Sunday, September 18, 2011

Devil's Punchbowl

Peaks and clouds
It’s been quite awhile since I’ve gotten any blog entries done. I suppose the most common excuse for not posting regular blog entries is being too busy, and that really is part of it. It’s been hard to devote time to blogging lately, so I hope no one minds that I will be doing some back posting of some of the more interesting hikes I’ve done the past few months. A couple of the more memorable hikes I’ve done this year were during our Alaska cruise during the first week of July. We really don’t do a lot of cruising. For us it’s mostly a family thing, but we really had a great time doing the 10 day cruise even though it may not be the most environmentally sensitive way to take a vacation. But, I’m sure we can atone by the way we live our lives the rest the year.

We had a day to spend in the borough of Skagway, AK which is situated within a secluded inlet called Lynn Channel along the inside passage of Alaska’s panhandle. This area was home to the Tlingit people for untold generations. When gold was discovered in the Klondike region of the Yukon, this place became an important passageway from the sea up through White Pass into the Yukon, and the Chilkoot Trail. During the height of the Klondike gold rush the population of the area grew to 30,000 people, mostly prospectors, and a colorful and sometimes infamous history ensued. Today the full time population of the borough is 862 by the last census. During the tourist season those numbers double, and they are host to over 900,000 visitors, mostly from cruise ships.

View across the channel
After perusing all the available trail descriptions and maps, we decided to hike to a place called Devil’s Punchbowl, by way of Upper Dewey Lake. The trail head is only walking distance from the harbor, right alongside the tracks used by the White Pass rail line that runs between Whitehorse, Alberta and Skagway, AK, along the historic Klondike gold rush route. The trail begins by immediately climbing up some switchbacks through the thick tree cover of the coastal alpine forest in order to gain the top of the first little ridge line. After a moderate climb, just on the other side of the first ridge is Lower Dewey Lake. The climb is only about 600 feet, and about 1.7 miles. The lower lake has a network of trails that follow the banks and go to other places, including a glacial fed waterfall which I wish we could have had time for. The lower lake also serves as a reservoir for the residents. It’s a really nice area for some casual time. At the north end of the lake is the trail to Upper Dewey Lake, and it is here that the hike becomes a bit strenuous, as hikers embark on a fairly relentless uphill.

Cascading melt water
The upper lake trail follows close by a beautiful cascading creek with some good viewing areas to see the rapidly flowing, churning, waters coursing steeply downhill. The creek is flowing from the upper lake into the lower lake, and you can hear the rushing waters echoing through the forest in the background even when you cannot see it from the trail. The terrain is thickly wooded with mostly tall Sitka spruce, with a mixture of hemlock and alder, and a thick green understory. The trail climbs higher using many switchbacks, with some sections being steep enough to cause you to be careful of your footing. The surface has lots of loose and embedded rock and shallow tree roots, and many sections have erosion damage. You don’t get very much in the way of long range views until you get to the top, but the trail is very picturesque and fragrant, with interesting plants, flowers, and lichens.

Upper Dewey Lake
As you get close to the upper lake, the views begin to open up somewhat out across the sea channel to the surrounding mountains covered in lingering snow. Some of the peaks look green and inviting, while other areas are rugged and foreboding. The trail brought us around some beautiful marshy muskeg meadows lined with wild flowers and singing streams of water feeding the cascading creek we had just followed up. At about 3100 feet, after climbing up a natural rocky embankment, there is the upper lake with a large ragged conical peak looming behind like a sentinel. To the north are more jagged rough peaks with rock taluses streaming down their slopes. The upper lake collects the snow melt water from these peaks, which then flows down to lower Dewey Lake. There are two cabins at the upper lake. One is quite nice as backcountry cabins go, although sparse, and is available by reservation. The other is further away along the shore and is available on a first come first served basis. The latter cabin is really just a log shack with a wood stove and some bunk platforms, and is permeated with the odor of wood smoke from poor ventilation. I could hardly stand to be inside it. We had passed one couple who had been staying in the reserved cabin the past 2 nights, and were on their way out. Other than that there was no one up there, and we had the whole high country lake to ourselves. The setting is pristine and beautiful, and very reminiscent of one of the Yosemite high country lakes. The weather was a bit murky which made it lousy for photos, but I did my best.

Devil's Punchbowl
To the south is a rocky moraine that leads up higher. The trail to Devil’s Punchbowl is a bit obscure at this point. It’s almost a scramble, as you climb up the rocky moraine amongst really strange plant species and little wild flowers peeking out from the deposited soils. Following the cairns, and being careful of footing, as I climbed higher and finally lifted my head I was struck by the views. Expansive view opportunities open up along here, and the vista is dramatic and gorgeous. Well above the trees you get a perfectly clear open view down to Lynn channel, and across to the majestic snow covered high peaks on the other side. At one point you have a perfect view down to Skagway and the ships docked at the harbor. Behind you are looming jagged peaks that have an almost sinister barren look. The trail soon breaks out to a more level and smooth grassy surface, and hiking up and over the top of the route you can finally see the little high lake called Devil’s Punchbowl. Studying the profile of the rough mountainsides behind it, it’s easy to see that the snow collects on the sides of the peaks and melts down into this little lake, and down further into upper Dewey Lake where is collects with an even greater melt water runoff, flowing down the cascading creeks to lower Dewey Lake. The punchbowl itself isn’t much to see, but the hike to get there is quite simply breathtaking. Our total elevation gain was about 3700 feet, with a distance of about 8.5 miles round trip. We saw a lot more hikers going down, but for a good long time, we had the whole place to ourselves, and it was truly marvelous. My photos will not do it justice. Sorry, I do not have a track log because I accidently deleted it, but you can click here to see my pictures on flickr.

No comments: