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Farnell Family Newsletter

Saturday, February 9th, 2008


Mt. Bachelor Free Ski Day


By McFarnell (Matthew Farnell)

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The free day at Mt. Bachelor was great fun, once again! This year we had blizzard conditions, with DEEP powder. It was amazing. We had 33 people total in our group. Nobody got hurt and all had a good time. Can’t wait ’till next time. Wish I would have taken more pictures and video, but conditions weren’t the best for digital photography. Here’s a short video clip of the day:


Note: The related videos linked to at the end are put on by Xanga, and are not endorsed by FarnellFamily.com.

Thursday, December 13th, 2007


Alaska Road Trip – Day 7, 8, and 9


By McFarnell (Matthew Farnell)

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The next day we spent the morning reorganizing and packing our stuff. It was Friday, and the firemen were having a potluck for lunch and they invited us. We cleaned up the firehouse and arrived early for the potluck.

After lunch, we were on our way again. We stopped by the North Pole Coffee Roasting Co. to pick up some coffee for gifts. We then headed south toward Denali.

We had seen Denali a few days before from Fairbanks – it was very clear, and we could just make it out on the horizon. Now it was cloudy and raining… This mountain has a reputation of hiding behind clouds most of the time. We were planning to hike up and camp on Kesugi Ridge that night, so the rain was disappointing.

img_0554-wide.jpgWe arrived at the trailhead about 8:00 p.m. All the bushes were wet, and it was still heavy overcast. Ben decided he was going to camp in the car, but Matt and I decided to stick to our original plan. We were hoping it would clear up overnight so we could get some pictures of the mountain.

We had about 4 or 5 miles to hike, mostly uphill, so we took off at a fast pace. I was wearing rain gear, so I took the lead to get most of the water off the brush. Matt and I go about the same speed on flat ground, but once we start gaining elevation I can’t keep up. Matt took over lead and just went like crazy up the hill. He would wait every once in a while for me to catch up.

We reached the top of the ridge about 10:15 p.m. It hadn’t rained while we were hiking, so that was nice. However, one of my “waterproof” boots was full of water from the bushes.

Denali National ParkThere were no trees or bushes on the ridge, just rocks and grass. I had a tarp for my tent, so I picked out a nice rock to rig it up next to. Matt set to work laying out his bivy sack. He was smirking at me trying to set up my tent, and suggested I just “burrito it,” by rolling up in the tarp like a bivy sack. I kept working on my tent, as that is the way I’m used to doing it.

I finally had it all set up, almost weather proof. Matt was setting up his stove to cook dinner. It was very windy and cold, so we were wearing just about all our clothes from long underwear to stocking caps and coats.

It started to rain and I let Matt move under my tent to fix his dinner. He decided my tent wasn’t so bad after all. We boiled water for instant soups and had a warm dinner under the tarp. We sat up late talking about different things while the wind and rain kept going outside. At one point we discussed why we were out here being miserable anyway. Is this what we really like to do?

We went to bed around midnight.

Day 8

It rained all night and blew in and got my sleeping bag a little wet. We got up about 5 a.m. as we had to meet Ben at 8:00 at the trailhead. I had only brought one pair of socks up, and they were still soaking wet. What fun to put on wet, cold socks right before a hike. It was still raining, with Denali not even close to visible.

Buckingham's Log HomeWe packed up our stuff the best we could, trying to stay dry for the most part. We made good time all the way down and arrived just in time to see Ben driving up the road to pick us up. We changed into dryer clothes and cranked up the heater.

We backtracked a little bit to the north to visit the Denali National Park Visitor Center. We also drove a little ways into the park, until they told us we could go no further unless we were on a tour bus. We couldn’t justify buying a tour since it was still cloudy and we wouldn’t see the mountain anyways.

We drove back to the main road and headed south. Tonight we would be staying with the Buckingham/Hale (Pilgrim) family near Anchorage. I had met the Hales a few years earlier when their family had played music in Ridgefield. Later, I had seen Joshua and Sharia and Matthew and Elishaba when they were down on their honeymoons and had stopped by Mattila’s. Joshua had told me I would be welcome to stay with them anytime we were in Alaska, so we were looking forward to seeing them again.

img_0593-wide.jpgWe arrived at Buckinghams about 6:00, just in time for dinner. There were about 25 people in the house, ranging in age from under 1 to 50-something. After dinner, they had devotions and sang favorite hymns, which we enjoyed. Mr. Buckingham played all the hymns on the guitar. After that, we hung up our wet sleeping bags and other gear and everyone got ready for bed. We had a room in the basement where all the boys sleep, and so we visited with them for a while before going to bed.

Day 9

At 7 a.m., we got a knock on the door, “Time to get up in there.” Mr. Buckingham used to be in the army and keeps everyone on schedule around here. Everyone had chores to do to get ready for church, and then breakfast at 9:00, so we busied ourselves getting our stuff all packed into the Jeep. About 8:59 and some odd seconds, a boy ran through the hall yelling, “Breakfast in 20 seconds…” Man, the schedule really is strict here – but it’s nice, too. Breakfast was pancakes and fruit.

Church was good. It was a home church, meeting at the Buckingham’s today. This was their monthly “open” Sunday, so all the men had a chance to share what the Lord had been teaching them recently. We also sang more hymns.

After church we headed out as we wanted to do a lot more things and our time in Alaska was running out. The time at Buckinghams was very good and it was great to meet the rest of the families. I wished we could have stayed longer.

Matthew FishingNext, we were headed for the Kenai to do some salmon fishing.We stopped in Anchorage and bought some gifts for people back home. We also stopped at a tackle shop and got the latest fishing reports and bought some tackle. The latest report was that people were catching their limits of 3 salmon each in 15 or 30 minutes on the Russian river.

By late afternoon we were at the Russian river. Man, this is city slicker fishing. Big parking lots, stair steps down into the river, tables to clean your fish on etc. We had all rented waders and Matt had rented a fishing rod.

We didn’t see many people with fish. Apparently the run had died down a day or two before and it was hard to catch anything now. What a bummer. We just missed it. We fished for a few hours and then gave up. We returned the rental gear and headed for the Wrangell – St. Elias National Park, a 10 hour all night drive.

Matt and Ben Fishing
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Saturday, November 17th, 2007


Alaska Highway Trip – Day 4, 5, and 6


By McFarnell (Matthew Farnell)

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The next morning we packed up and were at the Yukon river just outside of Dawson City by 7:20 a.m., waiting for a ferry. There was a really long line of RV’s, and this ferry only holds about six cars at a time, so we thought we were in for a really long wait. We got out and were about to walk around when an older gentleman informed us that there was a special line for passenger vehicles. We thanked him and pulled all the way up to the front – there were no cars in our line! The RV line was so long that we hadn’t been able to see the signs for the passenger vehicle line.

Fishing in AlaskaOnce across the river, we were on the “Top of the World Highway.” It was way up high, but there were just grassy hills so it wasn’t as impressive as I was expecting. I like more rugged mountains. The road was mostly paved, with gravel sections every so often. Canadian gravel roads are so smooth you can drive 60 mph no problem.

We began to see semi trucks with super heavy duty grills on the front – presumably to keep moose and other large animals from ruining their radiators.

After about an hour, we reached Poker Creek, AK, the “most northerly land border port in the USA.” We pulled up to the window, just like you do at all border crossings. The border guy came out and acted like we were retarded. He said, “What do you think, this is McDonalds?” Apparently you’re supposed to stop out in the middle of the road and he comes out to do the inspection. We had no other problems and were soon in Alaska.

The road became noticeably rougher after the border crossing, and we had to go a bit slower. The road was dirt / gravel, with potholes.

Monster Pancakes in Chicken, AKWe arrived in Chicken, AK about 11:30 and went to the café to try the famous pancakes we had heard about the day before. Chicken is a very small town, with no electricity other than self generated. No phones, no flush toilets, mail comes by airplane twice a week, etc.

We entered the café and Matt and I ordered tall stacks of pancakes (4 each). The guy was very surprised and commented to the chef….”these guys are ordering TWO tall stacks.” They then told us that we wouldn’t be able to eat that much. So we changed our orders and all three of us ordered short stacks (2 pancakes each). While we waited, I used the complimentary internet to chat with Suzanne back home and check e-mail.
The pancakes were served in gold pans, and were about ¾” thick and the size of a plate! Matt and I barely finished all of ours, but Ben couldn’t make it. They were very good, and well worth the $4.50 (or was it $3.50?)

