Monday, September 27, 2010

Pleasant Mountain, Pleasant Hike

I'll take a break from back-posting about Alaska to write about yesterday's hike up Mount Pleasant in the George Washington National Forest in Western Virginia. I'd never been there before and had a great trip. I had joined a local hiking group about a month ago using the internet service, but this was my first chance to actually hike with them because of the Alaska trip. Because of rain, a few people cancelled, but we had a fun and active group of nine of us do this hike - really nice people. As someone who often decides to hike at the last minute and ends up hiking alone, I really enjoyed hiking with a group.

The trip was about 6 miles, I think, and a loop, which is always nice. There was a good amount of uphill. I think we gained about 1,300 feet to get to a couple of the summits. Mount Pleasant had tremendous views to the east and the west from two different summit points. Our hike started in the rain, but after a couple of miles in - right about the time I decided to remove my raincoat because I was getting too hot and soaked from sweat - the rain stopped. So I was able to get my camera out of its ziplock bag and start shooting photos. Some of them are shown here.

Right after the rain stopped, some of us gathered for a photo about a half mile from the summit.

There were lots of apple trees in this area, as well as tons of acorns and hickories. The nuts of the latter tasted a lot like pecans - delicious. There should be lots of deer and bear in this area with all the great concentrated calories. We did see bear scat.
The view from the summit was beautiful with the peaks sticking out like islands in the clouds.

Here was our merry band of hikers, less the photographer.

This scene reminded me of waves starting to break over an island.

Sure beats being in the office!
We saw lots of flowers on this hike like these:

And these closed gentian (in Team in Training colors of purple and green):

One of the guys joked that the ad for this part of the forest would be "this forest comes fully fern-ished:"

Many uphill sections on this hike. It was a good workout (and a ton of fun). Those who decided not to come along because of the rain missed out on a great trip.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

National Park Poll

Well, my last poll (ideal hiking group size) didn't get much response. Three people responded, one saying that they like to hike solo, and the other two saying three or four people is the ideal size. I'm with the latter group, although any number from 1 to 20 or so is fine with me for a nice hike!

But I thought I'd try another poll. The question is: how many national parks in the United States and/or Canada have you been to in your life? I will leave the poll up for a month. At the end of that time, I will hopefully have all my Alaskan trip reports posted, and I will tally up my own number of national park visits (increased by three this month).

All polls are anonymous, by the way!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Final Alaskan Views: Turnagain Arm

September 11. We left the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, and headed back towards Anchorage. We had only a few hours left in our amazing trip. We hoped to see beluga again in Turnagain Arm, and this time maybe get a better photo. But I guess the tides were wrong. There is a ferocious tidal current and huge range in this part of the world: you can get an idea of the current in this photo:

We did snap a few final photos along the way before reluctantly getting in our Toyota Matrix and heading to the airport for the long flights home.

Views of Turnagain Arm and the surounding mountains that rise from the sea:

Some panoramas from different viewpoints:

I actually explored this little island a bit ...

and found this cool tree:

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

September 11. Just 20 minutes or so from the Alyeska Resort is a pretty cool place, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. A teammate of mine in the 2005 Midnight Sun Marathon had actually come here then and told me about it. It's primary purposes are to provide a haven for rescued wildlife and to have a breeding and research herd for the threatened wood bison, which I think is North America's largest land mammal. It is very rare, found in one area of Alaska and in parts of Northern Canada. They also have some breeding stock of musk oxen, which are rare in Alaska. Along the way, they take in badly needed money - it takes a lot of cabbage to run a place like this -

and provide education by opening the center to the public. Here are some photos of some of the major megafauna they have, all found somewhere in Alaska.

This bull elk had his harem all to himself. He bugled at times to make sure all other bulls knew he was the king, and also wanted to mix it up with a large musk ox in the next pen, who seemed very willing to oblige!
Musk oxen look almost prehistoric, don't they? I'd never seen this animal and would love to see one in the wild.

This four month old calf was so cute. She was kept in a separate pen because she was an orphan found in the wild, and would not be accepted by the herd.

This big bull caribou had a large pen to roam in, along with some pals:

Plains bison (buffalo) are found in small numbers in Alaska:

The wood bison is larger than its cousin from the plains, and is very rare throughout its range. One of the primary purposes of the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is to provide a breeding herd for this threatened species:

What are the differences between a plains bison and a wood bison? I am glad that you asked!

Would you want to be this close to a grizzly in the wild? Me neither! A big front end loader dropped a big quantity of strawberries and grapes over the fence, and the three resident bears delicately picked them out of the water to eat. They favored the grapes over the berries.

Tram at Alyeska Resort

September 11 (Anchorage, Alaska). This is the ninth anniversary of that terrible day in our country's history, with so many consequences resulting from it. It is also our last day in Alaska, as we fly home at 11PM tonight on the dreaded, and aptly named, "redeye." We head into Anchorage, and debate what to do. I think if we could have found a good "flight-seeing" tour, Mary would have liked to have done that, which amazed me, given her extreme dislike of flying. I think she enjoyed the trip in and out of McCarthy more that she let on.

Finally, we left the Anchorage Visitor Center (love the sod on the roof!) ....

and decided to drive back along Turnagain Arm on the Seward Highway, stopping at a couple of places. We had done this drive in the rain two weeks ago, and it was gorgeous. Now, we wanted to see it on a "bluebird" day.

Our first stop was at the Alyeska Resort near Girdwood. We paid for a combination tram ride - lunch ticket at the resort and rode the cablecar up 2,000 feet to a spot high on a mountain with great views of Turnagain Arm and the surrounding mountains. The lunch was mediocre, to say the least, but the views were worth the price of admission!

We passed this car as we went up and it went down:

Near and far views of the resort (which looked very nice inside) from the tram:

Spectacular mountains were all around. The mountains here get something like 900 inches of natural snow a year, and are a magnet for skiers.
There was a race that day here with a lot of participants. During 10 hours, the racers run, walk, and crawl to the top along a steep footpath, gaining 2,000 feet elevation each time. Then they take the tram down, and come back up, repeating until the 10 hours is up. They looked pretty tired in the early afternoon when we were there. I think the winner last year made something like 13 trips! Here is one gal as seen from the tram:

Panoramic view from the mountain:

View of Turnagain Arm, ski lift in foreground:

Friday, September 10, 2010

Driving the Glenn Highway, Part 2

September 10 in Alaska - Glenn Highway continued from part 1.

We continued on towards Palmer, and from there to head south to Anchorage. At every turn, spectacular mountains, glaciers, rivers, and lakes greeted us. As in part 1, I am going to let the photos mostly speak for themselves, although they are inadequate to show how magnificent the scenery was.

These photos are from the Sheep Mountain - Gunsight Mountain area. We found the colors as spectacular as the topography, and took a lot of pictures. We actually did see our last Dall sheep, but it was too far away to get a photo.

Ominous sky, autumn colors:

Further along, at Glacier Park, were great views of the Matanuska Glacier, flowing out of the Chugach Mountains. It forms the Matanuska River, which we followed for some time on its inevitable journey to Knik Arm.

North side of the road around Glacier Park:

Further downstream, the Matanuska River, panorama and close up:

There was a beautiful lake along the highway:

Views near the King Mountain area: