ITI 2017 Gearlist

March 23rd, 2017

I am planning on doing a full writeup on my ride to Nome, but meanwhile, someone asked what I took with me. This is an experiment – I don’t normally make lists like this, hopefully others will find it useful.

Here is my packing list and a few other details. I think it is complete, but I might have missed some odds and ends.

Folks going to McGrath need much less stuff.


Please keep in mind this list works for me, but might not work for you. Also, I am very much not an expert, so take everything I say with a grain (or large helping) of salt. Just because I am doing it doesn’t make it a good idea! I should also point out I am not “a fast” rider – the fast guys pack differently.

Bike Stuff

  • the bike – 2016 vintage Fatback Corvus – I love this bike!
    • 100mm Nextie rims with Hadley hubs
    • “alt” style handlebar with ergon grips with extra padding
    • Bud tires, front and back
    • Old Man Mountain rear rack
    • Becker Gear frame bag, mini panniers, and top tube bag
    • Revelate harness
    • standard SRAM 1×11 setup, with xt 11-46 cassette
    • big vault flat pedals
    • Dogwood Designs plus pogies
  • bike tools etc
    • multi tool
    • leatherman wave knife / pliers
    • patch kit
    • two tubes *
    • chain tool
    • patch kit *
    • derailleur hanger *
    • a small segment of chain, and several quick links
    • baling wire, extra bolts, duct tape, and a few other extra “fix it” parts
    • separate long hex wrench for pedals *

Drop bags bike selfie

Clothing

  • On Me
    • Marmot soft shell pants Note: Fully windproof!
    • Keen boots, two sizes too big
    • bike shorts
    • short sleeve top
    • Mammut softshell, ultimate hoody, with ruff Note: Fully windproof
    • neoprene socks, as vapor barrier.
    • thick wool socks
    • full finger bike gloves
    • watch with vibration alarm
  • On bike
    • North Face thermoball hooded jacket
    • Marmot baffled down jacket *
    • Patagonia hooded R 1/2 top
    • long sleeve top, thin
    • Patagonia medium weight long underwear bottoms *
    • Patagonia light weight long underwear bottoms
    • homemade fleece overshorts (awesome – thanks Nancy!)
    • Marmot Driclime full zip pants *
    • two pairs extra socks, one thin, one thick
    • light shirt for schools etc
    • light shorts for schools etc
    • “no fog” face mask *
    • goggles *
    • nose hat
    • extra hat + thin balaclava
    • homemade fleece mittens (thanks Nancy!)
    • Hestra Primaloft Extreme Mitt Liner Warm, light, and fairly cheap!
    • sunglasses
    • Wiggy’s waders
    • oven bags as extra vapor barriers and an emergency option to keep my socks dry in case my boots get wet
    • gaitors

Selfie

Human Maintenance Stuff

  • big med kit
    • aleve & other meds
    • foot care stuff, tape, mole skin etc
    • bandages, antibiotic ointment etc
    • duct tape
    • tape adherent
    • oral antibiotics
    • butt care stuff – diaper cream, etc
  • foot lube
  • chammois cream
  • sunscreen
  • lip balm
  • salt pills

Food

  • Cooking Stuff
    • XGK stove + extra pump
    • 2 quart pot (which I dropping in the South fork of the Kuskokwim, because I was being dumb – don’t do that!)
      • replaced with a 1 quart pot I borrowed from Tom Moran and a small ti pot from Dan L.
    • two fuel bottles (5-ish days of fuel, not always full)
    • ti spork
  • Food
    • 3+ days of food on me at all times, a combination of freeze dried food and snacks
      • Note: Jeff Oatley told me I should have three days of food on me at all times before I went to Nome in 2016, and I think that was a great recommendation.
    • coffee and/or chia mixes for the thermos, when not used for hot water
  • 40oz thermos
    • Note: I got this at the “AC” store in McGrath – it was a great purchase. It kept water really hot for at least 12 hours, so I could boil water mid day, have a freeze dried meal before bed, then have freeze dried when I got up. It is the Thermos brand, which seems to work (a lot!) better than the upscale brands. One downside was it kept coffee too hot to drink if the water was boiling when filled. YMMV

Sleep Stuff

  • Marmot -40f bag
  • ridge rest, full length pad
  • ultra lightweight bivy *

Electronics

  • phone with GCI sim for villages, loaded with topo software as a gps backup
  • Garmin etrex 30, with topos
  • Sony NEX 6
  • three batteries for camera
  • 2 small usb charger + cables
  • aaa powered mp3 music player
  • audio book player

Random Other Stuff

  • Hydration
    • Mountain Hardwear Fluid 6 backpack
    • mylar bubble wrap insulation inside it, on the outside side
    • red MSR water bladder + hose, without a bite value
      • Note: Bite valves seem to be a source of a lot of leaks – I just have a on/off valve, and turn it on to use it, then off when I am done. Works fine for me. This system worked fine at the mid -30f weather I had on the way to Nome, and I have used it for training rides in colder weather. The bladder is right up against my back, and under all but my tee shirt. Even at really cold temps the water eventually becomes more or less body temperature.
  • TP & hand sanitizer
  • Dogwood Designs overboots
    • Note: These things are magic and very warm!
  • printed FAA charts for the route
  • printed maps for a few problem areas
  • printed contact list for route after McGrath
  • mileage sheet
  • windproof matches, lighter, and fire starter (esbit tablets)
  • sewing stuff, tyvek tape

That is a lot of stuff!
And no, I did not weigh my bike when it was loaded up – really, you either need something or you don’t. If you don’t need it, don’t take it, if you need it, who cares how much it weighs, you need it, take it.

