Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Lost Lake Blueberries and Huckleberries




Plump high bush blueberries



Ryan in an alpine blueberry/huckleberry patch



Ann Marie in a lovely alpine blueberry patch



Huckleberries and blueberries

I know that I said Bold Ridge had the best blueberry patch I had ever seen, but I may have spoken too soon. The Lost Lake Trail actually has the best blueberry patches you can imagine, and they're high bush too! These high bush blueberries are not only at convenient heights for picking, they are the biggest blueberries I've ever seen in the wild. They rival cultivated ones.

To make the weekend even better, I discovered that huckleberries grow along the Lost Lake Trail as well. I didn't even know we had huckleberries in this part of Alaska! I've been missing huckleberries from Washington for the last couple of years so I am happy to know I can pick them only a couple of hours from home. I'm already planning my next trip!


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Monday, August 24, 2015

Lost Lake Overnight Mountain Bike Trip


We had an incredible weekend mountain biking the Lost Lake Trail near Seward. The weather was absolutely fantastic with the exception of a little wind. I had never been on the Lost Lake Trail before, but for some reason I agreed to bike it on my fancy new mountain bike. I've never really mountain biked anything except normal dirt roads and ATV trails, and a few single track trails around Anchorage and Palmer...so why I agreed to do this I have no idea. However, I survived and had a great time.

We started on the Primrose side. The trail has some big roots, many of which we had to push our bikes over, but it really wasn't terrible until the last little stretch before you break into the alpine. At that point I was not having a great time. Nor did I take any photos, mostly because I was too busy cursing all the gear on my bike. But, there were convenient distance markers every half mile from the Lost Lake trail race earlier in the day that kept me going. Once we got into the alpine though the riding was exactly what I was hoping for. If you watch any YouTube videos of biking Lost Lake Trail, they are likely to be of this section because it's awesome.

My cousin and a friend of ours hiked the trail and met us at the lake and we all camped out together. This was the first time we've loaded up our bikes with racks and panniers with all of our camping gear. I think I had about 15 lbs and Ryan a little more. I was surprised at how well my bike handled with all the weight and I am really, really glad Ryan decided I need a real mountain bike this summer!

 The riding down to the Seward side the next day was awesome. The trail turned into a bit of a super highway though of hikers and bikers and our bear bells ended up being really handy for announcing our presence.









Monday, August 17, 2015

The Blueberry Motherlode


Last Thursday night I almost posted about how we found the best blueberry patch we have ever seen up at Mile High Pass. I'm glad I didn't because on Saturday we found a blueberry patch that blows the first one out of the water. I will venture to give this amazing location away because a) I doubt many people will get this far out just to pick blueberries and b) I am sure there are a gazillion other places with just as many berries.

Bold Ridge is the place. We biked the first five miles along the Eklutna Lakeside Trail, and then hiked up to Bold Ridge. It was a little rainy, all the vegetation was wet, and we got completely soaked. As soon as we broke into the alpine we started to see blueberries...lots of them. And then when we came to the most amazing patch I have ever seen, we dropped our packs and started picking. In about three hours we had picked two gallons.

On our way home on Sunday we picked two quarts of watermelonberries on our way down the trail, and a few handfuls of raspberries. I've probably said this before too, but the watermelonberries were the biggest I've ever seen!










Thursday, August 13, 2015

Watermelonberries in the Alpine



Despite having already spent two berry seasons picking blueberries and crowberries in the mountains around Eagle River, I saw watermelonberries in the alpine for the first time today. They weren't just any watermelonberries, these were particularly plump and sweet ones. I have always thought of watermelonberries as growing in damp areas - in Kodiak they often grow in the alders. Even though I did find them on Mount Baldy last year, they were far from the alpine zone. It was just such a surprise to find them so high on a mountain were they were surrounded by blueberries, crowberries, and other shrubs.

We only picked watermelonberries to eat tonight. Mostly we were on a blueberry mission, but next time I may go for the watermelonberries instead.




Watermelonberries, blueberries, and crowberries

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Currants



The red currants near our condo are not as plentiful as they were last year, but they are absolutely still worth picking. They love to grow in thick deadfall, which can make picking a bit treacherous. Highbush cranberries are also abundant in this area (as they are in most of Southcentral Alaska). Even though I consider myself and expert berry identifier, I still find myself occasionally reaching for a cranberry when I think I'm getting a currant. There are just so many of both, growing so close together, that you really have to stay focused to stick with one type of berry!

