Sunday, April 22, 2007

Gliding Over H2O

Spring has arrived in the far north as geese return from the lower latitudes

Wow--what a difference a week can make. Its hard to believe I spent 125 miles gliding across the snow covered Denali hwy on skate skis last weekend. Now this weekend we pulled out the canoes and floated Clearwater Cr near the community of Delta Junction (about 100 miles southeast of Fairbanks). Most of the rivers throughout the interior are still ice covered or choked with ice flows as they begin to breakup with the balmy spring temperatures. Clearwater Cr is unique since it is spring fed and actually remains ice-free throughout the winter. This makes it a perfect place to drop the boats in the water and get an early season float. Its also a great opportunity see large congregations of migrating waterfowl stopping over and resting in the open water before they continue north to their nesting grounds in the arctic.

Sharon sports her froggie breakup boots and is ready to hit the river in style! Boy--is she sizzling HOT in green rubber!

Jackson and Katie navigate the barge down the Clearwater--check out that junk in his trunk! Dude, Jackson--this is only an overnight trip. What you got in that J Lo trunk of yours?

Helena ripped out some tunes with her minnie guitar as we floated downstream.

The remnants of winter were still visible. These cool shelves of ice extended out from the shore along most of the creek.

Trevor the traveling bartender whipped up Irish "canoe" bombs en route. Here is Sharon and Dan pounding a few before paddling on down the river.

Sandy was making some smooth moves in the kayak.

The distant peaks of the AK Range were dramatic in the evening light as Helena and Celso drifted downriver.

Lars kickn' it in the RAM -X. I am not quite sure what he his planning to ram with that thing.

We found a sweet campsite with bundles of firewood for a raging bonfire. It was an absolutely clear night with twilight until midnight followed by a display of northern lights.

This pic is a bit blurry but I sort of like the effect. Sharon's nephew Gary was turning 14 and Celso the ripe ol' age of 37--so Betty Crocker (aka Sharon) made cupcakes in an ice cream cone. What a culinary cool is that?

Self portrait--Me, Trev, and Brian. Check out those studly Alaskan beards.

The morning broke warm and sunny after an overnight low of 18F.

On the last mile or so of the trip we have to paddle up the creek coming out of Clearwater Lake. The current was really strong when first started up the creek and even us 3 studs had to get out and line the boat because we couldn't make it. The worst part was the knee deep mud that tried to suck your shoes off.

This bald eagle flew from tree to tree as we paddled up to Clearwater Lake. I got lucky and caught him in flight.

Clearwater Lake at last. There were thousands of Canada geese resting in the lake before beginning the final leg of their migration to the Arctic.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Lunch over Northern Canada

This is a work related blog entry but it was a pretty cool day. I went out for a few hours around lunch time with some NOAA pilots that have been in AK for the past 2 weeks. They are here with an aircraft that is equiped with instrumentation that uses gamma radiation to measure the amount of water in the snowpack. There are a few hundred flight lines around the state that are roughly 10 miles long. They fly the lines at an altitude of 500 feet above ground level and obtain an average snow water equivalent for each flight line. This info provides insight into how much water is locked up in the snowpack and this is used by the National Weather Service to produce river/flood forecasts and spring flood outlooks.

We headed a few hundred miles northeast of Fairbanks and flew 10 flight lines over the northern Yukon Territory. It was a great way to spend a Tuesday afternoon lunch--what a rough job.

This is the swath along the AK-Canada border. Yes--the entire border is marked even though there are no roads or towns for hundreds of miles. Why??

We flew 500 feet above the ground which was close enough to see tons of animal tracks. We only saw a couple of moose. I was hoping to see a cranky bear that had just stumbled out of its den after a long winter... The scenery was awesome in this remote and inaccessable country.

Here is the NOAA airborne gamma plane at the Fairbanks airport.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

125 Miles of Bliss!

Ahhhh...I just had the most incredible weekend of skiing in my entire life. Kristen, Tina and I skied 125 miles along the Denali Hwy from Paxson to Cantwell the last 3 days. It was an unbelievable tour across the most scenic roadway in Alaska. The conditions were absolutely amazing with an 18 ft wide groomed trail, light winds, perfect trail conditions, dramatic views of mountains and glaciers, sightings of caribou, foxes, bald eagles. And don't let me forget to mention the superb company. We only saw about 30 or so snowmachines the entire weekend because everyone was at Summit Lake for the biggest snowmachine event in AK. So we went many hours without seeing anyone.