For logistics, I mailed boxes (the USPS regional rate size B box is $7 for 0.4 cubic ft / 20lbs for Fairbanks or Anchorage to the villages along the route, which is a bargain) to schools along the route, after emailing the principals to make sure it was ok. Every box I actually tried to get was there, though YMMV. I tried to ship enough stuff that even if I missed half the boxes I still wouldn’t starve.

The fleece over shorts were awesome – they are stretchy enough to go over my boots, so I would just pull them over my pants, and I would instantly be a lot warmer. I was fine with thin long underwear, pants, and the fleece shorts over the top at the mid -30F, which was great. I got the idea from Kyle who I rode with last year, who had a set of “puffy shorts”, Dynafit branded over shorts. The basic idea is highly recommended!

I used a Nosehat and a ruff, and that is an awesome combination. I didn’t need any additional face covering. The nosehat dries off really fast (like in my pocket) – highly recommended.

In regards the the big puffy jacket – I brought a big baffled puffy jacket that I didn’t end up using until a got to Nome. In general, if I am not moving, I am getting ready to sleep or sleeping, so as soon as I stop for the night, I stomp a bivy spot, unpack my sleeping bag, and climb in, then from the bag do any extra chores I need to do (cook dinner, etc). Going this route, I was able to get by without breaking out the big jacket, even in the sub -30f weather. YMMV of course. I would still have the big jacket, just in case it got really cold, or if something went wrong, like I had to do extensive bike maintenance or got sick.

I slept with all my clothing on, besides my vapor barrier socks. My boots sayed out of the bag, as they were always dry (the vb socks keep them that way).

I had issues with my bag getting a lot of moisture in it – after three days it had a lot of moisture in it, and required drying out in a warm, dry place. I think if I was to do this race again, I would try a vapor barrier liner or jacket in an attempt to minimise this.

With regard to bike maintenance, I had three bike issues. I broke a plate in the chain, which I fixed by taking two links out, and patching it together with a quick link. I had a rack bolt break at sub -30F, for which I rigged a temporary fix with bailing wire, then a real fix later in the heat of the day using the Leatherman to remove the bolt remains, and rebolting with bolt from my spares kit. I had a periodic issue with my freehub making funny noises, but that didn’t seem to cause any engagement issues, so I ignored it, and it worked out.

Questions? Leave a comment.

Things on the list marked with an asterisks (*) I didn’t end up using. That isn’t to say I wouldn’t bring them – I didn’t have flats for example, so didn’t need the tubes.

If I was to start cutting gear, I think I would drop the over pants, and go with a less warm sleeping bag, but that of course involves trade offs – on the last night before Ruby, I was cold in the middle of the night and had to put on more layers so I could sleep. Perhaps I should sleep less though 🙂

I am not an expert by any means, so take all my suggestions with a large helping of salt. This list (sort of 🙂 ) works for me, it might not work for you.

ITI 2017 thoughts..

March 23rd, 2017

Shaktool to Koyuk trail

I finished the 2017 Iditarod Trail Invitational, riding to Nome. I placed first, with one of the slower times in recent times. A bit bittersweet, as the one of the other Fairbanks locals, Kevin, had to scratch when he reached the coast after coming down with a GI bug, that later turned out to be giardia. Up to that point he was having a great race, and would have finished well ahead of me.

It was a completely different experience from last year – I really missed the steady presence of Kyle and the socialness of Bill. The section from Ophir to Ruby nearly broke me, with nights in the mid -30fs and day time highs in the single digits combined with not seeing another person for nearly 48 hours. I did however, see many dog teams, and got to experience the trail in a completely different way.

It was a huge learning experience for me, one that I am still processing.

I am mostly recovered now, nearly a week since I finished. I am finally not waking up 3am by dreams were I still haven’t arrived at Nome and need to get up and ride 🙂

I am going to put together full write up, but meanwhile Bikepacker has some of my photos and a bit of the story up at here.

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I hope everyone is enjoying spring!

Moose Creek, from town

January 23rd, 2017

I have been (attempting to anyway) training for the Iditarod Trail Invitational, and had been feeling very under trained. This is sort of a long standing joke in my house hold – when ever I bring it up my daughters mock me unmercifully.

In an attempt to get a ride in with a fully loaded bike, I booked Moose Creek cabin in the White Mountains NRA for a friday night, and headed out mid morning from my house. The cabin is about 35 ish miles from my house via trails.

Tom joined me for the first bit, eventually peeling off to head back for other obligations.

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The ride in was a bit of a slog, and I had issues keeping my legs and feet warm in the lower areas, where the temps were around—20f. Eventually I gave up, put the overboots on, and my feet were fine. I tried to manage my sweating like all the cool kids are doing, and it was mostly successful, tough it is hard for a big person like me not to overheat on the hills.

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Last year I purchased some Wolfgars boots from 45n. They are a bit of a mixed bag – I like them while riding, but I have just about given up on them for the ITI, as they are pretty stiff in the upper, and walk not so well. After my 2012 scratch from the ITI, I have promised myself that I must always have footwear that I can push my bike in for long distances. As a replacement I used 2 sizes too large Keen winter boots, which seem to be a good compromise. At around -10f they get too cold to wear without overboots, but with overboots they appear to be fine. They walk much, much better than the Wolfgars.

About 10 miles from the cabin a musher passed me going up a big hill. Parts of my route are on regular training routes for some of the local mushers, and they generally keep the trails in great shape. On the way back down he stopped to chat a bit, and he told me the trail wasn’t in all the way. Oh, well, some pushing was going to be required. I hoped he just didn’t know the trails all that well, but alas, it turned out the musher was right.

