Thursday, November 15, 2018

Lower Eagle River Trail or River Woods Trail

Boardwalks in the pond are
The lower Eagle River trail (also called the River Woods Trail) runs along the Eagle River in Chugach State Park and can be hiked all times of the year including winter. Often overlooked, it's just minutes from downtown Eagle River. It's an easy walk that offers convenient access with intermittent views of surrounding mountains and opportunity for wildlife viewing. 

Due to current icy conditions, you may want to consider wearing a footwear traction device. After years of "trial and error," here are my recommendations which are available on Amazon.

Kahtoola MICROspikes (above) are a bit pricy but worth it because (1) they stay on your boots better than other (cheaper) cleats and (2) they work well in most icy conditions.

Hillsound Trail Crampon Traction Device, Black, Medium
In extremely icy conditions, these are the best cleats I have found. They are more aggressive than the MICROspikes, but are still comfortable for walking/hiking.

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. More details about the hike itself, as well as specific directions, parking and trailhead access can be found in these books available at Amazon at the links below.

50 Hikes in Alaska's Chugach State Park.
Best Hikes Near Anchorage (Best Hikes Near Series)

From the Briggs Bridge access, the lower Eagle River trail goes east for through birch and spruce forest over relatively flat terrain. 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
In about 3 miles the trail reaches the South Fork stream.  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, also called 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 the swan pond.

Pack rafters floating the Eagle River

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Eagle River Nature Center to Heritage Falls

The Historic Iditarod (aka Crow Pass) Trail which spans the Girdwood Valley to Eagle River is considered one of the best trails to hike in the Chugach mountain range and offers diverse scenic sights including glaciers, waterfalls, wildlife. It’s not only a great hiking/backpacking route, but it's also a historic portion of the Iditarod Trail that led from Seward to mines in the Interior. A bit of trivia not known by many is that this trail was rebuilt in the 1970s with girl scout labor.

If you elect to hike the entire 23 mile trail you can start from either Girdwood or the Eagle River Nature Center (ERNC); however, most hikers start from Girdwood because there is less elevation gain from this direction. The Elevation Gain is 2,100 feet from Crow Creek trailhead; and 3,100 feet from Eagle River Nature Center. For more info on the entire 23 mile traverse, see this link - Guide to Crow Pass Trail

There are a number of hiking options from the Eagle River Nature Center (ERNC) parking lot. You can hike the entire 23 mile traverse, hike portions of the trail (as I often do) or take one of a number of other (shorter) trails that start from the ERNC. Follow this link for more info on these shorter trails: Eagle River Nature Center Trails.

One of my favorite sections is the trail from the ERNC to Heritage Falls (which is the topic of this blog post today). It's about a 10.5 miles round trip from the ERNC and makes for a nice day hike. The trail from the Nature Center to the Perch (mile 4) and then on to Heritage Falls (mile 5) can usually be hiked all times of the year. (Note: this is not true of the Cross Pass end where avalanche danger is a concern during the winter months.

From the ERNC, this section of trail meanders through the woods until it meets up with the Eagle River at Echo Bend (mile 3) where it generally follows the river from this point foreward. At about mile 1.2 the hiker gets a first glimpse of the Eagle River at the Rapids Camp.  It's not uncommon to see moose, sheep, goats and bear on your way to Heritage Falls depending on what time of year you are hiking. During the fall, you have the added bonus of stunning fall colors.

During the winter months when the river is frozen, the hiker can alternate between the river the trail. I usually hike the river from Echo Bend (when frozen) to the Perch, and then get back on to the trail and hike to Heritage Falls. The trail from the Perch to Heritage Falls is more direct than following the river on this section.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Let's Go Hiking!

Warning: if you're looking for motivation to get into shape, this is probably not the article for you.
"I had this aha moment while hiking the other day. Aha moments while hiking are usually great, and occasionally even life changing. Sometimes hiking helps me get crystal clear on what I want for dinner. Other times, step by step I chart different paths forward in my life through difficult circumstances. Hiking is cathartic. But what I realized this time is that hiking is also difficult. It always has been, and so I suppose it always will be."  

Read the entire article at this link. Steep climbs, profuse sweat, plodding pace — let’s go hiking!
If you're still motivated to hike, you'll need good hiking footwear.  You may want to checkout my footwear recommendations below.

My favorite boots are the Zamberlan Vioz GT Hiking Boots.  They come in men's and women's and I have tried both. I have a narrow to average heel, but need more room in the toe box. I find these boots have enough room in the toe box but fit well in the heel. I also find I need a waterproof boot in Alaska and have used these boots in all seasons including winter for years and they have never let me down. Zamberlan Vioz Gortex hiking boots can be ordered from Amazon at the links below.

