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Re: Crow Pass Alaska 2013

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Crow Pass Alaska 2013
October 04, 2013 02:18PM
Full Picture Album:
Full Crow Pass 2013 Picture Album

Crow Pass is a roughly 26 mile trek through the Chugach Mountains beginning in Girdwood and finishing at the Eagle River Nature Center. The hike begins with a 2,100 ft. elevation climb in the first few miles and mostly descends through valley of mountain peaks, glaciers, waterfalls, and a river crossing at the halfway point.
My partner for this hike is Ross, who is a Joshua Tree area climbing instructor and had a summer job in Denali National Park washing the “school” buses all summer. He was laid off from the summer job a few days early—because the pipes to the water hoses froze and burst as they washed buses.
The week before the hike brought a big snow dump in the mountains and even trace amounts of snow in Anchorage. Glen Alps, only a few miles from my house, had 8 inches of snow. The Rangers at the Crow Pass Ranger Station reported that there were 3 foot snow drifts at the Crow Pass Cabin. This made Ross and I discuss items such as snow shoes! As the week progressed it warmed up—as high as mid-50’s, and rained frequently. The termination dust across the mountains that line up with the Anchorage city skyline disappeared. So this led me to believe the snow in the Pass would likely be gone also. Keep in mind, our peak elevation would be 3,500 feet.
Thursday night Ross and I had the one hour drive to Eagle River Nature Center in rain, fog, and very poor visibility to drop our car that would wait for us until Saturday night. I believe that drive was the most dangerous part of the trip! As Friday morning came the excitement had built even though it was raining heavily. I planned on a full day’s work Friday early morning before leaving for the 45 minute drive to the Trailhead at about noon. As the sun rose, the views out my office windows barely displayed any sign that there was a mountain range somewhere in the dark gray and rainy clouds. My wife graciously agreed to drive the 1 hour trip to Girdwood and we started the hike at about 1:30 pm Friday afternoon in rainy, dark skies.

Looking down to the Trailhead after a quick climb:


We never quite reached the snow level seen in the picture. Also note the gold mining equipment in the lower right of the picture.


Ross quickly shed layers as we began the steep ascent to Crow Pass in the rain (carrying what we later weighed as 40 pound packs). I was prepared for this climb and started with only a shirt and Rain Jacket layer but thermals at the ready in case it was cold and windy at the top of the pass—which was fully expected. We barely touched snow on the trail to the top and the wind picked up as we climbed. It seemed like it would be a cloudy, rainy hike. Upon reaching the cabin we found the lake partially surrounded by snow but the wind began to dissipate. I was still worried about visibility to Raven Glacier since the Cloud level was so low. My worries were soon set aside as we rounded the corner to see the Crow Pass sign at Raven Glacier in the background.

Crow Pass Cabin (reservable for 6 people for $35)


Crow Pass:


Raven Glacier (note the 3 “rivers” flowing out of the glacier)


After covering the hardest part of this day’s hike we had plenty of time to explore before dark so my plan was to get to that Glacier! It was a much harder hike down the glacier than expected across a steep scree field that was often covered in deep but post-holey snow along with running creeks of water across slick rock. The payoff was amazing. Ross had never been to a glacier before and was awestruck at the colors and magnificence. We found a “cave” and hiked 30 yards or so into the glacier, were able to look up and out of the glacier through crevasses, and found one of the running rivers inside the glacier.

Glacier Cave


PERFECT Water Refill—NO Filtering Necessary!


Raven Glacier (sorry for the washed out exposure at top of picture but it goes on forever)


By the time we left the glacier the sun had come out and it would not rain the rest of the trip! We covered 5 more miles before setting up camp right at dark. The next day would be a long one and include the river crossing. That made it 8 miles for the day leaving about 18 miles for Day 2.

