Alaska Day 12 - Hiking Granite Tors Trail and amazed by Northern Lights

Granite Tors Trail - Chena River State Recreation Area - AK Travel Blog

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The Trans Alaska Pipeline, just 50 mile after "midway", near the town of Fox

About 100 kilometers (61 miles) north-east of Fairbanks is a place that has been popular for a long time: Chena Hot Springs. This mountain site is one of the many geothermal locations north of the city. A continuously stream of water of 69° C (156 F) is flowing here. In the past it brought the gold panners some warm relief, now it is mainly tourists that go here. Chena Hot Springs has become a resort, complete with its own landing strip! The water is cooled down so people can swim in it.

The idea was to go here and take a healthy bath in the thermal spring waters. But, we found we had to earn that so we planned a short hike in the Chena River State Recreational Area, a state park of 1,028 km² (254,080-acre) mainly focused on hiking, rafting/canoeing, camping, biking, fishing, and winter activities.

The tors
It is a beautiful forested mountain area accessible via the Chena Hot Springs Road.

On our way to the springs we briefly stopped at a cross point with the Trans Alaska Pipeline System. This 1287-km (800 mile) long mega structure transports crude oil from the Prudhoe Bay in the north of Alaska to the city of Valdez in the south. It takes the oil about 12 days to make the whole pipeline journey. So, oil that was pumped into the pipe at the moment I landed in Alaska still had not made its way into the refinery of Valdez....

In the Recreational Area we chose to do a part of the Granite Tors Trail. This is a 24-km (15-mile) long hike with a 750 meter (2460 ft) height difference on the slopes of the mountains surrounding the Chena River.

The tors
At the top one can see huge granite Tors. Tors are huge outcroppings of rock. They were created about 70 to 90 million years ago when a stream of molten rock was pushed upwards, but cooled before it reached the surface. In the years after that event the surrounding soil eroded away, leaving the tors towering over the landscape. I thought I had never heard of Tors, but while researching this I read that one of the few places in the USA that has tors, is actually New York State! In fact, I have even been on it, see here.

We started hiking early in the afternoon. The hike started relaxed in a marshland with boardwalks. Later it started inclining more and more. The higher trees disappeared from the landscape as we ascended further and further.

The tors
At some point we were walking between bushes of man-high birch trees. On the track we found moose and bear droppings, warning us our friends were around. The result: our feet hiked the path, our hands were clapping.

At about 2.5 hours and 8 km (5 mile) into the hike we came at the point to return. We had not seen a tor and we were still not too happy with the results so far. So, after some calculations, we decided we could proceed and make the whole tour.

The remainder of the tour was pretty heavy. We kept climbing and finally, at the summit, we had to deal with a lot of mud and unstable soil, which significantly slowed us down. The trail kept going up-and-down more than we thought. Quite exhausting! The tors were impressive but given the time we could not hang around too much admiring them. We had a long and strenuous descent ahead of us.

End of the day came together with the last few 100 meters of the hike
At some point we even lost the trail. After backtracking and carefully looking we were able to pick it up. While we reached the end of the hike we were so lucky to see a beaver swimming in his pond. After that it got darker and darker. More than 7 hours after starting the hike we reached the car. Just in time, dusk had started.

We still went to the Chena Hot Springs Resort for dinner. It had become cold and a good salmon near the fire helped to recover. The bath was skipped for sake of time. We had a quick look at it and inhaled the specific smell of Dihydrogen Sulfide (H2S) coming from the thermal water. And while standing there, another moose walked by, just like she was one of the resort's guests.

We arrived late at Fairbanks. I quickly visited an ATM of my bank, which was nearby the city's entry point. If I had not done that we possibly would have gone straight to the hotel.

Aurora Borealis in Fairbanks
But, while I walked back from the ATM to the car I looked up and saw, to my surprise, a strange greenish light in the sky. I knew it: this must be the famous Northern Lights. Northern Light, also called Aurora Borealis, is the phenomenon in which charged particles launched by the sun reach earth, and are deflected by its magnetic field in the direction of earth's poles. Reaching the atmosphere the particles collide with oxygen and nitrogen atoms. These collision release the typical light emitted during the event.

It took some time to convince Stephan that we were not looking at something else. We decided, despite the late time, to drive to the Fairbanks University, located at the edge of the city near the dark forest, to improve our view.

Aurora Borealis in Fairbanks
 I had never seen something like this before. It was just AMAZING. The green fluorescent supernova like, curtain shapes just appeared in the sky. Sometimes they disappeared after seconds, other moments they were there for minutes in a row.

More pictures below! Deze fake-tekst heb ik toegevoegd om net iets meer regels te genereren zodat deze rare website toestaat dat de bijgesloten foto ook vertoond wordt.

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The Trans Alaska Pipeline, just 50…
The Trans Alaska Pipeline, just 5…
The tors
The tors
The tors
The tors
The tors
The tors
End of the day came together with …
End of the day came together with…
Aurora Borealis in Fairbanks
Aurora Borealis in Fairbanks
Aurora Borealis in Fairbanks
Aurora Borealis in Fairbanks
The Trans Alaska Pipeline, just 50…
The Trans Alaska Pipeline, just 5…
Chena River, at the start of the T…
Chena River, at the start of the …
At the beginning of the hike, mars…
At the beginning of the hike, mar…
Midway the climb to the summit
Midway the climb to the summit
Midway the climb to the summit
Midway the climb to the summit
Near the summit other lave like ro…
Near the summit other lave like r…
The typical Alaskan autumn appeara…
The typical Alaskan autumn appear…
The tors
The tors
The tors
The tors
The tors
The tors
The tors
The tors
The tors
The tors
Tundra
Tundra
The tors
The tors
Extreme autumn
Extreme autumn
The tors
The tors
The beaverpond, the beaver is swim…
The beaverpond, the beaver is swi…
The sun has set at our part of the…
The sun has set at our part of th…
Beaver pond
Beaver pond
End of the day came together with …
End of the day came together with…
Sunset at the trail head parking
Sunset at the trail head parking
Aurora Borealis in Fairbanks
Aurora Borealis in Fairbanks
Aurora Borealis in Fairbanks
Aurora Borealis in Fairbanks
The trail of the Tors hike, impose…
The trail of the Tors hike, impos…
GPS height profile of the Tors hike
GPS height profile of the Tors hike
Granite Tors Trail - Chena River State Recreation Area - AK
photo by: mdalamers