What I like about them:
-good fit
-waterproof with a gortex liner
-good support without being too stiff or heavy
-no break-in needed right out of the box and no blisters
-all leather construction for better wear
-good traction

Zamberlan Women's 996 Vioz GT Hiking Boot,Dark Brown,39 M EU/7 M US
Zamberlan VIOZ GTX Backpacking Boot - Wide - Men's Dark Grey/Red, 10.5

INSOLES are also an importance piece of equipment to have in your outdoor equipment arsenal. They can breathe new life into an old pair of boots, but I also use them in new boots.I have tried many types of insoles over the years, and have found Superfeet to be the best. I use the orange (men's) or berry (women's) Superfeet because they have some cushioning as well as a good heel cup.
Superfeet - Women's Berry

For more gear recommendations, check the "Pages" section on this blog (right side.)

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Symphony Lake - Ship Creek Loop

This hike through the beautiful South Fork Valley and over the mountains into Ship Creek offers stunning views of alpine lakes (Eagle and Symphony), tarns and valleys surrounded by rugged, glaciated mountains. During September you will have the added bonus of vibrant fall colors.

To get there, take the trail to Eagle and Symphony Lakes from the South Fork trailhead parking lot. Specific directions for the trailhead and hike to Eagle and Symphony Lakes can be found in either book (available at Amazon through the links below.)

Proceed to the west side of Symphony Lake where there are several camping spots if you decide to camp here for the night. Once on the southwest side of Symphony Lake, look to the mountains directly west for a broad mostly tundra slope with a saddle at the top. After a 1600 foot climb you will reach the saddle where you can see the North Fork of Ship Creek. At this point you can either drop about halfway down to Ship Creek to find an old horse trail. Follow the horse/animal trail to Rendezvous Pass where you will climb over into the South Fork. Once over the pass, the trail will take you back to the parking lot.

The other option is to turn northwest to follow the ridge(s) and eventually drop down into the South Fork Valley. Depending on where you drop from the ridge, you should eventually intersect with the trail to the South Fork trailhead parking lot where you started. This is a hike for clear weather as you will need to have good visibility to see the route on the ridges. There are a number of ways to go. You will need to be adept at route finding and navigation as there are no trails on the ridge. The horse trail below is badly overgrown in areas and very difficult to follow. Happy Trails!

More photos at  Alaska Llamas Facebook Post - Symphony-Ship Creek Loop

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Moose Summer Sausage

Llamas are great for backpacking but can also do the heavy lifting when packing out a moose.

Pack Llamas Are The Ultimate Backcountry Hunting Weapon

If you are fortunate enough to have some moose meat (or any wild game) in your freezer, here's a great recipe for making summer sausage. 

Homemade Summer Sausage Recipe for Moose or Wild Game 

(This recipe makes 66 lbs. of sausage) Enjoy!

Prepare a very large mixing basin. You will need a very large container to properly mix ingredients with a minimum of effort! ( Our largest cooler provides the necessary volume.)

Grind 25 lbs of wild game. (We use moose or deer.)

Add 8 lbs of ground pork.

Add summer sausage mix. We use Excalibur Summer Sausage seasoning mix (product code 0300010 available from Alaska Butcher Supply.) This seasoning weighs 1.4375 lbs and is supposed to mix with 25 lbs of meat. However, to reduce salt, we prefer to add it to 33 lbs of meat which doesn't seem to compromise the taste. There are other seasoning mixes that will work. 

Add 1 to 1.5 pounds of grated cheese (optional).

Add the desired amount of jalapenos (optional). We add 1 pint of jalapenos to 33 lbs of meat. Add more if you like it hot.

Mix all of the above.

Mix Excalibur Sure Cure (1 oz. net weight which comes with the seasoning) with 16 ounces of cold water. Then add this to the meat, mixing everything well.

Add another 16 ozs. of cold water and mix again. (Note: Total of 1 quart of cold water has now been added to the meat).

Grind again.

Soak fiber casings (see type and size below) in very warm water for 10 or 20 minutes.

Stuff the meat (use vertical crank style stuffer) into 2" or 2.5” diameter by 20” long perforated fiber casings available from a butcher supply (or Amazon at link below.) Each casing will hold about 3.7 lbs of meat so about 10 casings of this size are needed for the 33 lbs of meat. (Depending on how much cheese you add, you may need an extra casing.) The perforations in the casing are almost imperceptible until the meat is stuffed when tiny amounts of meat squeeze through the holes.

Mahogany Fibrous Casings - 2 1/2" x 20" (10 Count)

UMAi Dry Stuff TUFF 2 in. x 18 in. Fibrous Non-Edible Summer Sausage Casings

Another casing option size is 1.5” x 20”. Two of these casings hold a little more meat than one of the 2.5” casings. Now you are ready to stuff the casing with sausage. To secure stuffed casings use hog ring pliers and squeeze rings hard (rotate, get another grip, squeeze again). We use 5/8” hog rings (distributed by The SausageMaker Inc, Buffalo, NY). However, it seems ½” hog rings would work as 5/8 are plenty long.

