Hiking/Snowshoeing Granite TorsPosted: April 25, 2012
Our hike this weekend was an exercise in persistence and a lesson in the pitfalls of “break up.” Spring in Alaska means water and snow and icy and everything in between. We had an idea what this would mean, but not really a sense of how this changes hiking.
We set out for Granite Tors in the morning armed with snowshoes and layers of clothes and dry shoes that would be waiting for us back in the car. Prepared. This hike is a loop that runs along the North Fork of the Chena River and then ascends into the mountains where it passes by and around large rock outcroppings know as tors. It offers mountain views all around. My kind of hike.
The first section of the hike was sloppy. Melt water flooded the trail in many sections and thick, wet mud blanketed the rest. But we had expected this. What we hadn’t expect was what came next. As the trail steadily climbed out of the flood water and mud, we thought we would come to snow. Strap-on-your-snowshoes-and-go-kinda-snow. Instead, we encountered a hopscotch of deep snow and bare ground. It was a pain in the butt. For over an hour we continuously put on snowshoes only to take them off again. The sections of snow were too deep to walk, up over our knees, but walking on bare ground in snowshoes isn’t a great idea either. Fortunately, we at least had good views. Mountains, mountains, and mountains.
We did finally get to a spot with more continuous snow, but it wasn’t very stable. In some places you could easily walk on the top of the hard-crusted, wind-blown snow, but then a few steps later, you would sink, even in snowshoes, up to your knees, hitting what we started calling “bomb holes.” The hardest part was getting back out of them. Your snowshoes would catch in the thick, icy snow, and you had to work to get them moving again. It was like trying to walk up stairs with glue on your feet.
At the crest of a hill about four miles in we realized we were never going to be able to finish the loop. It was just too slow between the bomb holes and the on/off processes with snowshoes, so we stopped for a break to enjoy our distant view of the tors. I never get tired of looking out at the mountains, especially when you have the view all to yourselves.
There was also weather rolling in. Out over the mountains in front of us, huge dust-gray clouds clumped and hung around the peaks. In contrast, behind us the sky was crayon blue and clear. I loved the feeling of the sun warming my back as I watched the dark clouds roll and bubble like a caldron moving towards us. It was time to head back.
The walk down turned out to be the more comical version of our hike up. After three hours of sun, the snow was mushy, and we found ourselves sinking and flopping and falling through the snow all the way back down. When you hit a bomb hole the motion of your body, coupled with the downhill grade, sent you forward at a pace that face planted me into the snow, twice. I wish we had a video of us laughing and falling and laughing our way down the mountain like the two stooges. It would have made a great black-and-white movie with a pie in someones face at the end.
Hiking in Alaska is always an adventure!