Monday, August 25, 2008

Autumn comes early in the North

Heather picks plump blueberries from the brilliant fall foliage.

We headed north of Fairbanks to the Kanuti River for the weekend. This river which dissects the landscape just south of the Arctic Circle served as our pathway to the completely undeveloped hot springs about 12 miles away. The water level was quite low when we dropped our packrafts into the river and resulted in a rather "bony" ride for much of the float. We spent several hours prying ourselves from slightly submerged rocks and pin balling our way downriver between boulders.

Sky preferred to swim or run along the bank during much of the float.

But when forced...she would submit and impatiently sit in the packraft.

The flotilla of rafters approaches one of the frequent boulder gardens during the 14 mile trip to the hot springs. The river is littered with rocks of varying size and is much more navigable at higher water levels.

The springs are situated on the edge of a meadow of wild mint and onions. About 5 people can fit comfortably in the shallow springs.

Revitalized after a warm soak in the pool, an evening by the campfire, and a tropical-like nights rest on the geothermally heated ground adjacent to the pool.

The springs are located in an opening in the spruce trees just left of the river in the valley below. The steep ascent up to the ridge line was quite brutal as we bushwhacked through thick brush and simultaneously scrambled over criss-crossing downed trees from an old wildfire.

Lisa rests with Sky after fighting her way through an entanglement of willows and alders.

Travel was effortless up high in the alpine tundra as we skirted the summit of Caribou Mountain.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Return to Bus 142

Fairbanks Bus 142 rests peacefully in the warm summer sunshine

I recently returned to Bus 142 with my friend Heather. I didn't have any intentions of trekking back out to the dilapidated bus perched on the small bluff above the Sushana River. Heather is an artist and was interested in doing some paintings of Bus 142 and any remaining items of Chris McCandless's that may still be lingering in the rusting piece of steel. I had never been out there in the summer so I was curious to experience first hand the challenges of this journey as described by so many people making the pilgrimage to the site.

I thought we may be able to shave off some time by riding bikes the first few miles of the trail. As with any traverse across Alaska, I expected to have damp feet for the duration of the trip. Recent wet weather turned much of the Stampede Trail into a mud bog or intermittent stream bed which made for some fun riding. We ditched the bikes about 5 miles in where I expected and then continued on foot.

The most daunting obstacle anticipated by most travelers is the Teklanika River. This is the cold, silty, and fast moving ribbon of water that prevented Chris McCandless from returning from the wild in July of 1992. We crossed the glacially fed channel with ease in my packraft.

The fall colors were just beginning to make an appearance as aspen leaves trembled in the light breeze and flashed bright orange hues in the afternoon sunlight.

The Stampede Trail is an easy walk for much of the 9-mile stretch between the Teklanika River and Bus 142.

I setup camp on a gravel bar just below the bus on the bank of the Sushana River.

Wild blueberries were abundant in the surrounding forest and we added these to our morning oatmeal.

Fragments of shattered glass dangle from a window in Bus 142.

So we arrived at the bus to find it in complete disarray. A handful of windows had been bashed in, broken glass was scattered about, and most of the items in the bus had been overturned. Garbage was strewn all around the perimiter and into the adjacent stand of spruce trees.

I was disappointed and saddened that someone had come this far to totally trash this place. I don't have any sort of personal connection with Chris McCandless's story or legacy -but- I certainly respect this as a place that has significant meaning to many people. I see Chris McCandless as a guy that was seeking adventure, space, and a certain distance from society as many of us do here in Alaska...but unfortunately he lost his life in doing so.

I could only imagine how disappointed people traveling to this destination from far off places would be when they arrived at a ransacked bus. My first and only reaction was to tidy it up and make it presentable to any future guests. We scrounged up some spruce bows and fabricated a makeshift broom to sweep up the broken glass and various junk, shook out the carpets, and collected all of the trash.

The interior of the bus after the clean-up. I had also retrofitted some of the broken windows with sheets of cardboard in order to prevent rain from entering and mildewing the bus.

There a number of journals that have been signed by previous visitors to the bus.

The hull of Bus 142 is a palette of colors

Heather rests in the warm sunshine before we hit the trail and head back to the truck.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Flooded in Fairbanks

The Tanana River inundates a Fairbanks neighborhood in late July

Between 4-6 inches of rain fell across the Fairbanks area the past few days. This pushed the Tanana River which skirts the the southern part of the city to its highest levels since the record flooding of 1967. The river flooded widespread swaths of low-lying land adjacent to the river including several neighborhoods around Fairbanks and the much of the town of Nenana.

Almost the entire town of Nenana was submerged by the waters of the Tanana River. I captured this image near the peak of flooding while doing aerial reconnaissance of the flood impacted areas. This was the worst flooding in Nenana since 1967.

Roads became river channels and many homes were only accessible by boat or with a pair of chest waders. Up to 300 residences were impacted by the flood waters.