I’m told the hike goes through 5/6 totally different ecosystems. Here are fall colors in front of Snow-Topped Mountains:


Campsite


Ross above River Gorge:


Looking back at River Gorge:


Breaking camp by 9:15am after brushing condensation ice off the rain fly, the next morning would bring quite a bit of excitement before the eagerly anticipated Eagle River Crossing in 5 miles. We encountered lots of fresh bear and moose tracks on the rough and muddy trail. However it wasn’t until the forestry descent just before the river that the alarm went off. Ross and I properly had been making noise and loud conversation through the entire hike. Brush is sometimes very high and it is easy to surprise a bear if you are not making noise. Ross and I even had a spirited conversation on our plan of escape if the entry to the Glacier Cave would have collapsed. We settled on two not so good options. 1. Climb out the icy walls with NO equipment. 2. Jump in the river and hope to be washed out without major injury in the river washout seen on the right of the picture up above. If escape were impossible, we noted that there may have been no way for searchers to ever find any trace of us at all. Searchers recently found a military airplane crash from the World War II area on a local glacier. As we discussed this mortality tale, we suddenly heard a HUGE ROAR/GROWL. Unmistakably a Bear! Both of us pulled our readily accessible bear spray cans and began to make lots of noise. We never saw the bear. But we sure made him angry and it sure got our blood pumping!
Bear Tracks:


Ross ready to Fight Bear:


After narrowly escaping the jaws of death from the bear we traveled on and turned a corner to find this view of Eagle Glacier and Eagle River:


Normally a hiker can expect knee to waist deep water. Notice the calm and still water to the right of the picture. Suspicious, I threw a rock only to hear a kerplunk with no sound of rock hitting bottom. Importantly the white stakes are set up at a wide portion of the river avoiding narrower sections of deeper and swifter rapids. With fresh snow melt and sunny skies melting the glacier, I expected a tough and painfully cold crossing. Somewhat anti-climatically the crossing was still very painfully cold—but only calf/halfway to our knees depth. Ross even found a shovel in the middle of the river, and as a true LNTer, I now have that shovel as a souvenir of the hike in my home thanks to Ross lugging it! With the most “dangerous” parts of the hike behind us, we now only needed to cover 13 rugged miles through bear/moose infested muddy uneven trails! Thankfully two other crossing which had turned dangerous early in the season after the logs washed out were mostly fixed.



Note: Shovel in Hand

We were blessed with beautiful waterfalls and wildlife on this part of the trail. Ross noted that when he first arrived in Anchorage I took him out for a quick drive before his train trip to Denali. I tried, and inexplicably failed, to find him a moose. As they began the beautiful glass-topped train ride to Denali, Ross expressed a hypothesis that moose did not really exist and it was a hoax similar to Big Foot. Others on the train, fed the theory and Ross was convinced moose were just made up—when suddenly from the train all spotted a moose. Similarly I have yet to seen a black bear since I moved to Alaska. Doubt is creeping in that black bears do indeed exist. At this point in our conversation, I spotted far across the river bed what was definitely a black bear!

Black Bear?


Clearly on my camera viewfinder the dark black coat resonated as he was in view for only a short while before disappearing in the trees. Alas, upon reviewing my pictures loaded on my computer, I note a brown tint and a definitive distinction shoulder/neck hump. Indeed this was a brown bear/grizzly bear and I still have yet to see a black bear in Alaska.

Later we spotted a pool of spawning salmon in the river—some already bright red!


And finally, way up on the hillside we spotted two polar bears!


Tough and Rugged Trail (and supposedly downhill!):







Covering 18 miles with 40 pound packs on this type of trail was indeed difficult and we realized we were not going to make it before it turned dark at about 8:30pm. With headlamps out we completed the hike at about 9:15pm after 12 hours of hiking. We were so thankful we caught the break in weather. We really were expecting a rain filled hike with a low cloud ceiling curtailing the views. Most of my clothes went unused---never did use the thermals! We saw NO ONE until near the end of the trail two hunters had hiked in from the other direction to spot dall sheep and goats. I’ve concluded that I believe a dayhike is actually easier as far as body soreness and effort. Earlier in the summer it is easy to do it at an enjoyable pace with plenty of daylight.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10/04/2013 02:44PM by chicagocwright.
avatar Re: Crow Pass Alaska 2013
October 05, 2013 12:38PM
Great stuff. Thanks for posting. Cool to see all of the fall color up there. The only thing missing is Curry pizza smiling smiley
Re: Crow Pass Alaska 2013
October 07, 2013 04:11PM
Thanks for posting. The glacier is really cool. ( in more ways than one smiling smiley)
avatar Re: Crow Pass Alaska 2013
October 08, 2013 11:36AM
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parklover
The glacier is really cool. ( in more ways than one smiling smiley)

Yep, they're made of ice. Rolling on floor laugh
Re: Crow Pass Alaska 2013
October 08, 2013 08:37AM
Fascinating trip report and photos. Looks like a fantastic area to hike through. I was curious about the polar bears... wouldn't they be way outside of their usual range in that area?
Re: Crow Pass Alaska 2013
October 08, 2013 08:46AM
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SteveHall
Fascinating trip report and photos. Looks like a fantastic area to hike through. I was curious about the polar bears... wouldn't they be way outside of their usual range in that area?

My idea of a crazy joke to see if my friends in the Lower 48 are paying attention. They are the species of polar bears also known as Mountain Goats---very similar in appearance to Dall Sheep.
Re: Crow Pass Alaska 2013
October 08, 2013 11:23PM
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chicagocwright
Quote
SteveHall
Fascinating trip report and photos. Looks like a fantastic area to hike through. I was curious about the polar bears... wouldn't they be way outside of their usual range in that area?

My idea of a crazy joke to see if my friends in the Lower 48 are paying attention. They are the species of polar bears also known as Mountain Goats---very similar in appearance to Dall Sheep.

Ha nice one. And to think I was about to suggest that you contact the rangers in Chugach State Park to notify them.
Re: Crow Pass Alaska 2013
October 08, 2013 11:40PM
Quote
SteveHall
Quote
chicagocwright
Quote
SteveHall
Fascinating trip report and photos. Looks like a fantastic area to hike through. I was curious about the polar bears... wouldn't they be way outside of their usual range in that area?

My idea of a crazy joke to see if my friends in the Lower 48 are paying attention. They are the species of polar bears also known as Mountain Goats---very similar in appearance to Dall Sheep.

Ha nice one. And to think I was about to suggest that you contact the rangers in Chugach State Park to notify them.

The Rangers are not at the Ranger Station---it is a Federal Ranger Station! Technically, I think the trailhead I started at may be closed. I can assure you, the closure isn't keeping anybody off the trail.

But the 80 mph winds probably are discouraging a few folks!



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10/08/2013 11:41PM by chicagocwright.
avatar Re: Crow Pass Alaska 2013
October 08, 2013 11:57PM
Quote
chicagocwright
But the 80 mph winds probably are discouraging a few folks!

Wimps!
Re: Crow Pass Alaska 2013
October 08, 2013 11:55AM
Absolutely wonderful. Thanks for bringing Alaska into my computer!



Balzaccom

follow our adventures, read our blog, or just to come hang out at our website: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/
Re: Crow Pass Alaska 2013
October 08, 2013 02:24PM
You are all welcome. I am blessed to live in this wonderful place.

I wrote out this itinerary for another site that provides a plan if anyone ever is visiting:

First imagine yourself having made your way to Anchorage. A beautiful city surrounded by the Chugach Mountains on one side and the Cook Inlet on the other. You are minutes away from multiple trailheads and only a gorgeous 40 minute drive to this iconic trailhead.
So this is how your day will go: First you can start the hike just about anytime you want because the season for this hike will include 24 daylight. Let's assume a 7 am start.

7:00am You leave the city of Anchorage and as you exit the main part of the city you see moose on the side of the road.

7:05am You will pass Potter's Marsh on your left which has multitude species of birds, a bald eagle nest, and a spawning salmon area.

7:07am Just a few minutes away from downtown you will cross Bird Creek and easily spot Salmon in the waters. If you are lucky you will see bears, Grizzly or Black, fishing for those Salmon.

7:15am Soon you find yourself between the cliffs of the Chugach on your left and the Cook Inlet/Turnagain Arm on the right. It is very likely you will soon see a Bald Eagle soaring over those cliffs. And no less likely you will come across herds of Dall Sheep high on the cliffs and sometimes they wander down to the road.

7:20am If you can tear your gaze away from the wildlife and views on your left you can see the beautiful Susitna mountain on your right and may even catch a glimpse of Denali (Mt. McKinley) in your rearview mirrow. Also on your right, across the Turnagain Arm, you will see luscious emerald green mountains partially covered with snow all the way down to sea level.

7:25am Again on your right you will pass by Beluga Point and again if you are lucky you will spot beluga whales out in the inlet

7:35am You are approaching Girdwood and your turn off the Seward Highway to the Crow Pass Trailhead. It is very likely you will see moose out in the swamp land just before the turn.

7:40am As you complete the drive, you will pass many old gold mining areas, some still active!

7:45am Well you have not even begun your hike yet! Time to Start!

7:55am You hit the trail. Be sure to sign the register! This is a big time hike and S&R will use this register if needed for clues to find you!

The concept of switchbacks has struggled to make its way to Alaska so you will find yourself climbing very quickly. The high point of the hike will come quickly. It doesn't take long for you to be surrounded by snow topped emerald green mountains. Be sure to make noise on the trail before climbing above the tree line to ensure you don't surprise any bears.

8:45am You will approach a waterfall surrounded by snow cover. Just next to this area is an old abandoned gold mine with equipment artifacts still scattered in areas.

9:55am Even with rest breaks and a sidetrip to the Falls, we made it to the top of Crow Pass within 2 hours. The 3,500 ft. Summit will be your highest elevation point. But standing at the sign, BELOW you, you see your 2nd glacier on the hike. Because you have already passed an alpine lake fed by the first glacier on your left. If you want to spend a little extra time, you can hike right down to this glacier. At this point you have only covered about 3 miles and have about 19 to go.

I won't break down the rest of the time spots because it can vary but it is likely your way down off the summit will include an ice bridge crossing, descending snow covered hills with easy glissading opportunities, and soon find yourself in meadows with 6 foot brush surrounding you on both sides. This is where I began to think about the Jurassic Park scene where Velociraptors began plucking the men from the trail. Our group of five hikers made sure to make plenty of noise to again scare off the bears. It is also wise to avoid the Devils Club!

The rest of the hike still has plenty of surprises! A gorge crossing, waterfalls, moose, bears, beavers, eagles, Emerald Green Mountains, Snow Covered Mountains, Glaciers, etc. And don't forget the Glacier Water river crossing. Pick your poison---if it a cold, cloudy day hike the river level will be lower. If it is a warmer day, the glacier melt will mean the water level will be higher. Either way, it is painfully cold and this crossing may be the most dangerous part of the hike.

As you finish this hike between 7-8pm the light will seem like mid-afternoon. You are only 30 minutes away from great Anchorage restaurants---seafood, pizza--take your pick! But try to get a window view. A moose may wander by as you eat!
avatar Re: Crow Pass Alaska 2013
October 09, 2013 11:56AM
O.K., how far into the ice cave did you venture? You didn't come all that way and not do that!eye rolling smiley
Re: Crow Pass Alaska 2013
October 09, 2013 12:38PM
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tomdisco
O.K., how far into the ice cave did you venture? You didn't come all that way and not do that!eye rolling smiley

An "ice cave" is probably a loose description. Looking back at it, the loose ice boulders lying around give me a bit of pause. We went in as far as we could without equipment (crampons, ice axe, ropes, etc.) We may have tried to go a bit further down and try to cross the internal river. The full picture album linked to above includes a video of the cave.

This part of the hike is relatively accesible and could be done by just hiking the 3 miles to it and reversing back down the mountain instead of the 20 miles through the wilderness which includes a normally somewhat dangerous river crossing. Since we had so much further planned to go on this trip, we needed to stay relatively dry and clean. I'd say we made 30-40 yards into the glacier. I've had mixed opinions on the wisdom and safety of what we did.
Re: Crow Pass Alaska 2013
June 20, 2014 10:01AM
Headed to Crow Pass tomorrow. I hope to post a Crow Pass 2014.

My mother asked me a question a couple days regarding keeping a journal of my hikes and adventures. I do not but realized my trip reports on forums could serve as my journal.

What do others do?
avatar Re: Crow Pass Alaska 2013
June 20, 2014 01:54PM
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chicagocwright
What do others do?

I take pictures and these days with electronic photography they get time and date stamped.
avatar Re: Crow Pass Alaska 2013
June 20, 2014 02:14PM
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eeek

I take pictures and these days with electronic photography they get time and date stamped.

And where to you post them?

.
avatar Re: Crow Pass Alaska 2013
June 21, 2014 12:52AM
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plawrence
And where to you post them?

That is left as an exercise for the reader.
Re: Crow Pass Alaska 2013
June 20, 2014 03:10PM
My problem is I have so many albums, trips, trip reports, pictures, and even different forums that everything is spread out.
avatar Re: Crow Pass Alaska 2013
June 20, 2014 01:00PM
Glad you identified the polar bears...I was afraid that you saw two of those terrible beasts that I saw in Monte Python's Search for the Holy Grail.

Great Report! You gonna be back in the Sierra Nevada any time soon?
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