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I had two to three miles of pushing before reaching the cabin. I was a bit worked when I arrived, and was very happy to start a fire, have dinner, and hit the sack. In the morning I headed out, and back home.

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The ride back was almost entirely in the daylight, which was fantastic.

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I even stopped to get a few photos of the notes written on the pipeline..

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The ride out was a bit faster, though it snowed a bit overnight, but this was made up much less climbing. It was around -20f for most of the ride out, and I dressed better, and had no issues.

Snow..

December 6th, 2016

We finally got snow, and soon after it stopped I was invited out to Eleazar’s again. The snow really transformed the world, and made it seem like winter is now here.

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It was a fun trip, and it is great to be riding on snow again. It is looking like the winter is going to be fantastic! Thanks for the trip David!

No snow..

November 29th, 2016

It has been a pretty low snow winter so far. It some ways it is good and has allow for some interesting adventures but the trails are a bit bumpy. A friend invited me out to Borealis cabin in the White Mountains NRA for an after thanksgiving trip, and since the family is in play this winter and spending the weekend in rehearsal, I decided to disappear.

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

Marsh headed out the day before, heading to Borealis, where Tom and I would join her, spending the night at Borealis, then heading to Eleazar’s for another night, and then back out. I really wanted to bike, but wasn’t sure how the trail was going to be, and ended up hiking, which turned out to be fine.

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

However, after a few miles Tom and I agreed I wouldn’t mention biking would have been more fun if he didn’t mention Trump for the entire trip.

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

I think it was an ok bargain..
Though running into several parties of bikers on the way in didn’t make it easy. They looked like they were having fun.

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

The bikers came with dogs though, and Shiloh and Remus were very excited to meet new friends..

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

Eventually we said good by and headed down the trail. The walking was pretty good, but the light was fantastic.

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

After 7 hours of hiking we arrived at a warm and well lighted Borealis cabin, and were welcomed by Marsh. The evening was spent mellowing out and enjoying life.

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars
(Shiloh was unimpressed by the story cards).

In the morning Tom and I took off to go checkout Big Bend, a rock formation a bit downstream from the cabin, while Marsh mellowed out, and then headed off to Eleazars.

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars
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Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

After turning around at the base of Big Bend, we headed to Eleazar’s for the night, then hiked back to the car in the morning.

Hike to Borealis and Eleazars

A great way to spend a weekend. I hope more snow comes soon, I can’t wait to get out on the bike and explore!

A post script : Someone tossed the logbooks at Borealis down the outhouse. It made me a bit sad – it is always fun to look back over the years and read about other folks adventures in these cabins. It is a bit of a bummer someone took that away..

Tolovana to Minto, on skates

November 4th, 2016


Skating from Tolovana Hotsprings To Minto

A year or so ago, the cool kids did some neat trips on nordic skates, a sort of skate blade attached to a ski binding apparently common in Scandinavia. I was seriously tempted to join in the fun and get a set. Eventually, the number of folks I know who have them grew enough that I decided I must get some, as it looked really fun and a neat way to explore. Soon after my set arrived I was invited on a skating trip from Murphy Dome to Minto, which was quickly turned into a Tolovana hot springs to Minto trip. Our plan was to hike into Tolovana, enjoy a nice mellow evening, then leave early and hike and hopefully skate to the town of Minto. Minto is in a windy place, (hopefully) windy enough to blow the snow off the ice, and from the trail into Tolovana, you can see nearly endless expanses of bare ice just outside town. I have often wondered if it would be possible to explore that area with ice skates – I guess I was going to find out! The plan was to hike into the hotsprings, enjoy the nice warm water, then the following day hike down to the flats, and skate from lake to lake, eventually hitting the Tolovana river, and hopefully reaching Minto. I headed out with Ed, Heath, Seth, and Patrick mid morning, making the several hour drive to the Tolovana trailhead.

The hike into Tolovana was mellow, and we arrived with plenty of time to soak and hang out. It was a bit odd to be there in the fall without the family..

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In the morning we headed out early-ish, and hiked down to the flats, hoping to arrive at around dawn.

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We arrived at the flats after a brief bit of stumbling through an old burn, but nothing too epic. The flats greeted us with a nice smooth lake, and we quickly put on skates and zoomed across. For the next hour we hopped from lake to lake, taking the skates off between. Eventually we arrived at some lakes connected with a small stream, but alas, the stream had some beaver dam issues, and soon Heath and I had wet feet.

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It appeared the stream we had planned on following hadn’t frozen up enough to be skate-able..

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We soon bailed on following the small stream, and headed overland, crossing fields, swamps, and a few old burns..
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Eventually the narrow stream widened out into some large old channels, and these were frozen, with lots of hard, smooth ice.

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The skating was amazing – fast smooth and fun.

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Patrick, who is originally from Sweden, told us his parents use very similar skates to travel on a 60 mile lake just outside his home town.

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I was pretty worried I was going to be holding everyone back, as everyone else had a lot more experience skating both on ice and on skis, but it didn’t seem to be an issue, or at least everyone slowed down to my pace.

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We arrived in Minto at around 5pm, well before dark, making our selves at hope in a local teacher’s house before getting a ride back to our cars at the Tolovana trailhead.
A huge thank you to Scott and Cassie for making this trip possible!

A few gear and route notes
It was about 27 miles, give or take a bit. I think we walked about 8 to 10 miles, someone of which could have been skated if we were more willing to take the skates on and off for frequently. The rest was skating.
The ice was, for the most part, great skating, with no open water on the main river. I am not sure how common this is.

