Hip hop hooray for K-LO and CMay! Chisana to McCarthy August ’09

Well, I guess it’s become tradition to celebrate Chrissy’s birthday in the wilderness, so we decided to head out again this year (after a great Divas Gone Arctic in ’08 when we’d given up on this trip due to weather/conditions). With 2 of us and a lack of desire to manage complicated logistics, we decided to fly into Chisana and hike/float to McCarthy instead of the Wilderness Classic route from Nebesna to McCarthy . . .
After a late-night arrival in McCarthy, we awoke to a super smoky morning and a flight delay . . .
So, we consoled ourselves by going back into town to find good coffee and breakfast. To top it off, we also found CJ, one of our buddies from Girdwood who happens to double as a wildland firefighter in the summer . . . we were super psyched πŸ™‚

Timed almost perfectly after the opening of The Potato and the procurement of the best breakfast burrito and some Kaladi coffee, it was time to fly! Tons of potential scoped for winter/spring dreaming πŸ™‚

We landed in the old mining town of Chisana, which happens to still have some full-time residents . . . we were out of the rain pounding Girdwood/Anchorage and out of the smoke, drinking in the beauty of a sunny day in the Wrangells!

The afternoon was spent walking up Geohenda Creek . . . one of the muddiest/siltiest creeks I’ve ever seen! Thankfully the scenery was great, and the travel pretty good (although river bars do get a a little old . . .)

From there, we headed up valley and across a few drainages toward Solo Mountain Pass and the Solo Mountain cabin . . . beautiful evening, great travel surfaces, and lovely soft light
We arrived at the cabin just around dark, and settled in for a darn good sleep – it’s a pretty sweet cabin with a cool history of being manned when this route was used to support transport from Chisana to McCarthy in gold rush times. It was a little smoky, but the haze just made the country feel even bigger . . .
CMay in some big country, pointing toward Lime Creek, somewhere out there!
Lime Creek was pretty cranktastic (read: super high water), so we opted to cross in boats. With just two of us, boats seemed like a good idea regardless . . . . thankfully the crossing was uneventful – water was moving fast, but wasn’t too pushy.
Token headstand shot . . . beautiful afternoon, glad to have the unknown of this crossing behind us, psyched to see the big mountains coming out, and intrigued by what’s coming next!
Hip hop hooray for K-Lo and CMay! Lime Creek behind us πŸ™‚
Heading up the White River valley – this place was awesome – again we had a beautiful and peaceful night . . . travel conditions were downright excellent (nice soft, but consolidated and lightly vegetated river bar), with a warm breeze, and markedly different scenery than that we’d seen earlier in the day!

Umm, that looks like a lovely couloir!!! Let’s go ski it someday πŸ™‚
Flood Creek and the toe of the Russell Glacier . . . yet another lovely place to camp!

And another beautiful day in which to continue our journey πŸ™‚

. . . and then the camera died. In some ways, it’s incredibly tragic not to have the remainder of the trip documented . . . in others, it’s amazing that the mind-blowing sights and experiences will exist only in the vibrance of our memories.


In a nutshell, we spent day 3 crossing Flood Creek (we chose to inflate one boat and ferry loads/people across the lake at the toe) and hiking up the moraine of Russel Glacier past lower and upper Skolai Lakes and over Skolai Pass. We checked out the cabin and then headed up and over Chitistone Pass (words cannot describe this place . . . caribou on one side of the valley, goats on the other, amazingly bright greens and flowers, glaciers, waterfalls, and a beautiful trail from which to see it all!). We made it part way down the Chitistone River along the Goat Trail before eventually making camp on a decidedly un-flat (but as flat as we were going to find on the Goat Trail!) place at dark.


On day 4, we completed the Goat Trail, passed Chitistone Falls and the Chitistone Gorge (I also lack words to do this place justice) and found the super-sonic trail through the bushes to the river. This was amazing – alder bashing minimization is always amazing! Even without the trail, it’s only 45-60min of suffering, which is totally worth it for the amazing experience of the Chitistone. Our Chitistone crossing was festive, to say the least. The river was cranking when we got there, and it was difficult to find a good line across. We did select one, and I went first, breathing a sigh of relief when I made it to the the eddy. Chrissy got swept a little past the eddy and hit a big packraft-eating hole and went for a swim. Like a champion, she held on to her boat and paddle, but unfortunately ended up back on the same side, about 1/2 mile downriver. So, we opted to walk our respective sides (after yelling back/forth across the raging river, getting about every 5th word!) about 1 mile upstream to where the river was supposed to be mellower. In retrospect, we shouldn’t have even bothered with our first crossing since it was soooooo much more straightforward upriver (read: class 1-2 instead of 3-4, with many more eddies and much less gradient). With the time spent on the crossing, and the fact that we had the time and food to extend, we took the rush out of the afternoon and decided to walk to Glacier Creek, but not to even try the float out until morning. So, down the Chitistone we went . . . it was intriguing to watch the river and I’d love to try and do this trip again, paddling the whole river, but it was more than we were looking for on this trip, to be sure! The river walking wasn’t bad either, and there is a nice trail on the shwackfest section . . . . not to mention that the area is simply stunning. I continued to be blown away by the splendor on this trip – I was expecting it to be cool, but not like it was. The relief in those mountains is Himalaya-esque and is terrifying and peaceful at once. We were again blessed with perfect weather as well, making it that much more special. We camped along the shore, wondering how the river might change by morning and what the packrafting would be like . . .


Morning brought lower river levels, so into the boats we went! We knew there’d be some holes to avoid and Class II features that could still create excitement with the bigger water we had, but the paddling was pretty fun and straightforward . . . and so much more efficient than walking down the river!!! Major props to Chrissy for overcoming her fear from the previous day’s swim and paddling super strong into the Nizina and to the take out. The Nizina confluence was pretty channeled and gave us our fill of butt-boating, and then straighforward big-water floating to the road . . . it was pretty crazy to be in that big of a river in such a small boat, but super cool at the same time. It sounded like Rice Krispies as the rocks below us were being moved downriver, and the hydraulics and river-reading stayed engaging ’til the end. The takeout is super nice, with the cross-river bridge an visible road to mark it . . . then 9.48 miles on road back to the Potato for post-trip burritos and coffee!!!


After our food, we opted to hit the road, figuring it’d be nice to have one recovery day before heading back to work, and realizing we probably woudl be fairly lazy the next day regardless! So, off we went . . .


Overall, it was a spectacular trip. I’d never done a trip with just one other woman and it was pretty unique to do so. We work super well together and have a great time while we’re at it. The route was straightforward, but still offered its surprises and challenges, as the Alaska wilderness always does. I had doubted if I felt like doing a wilderness trip, but being out there confirmed for me how much I love it, and how I had been missing it!



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  1. Robb says:

    you two are amazing! way to rock it.

  2. Thomas says:

    No megamid?
    Awesome trip. Our Crow Pass adventure was equally sunny, less smokey, and probably just as fun. I'm jealous (as usual) though; ours didn't require an airplane ride.

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