Day #23 -
When you think of Alaska you probably think of moose blocking roadways or Sarah Palin shooting 12 gauge slugs at a grizzly bear. Alaska has long had an image of being a wild and dangerous place...the last frontier. This is because of things like Hollywood and The Discovery Channel. But don't be fooled by what you see on TV.
Yesterday was our 9th wedding anniversary and we wanted to do something unique with the whole family. After looking into excursions and local B&Bs we were left with a small handful of not-so-exciting-but-ultra-pricey options. Then we looked into the National Forest and there it was. An inexpensive, remote
cabin in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness.
The Caribou Creek cabin is along the Resurrection Pass Trail in Chugach National Forest. The only way to get there is to hike 7 miles through remote and wild terrain. Here's where the Hollywood images of Alaska started haunting me. I had a wild encounter in Yellowstone (http://lfamerica.blogspot.com/2014/09/close-encounters-in-yellowstone.html) a couple years ago that has since left me slightly scarred whenever we go backpacking. Most times I hit the trail and knock out a few miles and it's all good. But this is ALASKA. The moment I clicked to confirm our reservation I felt nervous. And I am not a person who typically suffers from any kind of anxiety. I had Images of Grizzly bears and wolves running through my head. I kept playing out different scenarios and NONE of them ended with us making to and from the cabin without encountering a large mammal. That just doesn't happen in "The Last Frontier" does it?
In preparing for our adventure I kept singing the Billy Ocean song "Caribbean Queen" but replaced the words with "Caribou Creek". Try it, it works quite well. Anyhow, on the day of our adventure I was listening to the radio station (and I mean THE radio station, there is ONE station in the Kenai) and wouldn't you know, my song came on. I took it as a good sign and sang along to Billy with my revised lyrics.
The Resurrection Pass Trail begins in Hope which is a small town with dirt roads. It's a quaint town that started like most Alaska towns - with a turn of the century gold rush. Of all the places we have been to so far, Hope is the city that looks most like the Alaskan town that I pictured in my head. While driving the Hope Highway we saw a demoralizing scene unfolding on the roadside. A dead whale had washed ashore and a large crowd had gathered around to gawk. There were also people on the scene collecting samples of some sort. Not sure what agency they were with but that had official looking tool kits and jackets. Like whale CSI or something. I joke but seeing a dead animal of that size really gets ya. It's a truly devastating loss of life. It's also the first time we have seen a whale. Bummer.
We got on the trail just after lunch. I strapped some bear bells to my wrist with my Ontario survival knife on one hip (thanks Joe) and my bear spray on the other. Bear bells, for those of you who don't hike, are basically sleigh bells that you strap to you so that bears can hear you coming. The idea is if they hear you coming they'll avoid you. Unless it's one of those rare cases where a bear turns predatory against humans, in which case you now have a bell on you making it easy for the bear to track you. (No joke. Shit that goes through your head when you're afraid.) I stayed mentally strong though and knew the odds were in my favor. Bang the HELL out of those bear bells and hopefully we can cross bears off the list of animals we will encounter.
About 3 miles in, something happened to me. I saw people hiking and biking by with their dogs and smiles on their faces. "You guys going to camp? Oh that will be FUN." They said as they passed. Some of them didn't have bells or bear spray. Some were alone. It was then that I realized I had been acting like a wuss. I had let the Hollywood depiction of Alaska get to me and forgot that this is nature. Just like every other nature that I had ever enjoyed. Stunning views, unique smells and the sounds of song birds that I had never heard before. My nature side was waking up. I was enjoying myself.
Around dinner we arrived at the cabin. IT. WAS. AWESOME! Our own little slice of heaven. A cozy cabin nestled next to a rushing creek with mountains and pine trees all around us. We hurried inside and claimed our beds. I made dinner for the gang and we had dessert while playing cards. When the kids went to sleep Jessica and I enjoyed some time to ourselves and celebrated our anniversary on the porch, drinking beers that she had carried in her pack for us.
This morning we woke up, made breakfast on the wood burning stove and hiked back. We had ZERO animal encounters. When we got back to town we ate greasy, fattening food at a small diner because that's just what you do when you get off the trail. If you find yourself near Chugach National Forest I HIGHLY recommend staying in one of their 40 wilderness cabins. They range from cabins that are just 2 miles up the trail to cabins located next to wilderness lakes in the alpine regions that require a sea plane to access them. Find the one that meets your level of adventure and go. You won't regret it.