After we ate, we took a tour of a local dredge. Ben can tell you more about that…

We headed on our way, towards Tok, and then on to Fairbanks. We began to see more mountains and got our first glimpse of the Alaska Pipeline.

We arrived in Fairbanks around 7 p.m. and found the fire station where Matt used to work. This would be our camp for the next few days. It was very nice with all the comforts of home. We unloaded, fixed dinner, made plans for the next day, and were in bed by around midnight.

Day 5

Matt wanted to spend the day with his firemen buddies, so Ben and I decided to go sightseeing and fishing. Our first priority after breakfast was to mail postcards from nearby North Pole, AK.

A curious beaver.Ben had packed clothes for cold weather, and it was about 80 degrees outside, so we headed for a second hand store next. After that we searched for a place to buy fishing licenses. We finally got out of town about 12:30 p.m.

We headed up the Chatanika River. The area around Fairbanks is rolling tundra-like hills, not like I had pictured Alaska. Ben and I weren’t really impressed with the scenery. After 15 miles or so, we found a dirt road over to the river and tried our luck. Nothing. No bites, no fish jumping…we didn’t even see any fish.

We drove on, and tried going up a creek away from the river, but no luck there either. We came to a dead end, but found out later you have to drive up the creek for a ways to keep going on the road. We also decided these small creeks must freeze solid in winter, so there must not be fish in them.

Back on the highway, we stopped at a pay-to-pan-gold type place and talked to the old guy there. He told us there were fish in the creeks – somehow they survive through the winter. He told us where some beaver ponds were, and we were off again. He said they used to be able to drive to the beaver ponds, but we’d have to see how muddy the dirt road was.

The Alaska PipelineWe found the dirt road to be very muddy and left the Jeep parked and began hiking. The mosquitoes were terrible. Matt had enough bug dope for us all, but he wasn’t here! I had my head net but short sleeves, and Ben had long sleeves but no head net. We were getting eaten alive so we made good time. I even pulled my arms inside by t-shirt to try and get away from the nasty blood suckers. It was still super hot out, so we were very uncomfortable. The marshy roadway and landscape was apparently a mosquito heaven.

After about 30 minutes we arrived at the beaver ponds. The beaver was there and was very curious of us. He came very close and we got some good close-up pictures and video. Finally I raised my arm and scared him, getting his tail slap on video.

The beaver ponds looked like perfect fish habitat, but we could not get any bites at all. We couldn’t see any fish either. Man, I thought fishing was supposed to be good in Alaska! After a while we started heading back, this time walking down the river to avoid the marshy areas and worse mosquitoes on the bank.

Back at the car we high-tailed it back to the fire station. Ben called around and found that Matt had gone over to the chief’s house for dinner and was ready to be picked up. We drove over there and had a nice visit with the fire chief before heading back, eating dinner, and crashing about midnight again.

Day 6

Taking pictures on top of Angel RocksThe next day we decided to do a hike up to Angel Rocks off of Chena Hot Springs Rd. The front page article of the newspaper that morning was about the number of grizzlies shot in the Fairbanks area in defense of life and property. The article stated that several grizzlies had been sighted near Chena Hot Springs Road in the past month. Just the news we were looking for.

Matt had his rifle, Ben carried a handgun borrowed from another fireman, and I had my trusty camera. We were ready to take on the grizzlies, though we hoped we wouldn’t encounter any.

Angel Rocks are a series of granite domes sticking up out of the hills. The trail starts out pretty flat along the river, and then begins gaining elevation rapidly. We climbed up on one of the biggest domes and took a break to look around. The weather was perfect, but we could see a thunderstorm in the distance.

We climbed back down and continued up the trail to the highest point in the area. There were lots of cool wildflowers around. We had a 360 degree view, but again, it was mostly just rolling hills.

We made quick time on the way down, but stopped and climbed another one of the domes just for fun. We could hear the thunder in the distance, but it never did rain on us. Back down near the river, we saw a fish. So there are fish in Alaska after all!

The Alaska PipelineBack at the car, we headed for town. We stopped at a tourist area to get a good close-up look at the pipeline. Did you realize that the pipeline is 800 miles long, crosses three mountain ranges, and over 800 rivers and streams? It cost $8 billion to build back in 1977. It was built to transport oil from Prudhoe Bay, on the Arctic Ocean, to Valdez, the most northerly, ice-free port. It is built in special ways to keep it from breaking when earthquakes crack and expand the earth, etc. It is a pretty amazing pipeline.

