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mountains 2006 ~ Alaska blog archives ~ Nature & Literature Blog

mountains 2005

Bird watching in the Talkeetnas (5/24/05) (2005-05-25 00:21:36)

This afternoon we hiked a couple miles up Archangel (Fern Mine) Road in the Talkeetnas, hoping to see Golden Crowned Sparrows and maybe a Wilson’s Warbler.

We parked at the pull-out on Hatcher Pass Road (no fee required) and walked in past the gate on Archangel Road. The first mile or so is fairly flat with dense alders on both sides of the road. Near the Hatcher Pass Road the alders were nearly all leafed out. Walking up the valley was like traveling back in time, to earlier in the spring. The alders had tiny new leaves and long droopy catkins. Few plants had begun to grow yet so the ground was a monotonous carpet of last year’s grasses and ferns. The sandy potholed road, which is unmaintained (read ‘rough and potholed’) during the summer, provided a decent walking surface until after the ford. For some reason there were several submerged sandbags and a couple of convenient rocks in the stream. To cross the stream, the others opted to leap between the sandbags and rocks. I waded through the bracingly chilly stream barefoot. Past the stream crossing a beaver dammed and meltwater fed channel filled what would have been a ditch on the west side of the road. A little further and we had reached the snowline, at about 2400 feet elevation. The trick was to stay off the unstable mud underlain with ice lenses where, although the ground looked solid, it might collapse downward beneath your foot. Storm clouds had been building over the mountains but when we hit the snow, the sun broke through and the temperature increased about 10 degrees (F). Higher up the slopes there were patches of green where some alders and willows had already leafed out. The songbirds had arrived and we heard and saw juncos and golden crowned sparrows. We also saw a number of Warblers that were either Wilson’s or Yellow Warblers.

Archangel Road, north of the ford but before the Reed Lakes trailhead, May 24, 2005

Alder flower (Archangel Road, 5/24/05)
Wikipedia Alder

Willow catkin(Archangel Road, 5/24/05)
Wikipedia: Willow

Directions: See the map Getting to Hatcher Pass. On this map Archangel Rd is the same as Fern Mine Rd which is a half to three-quarters of a mile uphill from the Mother Lode Lodge.


Matanuska Valley View (8/11/05) (2005-08-12 10:01:24)

The summer of 2005 will probably also be remembered as a 'smoky' summer. In July smoke from Kenai Peninsula forest fires filled the Matanuska Valley, at times so thick a 'smoky' odor filled the air. Now the smoke is said to be from fires in the Interior. As you can see from this photo taken from Hatch Peak in the Talkeetna Mountains, the air quality in the Valley is bad and the views are quite impaired.

view from Hatch Peak

Mt McKinley (9/18/05) (2005-09-18 23:09:32)

Listened to Danny Schmidt play his acoustic folk music in Talkeetna, sponsored by Whole Wheat Radio.

Leaving Talkeetna this morning we saw Mt McKinley in the rear view mirror and felt lucky since it has been cloudy and raining.

The Pinnacle (9/18/05) (2005-09-18 23:15:56)

The Pinnacle is the highest peak above Independence Bowl (in the Talkeetna Mountains, of course). I hiked the Hatch Peak Rim and the fog was blowing up the mountains from the south, creating a rapidly changing atmosphere, an overlay to the alpine textures of Autumn plastered across the slopes.

Pinnacle and Autumn colors in fog.

Archangel Valley (9/19/2005) (2005-09-19 22:40:01)

The strange weather continues. By all rights there really should be snow at least on the tops of the Talkeetna Mountains. Within the next week or so, in a normal year, there would be enough snow that the gate allowing access to over the top of the Pass (Hatcher Pass) will be closed and I probably wouldn't have thought about riding my bicycle up to about the 4,000 foot level in Archangel Valley. (Actually I pushed it about the last half mile, not too bad, considering the elevation gain of 1500 feet.)

Compare this photo (below) of the Pinnacle from Archangel Valley to the one I took yesterday -- also the Pinnacle but from the other side.

The Pinnacle, taken from Archangel Valley.

It was threatening rain but I only rode through the edge of a shower, Even though the valley where I was headed looked dark and foreboding. Still terrific fall colors -- the leaves have not all fallen or been covered with snow, yet. Even the ferns, which turn brown with the lightest of frosts, still hold some color.

Fern leaf near the 4,000 foot level on Archangel Rd, Talkeetna Mtns, September 19, 2005.

Geranium leaf. Same location as fern, Sept. 19, 2005.

