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Resurrection Pass Trail Construction

By Fred Moore

Everything seemed to be ice. It filled the valleys and the bays along the shore. Only a few nunataks, the tops of the tallest mountains, protruded above the ice field’s surface.  It had taken millennia for the glaciers to form but a change in the climate brought less snow in the high elevations and more sunshine. The armor of ice upon the land and coastal inlets was compelled to go. It retreated from the bays and the low lands on shore. The bare and rocky land thus exposed didn’t remain so for long. Seeds born by wind, water and birds took root in the sandy aggregate left by the retreating ice. The valley floor became a verdant landscape and magnet to small herbivores which attracted like sized predators. Larger herbivores and their predators soon followed. There was a stream in the valley to carry the melt water to the ocean. Sea run fish colonized it. The valley was narrow so there was no place for a braided gravelly floor. The stream found its place and stayed there.

As animals will do as they travel they choose the easiest route which becomes known to and used by all. Centuries of travel on those paths created well-defined trails the length of the valley, through passes between mountains and into territory beyond.

Another creature with curiosity and wanderlust was soon following the trails the other mammals had pioneered. Humans were fulfilling their destiny to inhabit the globe. For millennia they followed the trails, filled their larders and had little impact.

Eventually people with large sailing ships, pale faces and a desire for furs, gold and territory they could claim for their mother country came on the scene. They created maps and placed names of themselves, their friends and those with political influence on the features of the maps. One explorer, Captain Cook, sailed up an inlet named for himself, claimed everything in sight for England and continued his futile quest for the Northwest Passage up a shallow arm of his body of water. It was named Turnagain Arm to commemorate the maneuver they spent the day performing.

Russians had been present along the coast for a few decades but their sole interest was furs – sea otter and fur seals. Once those were nearly extinct they turned their interest to the land and settlements and claimed it was all theirs. Global turmoil had their resources stretched very thin and fearing loss of their distant holdings to a hostile country opted to sell their claims to the land to a more friendly U.S.A. in 1867.

The new title holders did little with their acquisition until people started finding gold. That happened along Turnagain Arm in the late 1880’s. The news spread and by the spring of 1895 the influx of people involved created the town of Hope. The creek flowing down the valley and through Hope was named Resurrection. The trail following it soon had much more use, primarily by prospectors and market hunters. They traveled on foot and with their beasts of burden. Most gold rush boom towns don’t stay so for long. Hope was no exception. The mass of aspiring miners succumbed to their addiction of searching for golden riches and paraded to the next bonanza. Others stayed and worked their mines or provided support services and made Hope a stable small community.

In 1907 President T. Roosevelt signed legislation creating the Chugach National Forest. It included all land not privately owned within the Resurrection Creek watershed. Some saw it as a “lock up” that prevented individuals from owning the land. Others saw it as the opposite of a lock up for the same reason. It could be enjoyed by everyone.

A road was built south up Resurrection Creek for access to the placer mines in the area. Beyond that just the narrow path up the valley. So it stayed for decades.

The U.S. Forest Service was building and upgrading recreational trails in the 1960’s and Resurrection Pass was one. It was mostly done on the south side between the pass and the Sterling Highway. Hope to the pass was next. The earthquake of ’64 got much federal money to Alaska and the Forest Service got their share. They used some on the trail. That summer a crew from Hope, possibly led by Ray DeFrance, upgraded the path from the mine access road up the west side of the creek, about six miles, to near Caribou Creek where Resurrection Creek was to be bridged.

Spring of 1965 foreman Ron Jackson and his crew of Fred Moore and two temporary workers from Los Vegas finished their seasonal maintenance work in the Portage Valley and started the bridge project. They flew in by helicopter to a gravel bar near the bridge site. On landing the copter took the top off one small spruce tree. Fred used a chain saw to cut many more small trees and brush to make the landing site larger as everything for the bridge would be flown in – the cement, gravel, rebar, lumber, steel trusses and a large concrete mixer plus tents and camp supplies for the workers. Camp consisted of one bunk tent and a cooking and dining tent. The former had a wood stove and the dining tent had a Coleman white gas stove. It was on a nice open patch of high ground above the east bank of Resurrection Creek. A couple days were needed to fly in all the bridge materials and make a crude trail from camp to the bridge site.

The plans called for one 8 foot tall concrete pier and two abutments. A tram line was stretched across the creek to get form materials and concrete to the pier on the opposite side from the concrete mixer. It was also used later to carry an end of the steel trusses. The location of the anchor bolts was crucial. Ron calculated that with a transit and steel tape. Fred backed it up with trigonometry and it proved to be accurate. The bridge project was allowed to rest. The ground was still frozen and snow-covered in places. A mostly new crew arrived in June. Three college guys from Kansas: Roger, Terry and Don. Ron moved on to other projects and Fred became foreman. The workers finished the bridge – rails, deck and earthen ramps at the ends.

There were leftover materials from the bridge construction that were repurposed. Form plywood became a smoke-house and an outhouse. A fifty gallon barrel turned into a wood fired hot tub under the bridge.

With the bridge finished the crew devoted their attention to making trail south toward Fox Creek as another crew from there worked their way north. With the exception of a Homelite chain saw everything was done with hand tools: axes, Pulaskies, picks, mattocks and shovels. Hands and bodies hardened quickly. Temporary bridges were made with stringer and planks cut from nearby trees. One used in the bridge over Caribou Creek showed by its growth rings it had been scarred by but survived the fire which swept the area in the very early 20th century.

The work schedule was 10 days on then a break of four days. The food and other supplies were brought in by Carl Clark and his pack horses as the workers hiked the six miles or so from the Hope end of the trail with their backpack of personal gear. Preserving perishable foods for 10 warm days could be a challenge but waterproof containers submerged in the cool creek made it possible. Fred agreed to do all of the camp cooking but eschewed any other camp chores.

Porcupines were a plentiful nuisance that summer of ’65. They chewed tool handles, the plywood parts of the structures and even explored inside the sleeping tent at night. It was their territory that was being invaded.

Fred presented Chuck Oleary with a list of groceries for every 10-day period in camp. Chuck commented on the mid-August order. How small it was and how little meat compared to usual. The crew had decided to get a moose in the newly opened season. They succeeded the evening of the third day. It was a small bull between Caribou and Pass Creeks. They couldn’t get it all to camp that evening but Fred loaded his pack frame with all he could carry and got that much in the smoke house that night. The remainder was brought back the next day and none was lost to bears. The rest of the 10-day stint was a carnivore’s feast. Everyone took some home for their four-day break.

The trail construction came to an end in late August as three-fourths of the crew returned to their studies in Kansas. Fred stayed a bit longer for other Forest Service work which included a two day trip on the trail with his immediate boss Chuck Oleary. They went from Hope to Resurrection Pass to lay out the course of the trail for the summer of ’66.

One more project happened in 1965 as Ron Jackson, Herman Wigdal and Fred built the cabin at East Creek in October.

-Fred Moore

Many go where the path may lead. A few go where there is no path and leave a trail that others may follow. All his life Fred has had the tendency to not be a follower. It isn’t a choice as much as a predestination. He is often alone. In the mid-1960s the U.S. Forest Service paid Fred to work on trails. For the next six decades he has continued on his own. It is something he must do.