Donoho Lakes Glacier Trek: Day 2, June 17, 2019
Day 2 of 5 in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, land of the Ahtna people. This day includes a rainy hike inland on the Donoho Basin to the Donoho Lakes. In the afternoon, our group sets up camp along a meltwater lake near where the Gates and Kennicott Glaciers converge. All photos by Tenley Lozano unless otherwise noted in the caption.
We wake to overcast skies and take our time eating breakfast together then packing up camp. Elu is eager to hike and she pulls me along the trail. We walk the ridge line with a view of the Root Glacier then turn left on a forested trail to hike west and inland on the Donoho Basin (the peninsula of land surrounded by the Root Glacier on the east, Kennicott Glacier on the west and south, Gates Glacier and Donoho Peak to the north).
Mat leads us on a single-track trail through dense brush made of small trees and bushes. We can see the thin dirt trail beneath our feet if we look directly down, but from any other direction it looks overgrown. The trail leads us to the first of the Donoho Lakes and we stop to take a quick break and let the rest of the group catch up.
The area is marsh and buggy, so we don't stop for long. The sky is overcast, which makes for nice hiking weather even though it's late morning by now.
Mat leads us back into the brush, this time with lots of muck and mud to trop through. At least it's not the glacial quicksand mud from yesterday. This is just ordinary wet dirt and Alaskan marsh shrubs.
Our group continues pushing our way through the brush while talking loudly to each other and cursing when wet branches snap back and whack us in the face. This is grizzly bear territory, so talking and cursing are actually helpful tools so we won't sneak up on a bear and startle it. Elu seems to be the only one who is having an easy time on the trail. She's low enough to the ground that the brush hasn't closed in yet, so she pulls me through the worst patches. I put my head down and lean forward to use my momentum to propel me through the tree branches, with Elu providing an assist. Traveling in the backcountry with a service dog is a lot of extra work, but it certainly has its perks at times. She also likes to pull me up hills with her leash and harness, since she's so much faster on four feet. I've got a lot of sympathy for Brett, Gabby, and Andrea, who all somehow chose this trip as their first backpacking adventure. We're all learning that even trails in Alaska are more demanding than in the lower 48.
The haze and fog that have been hanging overhead all day descend in the early afternoon. I take one photo of Andrea right when the rain is starting, then I put my camera away for the rest of the afternoon. We hike along the edge of another lake, this time tromping through squishy marsh and more wet brush. The muddy trail is slick and we sometimes have to give each other a boost to make it up small but steep hills. Everyone is starting to get cold and cranky.
In the late afternoon, we pass the other group from Trek Alaska setting up camp along a small meltwater lake. We pass them then arrive at our planned campsite with its own lake just a quarter mile hike further on gravel and rock. The spot is beautiful and secluded, with hazy views of Donoho Peak and both the Gates and Kennicott Glaciers. We quickly set up our tents then everyone climbs in to change into dry clothes and warm up. Elu is extremely pleased with her new Groundbird Gear Turtle Top Quilt and she immediately curls up to sleep. The down-insulated quilt even has a custom fit stretchy harness to keep it in place. With the evening breeze coming off of the glaciers, her new quilt proves to be well worth the money.
I'm glad I upgraded my sleeping bag to a Feathered Friends Women's Petrel 10 UL down bag. Elu and I spent a very long night shivering in a November snowstorm on the PCT near Big Bear, California a few years back. I'll never take a warm sleep system for granted again. A good night's sleep makes all the difference!
I feed Elu a bowl of kibble then tuck her in and zip up the tent. I walk around the lake several paces to where Mat is setting up the kitchen tarp. Because of the bears living in the area, we have to store all of our food and scented items in bear-proof canisters, and we keep a separate cooking and eating area some distance away from our tents. We'll be spending two nights at this campsite (tomorrow is a rest day), so we're extra careful to keep a good distance between the cooking area and our tents. Mat and I set up the tarp using hiking poles and rocks, then we sit down under it to cook dinner.
The rain continues all night, and nobody wants to leave their tent, including Elu. I can't even convince her to come outside to pee. I eat under the kitchen tarp with Mat and we watch rain fall on the lake and chat. Eventually I head back to my tent and curl up next to Elu in my fluffy and warm sleeping bag.
The rain continues all night, stopping in the late morning. Only then can I convince Elu to step out of the tent. She walks with me over to the kitchen area, and I prop the tarp back up and feed her breakfast.
She's still wearing her Turtle Top Quilt, but I've used the built in clips so it won't touch the ground when she walks, and she's wearing her red rain coat on top. The tarp was so tricky to set up in the rain and wind the night before, so I feel the need to take photos of my furry model underneath it. Those are some good knot tying skills, Mat!