Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Mountain medevac
View from Hatcher's Pass
Peeking Pica
I wonder if we will ever get sick of mountains? This time, our ventures took us to Hatcher’s Pass, a gravel road crossing through a craggy mountain range little more than an hours drive north of Anchorage. Anchoragians certainly have some nice playgrounds on their doorstep! This particular range was the setting for a hike up the verdant Archangel Valley in search of the Reed Lakes. The first part of the track was quite easy and would be quite easy to bike. A series of  bumps on a downhill section prompted the flippant comment “You could get some good air over those - probably followed by blood.” Thinking no more of it we continued onwards to where the trail climbed more steeply so I left Christine to return on her own whilst I continued up to the lakes. On the way back down, at the section where we commented about air and blood I found two cyclists trying hopelessly to deal with a third who was lying on the ground in shock with his face mashed, teeth missing and lip half bitten off having landed face first on a rock after descending with more speed than competence. Having established that he wasn’t at immediate risk I rushed to get blankets and painkillers while his alarmed friend called 911 and probably (understandably - there was a lot of blood) overstated the seriousness of the injuries. We got him settled and wrapped in a sleeping bag as we waited for the emergency rescue. After not too long two emergency services guys turned up to be followed shortly after by a helicopter and, not long after that, two quad-bikes - a bit of overkill for what ultimately turned out to be two missing teeth, a cut lip and a bit of concussion. We were told later the bill would probably be about $20k. I hope he had his health insurance up to date! Oh, that’s right, I forgot - Americans don’t like the idea of universal health cover. Remember, that’s the first step on the path to Socialism!

Bed-time view
Camped the night in a another parking lot / campsite with beautiful mountain views followed the next morning by a (cautious) mountain bike ride up the Gold Mint trail until, after about 5 miles it got just too rocky, requiring the trading of wheels for feet for the subsequent section. The afternoon was then spent rambling over the ridge tops at Hatcher’s Pass before finding a place to spend the night on the side of a dead-end side road with stunning views down the incredibly green valley. 

Wrangel-St Elias National Park
A leisurely drive took us back along the Glenn Highway, an officially designated scenic byway with views of the Matanuska Galcier and the  Chugas Mountains to the south. Camped the night in a gravel pit with million dollar mountain views before taking the dirt road out to the little town of McCarthy where we lit a campfire by the side of a turbulent river as  low clouds revealed only the bottom of what was clearly a very impressive glacier.

Another bed-time view
Alaskans are big on their flower baskets
Snack stop on a Wrangel Mountain hike
Renovator's delight - old mine buildings at McCarthy
Morning dawned with clouds shrouding the mountains so we took our bikes and cycled over the footbridge that connects the town of McCarthy to the road we had come in on, and then the further 5 miles up to the remarkable mining town of Kennecott, a jumble of mine buildings and mills dating back to the early 1900s, some of which had been restored, some stabilised and others left to the mercy of the elements. On can’t help but be impressed by the magnitude of the effort that was made to extract mineral resources from what would have been an incredibly remote location in hellish (in a cold sort of way) conditions for most of the year with little of the technology that we take for granted today. 

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