It seems wherever the snowshoeing is good, evidence of moose litter the trail.
Chilkat State Park Road; a road less-travelled or should I say less-maintained! In the summer the road is full of washboard and potholes, but in the winter it becomes a snowshoeing paradise.
The lustrous journey begins while driving the seven miles out Mud Bay Road with views of Chilkat Inlet, mountains, and maybe even some wildlife.
Turning right onto Chilkat State Park Road you will find it is only plowed a short distance back, and here, is where your snowshoe journey begins.
Early morning and not a puff of air moving outside; the lantern on the table is casting a warm glow across the cabin as I wait for the water kettle to whistle. A crackling coming from the woodstove is the only sound as the sleepy fire bursts back to life with fresh air and new wood.
I poured my first cup of coffee and went outside with my new black lab pup (Jake). He quickly ran out into the snow as I sat down on the top step, and took my first sip of coffee. I watched Jake for a short while as he scurried around in the deep snow; but, soon my thoughts were elsewhere as I stared into the darkness at a silhouette of the mountains across the valley. In the silence of the early morning my mind was at ease to ponder over the idea of a snowshoe adventure that was beginning to develop in my thoughts. It didn’t take long to think up a plan and I was back in the warmth of the cabin preparing for a day of snowshoeing.
While the local radio station was playing softly in the background passing on stories and news from the surrounding communities of Klukwan and Skagway I arranged my backpack with the days essentials.
Finally! A few hours and a couple more cups of coffee later I could see the first glimmer of light in the sky; the sun was beginning its ascent on the Coast Range. As it broke over the crest of the mountains, it shed a blanket of pink across the valley and onto the highest peaks of the Chilkat Range to the west.
When the sun was high enough in the sky to shed some light and its short supply of warmth, I called my friend Suzy to advise her of my plans for the day. I quite often go into remote areas alone; so, it’s always a great feeling to have someone you know and can rely on should things not go quite as planned.
I drove back Chilkat State Park road as far as I could and parked the truck. Reaching over the seat, I pick up Jake and stepped out.
This is Jake’s third time to venture along with me on a new trail.
At three months old he is big enough to keep up, and it’s nice to have a companion along for the day.I stepped into my snowshoes, tossed my backpack across my shoulders, and began out the easiest, “flattest” part of the trail.
In no time at all I was moving along at a good clip trying to warm up, when Jake jumped on the back of my right snowshoe instantly throwing me forward; with the added weight from my backpack I did a remarkable face plant into the crusted snow. I struggled to keep my dignity as I rolled onto my side bringing my left leg to the ground in front of me and pushing off. Jake continued this for the next couple of years, whenever I wasn’t paying attention to him.
It wasn’t long and the trail began its descent twisting and turning through thick deciduous and evergreen trees along the way, eventually breaking through to views of Chilkat Inlet. As I continued down I became aware that moose’ had been utilizing the area quite heavily, tracks and droppings were scattered throughout the trail. I did not want to startle any of the gentle-looking giants as they “wallowed in the willow”; so, every hundred feet or so I would yell out “hey moose.” I say gentle-looking giants; because they seem to move with grace through the willows and snow, but if startled they can become unpredictable and suddenly violent. I quite often carry a firearm for protection when hiking or snowshoeing in these areas.
I entered another corner in the trail and started down a long stretch; on the other end I could see the State Parks cabin, and soon I was stepping up onto the deck. On the backside of the cabin is the observation deck that looks out over the Inlet, with magnificent views of Rainbow and Davidson Glaciers. I sat down at the picnic table to have a drink of water and a granola bar while Jake ran around on the deck.
As I sat there enjoying my snack, I saw a shadow float across the deck from the sky above. Looking up I could see an eagle soaring low overhead, as he soared his head was cocked to the side so that he could eye up Jake and decide if he would be an easy meal. I quickly called Jake to my side; as, he was unaware of the impending situation that was evolving above him. The eagle could easily swoop down, and whisk him away if he veered to far away from me. It continued to soar above while I ate, and so when I was ready to continue on I hooked Jake up to his leash to keep him close.
As I was leaving the observation deck I swung my backpack and shotgun over my left shoulder, with snowshoes in hand and Jake tagging along, I took five steps into what I thought was water dripping off of the roof.
Ice! Next thing I knew my left leg shot out behind me, I fell forward and landed on the icy deck, as I toppled over, my backpack and shotgun swung down off of my shoulder onto my arm helping to throw me off-balance, landing on top of my snowshoes and right wrist.
Once again I picked myself up, and looking at my wrist I knew there were no broken bones; although it quickly changed from red to purple as I made my way down the trail.
The eagle only followed us for a short while and then went on his way to find a new food source; I turned Jake loose to wander down the trail freely.
A few minutes later I was rounding the last corner in the trail to the wide open space along the waters’ edge. To my surprise it looked just like it did in the summer minus the boat dock, there was no snow to speak of. Between the relentless winds blowing across the water, the sun beating down and the tide, the snow has no chance of surviving here. Kicking off my snowshoes I walked out onto the gravel road to have a look around.
There was a strong breeze coming out of the south that was quickly cooling down my body temperature; I didn’t want to become chilled so, I stayed just long enough to feel the peace and solitude of the area, before beginning the long ascent back to my truck.
The climb back out of the park was a bit more strenuous but, nothing like some places I have climbed out of. I took my time and stopped periodically to take a picture and bask in the brilliant sunshine. “This is what it is all about!”
For a guided snowshoe call: Alaska Mountain Guides @ 1-800-766-3396 or 1-907-766-3369. Or visit their website @ www.alaskamountainguides.com.
Alaska Back Country Outfitter Store: for quality outdoor clothing, snowshoe and cross-country ski rentals. www.alaskabackcountryoutfitter.com or call 1-907-766-2844.