Trail Creek to Puritan Creek over Chitna Pass

Imagination plus a topo map on the wall of Sheep Mountain Lodge got me to thinking last spring about connecting a few drainages over a pass in the Talkeetnas. I later learned that, as I was map gazing, a friend was out doing that exact tour. So, of course, checking it out was on the list for this year.   

Upper Caribou Creek. Photo by K. Strong.

I'm not a huge fan of hitchhiking, and love saving on gas $$, so was thrilled when it worked out that a group of friends was heading out to Thompson Pass early Saturday morning. They gave us a bump from the car drop (Purinton Creek) to the pullout at Trail Creek up the highway a bit. It was the perfect start to the weekend. 

Upper Caribou Creek slot. Photo by K. Strong.

John and I agreed that we were going to just enjoy the bluebird weather and take things at a leisurely pace. It was great to take in the mountains and talk about work, relationships, and pretty much everything in between. 

Ice shelves in the canyon. Photo by K. Strong.

Stone arch in the canyon. Photo by K. Strong.

Exiting. Photo by K. Strong.

Snowmachine trails wound their way along our path: up Trail Creek to Squaw Creek to Caribou Creek. When we reached Chitna Creek, it was time to break trail. The snowpack was tough: a slab over deep sugar snow. We made great time until then, and then the slogging began. 

Upper Caribou Creek. Photo by K. Strong.

We set up camp fairly early, and slept super late. I didn't stir for 12 hours. Much needed rest, but a slow start to the day. The slogging continued. Getting up and over the pass took enough time to thoroughly enjoy the view. 

Chitna Creek drainage. Photo by K. Strong. 

Nearing the pass (which is up and left from here). Photo by K. Strong.

Celebrating the beginning of the downhill, with a snack. Photo by K. Strong. 

The one part of the trip I was anxious about was the drop down into Boulder Creek. It looked to be steep, and the snowpack had me on high alert. We peered over, I spotted a cliff band below, and dug in my heels. A weak snowpack is one thing (and concerning in its own right). A weak snowpack over cliffs: no thanks. John indulged me, and we worked our way down through a creek drainage that was peppered with ice falls, all short enough to butt-slide down. Until we found one that wasn't, and was coupled with an open pool of water. We booted up and over a ridge to bypass. 

Looking down at Boulder Creek, and an impressive curtain of ice. Photo by K. Strong.

John working his way down. Photo by K. Strong. 

We hit the snowmachine track that would lead us to the car at around 6p. I predicted we'd get to the lot at around midnight, and was only ten minutes off. The Prius did a great job of rallying it out of the questionable parking lot, and we were on our way. We'd seen moose all over  during our ski. Unfortunately, that didn't end when we stopped skiing, and came within about a foot of hitting one on the drive home. Yikes. 

Our route, roughly (and not how we got off the pass). 

I'm so happy for the return of long days, especially long days in the mountains with friends. Spring is my favorite time, and such a wonderful time to explore Alaska. Have a tour idea? Let's get out and play!