Thursday, May 29, 2008

Weekend on the Emerald Isle

Blades of sea grass are silhouetted against the calm waters of Monashka Bay on Kodiak Island

I traveled down to Alaska's emerald isle with 8 friends for the annual Kodiak Island Crab Festival. Kodiak Island is famous for huge brown bears, world-class sport fishing, and one of the largest commercial fishing ports in the nation. Its also notorious for having long stretches of wet and windy weather since it is situated in the unprotected waters of the north Pacific.

An endless supply of crab legs feed hungry locals and tourists...

The bright blue onion dome of the Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Church

The start of the Kodiak Island marathon. Tina , Ted and I made up more than half of the race entrants. Ann was the only competitor in the 43 mile ultramarathon so she started several hours earlier and met up with us to run the marathon course after a 17 mile warm up.

Beach art on Kodiak Island's north shore.

Kodiak is home to the largest US Coast Guard base in the states - they demonstrated an open sea rescue in the harbor.

Sea shells frozen in time break free from the bluffs above Fossil Beach

Driftwood and young vegetation litter the sand on the shores of Ugak Bay

Buffalo roam freely through the grassy terrain of Kodiak Island

The pad at the Kodiak Rocket Launch Facility looms above the horizon

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Endless Twilight on Beaver Creek

The late evening sunlight reflects off of the steel grey surface of Beaver Creek

Summer has arrived in the north. A winters worth of snow and ice has flushed downstream and has been replaced by never ending daylight, serenading songbirds, afternoon thunderstorms, bloodthirsty mosquitoes, the sweet smell of the boreal forest, and warm sunshine. I finally packed the skis away for the winter and pulled out the packraft for the first float of the season.

Trevor, Ann and I decided to welcome the endless summer daylight with an all night float down Beaver Cr followed by hike across the countryside north of Fairbanks. We dropped our rafts in the creek around 8 pm Friday night and staggered into the parking lot at the Wickersham Dome trail head around 7 pm the following evening. We traveled the 50 miles non-stop for nearly 24 hours with the excitement of the wilderness keeping us awake - supplemented by loads of sugar, chocolate covered espresso beans, and caffeine injected extra strength Excedrin.

Trevor inflates his Alpacka raft. These unbelievably cool boats tip the scale at less than 5 lbs. We used a specially designed bag to "scoop" up air and squeeze it into the boat. Its a clever idea which eliminates the need to carry a pump. A seasoned professional can inflate the boat in a couple of minutes.

830 pm - Ann is ready to start the first leg of our 50 mile excursion through the White Mountains

Ann and I are looking forward to a night on the river.

There was still a little bit of remnant river ice left along the banks of Beaver Cr.

The evening was quite chilly and the water was cold. The local wildlife was not deterred by this though. We observed (and were observed) by more moose than I can count, beavers, bald eagles, owls, and waterfowl. The nightlife on Beaver Creek was vibrant.

2 am - We were teetering on the edge of mild hypothermia and decided to stop for a few hours to warm up by a raging bonfire. The high water from the spring snowmelt had left the gravel bars littered with driftwood so there was plenty of amunition to ward off the cold.

The "bushbuddy" in action. This is a very small and light (5 oz) wood burning stove. It boiled a liter of water in about 8 minutes - no fossil fuels required!

630 am - The transition...we pack up the boats after 30 miles on Beaver Creek and prepare to hike 20 miles out the Steese Hwy via Wickersham Dome.

Crap! We had to cross Wickersham Creek about a mile after we started hiking. The only way to avoid a cold swim was to yank out a boat and ferry across.

We followed a trail which traverses the ridgeline between several drainages - this way we avoided the boggy/wet areas down low. We were treated to some nice views in all directions. Beaver Creek makes a sharp 45 degree turn to the north around the nose of this limestone ridge and this area is aptly named the "big bend"

A view of the White Mtns and the Beaver Creek valley.

Up and up...the ridge route kept us out of the lower wet areas but it required us to make multiple steep ascents.

When we climbed above treeline we could see many distant mountains but the weather quickly deteriorated and obscured all of our potential views.
Snow and rain pelted us for hours and we were completely soaked. Sleep deprivation also started to kick in and Trevor began to see people on every ridge as he stumbled down the trail.

We reached a shelter cabin just as the sun broke out of the clouds and the sloppy precipitation ceased.

Trevor and I dry off in the warm sunshine at the shelter cabin. We ended up making it to the trail head around 7 pm - about 23 hours after we set out on the creek. We were met by Dea and Lisa's smiling faces - even though we were overdue by more than 5 hours and they waited patiently the entire time.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


8 pm May 11, 2008 - Green-up arrived today as the leaves burst forth into the warm sunlight and the hills suddenly turned a bright lime green in a matter of hours.

11 pm April 30, 2008 - Taking my final ski of the season in the late evening light at Smith Lake on the University campus. The transition from winter into summer this year was shockingly fast. In less than 2 weeks the winter snowpack melted away and was replaced by green leaves and mosquitoes.