Sunday, July 31, 2022

Another S24O Micro-adventure – Upper Angel Creek Cabin

 Post by Corrine

“This is incredible.”

I whispered to myself as I gained the ridge and saw the Alaska Range out in its full glory. Overcome with joy, I couldn’t keep it inside.

“This is amazing!”

I shouted. I yelled. I twirled. I burst out in song. I didn’t care that I was alone and celebrating by myself. The world can be an incredible place. The evening was warm and sunny. I was surrounded by the beauty of nature. Life just couldn’t get any better. I was so glad I had decided to do this quick getaway.

My spot of pure joy was a high point along the Chena Dome Trail in the Chena River State Recreation Area. I had mountain biked to the Upper Angel Creek Public Use Cabin and then hiked a trail to the high point. And it truly was a high point. 

A Needed Dose of Nature 

I had been down after a long, busy week at work. Lots of new, complex patients. Other patients needing to be fit into the schedule after being hospitalized. Increasing COVID cases. So many phone messages. And on top of all that, my clinical assistant had put in his two-week notice and there wasn’t a plan yet for who would be helping me. I had already missed my Wednesday night fast-paced WOW ride because of work. I was ready for a break. The weather forecast looked good, so I decided to get out. Being physically active in nature rejuvenates my spirit, and I needed that. 

I didn’t want anything too epic, as I’m considering doing the Hayes 460 bikepacking race next weekend. I looked online and found that the Upper Angel Creek Cabin was available Friday night. Perfect! Just a fun 10-mile ride to a cabin. Eric and I had done the trail several times as an out-and-back, but we had never spent the night. Eric had other plans, so it would be a solo Sub 24-hour Overnight (S24O) micro-adventure for me.

Upper Angel Creek Cabin 

I don’t have office hours on Friday, so in the morning I packed, got some chores done, and caught up on patient messages. I was on the road by early afternoon and at the trailhead about an hour later.

A Nice Ride to the Cabin

The Angel Creek Hillside Trail is in very good shape. This 10-mile motorized, multi-use trail was put in a several years ago to provide year-round access to the upper and lower Angel Creek cabins, which had only been accessible via a boggy winter trail. The hillside trail starts with a two-mile climb, but the grades are not bad. The entire trail has a few rocky areas and three stream crossings, but it’s all very doable on a loaded bike. 

One of the rockier sections

I made a quick stop at the newer and bigger Lower Angel Creek Cabin, and then continued to the upper cabin. I managed to keep my feet dry on the stream crossings although I did walk, rock hopping, across two of them. (I tried to ride all three on the way out but failed and got wet feet!) 

Lower Angel Creek Cabin

I arrived at the cabin at 5 PM, greeted by a dead grouse on the deck. It must have recently flown into the window. I hoped it wasn’t an omen! I quickly tossed it as far as I could. I looked for it the next morning and couldn’t find it, so it probably made a nice meal for some animal.

Newly dead baby grouse awaited me at the cabin

Cabin interior

A Post-Bike Hike

I unpacked my bags, ate half of my cold dinner, and then decided to hike up the steep trail behind the cabin. I knew it connected with the Chena Dome Trail but had never been up it. I decided I would hike uphill for an hour and see what I could see.

The trail was steep, but I stopped often to graze on blueberries and take photos. The trail starts as an ATV trail but soon turns into a narrow foot trail, and I had to cross a few rocky areas before I came to the intersection with the Chena Dome Trail. 

Blueberries and cranberries galore - cranberries not quite ripe yet

One of the rocky sections I had to cross

My hour wasn’t up, so I kept ascending. At the next level spot, I looked over and that’s when I whispered and then yelled. The view of the Alaska Range was incredible. I don’t remember anybody ever mentioning that view up here. I really lucked out with the weather. No haze or smoke, no wind or fog, and even the mosquitos weren’t too bad. I felt so alive and full of joy. I saw a high point a little further up the trail and decided to go for that, even though my hour was over. I still had plenty of daylight – one of the benefits of summer hiking in Alaska.

My first view of the Alaska Range

I took a short break at the top, admiring the vista and feeling blissfully content, totally in the moment. But soon the mosquitoes found me (one of the downsides of summer hiking in Alaska), so I started moving again. Down, down, down, back to the cabin. My knees were wishing I had brought my hiking poles for the descent, but at least it wasn’t as steep and rocky as last weekend’s hike.