It was June 21st, summer solstice, so we headed for town to go to the summer solstice festival. There were tons of people, and different booths selling different things. Matt was looking for smoked salmon, but we didn’t find any good deals. Ben did find some things for gifts for his family back home.

After wandering around for a while, we went back to the fire station where we ate dinner and began preparing our stuff for the next portion of our trip. This would be our last night here and the remainder of the trip would be the real roughing it part – camping and backpacking for the most part.

To be continued…

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Tuesday, November 6th, 2007


Alaska Road Trip – Day 3


By McFarnell (Matthew Farnell)

Eating lunch just outside of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada.
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We got up early and hit the road again. Cereal and rice milk made a great breakfast again, too, this time at a hunting camp/lodge off the main road. We made it to Whitehorse about 1 p.m. and stopped for groceries and gas. The lady at the store gave us directions to Dawson City.

Matthew enjoying breakfast at a lake-side hunting lodge.Just outside of town we stopped at a rest area for lunch. Corn cakes, honeydew, tortillas with peanut butter and Bonnie’s homemade cookies. The weather had cleared again, and the sun was shining out of a beautiful blue sky with white puffy clouds floating by.

After lunch we headed up the Klondike highway towards Dawson city. Gas is scarce out here, so we had to be sure to fill up when we could. The visitors centers provided maps with charts showing all the gas stations and mile posts, so that was a help. We soon crossed the great Yukon river. The road was straight and long, with almost no traffic. Matt put the pedal to the metal (well, not quite all the way), until Ben asked him to slow down so we could enjoy the scenery. Another thing we had to watch out for were “frost heaves.” This is when it freezes the ground so hard that it lifts the pavement up in big bumps. They can do quite a number on your vehicle if you’re going too fast. A lot of times they are marked with small orange flags on the shoulder to help you know when to slow down.

One of the old gold dredges.About 29 miles out from Dawson City we passed the last gas station and our gas gauge light just went on. We decided we had enough gas, and didn’t want to pay the high price out here in the middle of nowhere, so kept going. We were getting nervous by the time we reached Dawson City, but we made it without having to hitchhike.

As we neared Dawson city we began seeing tailing piles in the creek beds – telltale signs of gold dredges in years past. The guy at the gas station told us where the nearest dredge was, so we went up and looked at it. These gold dredges were pretty cool – they would float, and they would dig the hole for themselves to float in as they went. They’d dig down to bed rock, back and forth across the creeks, process the dirt and find the gold, then dump the rock out behind them and keep going. It only took a few men to run one of these giant gold-finding machines.

A hotel in downtown Dawson City.Back in Dawson City we searched around trying to find where we could get some drinking water. Meanwhile, Ben struck up a conversation with some bikers. They weren’t real friendly until he mentioned that he himself was a biker, and then they opened up. They told him of a good camping spot on the hill above town, and told him he needed to try the pancakes in Chicken, AK when he drove through.

Dawson City was kind of a tourist town, depicting gold rush days, but it was pretty cool. We got water at the gas station and headed up the hill the bikers had mentioned. The main hill was a nice viewpoint for watching the sunset and looking down on the town, but the next hill over looked better for camping. There was a little Jeep road up to the top of it, so we drover over there and parked. We set up camp and cooked up some stew for dinner. It was already about 11 p.m., but the sun was still shining!

We camped on a hill-top near Dawson City.After dinner we walked over to the viewpoint where there was a big gathering for the sunset. We took pictures of the sun setting at 12:25 a.m. and then went back to camp and crashed. I don’t know when the sunrise was, but it was early. We were way up north, and it was close to summer solstice. It was kind of a pain, because I was using a 15 degree down sleeping bag, and the sun came up really early and cooked me. If I opened up my sleeping bag a little, mosquitoes would bite me like crazy. So it was either cook or get eaten. I choose to cook – for the most part.

