recipe turned out awesome and it makes a vat, so have some Tupperware handy to freeze it. We modified this recipe and our version is transcribed below. Many of the dried peppers can be found at specialty food stores and they are pretty common. We were able to find them in Anchorage. Again, we recommend you make this ahead of time to allow the flavors to meld and because it is a relatively involved recipe.
- 3 cups of chicken broth + extra for thinning sauce
- 2 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
- 2 dried ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
- 3 dried chipotle chiles, stemmed and seeded
- 1 slice sourdough bread, chopped into half-inch squares
- 2 small flour tortillas, cut into inch-long strips
- 2 tomatoes, cut in half crosswise
- 5 tomatillos, cut in half crosswise
- 1 tbsp of lard
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 head of garlic, pealed and sliced
- 1/4 cup of dried cranberries
- cumin, cloves, cinnamon, allspice, and thyme, to taste
- 3 ounces 100% dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
- 3 ounces 60% dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
- 3 tbsp white sugar
- 1 tsp of salt
1. Heat 2 cups of chicken broth in a large sauce pan until it starts to simmer, about five minutes. Turn off heat after reaching a simmer.
2. In a dry cast iron skillet (because every house should have one), toast dried guajillo chiles, dried ancho chiles, and dried chipotle chiles until warm and aromatic, about 3 minutes. Transfer to sauce pan with chicken broth.
3. Toast sourdough bread pieces and tortilla pieces in a dry cast iron skillet until browned, about 3 minutes. Transfer to chile-broth mixture.
4. Allow the chiles, sourdough bread, and tortilla pieces to fully absorb chicken broth, about 10 minutes. Using an immersion blender, blend the mixture until smooth. If you are having trouble blending, try tilting the sauce pan and adding just a touch of broth.
5. Roast the tomatoes and tomatillos in the medium-hot dry skillet, until soft and blackened, about 3 minutes a side. Transfer to the chile puree.
6. Melt lard in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in onion, garlic, and dried cranberries. Add spices liberally. Cook and stir until onions are golden brown, about 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer to chile puree. Blend tomatoes, tomatillos, and onions until smooth.
7. Reheat chile puree over medium heat. Stir in chocolate, 1 cup of chicken broth, sugar, and salt. Bring to a simmer and stir until chocolate is melted. Slightly reduce the sauce and let it sit to allow flavors to meld. Reheat when you are ready to use.
Duck Fat Fries
To make a burrito “California Style” you must include french fries in the burrito. We enjoy making duck fat fries because the duck fat adds a nice flavor to the fries along with a good crunch. The key to making excellent fries is frying them twice. First in a neutral-flavored oil like vegetable oil (canola gives the fries a “fishy” flavor) and then in duck fat. Here’s how we make our fries.
- Potatoes, cut into fries. We use Yukon Gold since they are common in Alaska.
- Vegetable Oil
- Duck Fat
- Heat vegetable oil and duck fat in separate pans. Be sure to monitor each oil so they don’t burn. Once oil has passed its smoke point it becomes unusable.
- Soak fries in an ice water bath until the oil is ready.
- Fry the fries in vegetable oil first, until cooked, about 5 – 8 minutes
- Using a slotted spoon or tongs, lift and drain the fries. Immediately drop them into the duck fat and fry until golden brown.
- Transfer fries to a plate with paper towel to dry. Add salt to taste.
Add the duck fat fries to the burrito with your favorite Mexican fillings and smother in the homemade mole sauce. We ended up making too much, so we invited our friend Jesse over who just completed the Northwest Passage. You can read his adventures at Empiricus Embarks. He inspired Bixler to buy a pair of those classic red long johns with the butt flap. Both wore their long johns went eating the burritos and we finished the night playing some music!
A weekend ago, a friend of ours joined us for a backpacking excursion that would take us into the high country of the Kenai Peninsula. Alaska has many terrains and while the spruce forests of lowland Seward are bountiful and beautiful, the alpine tundra above the treeline is hands down our favorite Alaskan terrain. Nothing beats a view of the high country.
This time of year, the tundra is a smattering of colors like an impressionist painting. Blueberries are still abundant, though mushy after the first frost, and the ptarmigan are nearing the white stage.
After our November trek up to Devil’s Pass Cabin racing the sunlight and surviving the cold to view the magnificent aurora, we eagerly booked a two-night adventure and invited our friend down from Anchorage. Our route was simple: hike up Devil’s Pass Trail (10 miles) to the cabin, spend a day exploring, and hike out the Summit Creek Trail (8.4 miles). Simple right?
Devil’s Pass Cabin is far above the treeline. The Forest Service installed a diesel stove to help travelers cope with the cold and to avoid cabin users from hauling wood from the below the treeline. The only drag is that you need to cart diesel (or in our case kerosene) 10 miles up to the cabin. Last November we got by with two gallons for one night and so we decided to double that.
We distributed 4.5 gallons between the three of us and started the trip up Devil’s Pass Trail. The trail is an easy uphill grade and we have little to report from the first 8 miles other than a very large brown bear feeding on a hillside across the ravine. A few mountain bikers passed us, one of which we recognized entirely by her teeth. As we approached the cabin, we passed the sign that said “cabin permit holders beyond this point only” only to find said biker exiting the cabin. This was only the beginning of frequent visitors at odd hours to our cabin.
When we first arrive to our cabin, we unpack and sort our food supply. Bixler and Krystin packed up a variety including home-dehydrated potato bark and ratatouille, smoked trout, hooligan dip, Annie’s Mac and Cheese, coconut oil, homemade granola bars, beer, wine, Mountain House, Starbucks Via brews, and other snacks. A previous traveler left a hearty batch of Krusteaz and syrup in the cabin (don’t worry, we burned all the other crap left behind). Our friend’s contribution: Mary Janes (no apostrophe) Organic freeze-dried food.
We thought we had enough food, but we quickly learned that the Mary Janes Organic food sucks. There is really no other way to artfully describe the utter crappiness of this backpacking food.
After sorting, resting, and exploring the nearby hillsides, we settled in for the night. We had a great first meal, being careful not to consume all of the food after the arduous trek. One can only lick the creme brulee packet clean so many times and we still went to bed with hungry stomachs. Tomorrow we would take it easy and the following day would be just another downhill trip (or so we thought…).
The next morning we awoke to delicious pancakes and horrible Mary Janes Organic oatmeal. We set out for a day hike in search of the mythical mountain caribou herd of the Kenai Mountains and to crest Resurrection Pass.
Just as we saw the Resurrection Pass sign around a willow bush, the three of us spooked a giant flock of willow ptarmigan. Changing into their white form, the birds were skittish having lost their protective color pattern. Immediately, Bixler and Krystin took off in pursuit of the flock while our friend combed the trail for a decent viewpoint. We spooked the flock again and lost in, realizing that our Ruger 10-22 was not the gun for this hunt. Empty-handed and hungry, we reconvened at the trail to share some smoked trout and hooligan dip. After arriving at the cabin, we took a much-needed nap.
We awoke to still find our friend asleep and decided to change clothes right as another pair of mountain bikers arrived. Obviously, they didn’t read the sign again and instead it took a direct shot of Krystin in her underwear to get them to turn around.
Our friend continued to sleep and we set out to forage and hunt. Krystin picked blueberries while Bixler climbed the mountain behind the cabin to pursue white tail ptarmigan, which are less skittish than their willow cousins. Krystin came back with an entire bag of blueberries and Bixler with two ptarmigan.
We passed another set of mountain bikers resting just inside of the sign. Bixler tried to make idle conversation, with a gun and two birds in hand, that went something like this:
Bixler: Hey, how’s it going?
Bikers: *Humph* Fine.
Bixler: Nice day, huh?
Bikers: * Idle Grunts *
This third set of mountain bikers twisted our nerves a bit, but we instead focused on the task at hand: feeding us. We were still hungry from carting up all the extra weight and the additional day hikes. Krystin started to rehydrate the food while Bixler set to butcher the birds. Our friend awoke from her four hour nap to witness our success and was delighted, considering we basically ditched her last Mary Janes Organic. As Bixler was admiring his ptarmigan, he pointed to the bluish foot on one of them and said, “someone was eating blueberries!”
We created a stew with blueberry-fed ptarmigan, potatoes, and ratatouille that was quite possibly the best backpacking food we’ve ever consumed. With full bellies, we finished the last of the dessert granola bars and watched the sunset. Bixler and Krystin snuggled down to read on their Kindles like the technologically-advanced adventurers that they are.
The next morning we awoke to a stunning sunrise and frosty conditions. We had explored the Summit Creek Trailhead the day before and headed north along Resurrection Pass before cutting across the tundra to the trail. Unlike Devil’s Pass and Resurrection Pass, which are all too obviously improved to be mountain bike trails, Summit Creek is entirely unimproved and disappears at times. It starts across the alpine lakes near Resurrection Pass and climbs a steep hillside before dropping down.
We consumed the last of the Krusteaz, amply mixed with blueberries, and the rest of the syrup. Bix and Krystin held back two granola bars and our friend had a fig bar. We left the cabin after caching the remaining kerosene.
With packs full of trash and light on food, we started the climb up the Summit Creek Trail after crossing frosty tundra. The sun was just starting to fill the valley below as we begin climbing switchbacks. Near the trail, we heard the distinct sound of ptarmigan clucking like a gathering of women for a ladies weekend at a wine tasting in Santa Barbara. We paused while Bixler tried to pursue the birds with no avail and continued our steep climb.
We reached the top of the saddle and were greeted with astounding views of the valleys below.
From everything we’ve read about this trail, it is generally a downhill trek back to the highway.
Our sources used the words “generally” very loosely as we discovered as we dropped down into another valley that had no end.
We hiked along an eerie lake among dead willows only to find another saddle to climb. At this point, we had already consumed our emergency food saved for what we thought was the one and only uphill climb of the day. Turns out we had another one to do!
We continued in silence as we climbed again, having completely expended our available energy and moving onto reserves. No amount of crow berries could sustain us and the sweeping valley views were the least of our concerns. As we reached the top of the last pass, we met a few hunters looking for bear and chatted with them while recovering.
The final drop down to the car was virtually endless and we had all reached “hangry” status. The three of us shut down non-essential functions (this actually includes talking) and walked in silence before hitting the car.
Exhausted, we returned to Seward. We dropped our stuff off at our house and immediately sat down at a table at Chinooks. While smoke scalloped mac and cheese is a favorite, a meaty burger was on the menu for the three of us. We gorged and sat back happily. Between gulps of beer and bites of burger someone murmured, “that burger was so much better than those goddamn Mary Janes Organic backpacking food!”
Advice to the discerning backpacker: if you plan on doing this loop, do it in reverse. And trade those Mary Janes Organics for some peanut M&Ms.