Back at the cabin I ate the rest of my dinner and then it was time for bed. I got up early the next morning, had a hot breakfast, loaded up my bike and headed back to the trailhead. The bike out was just as pleasant as the bike in, except for the wet feet, and I was back at my car by 9:30 AM. 

I stepped down in the middle of biking this fairly easy crossing 

The Trails Challenge sign is 4 miles in on the Angel Creek Hillside Trail at a nice overlook

A Quick Visit Then Home

Since it was still early, I decided to visit friends camped at Olnes Pond for the weekend. I wanted to say hi as two of them – Cathy and Martha – were celebrating birthdays. When I got to their campsite, the only person there was Kate, Cathy’s spouse. She said the others were out biking. I put on my soggy socks and shoes, got on my bike and went searching. I found them at the pipeline, and we all biked back together, discussing birthdays and aging and staying active. I joined them for lunch before heading out.

The birthday girls, Cathy, 55 years young on the left and Martha, 62 on the right.  These women rock!

I arrived home, less than 24 hours from when I had left, another S24O in the books. Even short jaunts out from home can be rejuvenating. Bring on the work week. I’m ready! 

Strava route into the cabin with a stop at the lower cabin

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

A Sweet Hike up Sugar Loaf Mountain


“Are you limping?” 

My colleague, Claire, asked me that Monday afternoon as I walked slowly down the hallway at work. She looked very concerned, like I might be injured. I started laughing. 

“Yes,” I replied. “Eric and I did a fun, steep hike yesterday and my quads are killing me today!”

Sore quads were a small price to pay for climbing the north side of Sugar Loaf Mountain near Denali. I may have been walking like an old lady (wait, I AM an old lady!), but the hike and views were worth the pain. 

Sugar Loaf is the mountain on the east side of the canyon just north of Glitter Gulch on the Parks Highway. A popular way to access the mountain is via a trail that starts from the Grande Denali Lodge parking lot. That takes you up its south flank. But you can also hike it from trails that go up the north sides of Coyote and Dragonfly creeks. (These are just past the bridge after you pass Bison Gulch heading south.)

Eric had hiked the Dragonfly Creek trail a couple of times but hadn’t had the time to make it all the way up the mountain. Then we learned about the Coyote Creek trail from a video by our friends Jay and Mary Ver Hoef (aka The Alaskan Amblers – check out their YouTube channel here). They had hiked it last year as part of their 40 adventures for their 40th wedding anniversary. 

Eric and I decided to hike up one trail, explore the ridges on Sugar Loaf, and then hike down the other trail. Sunday looked to be an awesome day, so we got up early, drove two hours south and by 9:15 AM we were on the trail. 

Great ridge walking on well worn sheep trails

Both trails have parking pullouts nearby, so we parked at Dragonfly and walked the half-mile to Coyote, getting the pavement part done first. Neither trailhead is marked. These are unofficial social trails. Jay had sent us a gpx, so we used that to help find the Coyote trail using Eric’s Gaia app. You can also find it fairly easily without a GPS device. It’s right across from the southern end of the Coyote pullout. (Coyote Creek doesn’t have a road sign. Dragonfly does.) Just plow through the bushes to the ditch, then search for the trail that goes straight up. (For Dragonfly trail, cross the road from the pullout, hop the guardrail, and follow the trail in the ditch north.)

Steep climbing right from the road

Because these are both steep social trails, neither is easy, but both are extremely different. Coyote is dirt-covered, in the woods, and requires a bit of bushwhacking, but it’s fairly easy to follow. Dragonfly is rocky and requires a lot of scrambling and route-finding. 

Eric breaks out of the brush on the Coyote Creek ridge trail

The first part of Coyote was up, up, up through the woods. We were glad to do it on fresh legs. After 1.5 miles, we broke onto a brushy plateau. The views started there and never stopped. The trail petered out, but we found a route without too much brush. Soon we were on open, firm-surfaced tundra. And what a glorious day! Sunny and with a stiff breeze, but not too windy. We stopped often to take photos. 

The route is fairly obvious along the rounded ridgetop, just keeping going up. The head of Dragonfly Creek has a rocky traverse, but a sheep trail through it is so good it looks like it has been built by people. 

Just keep heading up

We had seen a structure on the horizon, about three miles in, and headed for it. Looking past the structure, we saw Denali! Glorious! And a pleasant surprise, because we weren’t sure we would be able to see it from the ridge. 

The small building, long since abandoned, barely has room for the pull-down bedspring frame attached to one side. An old heater sits in one corner. But it seems to be more than just a shelter, as multiple fuel tanks nearby are attached to it via hoses. Eric thought that maybe it was an old communications structure. 

We continued southeast up the ridge heading toward a massive rock outcropping that may be Sugar Loaf peak. (We got conflicting information on different maps about which is the actual peak.) We didn’t climb to the top, though. The last scramble is steep and on crumbly or loose rock, not something either of us felt was worth the risk. 

We are pretty sure this is the top of Sugar Loaf - no way I was climbing up that

Eric scrambles a little ways up while I stay on firmer ground

But the vegetated shoulder was protected from the wind and provided a nice picnic spot. On one side was Denali and the Alaska Range, on the other was Mount Deborah and more Alaska Range! 

Denali and the Alaska Range to the east.  You can see the Nenana River and the highway far below

After lunch, we explored the ridge a little further to the east until it dropped off. Below the ridge we saw a herd of about 20 sheep off in the distance. We were wondering why we hadn’t seen any sheep all day. So that’s where they were hiding. 

You could continue to hike the ridges and later we read that others have dropped down into Moody Creek and packrafted back toward Healy. But we didn’t have the time or the rafts or the expertise, so we headed back. 

Having come up Coyote, we decided to descend Dragonfly since I had never been on it. Eric remembered it as steep and rocky, but it was worse than he remembered! I made my way slowly down the unrelenting slope. Eric would patiently wait for me. There were areas that were less steep, but they were few and far between.

Steep descending

More tricky descending

Still more steep trail

In retrospect, we should have gone up Dragonfly and down Coyote. But we were committed and kept hoping it would get better soon. It did…about a tenth of a mile from our car! Our legs were tired, and our feet were sore, but it was well worth it. 

A rare fairly flat area!

While difficult, these trails are far less busy than Bison Gulch ridge on the other side of the highway. And once you are above tree line, the walking is easy and the views are spectacular, especially if you go far enough and Denali is visible.  

I can’t recommend this hike enough. It’s definitely worth the limping the next day! 

 10 miles round trip with about 4000 feet of climbing.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

What Eric Did While Corrine Biked Across Washington


Crescent Lake, Olympic Peninsula, Washington

Post by Eric 

While Corrine attempted an Individual Time Trial of the Cross Washington Mountain Bike Route, I had some free time between dropping her off and picking her up on the other side of the state. I knew I’d mostly be hiking. We decided against me bringing my bike to save the expense of a bigger rental car. Also, since I had tweaked my hip on a bike ride the week before we left, I figured hiking was my safest bet. I had planned to do some birding, but I enjoy moving and exploring so much it’s hard for me to stop long, so I didn’t do much.




After an early wake up, a breakfast of cold pizza, and dropping Corrine off in La Push to start her race, I took a couple of hikes before heading to Port Angeles to visit friends and hopefully see Corrine there.


SECOND BEACH – My first hike was to Second Beach. (Corrine started at First Beach.) The hike to the beach was only about a half-mile, but the beach is about 1.5 miles long and I hiked the whole of it. I enjoyed hiking along the ocean, something we don’t get to do in Fairbanks. I saw a few birds and tidepool creatures, like sea stars. 


Mainly, I was kind of blown away by all the tents on the beach. I counted more than 50! Coming from Alaska, I often have a hard time getting my head around more populated areas. We were miles from Seattle and a half-mile hike off the road. Where did all these people come from!? Fortunately, they were all at the north end of the beach where the trail comes out. I didn’t mind the tent people, but it was nice to hike the empty south end of the beach. 

Sea stars and other weird things on a rock on Second Beach

PYRAMID MOUNTAIN – I drove part way to Port Angeles and hiked a 3.5-mile trail up to a lookout cabin on Pyramid Mountain above Crescent Lake. Loved this hike! It is almost all up on the way to the lookout but most of it was fairly gradual. And it was shaded, which was nice because it was a warmer day. I felt good and hiked hard. 


The views from the lookout are outstanding, well worth the trip. I found I had cell reception, so I checked on Corrine and found she was at that moment biking the Olympic Discovery Trail right below me! I had crossed it on my way up, but I didn’t have time to wait for her. I sent her a text and then headed back down the mountain. 

