Old places, while, often charming any time, become particularly enchanting in the snow. We drove from Girdwood, Alaska a little further into the Chugach mountains to the Crow Creek Gold Mine. While not entirely abandoned, operations here have diminished substantially. Covered in a blanket of snow, the old buildings with their weathered wood and signs, sporting the marketing style of yesteryear selling gold pans and other supplies, evoked a certain nostalgia even though I’ve never been here.
My guides, Andy, Opie and Opie’s dog, Mae, took me past the old compound and explained that the mining is now done on an individual basis. “Most of the miners snowmachine out because of the various tools they need.” Andy noted as he nodded left, a route that puts us above the snowmachine trail and where we made fresh tracks of our own.
The snow was perfect. Light, fluffy and pillowed on the ground and branches around us. Mae dashed out and about, returning to check on us with a fluff of snow on her nose and an expression of true glee only a dog in the snow can show.
We wound our way down into the creek. Opie, unable to resist the soft appearance of the pillowed snow, leapt from a 10-foot precipice into the white fluffy below, only to find himself buried to his waist. Mae watched curiously, popping in to check on him but unable to help in digging him out.
The spring was upon Alaska and it was evident by the gaps in the snow bridges over the creek. We prodded with our trekking poles to ensure the stability of the banks and remaining snow bridges as we worked our way down and criss-crossing the creek. The dull roar of the gentle flowing creek grew louder. Andy led me around a large boulder allowing me to go first. Amongst walls of ice, I found myself on a small platform with a view of the creek jumping from the far side of the boulder I worked around and into a deep dark pool fringed with the foamy froth of impact. The sides were lined with the frozen sculpture of mist and spray accumulated from the falls forming an ice spout. I gawked for a moment, then we worked our way back up and across the old stream beds and dredge canals where the water was redirected to wash the mountain through the old slew boxes that were no longer present in the hunt for gold.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqPkuQB9h0w&w=560&h=315]
Still below the old buildings that made up the abandoned mining camp, we trekked through Dry Canyon, yet another place where the creek used to run. After a stint of wide easy tromping, the canyon narrowed and the path wound around the large stones and juts of bedrock just as the water once did. Steeper and deeper, yet totally manageable with snowshoes and trekking poles until a 50-foot drop halted us.
“This is where we would put on harnesses, helmets and set a line to rappel down if we wanted to go further.” Andy told me. “We call it Snowshoeering.” A modification of the popular canyoneering usually done in less frozen conditions the world over. We brought the needed gear, but opted to find a new place to explore as venturing down this route could easily take the rest of the day.
Off to Whittier, Alaska.