As far as safety gear, Ed suggested shin guards, so I picked up some soccer shin guards which were a bit too small for me, and some knee pads. Most of us had some ice picks to get out of the ice if we fell in – I think that is 100% (perhaps 1000%) required, so you can get out if you break through the ice. The knee pads were also too small for me – I think they were intended for woman playing volleyball, and by the end of the day my knees were hurting from the pressure. Ed also brought a helmet and a life jacket, both of which were a good idea. If I was to do this again, I would also take a helmet and a life jacket, just in case of ice issues. We also had several throw bags.

Skate wise, I think we had the full gamut of boots and bindings – Heath was using some sort of mega boot combo with AT or Tech bindings, I used NNN-BD, Ed Pilot, Seth NNN skate bindings, and Patrick SNS-BC. They all seemed to work ok. My boots were a bit floppy, especially after I got my feet wet, but I added more socks and tied them as tight as I could and things were much better.

This was my first trip with everyone navigating solely by smart phone.
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I used Backcountry Navigator, several other folks used GAIA. At least Ed and I had pre-cached satellite imagery. It worked fantastically – at one point we realized that grassy fields (fantastic walking) showed up in a particular color in the imagery, and we aimed for bits of that while navigating. It works amazingly well – I am totally sold on phones as a replacement for GPS at this point, at least for this style of navigation. It is truly fantastic to pull up imagery of your location and use it for planning in the field.

I would like to thank Cassie for the ride from Minto, and Steve at Minto for the route information, and letting us crash at his place for a few hours when we arrived at Minto. Thanks!

The Jack via Caribou Lakes!

September 12th, 2016

Several years ago I packrafted the Jack River, and ever since I have been interested in going back there for more exploreation.. and when I heard that Ed Plumb had hiked in via Carabou Lakes, I knew I had to go check it out, as several friends have told me that area is fantasticly beautiful!

Tom, Heath, and I started the trip off on a pull off on the Parks Highway, just south of Cantwell. The trip started off a bit wet and soggy..

Jack River Packrafting

.. but the trail dried out a bit, just as it started raining. The first few miles were on ATV trails, which made for fast but uninteresting walking..

Jack River Packrafting

Once we reached higher ground the ATV tracks disappeared, and headed up a small unnamed creek up and over to Caribou Lakes (or Caribou Pass as it is labeled on the USGS topos) area.

Jack River Packrafting

Jack River Packrafting

The hiking was pretty good, and while it was pretty foggy as we hiked up, it cleared up as we reached the pass, and the sun came out – awesome! I however was a bit sad about my camera choice – at the last minute I took my “nice” camera out of my pack, and just brought my little waterproof point and shoot, as it looked like it would be too wet for the good camera.

Jack River Packrafting

Area round the lakes is super scenic – very open, with great views and fantastic walking.

Jack River Packrafting

Jack River Packrafting

We ended up camping on the east end of the eastern lake so we would have a short walk to the putin the next day. There is a small cabin on the lake, but it was on the other side from where we camped. We didn’t check it out. The lakes did appear to have fish, as we could see them picking bugs off the top of the lake in the evening.

The views from our campsite were top notch..

Jack River Packrafting

Jack River Packrafting

The next morning we hiked to the Jack, inflated and started floating. Things started off pretty mellow..

Jack River Packrafting

Just shallow clear water, with the occasional mellow wall-push.
Jack River Packrafting

We had been warned there were two drops, possibly class III ish, so we kept our eyes out. The floating was pretty fun though, with lots of interesting water and neat rock formations.

Jack River Packrafting

Eventually we found the first drop, which was a bit after where the creek opened up a bit, and it hit us by surprise. Heath who had been leading us down the creek, hit it first, and dumped, and alas, got his camera a bit wet – a huge bummer!
Jack River Packrafting

It eventually recovered after a long stint in a food dehydrator.

After the first drop, things were pretty fun, but nothing challenging until the second drop in the canyon.

Jack River Packrafting

We scouted the second drop, and then floated it. The canyon round the second drop is very beautiful.

Jack River Packrafting

We made our way back to the bridge on the Parks Highway, where I biked back to the truck to complete the loop.

A few notes:

  • There are two drops – the first can be boat scouted if you know where it is, the second really should be scouted before running.

  • At really high water the upper section looks like it could be quite a handful, as could the lower drop in the canyon. At super high water it might be hard to eddy out to scout the lower drop. There is a nice ATV trail around the entire lower canyon section, if you want/need to hike around it.

  • Helmets seem like a good idea.

  • This trip is on Ahtna land. It isn’t clear to me if the part off the Parks Highway is on their land, or if an easement exists, and the same is true for the Caribou Lakes area. I didn’t see any signage, but the online maps definitely imply part of the Caribou Lakes area is on Ahtna land. The last few miles into Cantwell are on Ahtna land, though it is unclear if the Jack River is part of this or not. So get a permit before going.

  • On the hike in, when you hit the Intertie (the big power line), you can go left or right. We went left. Both ways appear to have atv trails leading to the creek we took up into the pass.

This is a super fun overnight trip, well worth doing!

A map of the route can be found here . The location of the two drops are approximate – use caution!

Quartz Creek hike and float

August 10th, 2016

A while back I floated Bear Creek, one of the creeks that eventually forms Beaver Creek, with my friend Tom. I had been meaning to get back there, and with permission from the family to spend a Sunday and Monday away, and water levels very high, I decided to give it a try again. This time Tom and I were joined by Beth and Constantine. The route is a big loop, and involves leaving a car near the end of US Creek Road, biking over to Quartz Creek trail, then taking Quartz Creek trail for 12 miles, cutting over to Bear Creek, and floating down, eventually leaving Beaver Creek to hike back to the road.

