Friday, June 19, 2015

Anniversary Backpacking Trip to Symphony Lakes

Eagle Lake
Last week we played hooky from work one day and went backpacking at Symphony Lakes for our anniversary. This area is literally out our front door in Eagle River (okay, we have a drive around the valley to get there) and an easy place to hike in to after work. The weather here has been abnormally hot and sunny and if there was ever a night to skip bringing a tent or shelter, this would have been it! Ryan wanted to try out our tent though since we've only used it once before, and the bugs were present, although not terrible, so it was good to have it.

We were surprised how many other people were up there backpacking in the middle of the week (as in we say 8 other people camped on the lake). The days are so long it doesn't cool off until very late and gets hot early early in the morning. While we were sitting around in our flip flops and shorts we kept saying "are we really in Alaska??"

On our second day we circumnavigated Eagle Lake and went over to Symphony for swim. Thank goodness there was a breeze or it would have been too hot for us!

Eating dinner at 9:30 at night

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Harp Mountain to Hanging Valley Hike

Ryan taking a break on the way up Harp Mountain, looking down into Hanging Valley and the South Fork of Eagle River

Ryan overlooking Hanging Valley
Looking up Eagle River from  Eagle's Overlook
Ryan conveniently got home from Akutan on a Friday so we have the weekend to have fun and for him to re-acclimated to regular life, warm weather, and green vegetation. For his first full day home he picked a hike we've wanted to do for some time - Harp Mountain in the South Fork of Eagle River. For some extra fun (and training for our upcoming backpacking trip in Katmai), we traversed from Harp to Eagle's Overlook, then dropped down into Hanging Valley and followed the trail out. I haven't measured the distance yet, but it took us about seven hours.

The weather was absolutely perfect with the exception of a strong wind, but on the other hand that kept it from being too hot for these Alaskans. The only people we saw were during our climb up Harp - after that we didn't see a single person (partially because much of our route was off-trail). We had 360 degree views of the Chugach Range. The Alaska Range, Denali, and Foraker were also all clear, as was the far side of Cook Inlet. Such fantastic views so close to home!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Breaking in New Hiking Boots

Testing the waterproofness

I am breaking in a new pair of hiking boots before our Katmai trip at the end of the month. Why would I wait until only three weeks before our trip to get new hiking boots, you might ask? Well, there is an actual story.

I have wide feet, as you may know. A few years ago I found that Lowa made a wide boot that actually fit my feet (for the most part), and I bought a pair (and had them stretched in the width so that they fit better). They were leather with GoreTex and when I first used them they were perfectly waterproof. They were also very light weight and in general, I really liked them, as much as someone with double E feet can ever like a stiff boot. But, the waterproofness didn't last long and the stitching started to come apart. Despite those things, the soles still have A LOT of life left in them. I considered just getting a new pair, but I was afraid the same thing would happen again.

As far as I have found, there are only two brands that make a women's wide hiking boot, at least a serious hiking boot: Vasque and Lowa. Vasque makes two styles - I have tried them both and they are decidedly too narrow. Every few months I google the terms "women's wide hiking boot" in the hopes that someone has started to make a new one. After years of searching, I found that Lowa is indeed making a new women's wide boot, one that's even sturdier. Lowa didn't actually have any in stock though. I spent a couple of days searching high and low on the internet and finally found an online store in Oregon that had exactly one pair in my size/width.

I am very hopeful that these boots are going to work out for me. As far as I can tell the material looks much more likely to stay waterproof over time than my old boots. They are very tight in the toe box, but one can only expect so much from a stiff boot. When I hiked the Mt. Magnificent Trail with them last weekend I only got one tiny blister which isn't bad at all. Let's hope it only gets better from there!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Mt. Magnificent Attempt

We are having absolutely incredible weather for still being May. Officially it was only 72 degrees in Anchorage today, but the thermometer at my house read 87. It's amazing how hot that can seem when you're not used to it!

