Portage and Whittier with some Avalanches from a far

We had no plan for the weekend. The calendar said "relaxing". That is a funny joke. We are both bad at relaxing. We tried really hard on Saturday and achieved about 95% success at relaxing. We managed to stay at home until almost 6 pm! Sunday called for an adventure. 

REI opened at 10. At 10:05, I was still throwing shit in Lindsay's car trying to get ready to go kayaking while Lindsay called around looking for a kayak rental. Turns out, the only place open that rents Kayaks on a Sunday is REI. For the modest fee of $75, you can rent a kayak for a day. No thanks, we don't want to kayak that badly. Hiking it is. I went back inside; it was Shiro's lucky day. With the change of plans, he got to come too. 

It seemed like one of the first legit days of summer. There was not a cloud in they sky. In late morning, the temperatures were almost approaching the 50s. That definitely qualifies as shorts weather in Alaska. The drive down the Turnagain Arm was stunning. I have lived here for over 10 years and the views on the drive down the Seward Highway never get old. I have been driving this highway, sometimes multiple times a day, on at least a weekly bases for over three years now for my job and volunteer work at the Fire Department in Girdwood.

We enjoyed a pleasant drive while Shiro hyperventilated in the back from excitement. Sometimes he acts like he never gets to go on adventures. My phone is full of photographic proof otherwise. His boundless enthusiasm and excitement is refreshing. Every day is the best day ever for him. Sometimes I wish I could be more like him in seeing the excitement in everyday things. 

The snow cycle has been a little weird this year. While I have not watched the avalanche reports like I usually do due to my ACL injury, I have still been checking the reports somewhat regularly. The spring's theme is glide avalanches along the Turnagain Arm and Pass. I look up at a ridge and see at least a dozen slide paths and a dozen more glide cracks waiting to come down. I mention my fear of being caught in an avalanche, and my desire to observe one in action from afar. 

We arrive in Portage a little before noon and park in the back parking lot. We don't know what is in this parking lot or if there are any trails off of it. I think it is overflow parking for the Portage lake ferry service that is not yet running for the season. As I let Shiro out, a van with no windows pulls in. Shiro bolts and tries to jump in. Luckily, the doors are closed by the time he gets across the parking lot and the driver is dog-friendly.

 Oh hey, look, an avalanche.

Oh hey, look, an avalanche.

As we are standing there, trying to decide what to do, Lindsay points out a roaring sound. It sounds like a plane. Nope, it is an avalanche coming down near the main trail out to Byron Glacier. It sounded like a small plane and looked like a waterfall. It lasted for over 5 minutes. Well, I guess I got my wish. I then expressed my desire to check out fresh avalanche debris. Ya know, I don't want my first experience with avalanche debris to be digging my partner out of a burial. I prefer to avoid that scenario all together. However, I believe in preparing for the worst with knowledge and experience and then using that to avoid the wort from happening. 

We were far enough away to be able to determine that the snow from that particular avalanche had all fallen off the mountain and that under that particular area was relatively safe. We looked around for a moment and found a primitive trail that lead over to the main trail, and the avalanche. We wandered through alders, made a few decisions where the trail branched and found ourselves at a stream. Luckily, we were both prepared for kayaking and not hiking and wearing knee high Xtratuff boots. Perfect for wading. We made it across without soaking our feet. Shiro went tearing through the stream and got soaked. 

 Shiro playing with a stick in the fresh avalanche debris. 

Shiro playing with a stick in the fresh avalanche debris. 

The main trail was just on the other side of the stream. We saw some hikers coming back from the glacier. No one looked too concerned. Good, no one got buried in the avalanche. The local avalanche report specifically called this trail out as being dangerous. We got to the slide and checked it out. Shiro went tearing off up the snow. Great. Oblivious dog. He also loves walking on frozen or not-so-frozen lakes. I have to keep a close eye on that guy. 

As we stood there, another avalanche came down a few hundred yards away. Wow, two in a day. Shit is really melting and unstable up there. Time to get off the slope.  

We walked up to where the glacier used to be. The last time I was here was 10 years ago. You could walk right up to the glacier. It has receded up into the mountains now; a story common with glaciers around here. Maybe in another 10 years you won't be able to see it at all. 

Well, that was a nice jaunt. We bushwhacked back to the car. It was still early in the afternoon so we decided to go through the tunnel to Whittier. We took a 15 minute drive/tour through town. I scouted a few lines for future, post-ACL healing, ski trips. We stopped at some scenic pullouts and looked out over the Prince William Sound. Personal fishing boats were already starting to populate the water. What a gorgeous sunny day!

It is still a little early in the season for businesses to be open in Whittier. So much of the economy is based on fishing and tourism. We found a place open to grab some dinner before heading back to Anchorage. 

We just missed the tunnel passage. Well, time for a hike. Portage Pass trail head is right by the tunnel. It is only a mile up to the pass. I am in great shape. After 5 months, I have finally been medically cleared to hike on my new ACL. 

 Can't see much from the top of the trail!

Can't see much from the top of the trail!

Turns out the trail is somewhat steep. It sure has been a while since I have hiked up anything steeper than a road. Hiking up and down in an hour is looking highly unfeasible. So we go for it anyway. Not turning around until we get a view!  We make it to the top of the trail. No view of Portage Lake from there. Fuck it, we headed up a little goat path near the trail to try to find the views. Pretty sure this little side adventure is not doctor recommended.  

 Shiro cooperating for the camera.

Shiro cooperating for the camera.

The views were surreal and astounding. So worth it. We tried to take some shots with Shiro in them. He was not too interested in cooperating. After our photo shoot, it was time to get down, fast. That was fun. My knee burned. I compensated. My good knee started hurting. We were about 3/4 of the way back when we could see the traffic starting to go through. We made it. Last car! We enjoyed a gorgeous sunny drive home. 

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