We got to Nabesna at 17:40 on August 17, 2002. The original plan was to fly in next morning, but the weather was fine, and we didn’t want to take the chance – tomorrow could be rainy of foggy or who knows what else.
So it took us about an hour and a half to prepare for the fly-in, and there we went! We had to do two flight since Kirk’s plane takes no more that 2 people at a time. The flight to the Jaeger Mesa is really impressive, overlooking the plateau and the surroundings. You can spot caribou and dall sheep there.
At 20:00 everybody was on the Jaeger Mesa ready to go. The terrain there is really swampy, so we walked higher on the hill, where it was relatively dry. We reached the south end of the plateau and looked down into the valley. The slope was covered with large rocks, relatively stable, but nonetheless very hard to walk (especially with that 35kg backpack). “Stable” doesn’t mean they don’t move. It’s if they move, they are unlikely to roll all the way down, that’s all; however, you are likely to roll all the way down if they move underneath you.
We’ve put the helmets on, just in case. Maybe it was more wise to stay on Jaeger Mesa for the night, so that the darkness wouldn’t catch us in the middle of the descent, but we didn’t take any water from Nabesna, and using the swamp as the only source of drinking water didn’t sound like a good start of the trip.
By darkness (around 22:00) we were down by the unnamed lake under the Jaeger Mesa. The descent took about 1.5 hrs.
Coords 62 11’42″N 143 06′ 39″W
Wind: very weak
After the usual morning things we moved out at 13:00. We crossed the valley on our way to the Monte Cristo Creek’s couloir. The creek can be easily crossed without getting your feet wet. Going up the couloir is similar to the slope of Jaeger Mesa – rocks are somewhat smaller though, getting bigger with the elevation. Going up is easier than going down. Towards the end of the climb, we decided to cut to the left and climb the slope of the couloir directly, rather than just going on with the creek.
The creek cannot be seen – it flows under the rocks. The sound of the flowing water is heard quite clearly.
After the last meters of the climb, Mt. Gordon, covered with snow, made a very dramatic and spectacular appearance. The view itself may not be the very best from what we’ve seen, but after hours of seeing just rocks and nothing else this was like a reward.
Another short hike along the plateau brought us closer to Mt. Gordon. The map didn’t show any sources of water all the way to the glaciers; however, we discovered many small creeks with very clean water flowing on the plateau. We decided to camp half way to Gordon, and do the rest of the way tomorrow.
At this point we decided to change our plan, and return to the same place where we were dropped off – rather than going to Jacksina Creek. We phoned Kirk on the satellite, and told him that. This decision was then changed (twice!) but that’s later.
Coords 62 08′ 49″N 143 07′ 20″W
Wind: strong during the night.
We moved out at 13:00 again. Traversed another rock- covered slope on our way to the base camp. Occasionally we saw a weasel, but it was very hard to take a picture.
The valley was really windy, and no place to hide the tent from the wind. Finally, we selected a spot behind a large rock.
We still got half a day on our hands, so we decided to go up the nearby glacier to do some practicing before climbing Mt. Gordon tomorrow.
This time we got up at 7:00, but to no avail. The weather was just terrible, the wind got even stronger, and we had to anchor the tent to that huge piece of rock that was supposed to shelter it from the wind.
One look at the mountain was enough to understand that we’re not going to climb it – at least today. You could see the “smoke” coming from the snow closer to the top. Given the distance, what looks like light smoke is actually a blowing snow in a very strong wind.
We decided to cross the plateau to find out more about what’s happening around us. The girls stayed in the camp, the guys went about 1.5km to NW. The Mesa Lake – Monte Cristo creek valley is full of clouds. The wind is strong everywhere – so no point in moving the camp.
We got back and spent the rest of the day in the tent. The weather was not getting any better. The skies were now more clear, the wind was still very strong.
We saw northern lights. Didn’t know you could see it that time of year – but it was there. Taking a picture of it would be nice, but nobody wanted to go outside in this weather.
We decided to give up the Mt. Gordon climb if the weather doesn’t get better tomorrow – because every additional day was decreasing our fly out reserve.
The wind got weaker, and we saw a little bit of sun the morning, but later the clouds moved in. We finally decided to give up the climb and to proceed to the pick up point. Moved out at 13:00 (it’s a tradition already!) and crossed the plateau going NW. Descent was more or less ok, partly large rocks, partly rock scree. There is a nice view of Mesa lake from the plateau.
At 5:30 it started to rain, but we were near Mesa Creek already. We quickly set up the camp and stayed there for the night.
