Haines to Juneau Traverse


I waited too long to take notes on this trip, so these will be brief. The trip was from Haines to Juneau, an extension of our trips that now extend from Iliamna to Juneau. We spent some time discussing route options. First choice was to start from the Fairweather Ski Works shop in town, but rain, poor visibility, and bad avalanche conditions pushed us up the highway for a start at Haines Pass, where we still had barely enough snow. Beth Fenhaus drove us up to the pass, got tired of our constant discussion about whether to actually start or not, and put an end to the discussion by driving away.

From Haines Pass to Skagway (~100 miles, 10 days) was most remarkable for the uniformly bad weather. We had few breaks in the rain and poor visibility, just enough to get the sense that they scenery was probably really nice. We spent a lot of time in the tents, reading, talking, hoping for a weather break that never came.

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We had a few tricky passes with just enough visibility to sneak through, then we were back to flat travel by compass and iPhone GPS.

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After ~70 miles of slogging and a refreshing river crossing, we reached the Chilkoot trail. I was really impressed with the trail, certainly the coolest maintained trail I’ve been on. The trail has several information kiosks that describe the insane two-year mining bust that brought 100,000 miners through the mountains during the Klondike Gold Rush. I brought a pair of tennis shoes for the trail, but Graham and Lindsay did all 30 miles in their ski boots. Chilkoot Pass had snow and we got to make turns for practically the first time.

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In Skagway we had lovely summer weather and were helped by a slew of Sarah Histand’s friends… Rory Jacquot picked us up at the Chilkoot trailhead and took his to his grandpa’s house where we could hang gear in the yard. Max Jewell joined for dinner and provided tour-guide commentary while Rory drove Max’s guiding van to shuttle us to Flip and Roxanne Mendez’s house for the night. It was wonderful to be so warmly welcomed, especially after a soggy ten days.

Shasta Hood, Jeremy Wood, and Eben Sargent left us in Skagway, leaving Graham Kraft, Lindsay Johnson, and me. Hiram Henry, my former roommate in Anchorage, flew up from Juneau to join for the Skagway to Juneau section (120 miles, 10 days).

Another storm pulse came through, so we spent three days at cabins above town, waiting for the weather to break. We anticipated route-finding challenges to access the Denver Glacier, and wanted good visibility for it. We left the cabin as the snow abated, but were in whiteout again as soon as we gained elevation. We passed a for-tourism dog camp that was eerily draped in the clouds. Hiram had route notes from a friend in Juneau (Mike Hekkers) that were extremely helpful, so we followed Mikes’ non-intuitive route through a few hidden passes for easy access to the Denver.

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Once we reached the Denver Glacier, the rest of the traverse was straightforward. The weather broke and we enjoyed a solid week of blazing sun. The glaciers were really broad, so much so that progress felt slow as we watched the neighboring peaks crawl by. The snow was slush by noon, so mornings were fast and evenings were slow. With those conditions we weren’t tempted by any side-trip ski missions. Route finding was easy due to the good visibility and Hiram’s familiarity with the area (he has been on the ice field many times, starting in high school).

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The descent into Juneau was a highlight. After billy-goating down a nasty wet-slide/cliffy ridge, we spent our final night on a grassy knob perched above town and Gastineau Canal. Our route took us onto hiking trails that ended right in town, just blocks from Hiram’s house. We rinsed off in Gold Creek and arrived at Hiram’s house ready for burgers and ice cream.

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Here is what I can remember from our reading list, books that got passed around and read by several people:
The Revenant (Michael Punke)
The Education of Little Tree (Asa Earl Carter)
Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy)
Haroun and the Sea of Stories (Rushdie)
Angle of Repose (Stegner)
Euphoria (Lily King)
Alaska Bear Tales
Sex Lives of Canibals

Thanks to: Beth Fenhaus, Max Jewell, Rory Jacquot, Felipe Mendez, Bartek Pieciul, Mike Hekkers, Tracy Leithauser LMT, Sarah Miller Histand, and Jason Eson for help!

2 responses

  1. PaulC

    Did you get pushed all the way down the Homan to Bennett? Too bad the weather was crap, there’s a nice route from Foster to VanWagenan that drops you right at the pass.

    November 14, 2016 at 10:18 am

    • Yes, we contoured through the trees paralleling the Homan river, then crossed the river between Bennett and Lindeman Lakes to access the Chilkoot Trail. Looks like we could have gotten some turns if we’d been able to go over Van Wagenan! But there was hardly any snow, and a lot of rain.

      November 14, 2016 at 10:44 am

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