Things got off to a bit of a rough start when near the end of the bike shuttle I got a flat, and like an idiot, stashed the bike and walked to the trailhead, thinking it as only a short distance, only to find out the “short” distance was more like 3 miles. I ended up running half of it or so before reaching the trail head. We headed down the trail, hurrying to catch Beth and Constantine, who had skipped the shuttle and had hiked ahead, planning on going at a mellow pace. Quartz Creek trail is a wonderful ATV trail, with lots of fantastic views…

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Unfortunately, Tom and I cut a switchback, walking right past Beth and Constantine while they mellowed out in the sun. We started to get nervous when we passed an ATVer who mentioned passing them, but not seeing them again… Oh-oh! Eventually we neared where we would cut off to the river, and started to get worried… but eventually they caught up with us, leaving Tom and me quite chagrined about passing them on a switchback.

After a bit of discussion, we bailed on our original plan of hiking over to the river, and headed to end of Quartz Creek trail to hike over to the river. I was a bit skeptical, but figured if nothing else we could just hike back to the higher county. The last mile or so of Quartz Creek trail is a bit muddy..

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and a bit wet..
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I was pleasantly surprised to see a lot of water in Quartz Creek… enough to float!
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After 45 minutes of floating we set up camp, mellowed out and enjoyed dinner..
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And eventually hit the sack, after enjoying a fire on the river. I used my Inreach to send some knock-knock jokes to my daughters before they went to bed..

“Knock, knock. Who’s there? Wooden shoe. Wooden shoe who? Wooden shoe like to hear another joke?”

The joys of technology!

[The Editor could insert an Editor’s Note here. The Editor will refrain.]

The rest of the float was a blast, though perhaps a bit too fun for Beth and Constantine at times, as this was their second time in packrafts. They were good sports though, and quickly figured out how things work.

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Quartz Creek was beautiful – crystal clear water, with neat bluffs and rocks.

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Just after we hit the confluence with Bear Creek, we hit a blown out beaver dam, with a small section remaining that Tom ran. It looked fun..

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The rest of the float on Beaver Creek was uneventful, though very scenic and fun.
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After a short stop to check out Richard’s cabin, where I scored a giant package of Twizzlers – I was running a bit short of snacks and it was a godsend – we soon reached our take-out. We hiked back to the car via Bear Creek trail. The last mile or so was a bit muddy, but nothing epic.

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Folks wanting to repicate this trip should be aware that Quartz Creek might normally be quite a bit lower. When Tom and I did this trip in 2009, the water was much, much lower and Bear Creek was only barely floatable. The Nome Creek stream gauge read just under 4 ft. Much lower and Quartz Creek would hardly be floatable.

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At the end of the trip I had only a half of a Bear Creek Pemmican bar left – I think I need to start being better about bringing more food!

Thanks Beth, Constantine, and Tom for the company and motivation!

Angel Creek 50, the ultra walk

July 18th, 2016

Late this spring, in a moment of weakness, I signed up for a local 50 mile running race, the Angel Creek 50. It was a bit of an experiment for me – I don’t have any big biking plans this summer, and wanted to try something different. I run a fair bit, but don’t enter in to running races all that frequently, mainly only shorter races with the family.

Alas, despite my best intentions, my training up to the race was a bit spotty – I got several months of running in, trying to get lots of short runs in and a few longer (so like 12 miles) run in a week. My right hamstring started giving me issues though, and I got distracted by fun trips, and so my running died off a bit. Eventually race day arrived, and I showed up a bit under trained, but since my only goal was to make the mile 42, 13 hours, 30 minutes cut off time, which is slightly under my walking pace, I figured I should make the cutoff.

The race is in the Chena River State Recreation Area, on a mix of single track and atv trails. I have been on most of the trails before, but there are a few sections that I had never been on, and I was looking forward to it!

The race starts at Twin Bear Camp and ends Chena Hotsprings, which are a little over 20 miles apart, so I took advantage of the race’s shuttle the evening before the race start, and camped at the start. I had brought a tent, but Twin Bears turned out to have quite the facility, and I ended up staying in one of their bunk houses, with Ned. There were so many bunkhouses I think each racer could have had one to themselves. The race start was a nice and early 5am, so we got up at 4am, eating and getting ready. There was a brief pre-race meeting, and before I knew it we were off!

The race sort of went by in a blur.

I ran the first 10 miles or so, then slowly started walking more and more. I didn’t run more than a few miles after mile 25, as my quads were shot, and my right knee was super unhappy after the big downhills around mile 20.

It was raining lightly at the start, then by mile 8 ish it started dumping. No big deal, the weather was not that cold, and I am almost always too hot. I tried to eat every hour or so, and drink every 10 minutes or so. That seemed to work, as I stayed hydrated for most of the race, and didn’t have energy issues. At mile 18 the climbing started, and I learned the hoka stinsons I was using had really poor grip on wet muddy rocks. No big deal, it just required a bit more care than I would have liked. The miles 18 – 20 ish were on trail I had never been on before, and I enjoyed it, though I was now mostly walking, with a few bits of running. The visibility on the ridges was pretty poor, but the trail was pretty easy to follow, in my opinion at least.

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Folks made fun of me at the race finish for saying that, but I didn’t have any trouble finding my way. I had to stop a few times and look around for the next rock cairn, but that only took a few seconds, nothing major, but that might have only been because I was going so slow.

I didn’t take very many photos, as I only had my phone, but I did get a selfie..

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Andy and Chris were at the Chena Dome trail shelter, and Andy was as cheerful as ever.
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I had been by myself for most of the race, but Andy said my friend Tom was only 10 minutes ahead, with a “big group”. Alas, I never caught up with them.

