Hiking Anvil Mountain in Nome

I typically try to get out and see the sites when I am working away from home. Usually my time is limited to about an hour after work and before sunset. Anvil Mountain was a great option for this criteria.

I followed the directions on Alaska.org to get to the trail. I elected not to take the road. Instead, I turned down Old Glacier Creek Road. There seems to be some sort of query operation in the middle of the road at the time I was there (Fall 2018). There was a brief detour and I had to cross heavy truck traffic and share the road with some large trucks at the bottom part. I quickly wound my way away from the query and to the base of the hike. As described on the website, the road takes a sharp left, at which, there is a large gravel area to park.

Park here. You can see the trail kind of above the car

Park here. You can see the trail kind of above the car

While this hike does not require advanced route finding, don’t expect a single continuous trail to guide you to Anvil Rock. Take a moment here and identify some points to help guide you. Looking at the mountain, you can see an ATV trail that goes straight up the side to some rocks. It looks very steep from this angle-it isn’t too bad and the ground is pretty stable. There is a faint singletrack trail that leads out of the looker’s left of the parking lot. Follow it until it fades away and set your sites on the obvious ATV trail. In about a hundred yards, you should meet up with the ATV trail.

The single track trail

The single track trail

Follow the ATV track to the top of the small cliff band where the trail ends. At this point, you should be able to set your sights on Anvil Rock to your right. Walk across the Tundra and find spotty, discontinuous trails until you reach Anvil Rock. Enjoy fantastic views of Nome, the White Alice Antennas, ruins, and the Kigluaik Mountains. I played the “how many dredges can you find” game. Overall, the hike up at a decent pace was about 15-20 minutes. I spent about 20 minutes up top, and about 20 to come down. Overall, it took about an hour at a leisurely pace up and down.

There is also a road that takes you right up to the rock. I climbed on top of it-it is a little exposed. There is a single bolt on top of it-for rappelling down I would guess.

Afternoon Hike up Highschool Hill in Valdez

I had the pleasure of working in Valdez for one of the most amazing Septembers that anyone around seemed to remember. That said, I spent my working hours walking (my job required a lot of walking and a lot of note taking) and my evenings doing as much outside as I could while still doing the paperwork I needed to get done. I had spied the straight line up the mountain behind the high school on a previous visit and inquired as to its hikeability-I could not tell if it was just one of the many waterfall lines (which didn’t make much sense) or a trail.

6 pm Tuesday evening found me laying on my bed thinking about how I should go enjoy the weather but also really wanting to not move after 8 miles of walking around in the heat (ha, yes the heat I say!) and swarming bugs. The damn bugs loved the smell of my shampoo or something-the only way to ward them off was to be constantly moving. Luckily, years of self motivation and pep talking to get my ass moving when I am tired paid off-I picked up my phone and searched “High school hill hike Valdez”. The results were rather sparse. I read “class 4 at the top”. Well that kind of scared me.

Not that I don’t consider myself to be a bad ass Alaskan climber of many things but when something is saying “class 4” it is either really bad or someone who grew up somewhere flat and is on their first hill wrote it and it isn’t that bad. Perspective. Considering the source was a somewhat official Alaskan site, I was leaning toward the first option. Well, hiking up there by myself is probably dumb, but now I have to. I need to see how bad it really is. And, I need to get over my fear. Or at least face it and decide it is that scary and I should go down.

So 6:30 found me in the Highschool parking lot (there is supposedly another route up from behind the water tank on Mineral Creek Drive- I could not find an obvious trail down that way in all the brush so that is unverified.) Looking up at “900 feet of elevation gain in 1300 feet”:

You can kind of see where the trail starts….

You can kind of see where the trail starts….

I think there is a trail up there. I am all for straight up hikes-it looked fine until that class 4 part that I was unsure about. I started up. Yup, the typical Alaskan trail here. Straight up I went at a concerning steep angle-coming down will be a blast! About 20 minutes later. I found a rope. I grabbed it and started working my way up.

The going wasn’t too bad at first- I almost laughed the rope off. Then I got to the real class 4- 7 to 10 foot sections of hands required and if I fell I was going for a really unpleasant ride. Oh, and of course I had no backpack and it was hot so I had a water bottle in my hand. The rope was incredibly helpful, if not necessary, for safety.