In case anyone who hasn't taken this drive before is thinking about it, be forewarned. Drive a beater. The road is riddled with potholes. If you meet other vehicles you'll undoubtedly rub the side of your car on pointy alder branches. And you have to cross a 3 channel ford - and the 3rd channel has several ripped sharp-edged metal culverts. They look like tire shredders to me... wouldn't take my car up there.

Ford on Archnagel Rd, looking south towards Matanuska Valley, September 19, 2005.

Lazy Mountain (9/20/05) (2005-09-20 22:40:16)

Lazy Mountain - Chugach Range, Matanuska Valley, Alaska
Ski poles, water and snacks recommended.

So, want a work out? Climb Lazy. Depending on what king of shape you're in it can range from 45 minutes of brutal uphill climb to 1 hour and 50 minutes (or even more...). Stopping to take pictures, drink water, eat snacks, get your heart rate down, admire the view or any other reason simply makes summitting Lazy take longer. Lazy Mountain is not what its name implies. It's a small beast of a mountain that's over 3400 feet high and, even allowing for the elevation of the parking area (see note below re: parking) your elevation gain will be approximately 3000 feet! The climb up Lazy is measured in 'humps.' The First Hump is primarily through grass, low growing trees such as alders and some slightly taller birch. Watch out for stinging nettle and cow parsnip that dangle over the trail. Devil's Club, which has huge spines and is not recommended to walk through (ask Ben), is visible near the lower part of the trail. This section of trail is notoriously steep and if there's been any rain recently, dangerously slippery. But there's a reward. At the top of the First Hump is a picnic table (Hooray!) and a gorgeous 360 degree view of the Chugach Range, the Knik River Valley, the Matanuska Valley, Cook Inlet, Mount Susitna, the Susitna Valley, the Talkeetna Mountains and possibly, on a good day, the Alaska Range. Wow! But then, if you seriously want to climb Lazy there's the Second Hump which is a steep alpine hike on a mostly, but not always, rocky trail with a short breather where the trail flattens for a little ways. Then there's the Third Hump, or what some people call the real summit since they just realized, at the top of the Second Hump that they had just made it to a false summit and there was still further to go... Hmmm.... The view is worth the pain, at least if you are in good enough shape to avoid the big one. But coming down can entail the most excruciating agony for anyone with knee issues...

Last bit of trail to the top of Lazy Mountain.

Looking northeast from near the summit of Lazy Mountain.

The free ride is over. Borough now charging for parking.

termination dust (9/24/05) (2005-09-27 00:08:25)

If I'd driven further I could have gotten a closer photo but... with gas at between $2.69 and $2.79 it didn't seem worth it. When the clouds over the Talkeetnas lifted I saw the snow line was easily below 16 mile, and maybe nearly as low as the Mother Lode. Glad I nailed that bike ride up Archangel and hiked Hatch Peak Rim last week. Haven't been up to check since it snowed but I bet the gate to the pass is closed. Interestingly, September 24th only seems two or three days late for the first significant (and 'sticking') snow in the mountains around here.

Matanuska Peak on September 24, 2005

Gold Mint Trail Snapshot (10/6/05) (2005-10-06 23:02:33)

Gini and I hiked about half an hour up Gold Mint Trail this evening. The weather was warm, no wind, and the hiking was easy although there were minor sections of mud and water on the trail. We stopped at the beaver pond where the trail comes out of the alders and the view opens up. The snow is light and high. No skiing yet.

Talkeetna Mountains, Gold Mint Trail, Oct. 6, 2005

Archangel Valley - October 14 - No skiing yet (2005-10-14 22:47:00)

A day for bicycling, not skiing. Some years there is skiing in October... well there are a couple more weeks in October. The Frontiersman had pictures of kids snowboarding in about a foot of snow near the pass. Archangel Road is about 2500 feet elevation and the pass is 3900 feet. I wouldn't be surprised if the gate to the road over the pass is closed but I haven't actually driven up and looked.

I had Archangel Road to myself this afternoon. Other travelers had traversed the road earlier in the day, leaving their tracks in the light snow. A car or truck drove in about a half mile, turned around and returned to the pavement. Funny because he was almost through the worst of the potholes. Two people and a dog had walked to the Reed Lakes parking lot and back to the paved road. I had a peaceful bike ride through a light snow, the temperature probably near freezing, the air laden with the smell of damp vegetation not yet frozen.

The ford with the broken culverts a mile or so up Archangel Road

Ice is forming on the beaver ponds next to the ford and in odd shapes in the tiny stream that crosses the road.

Looking up the valley from the Reed Lakes parking area

Fern and leaves by Reed Lakes parking area

A strip of blue sky started to materialize

An odd view looking south along Archangel Rd. Still a bit of green along the edges.


mountains 2006 ~ Alaska blog archives ~ Nature & Literature Blog



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