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Baranof Cross Island Trail


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Hiking

Trail Description

Baranof Cross-Island Trail

The Baranof Cross-Island Trail is an informal trail located across Baranof Island, Alaska from the community of Sitka to Baranof Warm Springs. It is a popular trail among resident Sitkans, but also receives some out-of-town backpackers who undertake the hike. It is approximately 16 miles (26 km) long, but due to the difficult terrain covered, the average crossing time takes roughly three days and two nights or two days and one night. However, some very-fit distance runners can complete it in a day, the record being held by Sitka resident and ultra-endurance athlete Steve Reifenstuhl who can complete the trail in seven hours.

Route

The usual direction of passage is west to east, or Sitka to Baranof Warm Springs. Since Baranof Warm Springs has no permanent transportation options inbound or outbound, backpackers must either turn around and hike back to Sitka, catch a float plane, or pre-arrange a boat pick-up with a water taxi or a friend. One can begin the trail either being dropped off at Medvejie Hatchery by boat or hiking from Herring Cove on the 3.5-mile (5.6 km) private road to Medvejie Hatchery. The trail begins by heading up the Medvejie Lake valley and continuing up to Camp Lake. If the party started anytime other than the very early morning (which usually includes everyone planning to complete the trail in two nights), especially if their progress underwhelming, Camp Lake is a popular place to camp due to the scenic views, abundant water for bathing and drinking, and its comfortable alpine meadow for camping. If the party is continuing they then ascend the ridge leading up to Mount Bassie and cross the western front of Mount Bassie on its small but crevasse-ridden icefield. Especially in the late summer, when snow bridges have melted and blue ice is prevalent, this portion of the route can be one of the most dangerous and stymieing parts of the trip. After Mt. Bassie a very orbicular ridge leads to the north and eventually curves east, splitting the Blue Lake watershed on the western side of the island and the Baranof River watershed on the eastern side of the island. Oddly enough, due to the geology of the ridge (which also features basalt dikes) there are many flat — albeit less-than-comfortable — locations to make camp with access to small but competent pools to utilize for drinking water. If the party is undertaking the trail in one night, somewhere along this ridge is usually stop-over point. The ridge peters out to a peak and then leads down to two separate roughly mile-long icefields. These icefields are very flat with a small rocky isthmus separating them (it is marked as one icefield on USGS maps, however they have since receded into two). After the icefield the trail continues along several alpine lakes where parties who are taking two nights usually camp for their second night. Finally, after another short ridge, the trail descends down to Baranof Warm Springs. This is widely agreed to be the most difficult part of the trail as it is very steep, there is no "trail" (just start going down!), and there are small cliffs to negotiate. After the descent is completed an informal trail along Baranof Lake leads to the boardwalk of Baranof Warm Springs.

Cross-Island Icefields

Alternate Route

There is an alternate route that terminates on the southern side of Warm Springs Bay and is commonly used for the rarely-attempted winter crossing of the trail due to the increased opportunity to ski. This route is completely different from the traditional route and basically consists of the route up to Peak 5390 and continues down past Mount Furuhelm and down to Warm Springs Bay. Once at Warm Springs Bay, the party will need a pick-up to shuttle them across the bay to Baranof Warm Springs.

Safety

In the past ten years three separate parties have had to be rescued by the United States Coast Guard, including one near-death incident. The primary causes for complications on the trail are poor weather, poor decision-making after bad weather sets in, being under-equipped, and being under-prepared physically. Any backpacker interested in undertaking the hike should speak with someone who has already completed it. Local guides are also available informally. There are currently no commercial guides, however, such a venture has been planned in the past. Ironically, it fell apart when the principal guide-to-be was almost killed hiking the trail.

Equipment

The usual backpacking gear should be taken, but one should consider that campsites above treeline will be exposed to high winds. Ice axes and crampons should also be brought for traversing ice.

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57°3′13″N 134°58′46″W

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