Saturday, June 30, 2007

Wedding Bells in the Boreal Forest

Today was the long awaited wedding of Lars and Sharon. They have been shacked up for several years and have now filed paperwork with the state of Alaska to recognize their coexistence. Lars' dad performed the ceremony (anyone can be a wedding commissioner once in Alaska) at their ginormous home that they call Belfair.

Jim and Mark play the popular Midwest game called "cornhole". The objective of cornholing is to toss small corn filled bags at a board with a hole in the middle. Jim fabricated this cornhole game as a gift for Lars and Sharon.

Ted is an intense cornhole player

Lena and Amanda bungee race. There was also a giant air filled castle to jump around in

The crowd dances in a heavy downpour from a thunderstorm

Trevor gets decorated by the ladies

20,320 Feet of Rock and Ice!

Mark-E is awed by the view of North Americas highest peak--Denali!

My nephew Mark-E just arrived this week. This is his first time up to Alaska. He is a Colorado mtn boy and is totally excited to be up here in the endless wilderness and to see as much wildlife as possible. This is no ordinary kid. He gets excited about everything outdoors: wildlife of course, flowers, mountains, rocks, bugs, plants, clouds. He makes me take notice again of subtle things that I have seemed to begun to overlook over the last few years. The other cool thing about him is that he loves to eat fruit and veggies and try just about any food at least once. I think this kid is from another planet...don't most 13 yr olds hate everything?!?

Mark is a total mountain goat and wanted to hike up every mtn or ridge we saw. We bagged 2 different peaks during our overnight jaunt into the park. Our first evening we climbed about 2000 ft up to what he called peak #4 because it was the highest of four points on a ridge above the Savage River. We hiked until about 11 pm in the warm evening sunlight.

We stopped a lot because Mark was fascinated by every little thing growing in the tundra. We thought this cotton grass looked like little people with fuzzy white hair singing into the wind.

There were sooooo many flowers in bloom. He kept saying that his aunt Cheryl would really like to be here because she studied alpine flowers. He had me take pictures of all of them. Pink plumes (aka bistort) - this is one of the plants Cheryl studied in grad school.

Mark simultaneously checks out the Alaskan poppies and eats spicy trail mix

On our first hike a golden eagle swooped down right over our heads and landed about 30 ft away. It was being chased by a raven.

Nice view of endless tundra in Denali Park

He thought the shooting stars were really cool - we went trough fields of them.

Mark-E sits in a field of shooting stars and mountain avens

Glaucous gentian--ouch! If any flower needs a common name its this one

I couldn't remember the name of this flower and it wasnt in the flower book either

Mark checks out Denali in the late evening sunlight.

Here is where a small clear water stream mixes with the silty glacially fed water of the Toklat River.

We did see a few animals (sheep, caribou, ptarmigan, eagles, grizzly bear) but since it was so warm and sunny most of them were hunkered down in the brush during the heat of the day. In the late afternoon some thunderstorms popped up and it was a bit cooler. This caribou ran right alongside our bus.
The park is patrolled by dog teams in the winter. We saw a dog sled demo at the park headquarters kennel.

Mark and I hiked up to a ridge high above the park road to check out the view

Saturday, June 23, 2007

I Can Smell Winter in the Air

Sunrise: 2:59 AM, Sunset: 12:48 AM, Length of Day: 21hr 49min

Summer Solstice in the northern hemisphere today. Up this far north its an especially significant day because it means our 24 hours of continuous light will gradually be replaced by dark nights and falling temperatures. Yeah--that's still a few months away but I know for some people the thought of losing daylight is depressing and can throw them into a funk. In reality--today marks the beginning of our uphill swing back towards winter and hopefully lots of snow to frolic in. I still have oodles of summery things to do so now the rush is on.

There are a lot of activities going on in Fairbanks in association with the solstice. I wandered downtown with Dea and Ben to check out the scene and hopefully catch some interesting characters. Man--there were tons of people out enjoying the evening. Downtown actually had a festive feeling and I felt like I was in some hip lower-48 city.

No bucking broncos in AK--only spawning salmon trying to shake lose small children

Some dancers shaking handles of love on 1st Avenue in downtown Fairbanks

Thunderstorms rock the hills northeast of town this evening

Friday, June 15, 2007

Back to the 40-Mile Country

2 am twilight -- Tetlin Bridge
I have been in/out in the field quite a bit the past couple of weeks and I am really ready to be sedentary for at least a little while. I just finished a rather exhausting trip out towards the border and in the 40-mile river drainage. I was back out there doing hydrologic surveys with some folks from our Anchorage office. The trip was so demanding because we worked a couple of 18 hr days and got very little sleep. There were advantages though to working late into the night: no vehicles on the road, amazing soft pastel colors of the twilight sky overhead, birds singing, and even the sound of wolves howling in the distance. It was quite nice...

