ALASKA BABY!! This year, my big summer trip is a 10 day trip to the biggest, baddest wilderness out there. I'll be taking a shuttle bus out of Anchorage up to Denali National Park, and I'm planning a 7-day itinerary through the park, along the Alaska Range and then down the Sanctuary River.
So yeah, I've been busy. I've been out on the weekends quite a bit since the last time I posted, and to save my sanity, I'm going to go over everything I've done recently as an overview, rather than trying to make individual posts on each trip.
Before I get into the details, I should also say that I am aware many pictures on my older posts are non-functional. To save time, I gave Blogspot the URLs of the pictures I uploaded to Facebook, rather than re-upping them to Blogspot. Facebook apparently changed the URLs, breaking all the pictures in the process. I am in the process of fixing, but its going to take a little time, so bear with me if my older posts have picture problems for awhile.
Ok, on to the trips.
Illusions Canyon is reputed to be the best canyon in Arizona. Reading early trip reports, canyoneers talk about this canyon in almost mythical terms. So naturally it was high on my list of places to see as my skillset has gotten better. Illusions features miles of twisting dark narrows with an almost sub-terranean feel. Each twist of the canyon brings another spectacle, from arches to "rabbit holes" with waterfalls pouring through them, to golden rappels down fluted, mossy walls. Each time you think the canyon is over, it drops into a deeper and more beautiful slot. This one lived up to the hype. My gopro was on the shelf after Wilber Canyon, and my regular camera froze up halfway through the canyon, so unfortunately I got less photos that usual, and no video.
This was my first time through this classic Arizona canyon. Its an easy canyon technically, with a super gorgeous set of narrows. Unfortunately, its over a little quickly, and with the sneak exit, you can finish this one in just over 2 hours. We briefly contemplated doing Sundance Canyon right next door, but given that the water in Bear was a little low, and Sundance has some potential keepers, we elected not to this time.
Chiricahua Crest Trail
The Chiricahua mountains were a favorite of mine when lived in Tucson, but I hadn't been back in more than a decade. Three days of overcast skies and intermittent rain and hail made for the perfect getaway from the 3-digit Phoenix heat. My wife and I basecamped near Booger Springs and dayhiked out to Paint Rock. Along the way we spotted deer, Mexican jays, baby rattlesnakes, and had a close encounter with a golden eagle. The weather added just the right touch of adventure and made for spectacular misty views and sunset colors
Watson LakeWhen I started my new job, I told myself that after I made it through a month or two, I would reward myself with a big purchase I had wanted to make for a long, long time. I had known about packrafts for a long time. Back in 2007/2008, I remember reading about Erin and Hig McKittrick using packrafts to travel from Seattle up the coastline of Canada and Alaska to the Aleutian Islands, a thruhike that had never even been imagined before then. Packrafts were a key tool that open the possibility of this kind of travel. The folks at backpackinglight.com touted the possibilities of wilderness travel that had never even been imagined prior. A few years later, Grand Canyoneering came out, and I realized the possibilities were not confined to Alaska and other far-flung locales. Over 2014, I purchased first a pool-toy packraft (the Intex Explorer 200) and then a slack raft (the Klymit LWD), and took my first forays. It was enough to sell myself on the concept, and soon it became a matter of not if I would upgrade to one of the big boys, but when.
So, shortly before the Chiricahuas trip, I purchased an Alpacka Yukon Yak. The weekend following the trip, I set out to the Prescott area to take it on its maiden voyage. Watson Lake is one of the most unique lakes in Arizona, with the lovely scenery of the Granite Dells as a backdrop. I hiked in around the lake on the Prescott Circle trail, then blew up the raft and rafted back to where I started from. The raft performed like a dream.
Lower Salt River and Bear CanyonAfter a first successful voyage, I wanted to take the packraft out on moving water. I was planning to use the raft in Alaska to travel the Sanctuary River in Denali. The Sanctuary is an easy river, Class II at most, but I didn't want to go there blind without getting some practice in first. So I went to the Phoenix daily, the Lower Salt River, with the Desert Mountain Paddlers meetup group.
The Lower Salt is the same river that the tubers run. Mid-day on a weekend and its wall to wall tubes. But get there at 6 am, as we did, and its a quiet desert river flowing gently through amazing scenery, below Superstitions-style cliffs with Four Peaks overhead.
On this weekend, after I finished up the Lower Salt, I headed back up to Payson to take a quick run through Bear Canyon again. After doing it the week prior, it seemed like a perfect candidate for solo runs, with only 1 rappel around 20 feet. The trip was uneventful and the narrows were no less gorgeous than the previous time.
Lower Salt AGAINThe weekend after my first trip, I took another trip down the Lower Salt River, this time with my wife in tow. I had been trying, unsuccessfully so far, to interest her in canyoneering. She's done quite a few non-technical canyons with me, but so far had had limited interest in the technical stuff and getting onto rope. So when she expressed interest in rafting after seeing my photos of wild horses, I was quick to jump on it. She took the Alpacka down while I ran the river in my Klymit "slackraft." The Klymit raft handled the rapids much better than I thought it would. Its advertised as being able to handle up to class II rapids, but after a friend of mine flipped his in the Grand Canyon, I had been cautious about taking it on anything but flat water. However, I took it through the relatively splashy rapids at Pinball Alley and it handled them just fine. I had to stop and bail it out afterwards, but otherwise I had no issues, and my wife had a blast in the alpacka.
San Francisco Super-Loop and Verde RiverFinally, this post catches me up to this weekend. This past weekend I was invited out to do two of the "big-boy" canyons along West Fork, Insomnia and Immaculate. While I definitely want to do both of these canyons, I wrestled most of the week with whether I wanted to go or not. A friend of mine had broken his ankle the weekend before in Illusions, and I think I got spooked somehow. A few days before, I opted out of the canyon trip in order to go do my own thing. With Alaska now a month away, I needed to get serious about training, so I set my sights on a highly ambitious loop in the Kachina Peaks wilderness. I would hike the Humphries, Weatherford, Kachina loop, a nearly 20 mile loop at altitude with 5.8k accumulated elevation gain.
On Friday night, I drove up and random camped off of Willard Springs road, my favorite "in-transit" campsite near Flagstaff. The next morning, I was up around 4:30 am and set off toward the Snowbowl. I hiked up Humphries trail first, to get the worst of the elevation gain done while I was at my freshest. From the saddle, I hiked up the shoulder of Agassiz Peak, and from there it was downhill all the way, ringing the circuit of peaks over to Doyle Saddle. The alpine scenery was wonderful, especially after leaving behind the crowds of the Humphries trail.
The flowers were in full bloom as I continued down from Doyle Saddle to the junction with the Kachina trail.
By mid-way through the Kachina trail, I was ready to finish, and the last couple miles were rough, but I was proud to have made it the whole way in a single day.
That night, I camped off Kelly Canyon road. The intent was to take on James Canyon in the morning. But morning came and I was still pooped. Something easier I could do, but taking on a 10 mile, off-trail technical canyon the day after a 20 mile day was not on the list. I decided to head down and try rafting a section of the Verde River. The flow was low - Tyler Williams suggests the minimum boatable flow is 150, and the river was running at 90. But packrafts are well suited to lower water, so I thought it worth a shot. I drove in to Beasley Flats, then hiked a few miles back up the road to where the tubers drop in. The river was doable, but boney. I scraped the bottom on each little rapid. Trying to raft the Verde at this level was a little desperate :) but I didn't overcommit myself, it was less than an hour on the water to get back to Beasley Flats, and back to the city.