Getting There and Week 1: June 14 – 22, 2014

Hello from Alaska!  We are absolutely loving it here!  The views are amazing, the animal watching is superb, our cabin is sweeeeeeet, the weather has been mostly good, and the mosquitos have there fits.  We never had a chance to post after our first week in the backcountry, since we came to the frontcountry for supplies and headed right back the next morning… just because it is so nice!  This time we decided to stay out a day so that we could do some researching on areas we want to visit on future days off.   So here begins a recap of our first week…

Note: If you click on the pictures, you can see a larger version of them, and can also scroll through all of them.

Saturday, June 14th

After packing gear, getting up at 3:00AM to get a 3:30AM ride to the Philly airport  (which we are very grateful for!), we had a very long day of travel.   Philly to Houston to Anchorage.  We finally arrived in “The Last Frontier” at 7:30PM local time.

ALL of those chords are ours! :o)

Two of the guys from the Denali Trail Crew picked us up. On our way to Nancy Lake State Recreation Area, we stopped for supplies and it was already 11:30PM, …. yeah that is 3:30AM back in good ol’ PA… yup…. over 24 hours after we woke up.  After meeting Ranger Drew right before his shift ended, we headed into our frontcountry home for the summer… the loft of the A-frame cabin… aka the “Ritz Carlton.”  Talk about mental confusion/jet lag…. it was still sunny out and after midnight!

Sunday, June 15th

After coffee and organizing our gear in the A-frame, we had a day of training with Park Specialist Vic.  Videos (bear safety, cold water boating safety, boating safety, how to properly drive a state vehicle) and a driving test…. we can’t forget there was also chocolate cake thanks to Vic’s wife!  The remainder of the day we spent with Drew, driving around the park, checking out a few campgrounds and fishing areas, as well as chasing down some rogue ATV’ers. In the evening, we drove to Wasilla (about a 30 minute drive) for groceries to take with us to our backcountry cabin.

Monday, June 16th

After final gear organization and preparation, Drew drove us to our quickest   and not the most easily accessible approach to our cabin, since it would be our first trip in… normally we would paddle from a more vehicle friendly area on Tanaina Lake.  Two miles of highway and six miles of dirt road brought us to the Lynx Lake Boat Launch area. We dropped our canoe, checked out the PUC’s (public use cabins) nearby, ate some lunch, then said goodbye to Drew, and started paddling through light rain towards Butterfly Lake at about 1:30PM.

We quickly learned that portaging is tiring, muck boots are amazing (except when you slip and water goes higher than your boot…) and we would be having so great views of mountains once the clouds cleared. Around 3:30PM we arrived at our cabin.  It is an awesome cabin!

So, some of you who are reading this might think we are crazy when we say something that has no running water or electricity is awesome… but… it is!   We have a propane stove/oven to cook with, a wood stove to heat up the place when it is chilly, lots of space, beautiful views, and a bed to sleep in every night…. much better accommodations that we normally have during most of our summer adventures!  After we unpacked, organized our gear, and ate, we spent the remainder of our evening relaxing before heading to bed.

“Bear Mat”

Tuesday, June 17th

Eager to check out our surroundings, we woke up around 6:00AM, had breakfast and percolated coffee (we were pretty stoked to find the percolator) and were out the door shortly after 7:00.  We spent the morning clearing portages between Butterfly Lake and Skeetna Lake and also between Skeetna Lake the the Little Su River, as well as finding and checking on the camping area on Skeetna Lake.   Portages are trails that you have to carry your canoe/kayak along to get between lakes that are not connected by water.  They can range from very short to very long;  our longest so far has been around 0.75 miles long…. more on THAT later!

When we are working on clearing a portages, we are cutting back trees and brush that are crowding the trail, as well cutting and moving any trees that have fallen on the trail.   It is quite a bit of work, especially considering we only have hand tools to use since we couldn’t be here for the chainsaw safety course in May.   After several hours of work, which did not get us to where the trail met the Little Su, we headed back to the cabin for lunch.  We would tackle this section, which was getting pretty heavily covered with fallen spruce trees, another day with (hopefully) some beefier tools!

In the afternoon, we were heading to check the permits on the boats in the launch area near our cabin, when a man and his young daughter appeared through the trees.  They are our nearest “neighbors” and stopped by to introduce themselves.  Before Nancy Lake State Recreation Area came into existence,  several families owned land and/or cabins within the area, so within the park boundaries there are several areas of private property; David(the neighbor) owns one of them and is in the process of building a cabin.  As we talked, a pair of bald eagles flew overhead,  what an awesome sight!  After exchanging contact information, he and his daughter began their 2 mile hike to their car, and we headed over the check out the boat launch.  After paddling back through choppy water to our cabin, we made dinner and spent the remainder of the evening relaxing.  We decided we would paddle up to Lynx Lake tomorrow, paddle the Lynx Lake Loop, and check on the four PUC’s and 4 camping areas that are along the loop.  We knew it would be a loooong day!

