Monday, June 18, 2018

ADF&G Response Concerning Pack Llamas in Alaska

The  Alaska Department of Fish and Game's (ADF&G) June 11, 2018 letter states that ADF&G "has no intentions to promote or support limiting the use of South American camelids on public land in the state of Alaska." The ADF&G letter is in response to a May 3, 2018 letter by the Greater Appalachian Llama & Alpaca Association (on behalf of the North American llama industry) seeking clarification of ADF&G's role regarding the recently published "Risk Assessment on the Use of South American Camelids for Back Country Trekking in British Columbia" (RA).

This is very good news in light of concerns of disease (most recently M.ovi) potentially being transmitted from domestic animals to wild animal populations. See ADF&G Press Release for the latest - Alaska Caribou Death - ADF&G Press Release 

Visit for the most comprehensive information concerning llamas on public lands and a commentary by the North American llama industry. This website was developed to provide scientific information about pack llamas and perceived disease threats.

Note***  New developments will be posted on the blog ASAP, so stay informed by subscribing to email updates (upper right column).

Friday, June 1, 2018

Hiking Upper Ship Creek, Chugach State Park (Alaska)

Rendevous Ridge with view of Cook Inlet
If you want to get off the beaten path for a more wilderness experience close to Anchorage, take a hike in the Ship Creek drainage in Chugach State Park. To avoid snow and harsh weather in the passes and upper reaches, I generally hike there June through mid-September. My preferred access point is the South Fork trail head  (although there is access in Arctic Valley.) To get to the trail head, take the Eagle River Loop/Hiland Road exit off the Glenn Highway just past the weigh station. Turn right at the traffic light onto Hiland and continue about eight miles up the road. Take a right onto South Creek and follow it to West River Drive and take another right. The parking lot is on your left.

The trail starts out on a boardwalk for a short distance and then turns into a trail that traverses the right side of the South Fork valley as you head away from the parking area. (If you continue on the main trail, it eventually drops down to a bridge that crosses the South Fork of the Eagle River and continues to Eagle and Symphony Lakes at the end of the valley.) 

To access the Ship Creek drainage, continue ahead on the trail (past the main trail on the left that drops to the river.) This trail climbs steeply into a pass in a notch on the ridge above. Continue over the pass and descend into the Ship Creek drainage watching for the horse/game trail that heads up Ship Creek drainage (on your left.) (This route will take you into the upper reaches of Ship Creek if you choose to go that far.) We generally stay higher on the hills to avoid the brush choked areas closer to the river which can be difficult to negotiate. Once you are in the Ship Creek, drainage, the hiking possibilities are limitless. You can limit your outing to just a day hike or take an extended trek to the North Fork of Ship Creek and beyond. But don't expect signs, mileposts or even trails here, just enjoy the wilderness. 

You can find more detailed information on various hikes in Ship Creek and Arctic Valley in the books below. These are my "go-to" books and have a wealth of information on hiking in Southcentral Alaska and Chugach State Park. Both are available on Amazon at the links below.

50 Hikes in Alaska's Chugach State Park
55 Ways to the Wilderness in Southcentral Alaska

Camping in the North Fork of Ship Creek 

Llamas trekking on the ridges and benches above Ship Creek.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Do Llamas Attract Bears?

Yep, it's that time of year when the bears are "out and about" after their winter nap. When walking or hiking with the llamas I'm often asked "Do llamas attract bears?" Bears have been known to attack llamas but my experience has been that llamas don't attract bears anymore than any other pack stock or pets. Afraid of bears? There are far more dangerous things in the Alaska outdoors

In fact the llama's "alarm call" may act as a good deterrent for bears. Llamas are instinctively alert and aware of their surroundings, and usually draw attention to an intruder by making a startling "alarm call" when it senses danger. A llama is usually aware of a bear long before we can see or hear it and will let off their "alarm call" when the unwanted intruder is around. Click on the hyperlink to hear what a llama alarm call sounds like - Llama Alarm Call

However, I would not recommend leaving llamas tied out unattended while camping. In that situation llamas would not be able to defend themselves from predators such as bears or even an aggressive dog. There are both brown and black bears in the Anchorage area and our neighborhood (in Eagle River) is no exception. We have used an electric fence for many years that works well to keep the bears and other predators away.