The rest of the race sort of zoomed by, and I walked the next 25 miles. I would have loved to have run more, but alas, my legs were not up for it.

I made the mile 42 cut off by an hour and a half, and finished at 14 hours, 20 minutes ish.

It was a super fun event, and I think I will try doing it again next year, though hopefully I will be able to run a lot more of it.

I used the Strava app on my phone during the race, and it worked great. It told me my pace every mile, which provided lots of motivation. The few times I was around other people I muted it, but since I was by myself for most of the race, it didn’t annoy anyone. When I finished I still had over 50% of the battery left, which was good news.

I walked/ran everything but the last 8 miles in some hoka stinsons, which was a mixed success. They are super comfortable, but they are hard to tighten down fully, and get next to no traction in mud or wet rocks. I have run a lot in them, but never in this much rain and wet. The left shoe started feeling funny after mile 25, and after the race I noticed it had “blew out” in a section.

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It is hard to tell from the photo, but there is big dent and soft spot where my thumb is.

The final 8 miles of the race I ran is some montrail road shoes, and they got much, much better grip.

A huge thank you to my family for letting me disappear for this race, and to the folks who put it on – Drew Harrington, Karen Taber, and George Berry. You guys rock, I really enjoyed it.

A few more photos can be found here:
Angel Creek 50

I learned a few things, mainly I walk at roughly a 17 minute mile pace, which is slightly slower than I would have expected.

An update: 5 days after the race, I am fully recovered, except my feet which are still a bit destroyed. I ended up with blisters on the ball of both feet, and they are taking a while to heal up completely.

Nabesna To McCarthy

July 17th, 2016

A long time ago, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, gold miners hauled supplies from McCarthy to Chisana and Nabesna. I have always wanted to visit the area, and when Heath suggested hiking and packrafting it, I jumped at the oppotunity! The “original” route folks used went from McCarthy to Chisana and the Nabesna/Slana area, but we planned to reverse the route so we could float a bit. The route has a pretty storied history – it was a wilderness classic route in the late 80s, and folks have even taken bikes on it. I was beyond excited for this trip! Another major bonus was that Heath did all the planning, making this the first trip in a long time I didn’t need to think about all that much – hurrah!

We headed out of town midday for the 5 hour drive to Nabesna. Nabesna is on the end of a 40 mile dirt road, and the trip got off to a bit of a rough start when, after passing a couple of small wash-outs on we came to a much deeper one – one that I wasn’t brave enough to drive across. It was a beautiful blue sky day, but apparently it had been raining earlier. We parked the truck safe from the water coming down the wash-out, and after checking out the nearby Jack River, decided to start the float a bit early.

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The Jack was near bank-full, and had enough water to be fun, but not too exciting. Besides a bit of wood, the floating was fun. We eventually camped at 11pm or so, a few miles short of our planned put-in spot. In the morning we awoke to clear skies and continued floating, eventually reaching the Nabesna River. The Jack was very scenic, and had a wonderful rock wall section that was pretty amazing. Alas, the water had a lot of sediment in it, and wasn’t clear, but still a fun float. The Nabesna was huge, much bigger than I expected. There were a few big boils and eddy lines that while no big deal, still got my heart racing. On the upside, the water was moving fast, averaging almost 10 mph (I think), and we quickly reached our take-out, near Cooper Creek.

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The wash plain of the Nabesna was super wide here, and while we were on the bank of the river, Cooper Creek was still over a half mile away – it is pretty amazing how wide the floodplain is for these large glacial rivers. As we were transitioning from floating to hiking mode I noticed a small plane parked in the distance. The pilot noticed us, and walked over to talk. After a brief conversation shouted over a side channel of the river, we discovered he worked for NPS, and had flown some rangers out to retrieve some equipment, and they were using packrafts. Hmm, perhaps we had packed up the boats too early. We headed out only to discover the rangers were using the boats to float a side channel of the Nabesna that ran right near the far side of the floodplain, and quickly determined it was too deep to ford… and out came the boats again.

Eventually we made it across, and started heading up Cooper Creek. The walking was fantastic, though a bit cobbly. A mile or so up the creek we ran into a porcupine, which appeared to really want to cross the creek, but didn’t want to get wet.

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We watched it a bit, as it slowly walked down the creek, checking occasionally to see if the creek had gone away yet or not. Not the brightest creatures. We also saw a small black bear, but managed to skirt around it without it noticing us. The rest of the day we hiked up Cooper Creek, bouncing from bank to bank, and eventually camped near the confluence of nine mile creek.

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Heath had brought a little wood burning stove, which we had fun using. It was a bit slower than a traditional setup, but the ideal of unlimited hot water was pretty tempting..

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In the morning we kept heading up the creek, and I was excited to find my first artifact – hurrah!

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I love bits of history that show how places have been used historically and currently. Finding “rusty bits” became a running joke for the rest of the trip.

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Eventually we topped out at a little pass, hitting Blue Lake, a wonderful little lake that would have been an awesome camping site, but alas, we had to get the mileage on.

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We headed over Cooper Pass, and down to Notch Creek, where I found an old collapsed cabin filled with more rusty bits. Notch Creek was pretty shallow, bumpy, and steep, so we walked down it, enjoying more fine cobble walking. Much to my surprise, I saw a set of fat bike tires on the creek bed – it appeared there were some bikers ahead of us!