“Bathroom” Safety

“How bad are the mosquitoes?” was a frequent question asked of us before we left for Alaska.  They were mildly aggravating at the ranger station, but honestly, at our cabin they are not bad… so far!  We hope it stays that way, but came prepared anyways!  Something we brought along was a bug net to hang over our bed.  So before we tucked in for the night, we got it hung, since even the occasional mosquito squealing in your ear at night or biting your forehead can be quite annoying!

Wednesday, June 18th

We rolled out of bed at 6:00AM.  We knew we had lots of ground to cover…. but is wasn’t like we were going to run out of daylight (the most it gets to right now is “dusk-like” at around 3:00AM).  All in all, we covered 16 lakes, 4 ponds, 18 portages that required us to carry the canoe, and 4 portages that we could float through.  It was a great way to see a large section of the park, get all the cabins and camping areas cleaned up, and was quite enjoyable, though tiring! The worst/most tiring section was the portage from Little No Luck Lake to Tanaina Lake.  This section brought much grumbling and questions such as “Why do we have a canoe in the middle of a meadow???” and “Who takes their 16ft aluminum canoe for a hike???”  This section was around 0.75 miles long with a small pond to float in the middle for a few hundred feet.  All in all it took 41 minutes to portage, a time we will most likely beat next time.   It’s only saving grace was that it was flat and didn’t really require any uphill or downhill “canoe-hiking”.

At 6:30PM, we were back in our cabin… 11.5 hours after we left.  We may have been tired, we may have paddled into the wind allllll day, but we had a fantastic day!  We cooked up some grub, and relaxed on comfy seats (perhaps napping a bit…) until bedtime.   We had to stay semi-cognisant until 9:00PM since that is the end of the last of our four hour long radio monitoring times of the day.  One of our issued pieces of gear is a radio that we can communicate with the rangers and other park personnel.  We have four designated times during the day that we are supposed to have it on so that we can monitor the airways incase there is any information that we may find useful or need.  Over and out.  Butterfly Host clear.

Thursday, June 19th

After a tiring day yesterday, we decided to take it easier and stay in on Butterfly Lake.  Coffee, reading, phone calls home, cleaning, and rearranging furniture is how we spent the morning.  Yes, you read phone calls.  Surprisingly there is great cell phone service (4G LTE even!) at our cabin, but only on Alex’s phone.  This doesn’t mean we are sitting around texting and facebooking all day… remember there is no electricity!  However, we do have a small solar charger with us that helps us keep things charged in case we really need them.

We didn’t bring our fishing gear with us this time out, but we found a rod in the cabin, so Dave worked on making a reel for it with some odds and ends from around the cabin.  When complete, we headed out to the lake the explore and see if anything would bite our line.

No fish were caught, but we did get to see our first local moose and snapped a few pictures before it ran back into the woods.  We also discovered that there were clams in the lake (later we found out they are actually a type of mussel).  This kept us quite amused for an unknown amount of time (well over an hour), with Alex spying them and guiding the boat to them, while Dave leaned into the shallowish water to pluck them out.  After collecting a bunch and confirming their edibility, we headed back to cook them up with dinner.  They were not exactly the tastiest things, but we didn’t have the best means of seasoning them, so back to the water most of them went.

Later in the evening, Dave awkwardly stands and says “There is a moose RIGHT outside the window.” Alex, skeptical, thinks he is joking, but then sees that there IS a moose no more than 5 feet away from the window.  After a Moose-Dave stare down, the moose is startled by Alex’s movement for a camera, and runs a few feet further away, and stands there chomping plants long enough for Alex to snap a few pictures before it (and the calf we did not initially see closer to the water) run away through the woods.   SOOOOO AWESOME!!!!

Friday, June 20th

After a morning of coffee and reading, which has become our routine, we headed out to work on clearing the portage from Butterfly Lake to Buckley Lake.  We think this is the worst portage we have encountered, and of course it is the one that we have to use to go anywhere!  It is kind of long, and VERY muddy, stumpy, and rooty on the Butterfly Lake side.  Those are not things we can really improve right now without wood planks, but we worked on clearing the brush.

