Monday, February 8, 2016

Fat Tire Biking to the Cross Cabin

Last year we tried fat tire biking by renting and borrowing bikes to go to the cabin for my birthday. This year we decided it was time to buy our own fat bikes.  I bought a KHS 3000 for myself off of craigslist last summer and Molly got her 15" Motobecane Sturgis from Bikes Direct.  We then set up both bikes up with 4.7" tires with carbide studs.

We had plans to ride our new bikes to the cabin before the holidays but after twisting my knee while skiing and then a bit of late season field work it never happened.  So finally last weekend we made it happen. The trail conditions were perfect, hard packed but not icy, with temperatures just below freezing.  The bikes performed great and we made good time getting to the cabin.

Our friends Wynne and Nicholai also purchased new fat tire bikes this winter and joined us for the weekend.  They came in later on Saturday but I was able to send them a GPS track and detailed directions. Molly even sent them photos of some of the intersections.  Modern technology can make navigation easy!

The conditions were so good that I went for an extra ride with Wynne and Nicholai out to Chase and back to the cabin Sunday morning.  It felt like a March day but we were reminded it was still February by the early darkness.  Even though it was a clear day, the sun was noticeably low on the horizon.

We had so much fun that we are planning on going back again this weekend with my parents.  This time it should be even easier as my parents will be able to haul our food and gear on the snow machine.

Molly pedaling across the lake with the cabin in the distance. 
Wynne, Nicholai and I getting ready to leave the cabin

Nice winter sunshine

Enjoying the great riding conditions

Friday, January 29, 2016

More Photos from Fitz Roy

Laguna las Tres and Fitz Roy
We've been home for a couple of days and are slowly sorting through the five weeks of photos on our phones. I think I'll do some catch-up posts as I go through them, in chronological order.

When we woke up on first morning camping near Fitz Roy and saw that it was so sunny and clear that the granite tors were almost so bright you couldn't look at them, we thought the rest of our trip would be downhill from there. How could it get better than that?

One of the things we loved about the hiking near Fitz Roy was the forests. With so many trees and other plants new to us, it was fun to explore as we hiked. Much of the time, I felt like I was hiking in an enchanted forest. The forested areas had very little brushy undergrowth like they do in Alaska, instead they were blanketed in grasses and flowers.

Here was our lovely view of Cerro Torre as the sun set (can you believe people actually climb that?). The next morning it was shrouded in clouds.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Cochamo, Chile

When we travel we like to keep our schedule  flexible so we can adapt to places we like and venture to destinations as we learn about them. This method of travel has been particularly difficult in Patagonia due to the need to book flights in advance and the business of the peak summer season down here. 

While hiking at Torres Del Paine we learned about a place called Cochamo from a few other Trekkers. It was described to us as the "Yosemity Valley of South America", and a place not yet well known and not overrun by tourists. 

When we retuned from hiking Torres Del Paine we did some research and decided we had to go Cochamo. Lucky we had not made any fixed plans after flying to Puerto Montt. We decided to push other tentative plans aside to see Cochamo for ourselves. 

We made camping reservations and headed in to the valley with plans to spend three nights. It was a four hour hike into the valley along a deeply worn trail. After a few hours we started to catch glimpses of towering granite mountains through the thick forest canopy. When we arrived at the meadows and camping area we were mesmerized by the barren white granite mountains and walls that surrounded us.  We pitched our tent and made dinner as the sun drop behind the mountains to the west and the moon rose above a towering wall to the north. 

The next two days were spent day hiking on two very memorable trails. The first day we climbed a mountain called Arco Iris. The trail up Arco Iris was labeled difficult, which is fair but what we didn't know was just how steep portions of it would be. The only thing similar I have seen in the states is the trail up Angel's Landing in Zion.  A firm grip on the fixed ropes and any available roots was necessary in places to make it up. After a few thousand feet of climbing we found ourselves high above the valley, with stunning views of the other towering mountains and also of more distant volcanoes.

The following days hike took us to a place called the Amphitheater, a glacial cirque surrounded on three sides by rock walls thousands of feet tall.   We got an "early" start and we on the trail by 9am, allowing us to have the trail to ourselves the entire way up. We enjoyed a swim in a small pool at the base of walls and chatted with some rock climbers who were camped in the amphitheater. 

I could have spend a few more days in Cochamo but really I was just happy to have heard about this place and been able to fit it into our travels.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Hiking the O in Torres del Paine

The big destination of our trip was an eight day trek in Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. Like our time near Fitz Roy, the weather did not disappoint. We hike the O, which includes the much more popular W trek.

There is a lot to say about this trek and the eight days we spent on it, but for now I will just share some highlights. 