Scott and Becky measuring flow on the West Fork at the Taylor Hwy. It was really convective this week with quite a lot of lightning and heavy downpours.

Early morning cumulus clouds reflect in the window of the truck

There were splashes of color from numerous wildflowers all along the road.

This is a hovercraft our observers run up and down the 40-mile river.

Becky hopes to pull out a few flakes of gold from her pan. The 40-mile River is know for its gold deposits and has lured in miners for over 100 years.

I intensely try out my prospecting skills.

I caught this cloud-to-ground lightning strike on the road to Northway Village

1 am sunset at the Chisana River

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A Run Through the Rocks

Martin and Turtle running the 15-mile granite tors loop trail

It seems like when you live somewhere for a while its easy to sort of forget about some of the cool places right in your own backyard. This was the case today when I went out to the Granite Tors trail today to run the 15-mile loop with my friend Martin. I hadn't been there for several years and I forgot how beautiful the landscape is along the trail. The granite rocks jutting up out of the tundra are very mysterious and take on a different look from every angle. The alpine wildflowers were also in full bloom and in several places we were running through a carpet of white and pink. Nice!

Its about a 2000 foot climb up to the tundra where the running gets really nice and the views are endless. We got to the ridge just as a thunderstorm was departing to the southwest.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Above the Fold

This was a surprise--there was a photo of me sitting in my Alpacka raft on the front page of the Fairbanks Daily News Miner--and it was above the fold! My pic was even bigger than the one of Governor Palin...although she is quite a bit hotter than me so a smaller shot of her still grabs a readers attention much more. There was a really good article about the Hot Springs adventure race in the outdoors section today. Here is a link to the article on the Anchorage Daily News website. The Fairbanks paper requires you to login to the page. There isn't too much info about Ned, Andy and I but there are some good stories from the other racers.

A couple of Ned's pics made it into the Outdoors section. A lot of the other guys were going super ultralight and didn't carry a camera or even have much time to stop and soak up the scenery.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Another Day in the Bush

The Kobuk Sandunes overtake the boreal forest in northwest Alaska. The dunes lie 40 miles north of Arctic Circle and are part of the largest active sand dunes in the Arctic.

I had another work trip out into the Alaskan bush today. I chartered a flight to take me several hundred miles northwest of Fairbanks to the villages of Kiana and Ambler on the Kobuk River with a quick stop in Hughes on the Koyukuk River on the way back to town. Getting out in the field and seeing rural Alaska is certainly one of the perks to my job. I do enjoy working in the office but I can only tolerate being a slave in front of the computer issuing forecasts for short bursts of time. I try to take another fellow worker with me because I usually need a second hand but I also think it benefits our staff to become familiar with our forecast area. This time I recruited ye ol' salt of the office--Ron Stuvek.

My cooperative field assistant Ron helps me survey in a new river gage in Kiana. The village council will be taking daily river readings for us. They were nice enough to let us cruise around on a 4-wheeler in order for us to get our work done. About 400 people live in the village of Kiana on the banks of the Kobuk River

Curtains of rain fall over the meandering Kobuk River

The kids of Ambler were out trying to catch the first Sheefish running up the Kobuk River

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The 46 Hour Day

Well I survived the adventure race from Chena to Circle Hot Springs with no major injuries or dibachles. I did get some excruciatingly painful blisters but no long term or permament ailments. Ned, Andy and I covered about 45 miles on land and 45 miles on water in 46 hours. This was not even close to the winning time but we didnt go into to this with the intention to rush from point A to point B. We kept a steady and continuous pace but still had time to soak up the scenery and the serenity of the wilderness along the way.

The winnners cruised into Circle Hot Springs 24 hours after departing Chena. I hear that one of them only carried a 12 lb pack, which included 30 Snickers bars and some water, and didnt stop for more than 30 seconds. He didnt even bring long pants to protect his legs from the endless brush and relentless mosquitos. There were some good stories from the other competitors like brief periods of being lost, a shredded boat, and a dangerous bear encounter. Here is a link the story that was in the Anchorage Daily News.