To be continued…

Sunset above Dawson City, Yukon.
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Wednesday, October 24th, 2007


Alaska Road Trip 2007 – Day 1 and 2


By McFarnell (Matthew Farnell)

The beginning of the Alaska Highway!
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When Matt first invited me on this trip back in February, I was faced with the decision of taking a required math class or going to Alaska. I decided I didn’t want to do school forever, so I told Matt I wasn’t going to be able to go. It was kind of disappointing, because it was the trip of a lifetime. Ben and Matt are both good friends, and they were doing this road trip to Alaska to visit friends, fish, hike, and just have a good time. I had always wanted to go to Alaska but hadn’t had the chance yet.

Needless to say, I was very happy when Ben and Matt rescheduled the trip to June after the final for my math class. There were lots of logistics to work out…would we drive, fly, ride the ferry, rent a car? What would we want to do? Where would we stay?

After a couple meetings for planning, we had things pretty well laid out. Since none of us had a good three-person vehicle, Mom and Dad generously loaned us the x-forest-service green Jeep (which we had gotten in an online auction) for the trip. Matt had friends he wanted to visit in Fairbanks, and I had friends in Palmer. We mainly wanted to see Denali and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, and possibly Prudhoe Bay and the Dalton Highway. Ben and I wanted to get some fishing in as well, and we all were looking forward to some hiking and great photo ops.

A couple days ahead we met and tried packing all our stuff in the Jeep to make sure it would fit. Ben didn’t show up, but Matt and I decided we could fit everything after looking at our stuff loaded. David loaned us a platform we could put in the trailer hitch, and Matt had a nice plastic bin, so we decided to carry food, chairs, and cooking stuff on that platform. It would also work well for a table on the trip.

Matt and I decided we should meet at his house at 7 a.m. on Saturday to begin the trip. Matt would feed us oatmeal for breakfast before heading out. We knew that Ben had a tendency to be late, so we decided to meet at 7 with the goal of being out of town by 8 a.m.

Day 1

Sure enough, Matt and I were eating oatmeal alone Saturday morning. While we were waiting, we decided we had a quorum, so we made and voted on a few rules for the trip as a joke for Ben. Things like…Matt drives from 8am-2pm, Matthew drives from 2pm-8pm, and Ben drives from 8pm-8am. Ben finally showed up about 7:40. We showed him our list of rules and explained how we had a quorum and all. The rules got more and more crazy as you went down the list, so Ben figured out it was a joke after a minute. It was a funny way to start the trip, and I think Ben took it OK.

All packed and ready to hit the road.Christina was going to school in Langly, B.C., so she had talked us into delivering a bunch of food and a bike to her. Apparently food is super expensive in Canada. Like $15 for a block of cheese…

I took the first shift driving. Our first challenge was the border crossing. Matt had decided to bring a rifle for self defense from animals and people in AK, so he had the papers all filled out and ready to go. The lady at the border saw it was some kind of “.44” and assumed it was a hand gun.

Lady: “You can’t take handguns into Canada, sir.”

Matt: “It’s not a handgun.”

Lady: “They’ll sort that out inside.”

She made us pull over and go inside.

Once inside we showed our passports and then stood around while they called immigration to check on us or something. Finally one of the ladies took us into another room one at a time to ask us questions like, “What do you do for a living?”, “Where do you live?”, etc. Not sure why we had to go in another room for such simple questions, but whatever. After about 45 minutes they let us go with no problems.

Our next challenge was finding Trinity Western where Christina was. We got highway 1 confused with 1A, and had to stop and ask directions a couple times. We finally arrived and delivered her stuff.

We stayed at Christina’s for dinner, and met some of her friends. Ben’s glasses broken during this time, and he can’t see much without them, so we decided to go to Wal-Mart to get stuff to solder them together. Back at Christina’s, Ben started working on his glasses, but soon found that the miniature soldering gun he had bought did not have any fuel in it. What a rip off, and the box didn’t even say that it didn’t come with fuel.

It took three of us to solder Ben’s glasses using a cigarette lighter.I had the idea of using a cigarette lighter, and that worked just fine. It took a few tries with three of us working to get the glasses soldered back together in a usable way. We now had the tools to do soldering wherever we happened to be in the Alaskan wilderness, should the need arise.

About 9 p.m. we set out again. Matt was concerned about how much time we had lost, so he decided to drive all night and encouraged Ben and I to get some sleep so we could take over driving later on. I discovered that I could curl up in the back seat quite comfortably.