We hiked counter clockwise, starting at Laguna Amarga. The first two days were absolutely lovely - blankets of wildflowers and a well-maintained trail. As a bonus, we hardly saw anyone. Even though there were lots of people hiking the same itinerary, we all spread out during the day. 

The trek includes a pass infamous for high winds and being socked in. It did not disappoint. It was probably gusting up to 60mph when we passed through. And it was raining. But once you're in it there's really nothing to do but keep going to stay warm. Luckily once you cross the pass it's not far until you drop down into the trees and protection. 

Our view of glacier Grey descending the pass was perhaps not what it could have been, but the view from the lake the next day more than made up for it. The fascinating sedimentary geology was an extra bonus. 

The French Valley is a side trip off the O, but absolutely worth it. The view point at the top is breathtaking. The scale of the granite walls all around the valley is overwhelming. 

And of course, the Torres del Paine themselves. Well-worth the last 45 minutes of rock scrambling and hiking to get to them. The dramatic evening light silhouetting the Torres added a special touch. A perfect way to end the O. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Backpacking near Fitz Roy

Laguna las Tres and Fitz Roy

We've been having trouble posting to the blog from our phones, finally hoping this post from a week and a half ago works this time...

Can you say we got lucky with the weather at Monte Fitz Roy? We absolutely could not have asked for a better two days for backpacking in the northern part of Glaciares National Park. 

We started our backpacking trip late in the afternoon on the 30th and camped at a backcountry campground just before the ascent to Lagunas Los Tres (pictured above). After we hiked to Lagunas Los Tres the next morning, we continued up Cerro Madsen, for which we had gotten a permit the day before. It's not a technical climb, but it did involve some rock scrambling and snow. It was a challenge but got us away from the crowds. We only saw/talked to a handful of other people who climbed Madsen that day - among them a guy on skis!

Hiking up Cerro Madsen

We didn't quite go to the top, but we found a spot to eat lunch with an outstanding view of Fitz Roy. We could even see some mountaineers descending on a glacier in the distance. 

View of Fitz Roy from Cerro Madsen

After our descent we packed up our camp at 5:30pm and headed over to a campground in another valley - the Alaskan way - frantically doing as much as possible while there is both daylight and good weather! We rolled into the campground around 9pm but were treated to a mostly empty trail and stunning views of Cerro Torre. We were certainly glad we went for the evening camp move because this morning Torre was socked in. I felt guilty that we had such luck as we passed hundreds of people hiking in. 

Cerro Torre

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Winter Biking

Tomorrow we leave for Montana and from there on to Patagonia.  I am looking forward to warmer weather and long days.  Here in southcentral Alaska we are in the depths of winter.  OK, technically it is still fall but really it is winter.  It's cold and the days a short.  These last two weeks I have been taking a leave of absence from work which has given me a great opportunity to put some miles on my fat bike.

Recently I have ridden at Government Peak Rec Area, Jim Creek, Matanuska Lake State Park, South Fork of Campbell Creek, and twice on Eagle River.  Today was my biggest ride yet and I really wasn't planning on it.  I took off from home and headed up the frozen Eagle River.  I followed some older bike tracks and newer ski tracks.  I was only planning on a hour or so of riding but my ambition got the better of me.  I just kept thinking "maybe a little father"  and "I wonder what's around the next corner".  Well, I will tell you what is around the next corner, more river!  Eventually I came across some fresher bike tracks, someone who had come down the river from somewhere else.  I started wondering where they had started, and after I checked my map I set my goal of reaching the next river access point.  My little ride turned into a 17 miles and three hours.  I felt spent but accomplished.  What a treat it is to access the Chugach State Park from my front door.  Riding on the river is perfect for my fat bike and great exercise in a beautiful place.  Maybe next time I will try to ride all the way to the Eagle River Nature Center!  Who's in?

My bike at Government Peak Rec. Area

Molly riding on Eagle River

Jim Lake looking towards the Kink Glacier
My friend Russ riding on a lake at Matanuska Lake State Park
Frozen Eagle River
Arriving home from my 17 mile ride on Eagle River

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Underwater Search in Huslia

I recently took a four day trip to Huslia, Alaska in an attempt to help the village locate a local man  who fell through the ice on the Koyukuk River.  For the second time this year I found myself mixing my search and rescue skills with my career as a marine geophysicist.  This time it was more like work than volunteer as TerraSond was hired by the Huslia Tribal Council to provide technical equipment and software with an operator and data processor (me).   A little more than a day after the initial call I was on my way to Fairbanks where I picked up the side scan sonar and then caught a flight with Wright Air on a Cessna Caravan to Huslia.