With such amazing weather and so little snow I can't resist the mountains! I went for a hike with my friends Wynne and Nicolai on the Mile Hi Pass Trail. I've never been all the way to Mt. Magnificent, so that was our goal. However, once we got close, it became evident that the trail doesn't go all the way to Mt. Magnificent. Apparently most people stop at a small peak short of there. And we decided to as well. There was a little breeze, but it was still very hot for these three Alaskans.

We spent our fair share of time just sitting up in the alpine enjoying the incredible views of Eagle River Valley, Anchorage, the Chugach Mountains, and the Alaska Range. Every time I hike that ridge I think of how lucky I am to live somewhere where such incredible alpine hiking is accessible within a 15 minute drive and 30 min hike from my house.

We also ate cupcakes to celebrate Wynne's birthday!

Wynne and Nicolai getting our their bird identification book

Happy birthday Wynne!

Adventures in Akutan

I'm still in Akutan after leaving home nearly four weeks ago.  It feels like it has been a long time, I have watched the mountains start to turn green, performed countless hydrographic surveys and spent endless hours on the water.  Despite the long days I have had the chance to explore the island a little bit the over the last week.  The weather has improved from earlier this month and has been good for hiking.  Yesterday the view the top of the nearest mountain offered panoramic views.  Akutan Volcano was as clear as I have ever seen it.  From the top of the peak I climbed I could see Unalaska, Akun, the Bering Sea and the Pacific Ocean.  The view was amazing!

We also had a chance to tour the old whaling station across the bay recently.  Apparently this was the only whaling station to ever exist in the Aleutians.  There are many rusty old rivited boilers and engines.  Its easy to find pieces of whale bones on the beach.  I would like to learn more about how the whales were processed at this site.

There was also a sad day this week.  A person from the facility here went missing.  The day after she was found to be missing we took the Miss Alyssa around the coast searching.  Unfortunately the woman was found deceased.  The weather was so calm the state troopers were came over from Unalaska in a skiff.

Breaks between surveys have also offered a little bit of time for fishing, touring the tub boat, and continuing to enjoy Jimmer's great food.

Bering Sea Scallops

Searching for the missing person from the Miss Alyssa

Alaska State Troopers skiff that come all the way to Akutan from Unalaska

Taking water samples!
Boilers at the Akutan Whaling Station

Cod I caught 
Akutan Volcano as seen from the peak I climbed

One of the engines in the tug boat

Monday, May 25, 2015

Camping at Hanging Lake

I went camping at Hanging Lake up the South Fork of Eagle River this weekend. It was a test-run for my brand new backpack I'll be taking on a week-long back country trip to Katmai in late June. It was good to see that my bear proof canister fit in there with my warm sleeping bag, but it is a tight fit. With some creativity and things strapped on the outside it should work. Plus, we'll be able to spread the communal gear among four of us in Katmai. All four of us will even have the same backpack - at least mine is a different color from the other three!

 New Osprey Exos pack - only 2 lbs 3 oz when empty!
When I headed out yesterday afternoon it was sprinkling, and it continued to rain all night, but I was cozy in my spacious two-person tent by myself. When I got up to Hanging Lake I was surprised that there was still ice on the lake and quite a bit of snow on the ground. I had forgotten that there is quite a bit of elevation difference between the lake and where we live in Eagle River. It was colder than I expected, but I was plenty warm in my zero degree (aka Alaskan summer) sleeping bag.

Hanging Lake
This morning the weather was a little better and once I started hiking out the sun stayed out and it was downright hot. There were tons of people once I got back to the main South Fork Trail. The last person I talked to before I got back to my car was not really having a great time. After we chatted for a minute I said "Enjoy your hike!" and started to head on my way when he replied "I'm done hiking already. To tell the truth, I hate this crap. I was never an outdoorsman." ....How do you respond to that??? I just laughed a little and kept hiking!

The very back of Hanging Valley

The water level is very low in all the creeks and ponds - so little snow to melt this year!