Day 2

I took over driving about 6 a.m. We were nearing Prince George, and the countryside was beautiful as the sun came up. Lots of fields with fog drifting across them. We stopped in Prince George for gas and continued on. Breakfast was cereal with rice milk on the side of the road…mosquitoes were bad.

Stretch break alongside the road in BC.

We were in Dawson Creek by 11:00 and stopped at a little church there for the Sunday service. We were late, but were able to slip in after the music, when the children were dismissed for children’s church. It was Father’s Day, and it was a pretty good sermon, but the service was kind of weird.

One of the first grizzlies we saw on the trip.We went to the visitor’s center next, ate lunch, and were on the road again with Ben driving by 2 p.m. About dinner time we saw our first grizzlies on the side of the road. They were a ways off the road, so we got out to take pictures. There was another photographer there with a HUGE lens. He kept looking around, so I think we was worried about the mother grizz.

About 8:30 we started seeing a ton of wildlife. We saw four caribou, which was a first for all of us – even Matt who had lived in Alaska for a few years. A couple corners later we saw mountain goats crossing the road. This area was amazing with lots of beautiful mountains. We drove by Muncho Lake just as the sun was setting. It was so awesome that we decided to maybe try to camp in this area on the way home.

Antelope!I took over driving again about 10 p.m. It was still twilight out, and there were lots of animals active. It was so awesome. Ben and Matt were both snoozing, but I saw a cow moose and her baby walking down the road. I also saw a couple bears with their cubs. Traffic was almost zero.

We made it to Watson Lake around midnight with almost no gas. We finally found a gas station that was open and filled up. The guy at the station told us we could camp out in the back of an RV park in back, so we did that. Matt and I laid out the tarp to sleep on, and Ben settled in the back seat of the Jeep. The stars were out.

About 4 a.m. or so, it started pouring. I noticed after a couple drops and jumped up and got in the Jeep with my down sleeping bag. Matt was in a Gore-Tex bivy sack, so he just looked up and went back to sleep. I mean to tell you it poured. In the morning, the tarp had big puddles of water on it. Matt was still pretty dry, so those bivy sacks really do work!

To be continued…

Muncho Lake at sunset.
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Saturday, October 13th, 2007


Alpine Lakes Wilderness – Labor Day, 2006


By McFarnell (Matthew Farnell)

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The trip started out Friday evening at 8:00 p.m. when we picked up Ben. Next stop was Longview to pick up Laurel. There were five of us on this trip: Charlie, Matthew, Christina, Ben, and Laurel.

After a one-hour quick stop to pick up some worms (and a watermelon, cooking oil, peanuts, and more) we finally arrived at the trailhead at about 12:30 a.m. We quickly spread out the tarp next to the car and crashed after noticing millions of stars overhead.

At 7:00 a.m. the first truck came driving up the road, passed us, stopped, backed up and asked, “Are you guys camping there?”

“Yes,” Dad answered. Dad and Ben had been up a couple minutes, and the rest of us were just getting up.

“Well lookout, I’m backing in there.”

“Boy howdy!” says Ben.

alpine2.jpgThere was space for him to back in beside our tarp. This actually isn’t an official trailhead, but an abandoned road up a canyon between STEEP mountains. There are several lakes up the mountains on the sides and lots of mines in the area.

Anyway, we talked to this guy and his buddy a while and found out they were headed to a mine way up the river. I had gotten directions to a closer mine which we were planning to visit from 2drx (a handle in an online forum, nwhikers.net), and it turned out this guy was one of his friends. I asked him if he used nwhikers.net forum, and he said he did. “I’m Jimbo,” he said. I couldn’t really place that name, but told him I was “McFarnell.” It was kind of neat meeting someone from the forum. After a few minutes they took off in a big hurry.

alpine3.jpgDad had bought the watermelon as a post-hike treat, so I carried it down the road and hid it in the river under the bridge. We packed up all our stuff, ate breakfast, and headed up the “trail” about a half hour later. The road was pretty nice for a little ways, but we soon reached “Bowling Ball Alley” where a stream has run down the road and you have to walk on bowling-ball-sized rocks. It is a nice area with some BIG trees, a river beside the road, and all kinds of plants.

After about an hour of hiking, we reached the big cedar tree and memorial that is the landmark for the turnoff to the mine we were going to try and find. The memorial was for a guy who died at this spot while hiking with his son and a friend a few years back. I think he was only 55 or some odd years old.