Huslia is an Athabascan village of about 300 people on the Koyukuk River.  When I arrived the man had fallen through the ice over a week prior.  People had come from all around and there were somewhere between 30 and 50 people helping with the search.  Within a few hours of arriving I was on the river with a team of assistants.  My assistants would lower the side scan sonar through slots in the ice and then tow the sonar along and pull a sled along side while I operated the computer.  After a few hours the sun went down and I headed back to the community hall for dinner.  I spent the evening reviewing the sonar data.

The second day was similar with temperatures hovering around freezing; we covered a lot of ground.  By the end of the second day we had surveyed a section of the river 1400ft long by 400ft wide.  That night the temperatures dropped and when I returned to the river the next morning it was 15 degrees below zero.  Maybe it was the temperature, maybe it was something else, but that morning the sonar would not power up properly.  I spent all day trying to fix it and eventually, after several conversations with a technician at the manufacturer, we determined it was not field fixable.  So, after only a day and half of searching it was done, and its not like you can get another highly specialized sonar on Thanksgiving Day in Huslia, or anywhere in Alaska for that matter.

On my last day in Huslia, I trained a few of the local guys to use a recreational grade sonar that can make similar, but lower quality, images of the river bottom.  I wish the community the best of luck in their search.

Looking out over the Koyukuk River
Pulling the sonar along slots cut in the river ice
A group helping me review the sonar data
The Huslia Community Hall
Sonar opened up for repair

Winter Jellies

Blueberries and Rhubarb
While I was taking things out of the freezer for Thanksgiving I took the opportunity to take stock of the berries and rhubarb left in there. The total was four gallons of blueberries (that's after two or three batches of blueberry jam last fall), two gallons of rhubarb, and a gallon of crowberries I had no idea were in there. We like having blueberries in the freezer throughout the year for baking and smoothies, but we don't need four gallons. Crowberries, however, aren't good for much except jelly (or juice) because of their seeds and bitter skin. So, I made crowberry jelly. I have so much blueberry jam thought that I decided to try a new combination and make blueberry rhubarb jelly. It's a tasty one - and dark - it was hard to tell the crowberry apart from the blueberry/rhubarb once they were in the jars! These will probably be my last batches of jelly and jam before next summer. I think we have enough to make it until then...

Our stock of jam and jelly before I made these two batches

Monday, November 23, 2015

Patagonia Trip Planning: T-Minus 5 Weeks

In five weeks we will be in Patagonia! Time is ticking though - most of our weekends until then are filled with holidays and outdoorsy adventures and in four weeks we leave for Montana to visit my sister and brother-in-law (a stop on the way to South America). We have buckled down and penciled out a rough itinerary for our trip. With an entire month, there is plenty of space to fill.

For the most part we will travel on a shoestring as we usually do, but Patagonia is a vast place (and I say that as someone from Alaska!) and it appears to be well-worth it to arrange some inter-continental flights ahead of time to avoid multiple 20+ hour bus rides. I've been watching prices for months and they only seem to be climbing.

I finally decided it was time to bite the bullet, as far as both price and having dates we have to stick to in our otherwise fluid plans. Our flight routes are Buenos Aires to El Calafate, then El Calafate to Ushuaia, and then Punta Arenas to Puerto Montt. By far the most expensive leg of this trip would be Buenos Aires to El Calafate (especially because our flights to and from South America were on miles). Whenever I find a brilliant deal on travel arrangements, I have a little ping of regret that I didn't follow a career as a travel agent. But then again when your hobbies become your work, you tend to not enjoy them as much as when you did them for leisure. But whose to say I couldn't be happy as a travel agent doing archaeology as a hobby? Now there's something to think about!

My brilliant idea was to use Delta miles to fly from Buenos Aires to El Calafate. We didn't quite have enough, but even with buying the extra miles we saved about $150. And then I had a thought to search for a multi city ticket for the next two legs, and for some reason that can only be explained by the crazy inner workings of the interwebz, it was $90 cheaper per person to do it as multi city ticket rather than two separate one way tickets.

I also learned two important things about travel search engines during this extensive flights search: Kayak is the best, do not waste your time with Google Flights or Sky Scanner.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


While driving back from Haines last week I snapped a few great photos of a coyote.  I must say, I got really lucky. The sun was out and there was this coyote, just standing in the fresh snow along side of road.  He was aware of us but seemed not to give much care.  He just stood there looking around intently while we backed up and watched.  I had my good camera in the front seat of the truck so with my coworking driving all I had to do was roll down the window to be in the perfect spot to snap these photos.  What a great opportunity.  The only other wildlife we spotted on the drive was a lone caribou just outside of Glennallen.