- Happy Birthday to me
Two corners of the property give us a small view and are high so we can get some southern exposure. One site is near the cabin at the southwest corner of the property; it would give us a view over the 'Dismal Swamp.' This area was dubbed 'dismal' by a realtor who couldn't understand why anyone would be interested in living near a wetlands and didn't seem to know that this creek and wetlands are full of birds and wildlife. The other site is at the northeast, near an overlook of Lake 5, and on the edge of the Numbered Lakes Natural Area. We'd have a small view of the lake through the trees.
In early afternoon, we stepped into the ski bindings and headed out to the Numbered Lakes for a holiday tour. Several of inches of snow had fallen the previous day, and light flakes were still floating down as we started out. Wind on Christmas Eve had blown snow over many of the tracks that we or friends had made in the previous few days. Coupled with the flat lighting, we had difficulty following the tracks though we could feel when we were on their packed path.
The solitude and beauty of the Numbered Lakes was our best present this Christmas Day.
On Sunday, we explored the Numbered Lakes Natural Area to the east of our property with Doug and Ellen. After traversing Lakes 4 and 1, we headed southeast to Halfway and Spruce Lakes. Paul and I are still getting our bearings outside the Numbered Lakes, so Doug pulled out a map often to show us where we were.
The sky was cloudy, promising snow, and the temperature had warmed to near 20. No trails are established in this area but there are some common routes of travel. Most of our route was untracked so required breaking trail through several inches of snow. When we crossed overland from lake to lake, we often found ourselves getting stuck in downfalls and shrubs that aren't sufficiently covered by snow yet.
We looped through Spruce and Halfway Lakes, back through the woods to the black spruce bog east of Lake 4, and then to the springs that form the small creek that feeds Lake 5. At the lake, we entered the woods to reach the 'Dismal Swamp' and D&E's home. We had just enough time to nap and make dinner before returning their house for an evening of games.
A little farther along, we started tracking a geocache and decided to leave the Blue Dot and head directly to the cache. That got us into some wetlands along the creek and some overflow. We eventually found our way to this pond with this view of the Chugach Mountains.
We found the cache near the pond and joined the main trail nearby. Not being quick learners, we sought out another cache that required getting off a real trail. This search was even more of a thrash through alders along a small creek. But geocaching can become a bit of an obsession, and even though we don't do it often, it's hard to turn away when you know one is close. So by the end of the afternoon, we had found 3 caches and followed the Blue Dot almost its entire length back to the car. Between the Blue Dot and the caches, we'd explored several corners of the park that we hadn't been to before.
Without snow for skiing, we turn to hiking on the weekends. Cold nights and mostly cold days mean that the areas that are too wet to traverse in the summer are mostly frozen and crossable now. One of our favorite fall hikes is a loop from Hilltop, a municipal park about a mile from our house, up to Prospect Heights, a state park trail head.
We start out on the Spencer Loop trail, going opposite to the travel direction of skiers. In this direction, we won't be surprised by anyone from behind and there are many fine views of the Chugach Mountains beyond. We meet a trio of hikers and one crazy skate skier, who is striding more ice and dirt than snow. After hitting the peak of Spencer Loop, we drop down toward the Campbell Creek Canyon and head off on a single track trail up along the canyon. The canyon trail brings us near Prospect Heights where we pick up the main trail and head to the parking area. As we get there, that same crazy skate skier is schussing along. He has come up the Gasline Trail, which we are about to head down, and it has even less snow than the Spencer Loop. We surmise that he must be on the college team and is desperate to get in his workouts if he'll skate on this base.
In fact, the woods are almost bare of snow and the only white stuff -- ice -- is on the trail. We're wearing studs on the bottom of our boots, so we aren't slipping.
We step off Gasline onto the Llama Trail, a singletrack that is mostly ice. We see a few bike tire imprints but meet no one. The Llama Trail tops out at Hilltop Ski Area, where a few kids are skiing. We walk down a ski run that is still closed due to lack of snow, climb in the car, and drive home.