We dropped our packs and began climbing the side of the canyon, following the vague directions I had printed online. 20 minutes later I saw the first boards from the old power house. We were amazed that we could walk right to it. There was all kinds of old pipe, boards, an engine, a trolley that used to run up and down from the valley, an ore cart, and – most interesting – the adit itself!

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As described on the internet, the entrance doesn’t make one feel “warm and fuzzy.” Quite a few rocks have fallen from the ceiling at the entrance, but about 10 feet back it gets more stable with no breakdown. There was some weird contraption just inside and ore cart tracks trailing off into the distance under about 3 inches of water. I decided to go wading and Laurel soon followed. Other mine explorers have been in here, so I wasn’t too worried. We went about 200 feet straight back and then the tunnel curved left and we turned around. We got some good pictures and video of the whole place.

Back outside, Dad had found the ore cart down the hillside about 50 feet. After a few more pictures, we started heading back down to the valley.

With our packs on again, we made short work of the next mile up the valley to our turnoff. This is where it gets rough. So far we had hiked two miles, and we only had one mile to go. The problem is that this last mile is almost straight up on an old trail that is very hard to follow.

alpine4.jpg We waded across the creek and entered the brush – devil’s club, salmon berries, huckleberries, and more. Soon we were in gradual sloping forest, easy walking….it didn’t last long. Now we were really climbing, with the creek from the lake going over waterfalls on our right. This last mile took us about four hours to complete.

When we were close to exhaustion, we crested the top of a rise and were walking flat again. Soon the lake appeared – so beautiful, clear, and welcoming in the afternoon sunlight with majestic mountain peaks in the distance. No sign of anyone. There were TONS of big, black, sweet, juicy huckleberries on the hillsides near the lake. Yum!

The last (and only) time we were here, we camped at the outlet, right where the trail reaches the lake, but this time we decided to camp on a peninsula out in the middle of the lake. The access route to this peninsula proved harder than we expected (lots of brush), but it was worth it. A great campsite with views of the lake on both sides and a nice fire pit. There was a great swimming rock nearby.

We quickly unpacked and got ready to go fishing. Ben, Dad, and I were the only ones with fishing licenses, so our goal was to catch dinner before dark. We were soon out in our rafts fishing. Christina and Laurel soon followed, both in one raft, just visiting and rowing around the lake.

I was using a z-ray lure and soon had several bites, but I just couldn’t keep them on! They’d jump out of the water and throw the lure. Dad was using a flasher with a worm, and that was working great. He soon caught four and gave his rig to Ben, who also caught a bunch. I was able to catch two, finally, on the z-ray. Ben caught the biggest fish of the day at about 14 inches. They were all nice, fat rainbows – there are freshwater shrimp in this lake which provide constant fish food.

alpine5.jpg We had a great meal of fish and home-dried stew, but missed having a campfire. Fires aren’t allowed at this elevation in this wilderness area. We sang a few songs and then headed for bed.

The next morning dawned bright and clear with fluffy white clouds floating overhead – a beautiful day! We had blackberry cobbler and more fish for breakfast. After breakfast we had a short church service where each of us shared a verse or passage of scripture and then we sang a few hymns.

Ben and I were planning to do a dayhike over to another lake, about two miles away, so we began getting all our stuff ready. Laurel, not one to sit idle, began weaving a basket from huckleberry bushes. Ben and I were soon ready and pushed off in our rafts for our commute across the lake. This lake has steep brushy shorelines, so rafting is the quickest and easiest way to the opposite side. Our plan was to get out on the opposite shore and give Dad our rafts to bring back to camp for him and the girls to use throughout the day – we would holler when we were ready to come back across the lake that evening.

 As soon as we started across the lake we noticed it was an unusually warm day. This was fine, except that our route would take us over a couple STEEP ridges and rough, brushy, mountain-goat country. We were going to be hot. I had a GPS-tracked map from a guy on the internet who had made this hike before, so I knew it was possible, but hard. I had attempted it once before, but turned back at the first ridge.

