Friday, March 21, 2008

Gearing up for the Wilderness Classic

Wrangell-St Elias National Park is the site of the 2008 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Ski Classic. Brian and I are headed down to this pristine wilderness which straddles the Alaska-Yukon border tomorrow to take part in the race. This is a remote and dynamic region made up of 16,000 ft glaciated mountains, craggy peaks, volcanoes, winter avalanches, raging rivers in the summer, and an abundance of wildlife.

Planning out meals and gear was quite exhausting. Trying to come up with a delectable menu that included foods with the best calorie to weight ratio was challenging. We plan to be traveling during the daylight hours (about 12 hrs/day) and hope to finish within 7 days. I expect to consume about 6000 calories a day - which came out to nearly 3 pounds of food per day. When you throw in the fuel to melt snow for drinking water and cooking - the weight of my pack dramatically increased. I will post a full report when I return.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Skiing the Iditarod Trail

Nome, Alaska sits on the edge of the frozen Bering Sea

Four of us spent 6 days traversing the last 200 miles or so of the Iditarod trail along the wind scoured Bering Sea coast between the village of Koyuk and the bustling bush town of Nome. This was an unbelievably diverse trip which was jam packed with broad expanses of wilderness, cultural interactions as we passed through native villages, and the excitement of the Iditarod sled dog race as we skied in the midst of the mushers making their final push into Nome.

We flew out to Koyuk and then skied westward along the Iditarod trail toward Nome. Here is a map of our route between the villages of Koyuk and White Mountain.

Here is a second map showing the last half of our trip between White Mountain and Nome. We skied right along the coast for much of the trip. This stretch is notorious for strong winds and ground blizzards - fortunately we scooted through with good weather.

Nome is essentially a crossroad to nowhere. Everything is thousands of miles away except for Siberia and the arctic circle.

The Nome national forest can be seen in the distance. These are actually old christmas trees that are jammed into the sea ice. Nome is beyond the treeline and is surrounded by endless tundra.

Nome is a town of drifts because most of the snow in this windy location falls horizontally. There are several roads leading out of town but they all eventually dead end and never connect with the rest of North America.

Bering Sea art spruces up a building in Nome.

Arriving in Koyuk - we were met by a flurry of snowmachines that came to pick of mail and groceries. We hitched a ride down to the village store to buy a few things before hitting the trail.

All geared up and ready begin our ski tour 200 miles back to Nome.

Andy and Matt on the sea ice as Koyuk slowly fades away in the distance.

There were some dramatic rock outcrops along the shore.

Descending into the Kwik (pronounced "gweek") River valley.

Kwik River cabin - our first in a series of luxury accommodations. No reservations are needed because this is a shelter cabin.

The cabin was stocked with plenty of firewood by the Elim fire department. We donated some cash when we arrived in Elim the following day.

Fighting our way through a ground blizzard. The Kwik River cabin is located in what is called a "blow hole" where strong winds can materialize in a very short amount of time. Well...the wind picked up overnight and increased after we hit the trail.

The winds subsided some as we approached the summer fish camps at Moses Point.

Lisa skis on towards Elim...

Matt and Andy taking a break outside of Elim.

The village of Elim is in a beautiful location where the "interior meets the sea"

The primary method of transportation in rural Alaska is either snowmachine or 4-wheeler. In Elim we stayed at the school which is in the distance.

Matt stocks up on frozen pizzas for dinner. We didn't have to carry much food because we could purchase supplies at the village store.

We had the master key to the Elim school so we were able to cook dinner in the home ec room and use the locker room to take showers.

Art on display at the school.

Driftwood and dry sea grasses protrude through the snow along Golovin Bay.

Skiing across the sea ice on the way into Golovin.

The village displayed colorful signs to welcome the Iditarod mushers.

A boat in Golovin waits for the ice and snow to melt.

We arrived in Golovin just as the kids were finishing up ski practice...

Eating breakfast in the school cafeteria with the Golovin kids.

Golovin through stained glass.

Our fourth night was spent in White Mountain. The Iditarod mushers caught up to us while we were here and we skied along with them on the trail into Nome.

Dog food and other supplies for the Iditarod mushers line the banks of the Fish River.

Iditarod champion Lance Mackey feeds his team during his mandatory 8 hr layover in White Mountain. Mushers are not allowed to have any outside help getting water or feeding their dogs. So much of the 8 hrs is spent tending to the dogs.

Resting in White Mountain.

Lance Mackey leaves White Mountain and makes his final push to Nome to win the 2008 Iditarod.

There were over ten teams in White Mountain at one time.

A musher moves along the coast...

We spent our final night on the trail at the Topkok trail shelter.

Inside the Topkok shelter...

Many teams passed by at all evening and through the night.

Pete caught up with us just as we were leaving the Topkok shelter. He was in the final 50 miles of his 1100 mile bike ride on the Iditarod Trail. He was competing in the Iditarod Trail Invitational and was the first person to reach Nome. Much of the trail was soft and competitors had to push there bikes through soft snow for many days.

The Safety Roadhouse is the last checkpoint before Nome.

Almost to Nome...

Iditarod finish line on front street in Nome and the end of our ski trip.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Nome-ward Bound...

I am headed out to the Seward Peninsula in western Alaska tomorrow with my skis and some friends. The Seward Peninsula is a thumb of the state that points directly at Siberia. All that separates Alaska from far east Russia is the icy Bering Strait.

We will be flying into the the town of Nome on the frozen Bering Sea coast and then continuing on to the native village of Koyuk. The plan is to ski the last 200 miles or so of the Iditarod sled dog race trail back to Nome. This stretch of trail is notorious for severe winds and white out conditions. There are very few trees and most of the terrain is exposed tundra. I am hoping the weather is somewhat subdued and we are spared any strong headwinds or blizzard conditions. The Iditarod is currently in progress and we expect the lead mushers to pass us on the trail as they make their final push into Nome.

I spent the evening packing a bunch of food and snacks for 5 or 6 days on the trail. We will be passing through several native villages so we will have the opportunity to buy food along the way - for an outrageous price of course. This should be an awesome trip through some interesting country. I will post some pics when I return...

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Kite skiing

Dan cruises down the frozen Tanana River in Fairbanks

Industrious young Dan decided he wanted to build a kite for skiing. So he found a design online, ordered the materials, bought a sewing machine, taught himself how to use the darn thing - and voila! he made a kite! Since there was a little bit of wind today - Dan, Ted and I headed down to the Tanana River to get some practice flying the kite. After a few attempts I began to get the feel for how to control the big green wing. We were able to zig-zag down the river using a method similar to tacking a sailboat into the wind.

From the field test today it appears that a steady breeze around 10 mph is sufficient for this size kite. If the wind gets much stronger it is difficult to control...anything less will get the kite airborne but there will not be enough force to pull you forward. Dan plans on making several different sized kites so he can go out in a variety of wind conditions.

Dan concentrates as he maneuvers the kite down the river. We spent a lot of time trying to spin it around to get it untangled.

Well...kite skiing isn't as easy as it appears.

Check out this video of the kite in action