12 am Saturday:
I certainly didnt budget my time very well today. I was at out at the West Valley track way too late on Fri evening with my Relay-for-Life team and still hadnt packed up my crap for the race. I finally got started around midnight. I owe Trevor big time for assisting me by bagging my food items and dicing up cheese/meet chunks while I got my gear together. I finally got things all squared away around 2am and crawled into bed for a few hours of sleep. I was really hoping to get a few more zzzzz's before going into a long stretch of no sleep.
Here is just a sample of my food--I brought a variety of sweet and salty snacks along on the trip: cheese/sausage cut into easily chewable chunks, salty almonds, some form of chocolate (and a lot of it), sports products like goo and shot blocks, PBJ sandwiches, dried fruit, and Fritos--which are one of my absolute favorite salty fatty snack when I am feeling depleted. We didnt bring a stove so I was able to eat everthing while on the move. I have learned over the past few years what my body craves and needs in order to stay verticle during long periods of excercise. Andy just brought like 8lbs of Cliff Bars and pounded one every hour or so. I have a hard time pushing even one of those nasty things down into my gut. I am not quite sure how he can tolerate them by the dumptruck load.

My gear consisted of a base layer of long underwear to an outer shell of gortex. We planned on curling up under our boats if we got tired so we did not bring sleeping bags or tents. I also had a hat, gloves, neoprene socks, life jacket (which doubles as a great insulating layer too), bug dope, headnet, knife, duct tape, sunscreen, and the packraft. I actually ended up with extra space in my pack once I had everything stuffed in and the total weight was right around 30 lbs.

10 am Saturday:
It was obvious to the other competitors we were not in that big of a hurry this morning. We showed up at Chena Hot Springs about a minute before the start and didnt actually get moving until everyone else had departed which actually isnt a big deal for such a long distance race. I was dragging a little bit this morning too because I was a bit anxious and nervous and didnt sleep as solidly as I would have liked. I was hoping the excitement of the race and being outside would keep me pumped up...

Here is Ned and Andy leaving Chena Hot Springs. We walked down the road about a mile to the North Fork of the Chena River and then veered north to follow the Yukon Quest sled dog trail for the first portion of our trek.

In the first few miles we had to cross the North Fork several times and there were many places we jumped off of remnant shelf ice and down into the icy water. So I think we had dry feet for the first 20 minutes of our 46 hour tour.

2 pm Saturday:
Trail is a bit of a misnomer since this is a "winter" trail which traverses the valley floor where the ground is wet, boggy, brushy, and buggy. Many of the other racers followed a steep trail that took them quickly up to treeline where the ridge walking is much easier. We didnt take the most direct route but it was the shortest distance to Birch Creek and we figured this path would spare us from some bushwhacking. Much of the area had been burned so all the trees looked like toasted sticks.

The wet muskeg sucks your foot in like a vacume and nearly pulls your shoe off while making an escape.

The mud bogs are great at preserving animal tracks. I presume this track was left by a grizzly bear due to its large size. Fotunately for us we didnt run into this guy.

Another advantage to this route was the abundance of H2O. We pounded a liter at every creek crossing and then refilled and dropped some iodine and repeated this process many times. My pee was actually completely clear. The guys that stuck to the ridges had to drink sparingly and conserve liquid along the way.

5 pm Saturday:
After a 18 mile steady climb up the North Fork and a smaller tribuatary called Boulder Creek we arrive above treeline and cross over into the headwaters of the Birch Creek drainage. From this point on we followed the ridgeline northward and enjoyed some smooth and stable walking in the alpine zone.

The wildflowers were in full bloom and the birds greeted us with lovely songs.

8 pm Saturday:
The ridge walking was a nice relief from the boggy lowlands but it wasnt too long before we descended enough to encounter trees again and one of the most annoying and obnoxious vegetative features in Alaska--> tussocks!

Its difficult to explain how frustrating it is to walk on tussocks--it totally sucks! They are mounds of sedges/grasses that wobble around if you step on the crown of them and then what lurks in between are deep wet trenches that suck your shoes off. So there is basically nowhere to place your feet. Walking at a reasonable pace is physically impossible. This is a pic of some mild tussocks but is not really representative. And of course where there are tussocks...there are hoards of mosquitoes to keep you company.

To add to the torture of the tussocks we had to navigate through a maze of burned of trees and shrubs from a 2004 forest fire. Every time a tussock knocked us off balance we ended up getting pierced by sharp, black sticks. We got lucky though because this sort of torture only went on for about an hour. One of the other routes had many hours of plodding through tussocks.

1030 pm Saturday:
After 25 miles of trekking from Chena Hot Springs we reach Birch Creek at last. This is where we get to rest our legs and blistery feet and jump into the packrafts. I was really excited to get on the water at this point. We have about 40 miles of floating before reaching our take-out point at Harrison Cr.

We spent about an hour transitioning over to to travel by water.

Andy outfitted his boat with a powder blue hippo seat--her head was also a good back rest