We soon were across the lake and started up the hillside. Let me tell you, this country is STEEP. After climbing for an hour or so, eating lot of huckleberries along the way, and crossing some scary-steep sections, we made the first ridge above the lake. We could see dad’s raft as a small dot down on the lake far below. We took some pictures, video, and yelled back and forth with those back at the lake. It was already close to noon, so we also stopped here for lunch.

alpine6.jpgI was getting a little worried now, as the day was half over and we weren’t even close to our destination. We decided to press on anyway. A short ways down the ridge we happened upon some very cool quartz crystals and an unknown piece of wire. We side-hilled along the back of the ridge, skirting a couple peaks before dropping down to another intersecting ridge. There were lots of huckleberries, which were really slowing Ben down (they were too good to pass up!). Lots of bear sign, too.

We dropped clear down into the valley where there was a small stream and Ben decided he needed to soak his feet which were hurting from all the side-hilling. I looked back up at the ridge we had just come from and could hardly believe we had been up there because there were so many cliffs. We still had another couple ridges to go and the afternoon was passing. I was beginning to believe that we probably should just fill our water bottles here and head back – Ben agreed that was the wisest idea at this point. We were both disappointed, but this hike was just rougher than we had anticipated. We agreed that next time we should get up at the crack of dawn and get moving.

 Once back up on the ridge above the lake, we noticed some dark rain clouds heading our way. “Great,” I said. “Dad’s going to be worried about that – he might even want to start hiking out tonight.” Rain is miserable on backpacking trips. It is so hard to stay dry and warm, especially without a campfire.

We found some mountain goat fur stuck in some bushes along the ridge – this is definitely their kind of territory. A little further along we found a shorter route back to the lake, but weren’t sure if it would take us all the way to the lake or if it would dead-end at some cliffs. It looked ok from our vantage point, so we decided to take a chance and headed down. The first part just below the ridge was the scariest – super steep, pine needles, and almost nothing to hold on to. Down a ways we found a cairn so that encouraged us that this must be a passable route.

alpine7.jpg Sure enough, we did find a nice way down to the lake after walking through some snow from last year (this is Sept!!!) and skirting around a big cliff. We had hollered from up above for boats, but they were nowhere to be seen. We yelled some more and cleaned ourselves up a bit in the cool lake water – hiking through brush on a hot day sure can get you dirty. Dad finally showed up with our rafts….half deflated! Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I had asked them to make sure they were pumped up before bringing them so we could float high and dry.

I proceeded to hop into my raft and splash a bunch of water in as well. Nice. I don’t know if you’ve used a raft before, but all the water goes straight to the lowest point which is usually right where you’re sitting. Ben tried getting into his and did the same thing.

Ben high-tailed it straight for camp to dry off while I looked for a good place to get out on this side of the lake. I wanted to do some fishing before heading back, but wanted to dry out first. I finally found a place to get out to dry off a bit. I got all my stuff out of the raft, and started to pick it up to empty the water when….splash….my video camera had fallen off my belt into the lake! Nice. Luckily it was in a case and was kind of floating. I grabbed it, dried it off, put it in a zip-lock I had and back into the case. I finished emptying the water out of the boat and launched again without getting wet. I did a little bit of fishing but it was already dinner time so I headed for camp. I did lose my bait twice while going across the lake, but missed the fish both times.

alpine8.jpg For dinner we had fish and another pot of stew along with leftover cobbler. Laurel had packed in some dinner rolls and homemade huckleberry jam, so that was a nice addition. Half way through dinner Dad decided it looked like rain and wanted to head for the valley – he didn’t want to have to try to walk through all those huckleberry bushes and steep slopes after they were soaking wet. It was already getting close to sunset, so we put it in high gear and got everything packed up. We left the lake right at sunset.

We didn’t get very far before it was too dark to see. We finally found a flat spot on the side of the mountain and made a quick lean-to for the night. It was still really warm and never dropped below about 62 all night. It did sprinkle a bit, but not much.

The next morning we had a quick breakfast of dried fruit and continued on down the mountain. After losing and re-finding the trail a few times, we finally arrived at the valley floor, crossed the river, and took a long break. After filtering water, we headed back down the abandoned road towards the car. The hike down the road seemed longer than it had two days before. We arrived back at the car at 12:30 p.m. where we enjoyed crisp, cold watermelon fresh from the river.

We spent the rest of the day fighting traffic to get back home. We entertained ourselves by looking at digital pictures and video of the trip and visiting. It was a really fun trip and a great success. The Alpine Lakes Wilderness is awesome country and I’m looking forward to next time!

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