The main point of this post is to answer the question I had of “well how bad is it?” for other people. My answer-totally doable but normal to slightly less fearful than normal people who scramble and climb will be in varying levels of discomfort. To put my experience in perspective, the majority of my hiking has been in the Chugach. I am familiar with scrambly, steep, exposed choss. I have made many a class 3 and a few class 4 ascents in groups and solo. I also rock climb the afore mentioned Chugah choss. So steep and scrambly and exposed on shitty rock is nothing new for me. I felt a little uncomfortable. Part of the discomfort was from the water bottle cutting into my hand as I tried to hold it along with the rope.

Anyway, I scrambled on up, right past the viewing rock in all the photos online and continued on. It flattened out once the rope disappeared. I bushwhacked along a thready trail for a hundred yards or so until it started to go up. At this point, I realized I had passed my objective of the lookout rock at the top of the rope. I continued on for a little while. However, the trial soon started going up again and I found myself scrambling up some rock with no rope. The rock was fine, the loose dirt trail that was about 14 inches wide with a straight off drop was not fine. At this point, I realized I was shaky. I tried to determine if it was because I was dehydrated (the damn water bottle was now empty and just in my way), hungry, tired, scared, or some sort of combination. I determined that all of these problems could be fixed with a cheeseburger at the bottom of the hike. Having already passed my objective, I proceeded down and saved the top out for another day.

On my way down, I found the look out rock. I stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the view and think about cheeseburgers. I started slowly working my way down the rope. Luckily, there was no one coming up yet. I realized that this single 300 or so yard rope would be awful to use if another person was on it. I guess this doesn’t see that much traffic so that is not generally a problem. I swore at my stupid water bottle which was still in the way as I passed it from hand to hand trying to pick my way down the rock.

Once I got to the bottom of the hill, the rest of the way down was just steep and loose. If you have hiked government peak or the old flattop trail, you are ready for this part. Before I knew it, I was back at the car.

Time-wise, the overall outing was a little over an hour- half an hour up to where I stopped, 10 minutes looking around, and about 20 coming back down. I hike slightly faster than the average person, and a little slower than the average avid Alaskan hiker.

Overall assessment: Technically not that hard, but the exposure is absolutely class 4. The rope is there for a reason-make sure your hands are both useable. Amazing views and a short and challenging hike.

A weekend Fatbiking in Nancy Lake SRA and a review of Red Shirt Lake Cabin #4

We decided to spend a weekend of (mis)adventure in the Nancy Lake State Recreation Area. Per my usual, planning was rather last minute; all public use cabins everywhere within 200 miles of where we lived were booked a week before our 4 day weekend. We got lucky (I think) when the Red Shirt Cabin #4 mysteriously became available about 2 days before our hopeful departure. We quickly snagged it for two nights and patted ourselves on the back for a job well done and in preparation for adventure. 

I checked the trail reports; "groomed" perfect for biking, right?! We loaded up the fat bikes, complete with a new bike rack I had designed, the dog, and gear and drove 70 miles north. At the trailhead, we strapped our bags to the bikes like the (maybe not so) seasoned bikepacking pros we are and set off fearlessly into the setting sun. 

Within 10 minutes we realized that things sucked. The normal, easy 6 mph clip we usually speed along trails was severely hampered by the loose and heavy power on the trail. It was groomed but the snow was loose. I stopped and aired down my tires; it made no difference. We were sinking and there was nothing we could do. I assumed it was probably just because this is my first winter on a fatbike and I didn't know any better. We powered on. Three hours later, we had completed the 8 mile trek to Red Shirt Lake and found our home away from home. 

The struggle on the trail certainly set the theme for the rest of the weekend; everything was going to be harder than it needed to be. We got to the cabin and were delighted to find wood neatly cut and stacked outside waiting for us. That is where my delight ended. We opened the door and were greeted by a surprisingly small wood stove. I proceed to light a fire in the wood stove to warm things up. It took us (ok, an hour into the process I was banned from touching the fire for the night when I accidentally put the budding fire out in my attempts to oxygenate it) over 2 hours to get a fire going that we were willing to leave unattended for more than 15 seconds for fear of it going out. 

The only photo I took of the wood stove. It was so cold, the dog decided to sleep here. 

The only photo I took of the wood stove. It was so cold, the dog decided to sleep here. 

Let me be clear: this is not our first rodeo. Cabin trips happen on a not infrequent basis. Give me some nice dry wood and I will turn it into a nice fire in 15 minutes. We fall solidly into the "seasoned amateur" adventurer category. 

I roamed around the cabin in my warmest puffy coat and made dinner. 4 hours later, we could finally feel the temperature inside creeping up. With the fire roaring, we shut the door to the wood stove, expecting the temperature to keep going up. For some reason, the temperature in the cabin did not rise. At least the stove was warm enough to start drying wood on. 

With the fire at least warm enough to sustain itself for a short time without supervision, we stepped outside and were treated to vibrant start with faint northern lights on the horizon. 

Unfortunately, despite the fire, the cabin temperature dropped. We opened the door on the stove to let some heat into the cabin. That's not how this is supposed to work. We crawled into our sleeping bags and hoped for the best.

Despite getting up throughout the night to keep the fire going, the morning greeted us with a deep chill in the air. I got up and re-lit the fire and made coffee and breakfast. Even the dog seemed a little subdued and cold. 

We stayed indoors long enough to get things warming up. We set out to find adventure and fire wood. I found a nice downed birch tree that I cut a few limbs from. We dragged them back to the cabin to feed the dismal fire. After the important business of firewood was taken care of, we set off on our bikes. 

We biked all around Red Shirt Lake to see the sights. Despite biking on the perfectly flat lake surface, it was arguably harder than biking up the Hillside trails on my mountain bike in the summer.  The snow grabbed the tires and held us back, requiring constant energy in the form of pedaling to keep us moving forward. The sights were fantastic but the effort required to bike was surprisingly immense. The dog was stoked for the adventure. 

The lake was gorgeous

The lake was gorgeous

Shiro had a blast!

Shiro had a blast!

We got back to the cabin and started the fire process yet again. That wood stove seriously sucks. In our leisure time for the day, I browsed the cabin journal. Some entries claimed that they got the cabin up to a toasty 80+ degrees (bullshit). Others seemed to have similar problems to ours. 

Despite a roaring fire, the cabin never really got warm again. We made dinner and melted snow in our warmest clothes and then huddled by the stove for warmth. 

About two hours after going to bed, I noticed things getting much colder. In one last attempt, I got up and added wood to the fire. The stove itself was hot but the air in the cabin was on its way to matching the outdoor temperatures, hovering between 15 and 25 degrees. 

I went bad to bed, expecting the temperature to at least stabilize from my efforts with the fire; it continued to drop. I burrowed into the sleeping bag. We even let the dog in the sleeping bag. We awoke to a chilly 20 degrees inside and frosted windows. 

Soon enough, it was time for the bike back. It seemed like endless uphill on our way out. I was excited at the possibility of some downhill on the way back. 

I was horribly wrong. Somehow, the trail was uphill both ways. We struggled all the way back. Mind you, this is an 8 mile trail 1 way. We regularly bike 4-8 miles in an evening after work. We don't bat an eye at a 12 mile bike ride to the Serenity Falls Hut (which only took us 2 hours) or a 20 mile day trip. 

We struggled through the snow, dodging the snowmachiners (oh, this is a multi use trail-skiers, snowmachiners, and dog sleds!). We ran into a friendly skier we chatted with us and confirmed that the conditions were sub-optimal for biking. Ok, maybe it isn't just me. Maybe the loose snow just made things harder.

We made it back to the car, stoked to have survived another adventure and overcome the deep snow and freezing cabin! Great weekend of Type 2 fun! 

In review, the trails may sometimes be great for fatbiking, but can certainly bog you down under the wrong conditions. Be prepared for either!

Red Shirt Lake Cabin #4 is probably great in the summer. Unless you are a wood stove magician or like being cold, I would suggest booking one of the other 3 cabins available on the lake if they are free in the winter. 

Nice views! If you are lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the northern lights!

Nice views! If you are lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the northern lights!

Climbing for ROMP

Climbing for ROMP

It's an age old clique: It's easy to take things for granted. For most of us, we wake up in the morning, put both feet on the ground, and walk out the door to wherever life takes is. For some, it isn't so simple. That's where ROMP (short for Range of Motion Project) comes in. Not only does this organization provide durable prosthesis for a reasonable cost, they also provide its members with a community. Could you imagine climbing a mountain with two prosthetic legs? That's exactly what members of ROMP do. 

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