The wind was weak; there were small trees and bushes along the creek. There were cranberries and blueberries.
Coords: 62 10′ 09″N 143 12′ 16″W
Sunny in the morning! (It seems strange already) Got up at 9. After some more debates on what to do and where to go, we decided to proceed with our original plan. Phoned Kirk again.
Moved out at 13:30. It’s really swampy and hard to walk. Takes lots of effort to just pull the feet out of deep moss. Saw blueberries – though they are a little bit different from what we’re used to.
Found mushrooms! That was really unexpected and exciting. The one that we have found was Birch Bolete (leccinum scabrum) – didn’t see one of these in quite a while. We pulled out one of the pots, and kept collecting mushrooms as we progressed through that swamp.
Mesa lake was on our left hand side as we passed it. Well… We expected something more beautiful, to tell the truth.
The slopes on both sides of the valley are pretty nice, have different colours. For the first time in the whole trip, the skies were clear and blue with a few clouds, and we managed to get a few decent shots of the hills around us.
The wind was somewhat stronger near the Mesa Lake, but it’s nothing compared to what we had near Mt. Gordon.
We saw a caribou, and tried to get close to it with the camera – but it won’t let you get any closer than some 300m.
After the Mesa lake we started to go slightly downhill, the vegetation started to change towards more bushes and trees. First trees appeared when we arrived to Jacksina creek.
The camp site selection was far from perfect – quite close to the meander of the Jacksina Creek (right by the water). Also, an animal path was passing right near the tent, suggesting that night guests might come. Coudn’t find any other site, because we were between the steep slope from one side, and the creek from the other. After 10km through the swamp we didn’t want to do any more walking today, so we decided to stay.
On the other side of the creek there were steep slopes and cliffs. A beautiful waterfall could be hardly seen from where we were, and could not be heard at all, but this was where the 200mm lens paid off (see picture below).
Cooked and ate our Birch Bolettes. Delicious.
It was raining during the night, but now it’s really warm and it is getting wormer and wormer as we descend. Moved out at 13:20, going on the animal path.
We stopped for an hour or so to pick more mushrooms (Lactarius somethingus, great if pickled. A couple of Birch Boletes as well) and cranberries. The cranberries are just all over the place. Didn’t take us long to fill the medium sized pot.
After about 2km, went down to the creek. Walking on the stones is a bit harder. Crossed one of the small creeks, got higher again, found a path.
It’s still hard to walk through the bushes and trees, except for one place, which was surprisingly flat and had no bushes at all.
After 2 more kilometers we finally got to the destination. But – no signs of the landing strip. It’s a huge flat, we crossed it all, then walked up the slope and crossed it again, overlooking it from the height. Nothing.
We decided not to spend one more day in the wilderness, and get back to Nabesna the next day. Called Kirk for the third time on the satellite. Yeah, we’re ready for pickup, and by the way, where did you say was that landing strip?… Oh yeah, 2km back…
Ate more mushrooms, and made a jam out of our cranberries – we had some extra sugar. Should have cleaned them from all the leaves and other stuff that got into the pot… Oh well, still tastes good.
This is the eighth day in a row when we didn’t see another human being. The previous evening Kirk’s phone went out before we could agree on the time of pickup. So we got up very early (08:00!!) and moved out around 10:00.
Half way there, around 12:00 Kirk appeared. Of course he didn’t see us in high bushes and trees. He made a few passes looking for us, and we started to hurry, trying to see where he’s heading. He landed, and we managed to see where. Oh yeah, that’s that flat and easy-walk place. Damn. We walked right in the middle of the landing strip yesterday and didn’t see it! Well, it WAS marked wrong on our map, but you should still keep your eyes open…
The fly out was routine and quick. Amazing views from the plane again – this time the cliffs near Jacksina Creek, closer to Nabesna.
We had 7 days to spend until September 1. We drove around the state, tried to get back into Canada to see Dawson City. Canada customs would not let us in, because we had a US rented car. We had to drive 300 km back along the unpaved road.
We stopped at a small but well known town named Chicken and enjoyed doing goldpanning there. In our final destination, the most southern port of Alaska, Valdez, we went sea kayaking, fishing and sightseeing. During the last day of the trip, in the neighborhood of Valdez (Thompson Pass), we picked up 3 buckets of mushrooms and a pot of blackberries. All of these was great, but out of the scope of this report. If you have any questions or comments about the trip feel free to contact us or sign our guest book. In conclusion, all of us would highly encourage you to visit Alaska If you go there to backpack, you’ll be sure to find what to do with your extra time!