Crescent Lake from the lookout cabin atop Pyramid Mountain

PORT ANGELES – I drove to Port Angeles, where spent a couple of nights with Eric Evans and Loraine Lovejoy-Evans. Eric and I have been buddies since we were kids, especially in high school. He has gotten weird, though. Now he plays bagpipes! 


Loraine is a physical therapist, for which I was immensely grateful. My tweaked hip flared again after the Pyramid Mountain hike. Loraine showed me a stretch she called Horse and Thinker. (It's in her book.) It required me to splay my legs and lower my head to my knee. I’m sure I looked weird, but it helped a lot. 


Early that evening I drove to the Port Angeles seafront and met Corrine, who was at a convenience store fueling up on junk food. But she wanted “real food,” so we went to a nearby McDonalds. Then she headed off for Sequim and I headed back to Eric and Loraine’s. 

Corrine downs a Coke (not a Diet Coke) at a Port Angeles convenience store
before heading to McDonald's for some "real food."



My tweaked hip was bothering me, so I didn’t try anything big. Eric and I went for a 3-mile hike with his dog by the town’s airport, a hike he does regularly to stay in shape. We spent a lot of time chatting and catching up on life. We hadn’t visited in years. 

Eric serenades me with his bagpipes before our hike! 

After lunch, Eric took a nap (he’s been fighting cancer and needs his rest) while I went for a hike on Ediz Hook, a sand spit on the cost of Port Angeles. It’s narrow and has a road, but you can hike the inner beach or a trail between the road and beach. I hiked the beach one direction and the trail in the other. Along the way I outraced a gaggle of swimming Canada geese, talked to a woman about her toe, and let a guy borrow my phone. His car had died and then while trying to diagnose the problem, the car hood fell onto his phone. Ouch! While hiking I stopped periodically and did the Horse stretch, which helped a lot. 

The inner beach of Ediz Hook, including the geese I outhiked



Dungeness Spit called to me. Corrine and I had hiked partway out it on our way to the coast. While there we learned the spit, which is in a national wildlife refuge, was just over 5 miles long and that you could hike to a lighthouse near the end.


I started beneath clouds, but soon hiked out into sunshine. Even on a somewhat cloudy Tuesday, there were still quite a few people where the trail from the parking lot meets the beach, but I lost most of them after hiking a mile down the beach. Still, I was surprised at how many people were willing to make the 10-mile roundtrip. I saw two or three dozen people on the beach and at the lighthouse. I had to say it again: Where do all these people come from?


I hadn’t done my research, so I was surprised to find that the lighthouse (the New Dungeness Light Station) is a historic district with several buildings, one of which has a museum. They even have tours. I poked around a bit, learning some about the lighthouse, but I was still considering a quick hike up at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, so I headed back, doing the Horse stretches periodically.

One of the interpretive signs at the historic district

I gave up on the Hurricane Ridge hike because I was running out of time, and it was spitting rain back on the mainland. I stopped at gas station to fuel up and ran into Eric and Loraine! They were heading to the Seattle area to visit relatives. We had all forgotten to take the requisite selfies while I was visiting, so we took them at the gas station then said our goodbyes. I headed to picturesque Port Townsend, where I had booked a hotel room. 

Gas station selfie! Eric called that his "drug dealer shirt"!




I missed Corrine! I had planned to meet her at the Snoqualmie Tunnel, a more-than-2-mile-long feature of the Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail, which runs across most of Washington. (Corrine rode a lot of it.) I had miscalculated Corrine’s speed, so I missed her by about 15 minutes. I went for a short run on the rail-trail to test out my hip. I had originally planned to run through the entire tunnel, but I knew if I started, I would want to do the whole thing. I wasn’t sure my hip was up for that, and I wanted to get  to Cle Elum before Corrine did. 

Some kids were taking a field trip to the Snoqualmie Tunnel.
I could feel the cold air blowing out from here! 

I got to Cle Elum in time and met Corrine, who chowed down and resupplied at Safeway. The Cross Washington Mountain Bike Route has a low route and high route that split in Cle Elum and meet up again in Wenatchee. Corrine figured the high route would be more scenic, but that she had a better chance of finishing on the low route, which had much less elevation gain. She decided on the low route and headed to Ellensburg.

Corrine scarfing down food at the Cle Elum Safeway. 
I got to watch Corrine scarf down a lot of food during the trip! 



I decided against seeing Corrine in Wenatchee and went biking instead. A little town just northwest of Cle Elum called Roslyn has a bike shop with rentals and a bunch of mountain biking trails. Roslyn rang a bell in my head, and I finally remembered that it was the setting for a long-ago TV series called “Northern Exposure” about a fictional Alaska town. Cool! 