And of course hikers and walkers should always be "bear aware" when out for walks in the woods with or without llamas and take some type of bear deterrent. This ADN article provides helpful information on how to effectively use bear spray. How to Use Bear Spray Effectively.  

Of course the debate goes on as to which is more effective against a bear - a gun or bear spray. Here's an interesting article on the effectiveness of bear spray - The Cold Hard Facts of Bear Deterrents: Bear Spray vs Firearms

Below are several brands of top rated bear spray available on Amazon if you choose that option-
FRONTIERSMAN Bear Spray - Maximum Strength & Maximum Range - 30 Feet (7.9 oz)
Counter Assault CA-18H/SB Bear Deterrent Pepper Spray with Holster, 10.2-Ounce

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game website has some good tips on bear safety when traveling in bear country- The Essentials for Traveling in Alaska's Bear Country.

 Fast Facts for the Field

  • Make noise so you don't surprise a bear. Stay alert and look for signs of bears.
  • Never approach or crowd bears; respect their "personal space."
  • Keep food, garbage and other attractants out of reach of bears.
  • Stay calm during a bear encounter, talk and wave your arms. Don't run.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Lower Eagle River Trail or River Woods Trail

Boardwalks in the pond area.
The lower Eagle River trail also known as (AKA) River Woods Trail runs along the Eagle River in Chugach State Park and is often overlooked. However, it's an easy walk that offers convenient access for those in the Anchorage area looking for a short hike, nice views of surrounding mountains and a chance to see some wildlife. The trailhead can be accessed from the south side of the Briggs Bridge off the Eagle River Loop Road where there is pubic parking and a boat launch. For directions and more specific information about the trail and how to access parking /trailhead, see "River Woods Trail and South Fork Falls"pages  85-86 in
50 Hikes in Alaska's Chugach State Park

From the Briggs Bridge access, the lower Eagle River trail goes east for about two miles through birch and spruce forest over relatively flat terrain w. The old section of trail skirting the private land has been improved over the years and is now clearly marked. (See photo on left.)  Boardwalks have been added to a marshy section next to the Swan Pond. Remains of charred trees and scorched ground remind us of the wildfire that burned about 25 acres in this area over the Memorial day weekend in 2016.  More info on the May 2016 wildfire at this link - Hiland Road Wildfire. 

May 2016 Burn Area
Before the trail reaches the South Fork, a trail to the left cuts through the woods and takes the hiker to the confluence of the South Fork and Eagle River. If you walk a short distance beyond the trail to the left, you will reach the South Fork itself. The bridge across the South Fork is long gone so you will have to ford the stream if you want to pick up the trail on the other side and continue to Barbara Falls, AKA South Fork Falls.

Since our destination today was the Eagle River, we took the trail to the left. It's a short hike (maybe 1/4 mile) from here to the Eagle River. When salmon are in the river be particularly "bear aware" along this stretch as you could surprise a bear due to river noise. At the confluence, there is a grassy area and exposed gravel bar where you can take a break and enjoy views of the river and surrounding mountains. The trail is open to biking as well as hiking so it's not unusual to see fat tire bikes on the trail. It is also common to see rafts and kayaks floating by on the Eagle River at this location.
Llama gazing at moose in pond.
Pack rafters on floating the Eagle River

Update on trail conditions as of June 20th (2018).  The trail is mostly dry now with only a few wet spots remaining. However, if you want to continue to Barbara Falls from here, fording at the former bridge site on the South Fork is no longer doable due to high water levels. The river was too muddy to see salmon but the kings are likely in the river now, so be vigilant of bears.

Amazon disclosure