Descending from Hanging Valley

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Biking in Denali

At the top of Sable Pass
I had an incredibly beautiful weekend biking in Denali National Park. Right now the road is open to Teklanika (mile 29) for private vehicles and the buses don't start running until May 20. My cousin, a couple of friends, and I parked at Teklanika and biked out and back. It was perfectly clear, but very windy. We had a headwind on the way out and the going was tough, but on the way back it was a fantastic ride! Three of us made it just over Sable Pass (10 miles) to a nice view of Denali and took a little nap in the sunshine. The other two made it almost to Polychrome Pass (19 miles), but were turned around by a sow and cub on the road.

I didn't see any wildlife larger than a rabbit while biking, but on the drive back to the campground we saw three reindeer and a grizzly sow and cub.

I can't wait to do this again next year. I just wonder if there isn't any way but down with the weather though!

There were lots of other bikers out

Heading up Sable Pass

Just over Sable Pass with Denali in the background

Coming down Sable Pass

A practicing bus and driver passing in Sable Pass

A grizzly sow and cub on Savage River

Akutan 2015

It is deja vu in Akutan.  I was here last year in May, on the same boat, with the same captain, eating the same food.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  While we jokingly refer to this place as Akutraz in reference to the notorious island prison, there could be worse places to be stuck.

While most days are cold or windy or rainy or some combination of the above, breaks in the weather remind us that we are working in a beautiful inlet surrounded by picturesque mountains freshly shaped by volcanic eruptions and glacial erosion.  And the work is rewarding too, this is an evolving and adaptive project with a breadth of acoustic tools being used to make quick decisions in the field.  That said, I look forward to being home in a couple weeks and seeing some real summer weather.  Here are a few photos from this trip to Akutan
Ever present sea otter eating a crab

Looking west toward the higher peaks of Aktan

My colleague Jason working at the survey station aboard the Miss Alyssa

The Trident seafood processing facility

Captain Jimmer with a live king crab

Overlooking Akutan Harbor and the Trident Seafood facility

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Birthday Fat Tire Bike Trip

Marta enjoying the April heat in a tank top!
Ann Marie cruising through the woods
Saturday was Ryan's birthday and we went on a fat tire bike adventure to the cabin with my cousin and a friend. Ryan was up there two weekends ago on a snowmachine and the trail was in good condition. Since then it has snowed a bit, but it has also been very warm (mid to high-40's during the day). We knew we were taking a bit of a risk with bad trail conditions, but sometimes doing something the slightly hard way is better than not doing it at all, and that was definitely the case!

When we started out late Saturday morning it was already warm and the trail was slushy. We were sliding around quite a bit and having a hard time staying on our bikes. About 100 yards into the nine mile ride, Ryan looked at me and said "Is it too slushy?" My response was "Well, we can always walk."

The first 4 1/2 miles of trail are usually easy as it follows the railroad tracks, is flat, and wide, but honestly it was quite challenging yesterday. Once we got into the woods, the next roughly 4 miles were a mix of very challenging slush with very deep puddles we had to avoid, and fairly hard sections that were comparatively easy. Unfortunately when we got to the last turn-off in the trail (the trail that goes only to our cabin), we realized how much it actually had snowed since the last time Ryan was there; the trail wasn't even visible. The snow was too soft to ride on top, so we pushed our bikes and post-holed/tried to stay on top of knee-deep snow for the last half mile. I was just happy it wasn't waist-deep!

At the cabin we enjoyed the sunshine until it clouded up, then we lounged around the woodstove drinking cocktails. Shortly thereafter, it hailed, then it snowed, and snowed, and snowed, or so it seemed (and it was in the 40s!). It was still so warm when we went to bed that I didn't think it would get below freezing for long that night and I didn't expect the trail to be much different on Sunday.

Ryan's birthday cake
On Sunday we left around 11 and when we made it back to the main trail we found that it was a thousand times better than it had been the day before! It was hard and the ~2" of new snow was fairly easy to break through. It was like a completely different ride. Ann Marie even said "So this is what snow biking is like!" It warmed up fast though and by the time we got to the railroad trail is was slushy again, but we couldn't complain at that point.

Warm enough for shorts!
Great trail conditions for fat tire biking!