Unfortunately, Dave almost immediately broke the loppers, our prized tool!  So sad.  We finished clearing the trail with our hand and bow saws before portaging the canoe and paddling around Buckley Lake, getting a closer look at the birds on the island in the middle.

We worked on the portage to Candlestick Lake before heading back to the cabin.  It was a good feeling know that the canoe was getting easier to carry and the portages with it were going faster, and feeling less tiring.

Dave cheerfully (no really, he loves it!) splitting some wood.

The evening was beautiful, so we decided to head back out on to Butterfly Lake to enjoy it.  We knew that the neighbor we had met the other day was supposed to be working on his cabin and had invited us over, so we headed over that way.  We met his wife and kids, saw the start of his cabin, and checked out WHALE LAKE, which sits behind his cabin.  We headed back to our cabin as a storm approached.

Whale Lake

We could tell the weekend was arriving, the lake had become busier and livelier as the day progressed.  We enjoyed the quiet lake we had experienced so far this week, but we knew it wouldn’t last!

Saturday, June 21st
We awoke to heavy rain, so we lingered in bed longer than normal, then spent the morning drinking coffee and reading in front of a nice fire.  After the rain cleared, we walked the Butterfly Lake Trail, which is a 2 mile trail to a parking area that is used by private property owners to get to their boats on Butterfly Lake.  We wanted to acquaint ourselves with the trail incase we ever needed to use it, but also to make our “backcountry host” presence known and check to see if there has been an ATV use on the trail, which is against the park regulations and been the headache of the state park.

After an easy hike in and out, we worked on replacing the torn screen in the door to the cabin.  We thought this task would have to wait until we could get a new piece of screen, but Dave found a piece in our shed.  Woohoo! Fresh air and no skeeters getting in! We spent the remainder of the evening enjoying the cabin that is our home for the summer!

 Before and After

Sunday, June 22nd

After our usual morning of coffee and reading, we packed up to paddle to Tanaina Lake where Vic would pick us up and drive us back to the Ranger Station.  Other than a wet boot for Alex after slipping on a wet board early in the day, and the ever present wind in the WRONG direction, the day went well and we made it in under four hours.  After spending some time talking with Drew, Vic, and Maxine (the host of Red Shirt Lake) we took some much needed showers, started the laundry, and headed to Wasilla for food for the next week.  Though we technically get two days off in the front country, we wanted to head back to Butterfly Lake the next morning since it is so nice out there.

While in Wasilla, we stocked up on more food that was really needed for one week, just so we could have it at the station.  We wouldn’t take it ALL out tomorrow… that would be a lot of weight to carry.  Alex knew that what we were saying now, was not what would actually happen…. all of that food was going to wind up traveling with us tomorrow.   It turned into a late night quickly, and we still had not eaten dinner, so we grabbed a pizza that we would bake back at the station while we prepped our gear for the next day.

(Northern and) Western Extravaganza 4…. Alaskan Extravaganza…. Summer Extravaganza….???

Happy June!  We have had many complaints over the last couple of months that we left you all hanging, wondering if we ever made it out of Madison, WI.  Well, yes we did.  We made it home to PA, settled back into the “real world,” and began the school year.  So there you have it… Western Extravaganza III is officially wrapped up!

Now, on to this summer…

Summer feels so close for Alex (2 more weeks until school is officially done for the year) and Dave has already felt the joy of summer, since he wrapped up his school year this past Friday.  Dave’s summer has REALLY started, as he flew out to Boise, ID, on Friday night to spend a week adventuring with Doug (as seen in Western Extravaganza Part I, II, and III), who has been traveling with his siblings, Carrie and Nick, for about a week.

This year, we decided to do something different… not that we ran out of things to do out west… we have FAR from reached that!  We decided that we wanted to spend this summer doing some sort of volunteer program in the outdoors.  We searched and applied to several different positions, from maintenance crews on the Appalachian Trail, to tracking wolves in Montana, but Alaska is where we had our hopes held!  Our hopes were fulfilled!  After Alex wraps up her year on Friday, June 13th, we will hop on a plane the next day headed for Alaska!

We will be working out of a backcountry cabin on Butterfly Lake in Nancy Lake State State Recreation Area.  Contrary to popular belief, a cabin does NOT mean running water and electricity… but we are fine with that since we don’t have those things when we are out backpacking anyways!  On our days off we will have a space to sleep, shower, and do laundry back at the main ranger station…. so don’t worry we won’t be dirty and smelly all of the time :o)  Our main tasks will be to maintain the backcountry campsites and public use cabin, as well as be a point of contact for visitors.

We will try to use the blog to keep you updated, but posts will be more sporadic this year.

Here are some local pictures the ranger we will be working with shared with us…