Once the casings are stuffed with sausage, put them in the refrigerator. It's best to let them sit for 8 hours or so under refrigeration as part of the curing process. Some recipes suggest they should not be in the fridge for more than 24 hours. (We have left them in the fridge for up to 36 hours with no harm.)

It's important to warm stuffed casings to room temperature before placing them in the oven. If you must put cold sausages in the oven, you can warm them by leaving the door cracked for an hour at 200F.

Put the sausages on parchment paper on the racks in the oven with foil covering the drip pan underneath. If done properly grease drippings should be minimal. Don’t overload the oven – 25 lbs of sausage is about maximum or the sausage casings will touch the side of the oven and burn.

Heat the oven to 200 degrees and close the door. The objective is to get the sausage up to a minimum of 155 degrees F as measured with a meat thermometer. If there is a full load of sausage in the oven, this can take a long time. To expedite the process, after 2 hours at 200 F, raise the temperature to 230 F for 3 hours and then raise the temperature again to 250 F for 2-3 hours to get the sausage done in about 7-8 hours total.  If you prefer to cook the sausage overnight, keep the oven at 200 F. (Note: these temps and times are highly variable depending on the amount of meat in the oven etc.)

After removing the sausage from the oven wait 20 minutes and spray or submerge the sausage in cold water for a short time. Then allow the sausage to cool for another hour or so before putting in the refrigerator and/or before packaging for freezing.

To clean up, we take the cooler,stuffer, grinder, etc. outdoors and blast everything off with a hot water hose with spray nozzle. This makes cleanup very quick and easy. The magpies will appreciate it! Enjoy your sausage!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Williwaw Lakes and Long Lake - Chugach State Park, Alaska

Walrus Lake (Uppermost Williwaw Lake)
The hike to Williwaw Lakes is one of my favorites in Alaska's Chugach State Park. This trek which is a short drive from  downtown Anchorage, offers a variety of options including day hikes, overnight or multiday adventures, In the winter, it is also popular ski trail. The lakes are alpine jewels situated in a mountainous valley above Anchorage at the base of craggy Mount Williwaw (elev. 5,445 ft.). The trek to the lakes takes the hiker through alpine tundra amid a variety of alpine flowers, grassy meadows and scrub hemlock. The pristine lakes offer the hiker an alpine paradise with spectacular views of surrounding mountains with the added bonus of wildlife viewing of dall sheep, moose, coyotes, fox, and various waterfowl. There are plenty of camping opportunities around the Williwaw lakes.

Saddle SE of Near Pt.
There are several ways to access the lakes. For the more gentle but longer route, take the Middle Fork Trail from the Prospect Heights Parking lot. For a shorter but more rugged trail option, start from the Glen Alps trailhead/parking lot to connect with the Williwaw Lake Trail via the Ball Park. For more detailed information on the trails, driving directions to trailheads, and maps refer to the following books. (Both are available on Amazon at the links below.)

The Loop/Traverse to Long Lake
From the pass above Walrus Lake (upper most Williwaw Lake) you can opt for a longer (possibly two day trip) to Long Lake and the valley of the North Fork of Campbell Creek. By the way "Williwaw" means “very windy” so be prepared for high winds, and secure your tent well (if camping.) The weather can change quickly and drastically at these elevations. I have also encountered very windy, wet and wintery conditions while camping around Long Lake in late summer. It is best to do this traverse June through August if you want to avoid adverse weather.

To make the traverse/loop from the pass to the Prospect Heights trailhead, continue around either side of Long Lake and follow the North Fork of Campbell Creek downstream about 2.5 miles beyond the last lake. At this point look for a trail on your left which climbs about 800 ft. (up the northwest ridge of Wolverine peak) to a notch/saddle on the ridge sou
Climbing from Long Lake (below) to the pass above Walrus Lake.
theast of Near Point. From here you can connect to a trail that goes back to Prospect Heights by (1) continuing on the trail up and over Near Point or (2) bushwacking from the saddle to the trail (that goes back to Prospect Heights.) The second (2) is my preferred option to avoid climbing over Near Point. Again, for more details on this trip, refer to the books cited above. What I like about the Williwaw-Long Lake traverse is that it is a delightful and very accessible "wilderness" trip in Southcentral Alaska right at Anchorage's back door.
Long Lake

*When I do the traverse, I prefer to take the trail to Near Point and proceed over the saddle/notch into the North Fork Valley of Campbell Creek and camp at Long Lake. The next day, we climb the pass and descend into the Williwaw Lakes hiking out mostly downhill to the Prospect Heights parking lot. The photo above (left) shows us heading down from this saddle into the North Fork of Campbell Creek.

 Hiking along Williwaw Lakes on trail through alpine valley.

Click here for photos of "Williwaw Lakes" trek and Facebook Post

Click here to download a map of Chugach State Park, Chugach State Park Map - Alaska DNR