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We camped near William Creek, hoping to float in the morning. We camped right next to a small clear stream. I enjoyed an experimental dinner of ramen noodles, dried coconut milk, peanut sauce, and coconut oil. Heath was a bit skeptical – “That is a lot of coconut oil.” was his take on it. I fell asleep to the sound of the water… only to be woken up when my pad deflated at 2am. Morning came two more rounds of inflation later, and my stomach was not happy. Apparently, while dinner was delicious, it did in fact have too much oil in it. I packed up camp and inflated my boat while trying not to be sick. The floating was fun, when Notch Creek had enough water. It bounced between wide braids and a single channel. When it was floatable, it was super fast and fun. Eventually we reached Cross Creek, where everything spread out and got too shallow, so we packed up our boats and headed off for the overland crossing to Chisana. Alas, I discovered that I was so distracted by not getting sick I had left my camera in a pouch on my pack, and it had gotten wet, and much to my disappointment, didn’t want to take photos – sadness! We forded Cross Creek, and headed overland to Chisana. We quickly found a marked trail, and were surprised to see horse prints – apparently folks use pack horses in this area – and we followed the horse trail over to the Chisana River. Alas, the Chisana river was too deep to ford, and so we inflated again, and floated across, then hiked over to Chisana. After hiking seemingly forever across the floodplain, we ran into a small pack of horses who seemed pretty scared of us, and who quickly ran off into the trees. We followed them, finding an ATV trail, that led us to a big complex, where the horses were waiting for us. They couldn’t seem to decide if we were something to be interested in, or scared of, so we carefully headed around them, and walked into town. We had discussed crashing at the public use cabin in Chisana, but we found it occupied by a couple touring Alaska by plane, so we headed out. After several false starts we found the trail heading out of town, eventually passing a clear(ish) stream near town that Heath said would be fantastic camping. I pressed to keep going, as there was another stream, Geohenda Creek, that was only a few miles away. Heath was very unamused to find Geohenda was thick with mud and far from the perfect campsite. We setup camp just as a huge thunderstorm passed by, just getting tents up before the deluge. The rain stopped fast though, and a bit of searching found some clear water, and soon we had dinner cooking, and enjoyed a nice bonfire on a dry channel of the creek. The next day we hiked up the creek, enjoying yet more cobbles and many muddy crossings of Geohenda. Gradually the water level dropped as we headed up into the higher country, and eventually we passed the source of the mud, a tiny creek coming in from a glacier. The country up high was beautiful, and very, very scenic. Our destination for the evening was Solo Mt. Cabin, a small historic cabin near Solo Mountain. A mile or so before the cabin we passed a huge grizzly munching away on the hillside, and I was very happy to reach the cabin just as a rainstorm arrived. I was a bit surprised to see shape the cabin was in – it is obvious at some point the NPS spent some time fixing it up – it looked like the foundation had been replaced, but having the door held shut by baling wire seemed a bit sad. We hung out in the cabin, and after collecting a bunch of dry alder from a nearby creek bed, we enjoyed a nice warm evening with the rain intermittently ringing off the roof. I had a great time reading the “log book” graffiti on the cabin walls, which was sort of a who’s who of all the crazy endurance folks and adventures in Alaska.

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The morning came, and with it sunshine, and my camera was sort of working after an evening of sitting next to the fire – hurrah! Alas, sort of working meant that while it took pictures, the display wasn’t working, so it was hard to frame photos.

We hiked across to the wash plain of the White River, and were surprised to see trail markers, leading to a pretty well used winter and horse trail, that eventually turned into an ATV trail that appeared to head to a cabin complex on Solo Creek. We turned off the ATV trail onto an old game trail, as it was heading in the wrong direction, only to find an even bigger one headed in just the right direction. Just as we reached Lime Creek we saw a large herd of horses grazing on the floodplain. I really felt like I had stepped into the old west. Lime Creek was a bit too big to ford though, so we had to inflate to cross it. Once across we hiked a few more miles, then camped. Heath declared it the perfect campsite, with yellow flowers on one side, and purple on the other.

In the morning we headed up into Skolai pass, skirting the Russell Glacier, and slowly working over to upper Skolai Lake.

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It was fantastically scenic. We worked our way across and over to Skolai Lake, eventually
camping near the headwaters of Skolai Creek. The valley the creek originates from is a neat place, wide and marshy, with lots of standing dead willow.

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In some willows I found a round ball of grass, which turned out to be a birds nest of some sort – very neat..

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I spent an hour or so exploring the valley, and checked out the “cabin” marked on the map, which was more of a three-sided shack.

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In the morning we headed up to Chitistone Pass, where it was a near complete white-out.

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We also ran into the first people we had seen since Chisana, two hikers wandering around in the rain and mist near their tent who refused to return our waves – a bit creepy. Fortunately, we dropped out of the mist, and enjoyed some fantastic walking along the Chitistone River. We eventually saw another party ahead of us, and shortly after that startled a little brown bear who headed off at high speed. We eventually overtook the party, and learned it was Nate and Krista who are also from Fairbanks, and much to my surprise – Krista works with my wife Nancy, and knows my daughters Molly and Lizzy. It is a very small world. Soon we were at the crux of the trip – the legendary scree of the goat trail!

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(Heath, checking out the goat trail..)

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I had been told everything from it was a fairly tame walk across a scree slope, to it was a scary walk along a rock wall above a huge drop, separated by the “gorge of death”. It turned out to be a mostly tame scree walk. I think it could have been possible to fall to your doom, but mostly I think you would have just rolled to a stop before any doom, with lots of bruises and scrapes. I didn’t test this idea though..

We stuck to the “yellow band”, as most folks seem to recommend, and came out without any issues.