Here we are starting in Paxson Fri morning at 7am--only 136 miles to go! it was a chilly +5F. Little did we know that this would be the start of a ski area quality groomed trail for the next 3 days.

Kristen skates with ease on the bullet fast snow with the glaciated peaks of the AK Range in the background

Here are the girls making the 15 mile ascent from Tangle Lakes up to Maclaren Summit. The climb was tough because we had about 35 lbs on our backs.

Maclaren Summit at last!! We now have a 5 mile downhill to the Maclaren lodge below--sweet!

Mile 42 - Maclaren lodge! The folks at the lodge groom the road with a big snowcat periodically throughout the winter. They do an excellent job!

Here is our luxurious room with a hot shower, tub, and satellite TV!

Sat morning--its time to leave the comforts of Maclaren lodge and hit the trail again for another 42 miles of completely awesome skiing.

There is an excellent view of the Maclaren glacier tucked back in the valley from the front steps of the lodge.

After we left Maclaren lodge we went through some beautiful open tundra country with stunning views of mountains in the distance. The trail just kept getting better--and we didn't think this was possible--but it was.

We stopped and ate some food at Clearwater Creek as the sun began to filter through the clouds.

On the 2nd day out we eventually drop down below the tree line as we descend into the Susitna River valley.

The high peaks of the AK Range poke out of the clouds above the Susitna River. The shiny surface is water (aka overflow) oozing up from the river below and spreading out across the ice.

Trevor, Kat and Mike snowmachined 43 miles from Cantwell on Sat and met us with a wall tent, a yummy Thai curry dinner, Irish car bombs, and a fine box of wine.

Kat worked hard to shovel the sugary snow from the tent.

Fernie rested in Tina's bag after a long day on the trail and watched us fumble with the tent.

Trevor played beautiful music until the wee hours of the morning. He also brought a small bongo drum to entertain us.
Tina's first priority Sunday morning was to make coffee from the snow we melted on the woodstove. It was almost "sauna" like in the tent at times.

The sleeping arrangement was very cozy. We looked like a bunch of sardines.

The last day was another great day of skiing. The rest of the gang hung out in camp and met up with us at the end of the day when we were a few miles from the truck.

OK--- A couple of miles of trail were nearly bare because the wind had blown the snow away during the winter. But this was less than 1 percent of the entire trail...the remainder was great.

The last few miles of the trip we had a view of Denali (20, 320 ft) soaring into the distant sky.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

I missed the Party..Bummer

I had big plans to meet Eric and others out at the Angel Cr cabin for his B-day bash this weekend. Unfortunately my plans failed. I had Jim drop me off at the Stiles Cr trail head and my goal was to take an overland route to the cabin. I followed the Stiles Creek trail for about 8 miles and then veered off and followed a trappers trail to the tundra ridgeline above. From there I had hoped to ski across the wind drifted snow and walk where the snow had been blown away. I would eventually descend 2500' to the cabin in the valley below.

The view of the upper Chena River valley as I made it above treeline

The weather was great BUT way too warm. After a record cold March--April arrived with temps soaring to 50F. Its a bummer because this rapidly deteriorated the snowpack. The drifts I had planned skimming across ended up swallowing me up to my crotch. It was excruciatingly slow going and I had to bail out about 4 miles shy of the cabin when I realized I wouldn't make it before dark. I didn't want to be out there route finding in the middle of the night.

Looking up at the ridge line I had intended to follow. I went another mile or so before I bagged it because the snow was rotten and I kept punching through up to my crotch.

So I retraced my steps and skied 11 miles back down to the road. I attempted to hitch hike to the Angel Cr cabin trailhead (which would have been a flat 6 mile ski to the cabin). I tried for an hour and couldn't get a ride. Some drunk military guys did throw a beer bottle at me -what assholes- and lucky for me they missed. After that I decided to bag it and ended up getting a ride to the nearest phone in Two Rivers. Sharon came and rescued my and dragged my butt back to town.