Sunday, August 17, 2014

Alaska to Seattle

After my St. Elias mountaineering trip I was met by longtime Coast Guard buddy Trevor Clark. Much like Jason, Trevor is the type to join any adventure at the drop of a hat (he climbed Mt. Fuji on a 24 hr layover in Tokyo). Our plan was to road trip thru Canada and enjoy the sights while leaving enough time for climbing something toward the end. So we had to put in a couple long days behind the wheel off the get-go to give us the time to slow down later.

On our first evening we drove the Taylor/"Top of the World" Highway. Beautiful sunset views of the foothills of the Alaska Range really did make us feel "top of the world." Regrettably the US/CAN border was closed so we just had to camp along the side of the road and wait for customs to open in the morning.

Top of the World Highway. Credit Trevor Clark
It was a short drive from the border to Dawson City in the Yukon Territory. There is a free ferry that takes you across the mighty Yukon River.

Yukon River ferry. Credit Trevor Clark
Talk about a gold rush - Dawson City went from 0 to 30,000 people in 1898. It still has a great frontier vibe, complete with dirt streets and wooden sidewalks. We toured the museum and the Robert Service and Jack London cabins before hitting the road.

Downtown Dawson City. Credit Trevor Clark
Robert Service Cabin. Credit Trevor Clark
We overnighted in Whitehorse and had the best beer of my time in the North. Thank you Yukon Brewing. The "Midnight Sun" Espresso Stout was quite interesting, perhaps even acceptable for breakfast??? We opted to drive on the Cassiar Highway vice the more famous AL-CAN. It was more remote, less trafficked, scenic, and more direct to Seattle.

Cassiar Highway. Credit Trevor Clark
British Columbia has a great network of Provincial Parks. Kinaskan Lake was one of our favorites.

Kinaskan Lake Park. Credit Trevor Clark
I took advantage of the lakefront campsite to break out my Alaskan souvenir - a one man, packable, 5 pound inflatable raft - for its first test drive. They are really popular in Alaska and as soon as I found out about them I immediately became intrigued. The ability to carry a raft opens up many adventure possibilities - watercourses go from obstacle to superhighway while on foot. We'll see if I can't help promote "pack rafting" in the lower 48.

Packrafting. Credit Trevor Clark
Things subtlety changed once the Cassiar Highway met the Yellowhead Highway. You could feel that we were no longer in "the North." Towns were larger and closer together. Traffic picked up. Prices dropped. It was still quite scenic and an enjoyable drive, but I quickly started to miss the massive wilderness expanses of the Last Frontier. I guess that just means I'll have to plan a return trip.

We continued thru Smithers (quaint) and Whistler (pricy). A map reading snafu (and poor Canadian highway design) caused me to end up in downtown Vancouver during morning rush hour. Not fun. There was a substantial wait to cross the border back into the US. Trevor and I joked about the need for a "returning US citizens" express line, complete with confetti, the Star Spangled Banner on perpetual repeat, and a flock of screeching bald eagles to welcome us back to the Motherland. All we got was a curt nod, but we were still happy to return to the land of miles per hour and gallons. Driving for days on the speedometer's less obvious kph markings and doing two calculations at the gas station (one for L/gal and the other for US/CAN currency) to determine how bad I was getting ripped off was annoying.

We drove sufficiently fast to have 3 days for climbing at the end of our trip. We originally wanted to do something in British Columbia but limited information and subpar conditions led us to pick an objective in North Cascades National Park. Fresh off my mountaineering trip, I offered to lead up the West Ridge of Forbidden Peak, a classic alpine climb (with a sweet name!).

Forbidden Peak. Credit Trevor Clark
We overpacked and had a quad crushing approach hike up an insanely steep and eroded trail. We set up camp, made dinner, and then quickly went to sleep in anticipation of our early wake up for the climb itself.

Trevor crossing stream
Sunset from high camp. Credit Trevor Clark
We had to cross a small glacier, ascend a drippy rock and snow gully, and then had solid and straightforward but exposed climbing along the ridge itself. The summit photos were lackluster due to a large forest fire in eastern Washington that filled the Cascade range with smoky haze.

Early morning over Boston Basin. Credit Trevor Clark
Glacier snowbridge. Credit Trevor Clark
Summit break. Credit Trevor Clark
The guidebooks were absolutely on point when they suggested that "there is no easy way off Forbidden Peak." Between numerous rappels and technical down climbing the descent took just as long as the climbing. It didn't help matters that an evening thunderstorm rolled in. A mountain ridge top is not where you want to be when lighting strikes.

Trevor on rappel
Matt on rappel. Credit Trevor Clark
The storm approaches!
The following morning we packed up and returned down the same steep trail. Descending punishes the knees and joints more than your muscles and there's not a lot you can do about it. We rinsed the sweat and dust off in an icy river and headed for Seattle.

I dropped Trevor off at the airport. Ever the adventurer, he planned our road trip to coincide with a bid up Mt. Rainier with some other friends of his. As of this writing, he told me that they made it. Congrats buddy, third time's the charm.

Happy to have survived the thunderstorm. Thanks for road tripping and best of luck at Georgia Tech
My plan is to hang around the Seattle area for a few weeks, enjoying the great Northwest summer and taking time to sail, hike, climb, and visit with friends.

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