Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Lake George Valley: August 21

Wild Bill and I set off from the Birchwood Airport is his experimental Super Cub. I thought my "experimental" phase had ended back in college, but I was wrong. We flew up Peter's Creek deep into the Chugach State Park. Features that I only had seen on maps came into view: Wall Street Glacier, Peril Peak, The X, the North Couloir on Rumble (props to O.G.Z.), Bee's Heaven, Peril, the Whiteout, and on and on. Our destination was the Lake George Valley.

Lake George Glacier calves in to Upper Lake George which forms a braided river flowing to Inner Lake George. Here the geography gets interesting. The Knik glacier descends 13,000' crossing the Lake George Valley at a 90° angle, and smashes against the opposite mountainside creating a 10 km wide dam. Before the globing warming myth became part of the public consciousness, this dam would hold water (unlike the theories put forth by global warming "scientists"). A massive lake would form behind the Knik Glacier flooding the Lake George Valley. Pre-1900 this lake would crest the glacier every 15-20 years resulting in an epic j√∂kulhlaup which would wipe out the occasional native village. After 1915, the temporary lake would breach the glacier every year in June or July with a resulting 2 week flood. Since 1966 the Knik had failed to advance enough to seal the flood channel. What remains is a narrow 10 km channel along the face of the Knik and the mountainside known as "the Gorge."

We sussed out the former lake bed between the 2 lakes for a proper landing zone. Our preferred site was too rocky and we settled on a site a few miles down river.

Sussing an L.Z.

Pigheadedly, we decided to march towards a drainage that we sussed out on a series of fly-bys. That drainage would be key to getting above tree-line and onto the ice without too much bushwhacking. After crossing 2 channels of a river that our map showed as a pre-1900 lake, we reached the mountain side. We continued upriver ("uplake" according to the map). The valley took a right and all the channels of the lake converged into one massive channel of churning silty 32°F trouser warming intimidation. To continue "uplake" we would have to get on a 1/4 mile 5.7+ vertical traverse a few feet above the ragin' lake.

Wild Bill Lakeside before it Got Scary

We opted to turn left and start our climb rather than traversing the cliff face sans gear.

You're definitely in Alaska when you willingly enter into a soul destroying thicket with your ice ax on the outside of your pack thereby adding a 3x misery multiplier. Nobody likes to bushwhack, but Bill and I tolerate better than most. A close friend had volunteered the only advice you need for this type of endeavor: stay on the critter trails. Easy, peasy. With this handy tip, we marched confidently into the thicket and promptly got our asses handed to us for the next 7 hours.

Operation: "Creative Swears II" was under way:

"Nancy Reagan's mastectomy", lamented Keith.

"Danica Patrick's nuts," posited Bill.

But in the madness came berries, a bounty of berries:salmon berries: big, ripe, and plentiful.

"Astronaut cocks! Oh, these are good! Kitten dicks! So juicy and plump! Baboon ass crack! Delicious! Gandhi's balls! I'm stuffed!"

Lake George Glacier from our High Point

Crown Peak from the High Point

The brush had started to thin, but the ridge we had chosen only brought us to a local high point. To go any further, we would have to descend, cross a swamp, and bushwhack into an area of sheer cliffs. With unhappy skin and full stomachs, we knew it was time to head back. The ascent had some moments of touch and go, so we decided to find another route down. Despite our attempts to avoid the steep and wet, we had to rappel a near-vertical section so thick, you couldn't see below your waist. And by rappel I mean, doubling some cordolet around a willow and looping the cord around the small of your back.

After skirting several cliff bands, we emerged lakeside along the raging river. Somehow our 2 morning crossings had turned into 5 afternoon crossings (2 of those f'ers were waist deep). Anyone would have lost it by now, but Bill doesn't give a shit. We were barefoot and wet when we found the stashed airplane; however, blue skies and warm temps made this a pleasant experience.

The flight back was spectacular. We did some more scouting looking for LZs where it would be easy to hike above tree-line. Blue skies and calm winds allowed a for leisurely sight seeing back to Birchwood.

The Gnarl of the Knik Glacier

Colony Glacier Calving into Inner Lake George

Flying Down "The Gorge"
This glacial face would smash against the mountain creating the dam

Another great day of get humbled by the Chugach capped off by an Unibroue Fin du Monde!
Happy Baby Wild Bill Day!

- Big Dave Brewster