Skolai, hole, to Nazina 306
(Photo compliments of Krista Heeringa)

Skolai, hole, to Nazina 304
(Photo compliments of Krista Heeringa)
Skolai, hole, to Nazina 235
(Photo compliments of Krista Heeringa)

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Nate and Krista took a completely different route, going quite a bit higher than us, so perhaps we did it wrong. Regardless, it was a super scenic walk, with waterfalls everywhere! After the scree slopes it was just mellow downhill alpine walking, complete with a huge herd of sheep grazing on the hillside in the last valley we passed.

In the evening we camped on a nice bluff, in sight of a glacier and Chitistone Falls – best campsite ever!

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In the morning we hiked down to the Chitistone, inflated and crossed the creek when we found we couldn’t get across, and started hiking downriver.

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The hiking was mostly pretty fantastic, besides a mile or so of willow thickets that Heath just breezed though, and I had to smash though like a ogre, getting constantly stuck. Very helpful for my self-image…
We eventually made it to Glacier Creek, where we planned to float. The weather had been very warm, and the Chitistone was now running very fast and a bit high, so we put in with a bit of trepidation, but it worked out – the creek was fun, splashy, and fast. After a hour or so we pulled out and camped, as at this rate we would be at the final takeout before we knew it. The evening was spent mellowing out and exploring the Chitistones floodplain.

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In the evening we were buzzed by a Supercub. Later we learned someone in a wing-suit had flown over us, and had been picked up by the plane. In the morning we packed up and floated the last of the Chitistone, taking a side channel around a new section of river where the river is chewing into a forest. We floated the Nizna to May Creek road, where we packed up and hiked into town.

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Fortunately the really long and boring road hike was shortened when we hitched a ride with Greg from Kennicott Guides on a double-wide ATV.

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McCarthy was as charming as ever, with folks stopping to talk to us nearly constantly. The upcoming packrafting festival appeared to be the talk of the town. Heath and I grabbed lunch, then caught a slightly earlier flight back with McCarthy Air to Devil’s Mountain lodge.
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We jogged back to the truck, and Heath joked that with my very holey shirt, it looked like I was “A homeless guy chasing a yuppie.” After nearly 6 miles of running, we made it to the truck, drove back to get our stuff, then headed back to Fairbanks – hurrah!

A couple of notes:

  • Don’t use Thermarest with stupid patches. My pad kept deflating, and I was up to two inflations a night before I taped over the patch with duck tape.

  • This route has lots of tricky water crossings. Folks thinking of replicating it should make sure they are ok with big-ish stream crossing, and budget extra time in case some of the creeks (like flood creek, or lime creek) are running high.

  • The Chitistone was flowing pretty big when we did it, and above Glacier Creek it looks pretty burly – lots of water moving fast. Below Glacier Creek it was class II with a few big obstacles, and near the Nizana, lots of wood. Very manageable though. Some bikers from Spain flipped someplace in the Chitistone, and one of them lost his gear, making the last few days of their trip pretty epic.

  • There are several re-supply options – the solo creek runway, skolei runway, and Chisana. I was told by McCarthy air that if they had other flights going that way, a small drop bag would be $100, which seems like a fairly good deal.

  • I should have brought a fair bit more food – I lost around 6lbs on this trip.

  • At the last minute, I brought a dry suit. That was, I think, a good call, but added a few pounds of extra weight. YMMV.

  • I am done with non-waterproof packs for packrafting. I have an old Arcteryx pack, that while nearly 4lbs empty, is completely waterproof. Alas, the hip belt is coming off, and the suspension sucks, so I replaced it with a big osprey pack. I was happy with the pack, but wasn’t happy with how much water it sucked up, all the extra zippers it had, and how many dry bags I brought with me. A pack made of some sort of waterproof material is on my list. It looks like mt hardware makes several, as does HMG. Alas, HMG’s packs are not as big as I would like. To bad all the newer arcteryx packs have so many gizmos – the one I have from them is a very simple affair, just a big single compartment body and a top lid.

  • I really love my Inreach – it was fantastic to txt Nancy and the twins at the end of the day and check in with them, and kept me feeling connected with them. Alas, the last day I swapped out the batteries, and didn’t notice the shell wasn’t completely dry, and got water in it.. and it stopped working. Duh! Hopefully it will come back to life.

  • Smart phones are now a nearly complete gps replacement – Heath did all his gps stuff using his phone, and it seemed to work very well. I brought a standard garmin etrex 30, which worked fine, but occasionally fired up Backcountry Navigator. Andrew Skurka has a discussion of the various options that is worth reading. On the flight back I noticed that the pilot used an android tablet running a mapping app rather than the specialized garmin aircraft nav widget I am used to seeing. The end of the stand alone gps?

  • I should have brought a better system for quick and easy access water, and some electrolyte drink mix. I was dehydrated a lot of the trip.

  • I sunburned my lips (!!) something I wasn’t even aware was possible. Next time I will bring some lip balm with sunscreen.

  • Heath found the birding to be awesome, with lots and lots of different species. Adding a few days just to birdwatch might be a good idea, if you are a birding sort of person.

  • Trust the Maps – I was getting pretty antsy near the end, as a write up I read said it was 35 miles from Skolia landing strip to Glacier Creek, and was thinking we didn’t have enough time for that. It turned out to be much less than that, more like 20. I should have mellowed out and trusted the maps – sorry Heath!

  • I can’t think of anything else at the moment.. will add anything else that comes to mind later.

I would like to thank Nancy and the twins for allowing me to disappear for 10 days, and Heath for doing all of the planning for this trip. Normally it is my job to do a lot of the trip planning, it was awesome to have someone else do that – hurrah!

Heath’s writeup can be found here, and is filled with truly awesome photos.

A interactive map of our route can be found here.

A few more photos can be found here:
Nabesna to McCarthy