I think this painting was featured in the opening of "Northern Exposure."

I rented a bike and got on the trails right out of town. I rode up Ewok, a 3.5-mile trail with 1,300 feet of elevation gain on the XWA high route. Had she not done the low route, Corrine would have had to make that climb the previous afternoon. In the heat of the day. On tired legs. On a fully loaded bike. Ufda! I decided she made the right decision. The trail climbed nicely, but it climbed and climbed.

The view from View Rock atop the ridge above Roslyn.

And it had gorgeous views of the Cascades on top! I dropped back into town, had lunch, then climbed another trail to the ridgetop again. I saw only a handful of people on these trails and enjoyed the solitude. I dropped back into town, returned the bike, and had a couple of beers before heading back to my hotel. I highly recommend Roslyn, a quiet, picturesque town that’s touristy but not too touristy. Nice trails, but they are challenging. 

How I felt climbing Mixtape in the afternoon. Ugh! Too hot and I was already tired!



I did a shortish hike/run out of Cle Elum before heading to Othello, where I planned to see Corrine again. The Cle Elum Ridge Trail is mainly for dirt biking, but it was a pretty good hike. It runs along a ridge to the southwest of Cle Elum and has some great views. It parallels a forest service road, so I decided to try running the road on the way back. My hip did OK, so I was pleased. The run wasn’t anything special, but I did see a pileated woodpecker. Gorgeous birds! 

One view from the Cle Elum Ridge Trail

That night I drove out to meet Corrine as she approached Othello and saw her again at the hotel in Othello. She took a shower, scarfed down food, and tried to sleep for few hours before a big push to the finish. I got up and saw her off at about 3 AM then tried to sleep a bit more. 

Corrine stops briefly just outside Othello



I had planned to do a hike in the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge just north of Othello when Corrine sent me a text: “I wonder if we should consider seeing if we can change flight home to later or to early in July4 so I can be sure and finish?” So, instead of hiking, I headed to Ritzville to meet Corrine at a truck stop and discuss our travel options. 


The truck stop just off I-5 was a holiday weekend zoo. Just as we met up, friend Linda and her partner Constance showed up. Linda is also a bikepack racer who had been following Corrine’s progress. They were on their way to the Tri-Cities area. So, we visited while changing our travel plans while Corrine resupplied and fueled up on a truck stop burger (“real food” again!). With all the other activity, no one noticed our little corner of chaos. 

Corrine with Constance (left) and Linda (right) at a Carl's Jr. at a Love's truck stop in Ritzville

After everyone left, I found a hike on the way to Spokane and headed that way, though I had to turn around almost right away when Corrine texted that she had lost her driver’s license. She found it by the time I drove back, so I turned toward Spokane again.


After some difficulty I found a trailhead near Fishtrap Lake though I wasn’t sure the trail would lead me to the lake. I started hiking through grassland punctuated by copses of trees and rock outcroppings. The area had lots of birds and flowers. Just as I was about to turn around, the hike dropped through a canyon and into more trees and higher rock outcroppings. It was there I saw that the rock was old lava. About that time, I remembered my Gaia app. I had cell service, so I turned on the app and discovered a whole network of trails in the area with some to the lake. 


I hiked out to and along Fishtrap Lake seeing pelicans, other waterfowl, raptors and swallows. One scenic viewpoint was on a cliff that dropped at least 50 feet straight to the lake. Looking over it gave me the willies! I wanted to explore more but it was hot (around 90), and I needed to get to Spokane, so I headed back. 

One view of Fishtrap Lake



At Spokane, I ate dinner, bought the finish-line snacks Corrine requested, and got to bed. I got in a good chunk of sleep before waking at about 3:30 AM. I checked her progress and was out the door a little after 4 am. I was able to meet Corrine a few miles from the finish before driving to Tekoa. 


Corrine pulled in a few minutes later, elated to be done. Unofficial finish line greeter John Heaton, a biker and farmer who lives in the area, graciously offered a hose at one of his nearby farm buildings, so we cleaned Corrine’s muddy bike before heading back to Spokane. Then I broke down her bike, packed it away, and we started the long drive back to Sea-Tac, as I constantly sipped on coffee in order not to fall asleep at the wheel! 


Corrine tries to lift her bike above her head
(she really needs to work on her upper body strength!)