Red currants on the right in the foreground, highbush cranberries in the background
When we were hiking Crow Pass we encountered black currants. I've seen these before near Fairbanks - the bushes are more burly and thorny, the berries are fuzzy, and they taste terrible. They seem most likely to be the prickly currant (Ribes lacustre). Today down by the river near our condo, Ryan came upon a different type of black currant - the berries are smooth and the leaves are more light green. I believe they are northern black currants (Ribes hudsonanium). Unfortunately the berries also taste rank. It's too bad because there were tons of them. I hear of people making syrups and sauces with black currants, but I wonder if anyone really does it with wild ones, or if the cultivated variety have been selectively bred enough that they taste tolerable.

northern black currants

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Berry Season

We are making an effort to harvest plenty of berries this year. The last few years we have done well in the mountains around Eagle River but missed out on the blue berries at the cabin in Talkeetna. This year I have a little hiatus in field work so we took the opportunity to bike to the cabin and pick a few berries. The berries could still use a little more time to ripen but they are pretty good.
Getting ice cream in town before we hit the trail. 

Curious Ermine
In the blueberry bushes. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Berry Season in Eagle River

Watermelonberries
The berries are ripening about a week or two early here and I am not ready! We still have three jars of jam/jelly from last year! It's been a chore getting through everything I put up last year (and I gave tons away too), but it's a hardship I'm willing to endure.

Even though I've been in Eagle River for two years now, and have spent a lot of time picking berries, I am still discoveries new berries and new environments they grow in. While hiking Crow Pass we saw highbush blueberries on the Girdwood side, lowbush blueberries in the alpine, watermelonberries EVERYWHERE, raspberries and currants along the river, and even a few black currants (which are not tasty). It goes without saying that there were also unripe highbush cranberries everywhere.

Have you ever seen this many watermelonberries in one place? I have not.
Wild raspberries
Red currants
Black currants

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Crow Pass





Crow Pass has been on our list of backpacking trips we've wanted to do since we moved to Eagle River. We finally had the chance this weekend. Despite getting slammed by a cold, I decided I'd rather be miserable while outside than miserable laying around my house when it's sunny and 75 degrees. With a good dose of cold medicine, we set out late Saturday morning after Ann Marie gave us a ride to the trailhead in Girdwood.

The entire trail, but especially the Girdwood side, was crawling with people. I think we all get frantic to enjoy the great weather while it's here. We made it to Eagle River (the actual river, not the town) by the evening. We knew there would be tons (by Alaska standards) of people camped out by the river waiting to cross in the morning when the water is low. Instead of heading toward the ford site like it looked like most people were doing, we bushwhacked down river just a little ways and found a fantastic secluded campsite. Based on the amount of moss and lichen growing in the fire ring, I don't think anyone had used it in many years.

The river was a few inches lower in the morning and we had no problem crossing at the designated ford site. It was thigh-deep at the most.

It was awesome to end our hike just a twenty minute drive from our house. We are lucky trails like this are right in our backyard.



Raven Glacier



The blue moon at 6:45 this morning






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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Volunteering at the Kashevaroff Site


While I was in Kodiak I was able to participate in the Alutiiq Museum's Community Archaeology excavation as a volunteer. It was very exciting to show up and not be in charge. I got to dig, dig, dig, all day long, which is not something I often got to do when I was helping Patrick direct the excavations a few years ago. And guess what - when you move a lot of dirt you find a lot of stuff!

Quite literally, I found a very nice artifact on only my second trowel scrape of my first morning. At first glance it looked like a ground slate point, but upon further inspection I could see that it was not sharp, nor was it ever meant to be sharp - it was made to be blunt. Patrick suggested a "boot creaser" or something of the sort. I think that's a good explanation; the Alutiiq were certainly making a lot of clothing and other things from animal skins.

Blunt ground slate artifact - boot creaser?? (photo courtesy of Patrick)
Huge and fancy ground slate point (not found by me!)
Ground slate point with a groove down the middle (photo courtesy of Patrick)
This years' excavation is at the Kashevaroff Site where Ryan conducted a ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey in 2013. He noticed a slight depression in this area, surveyed it with the GPR, and came to the conclusion that there was some sort of archaeological pit below the surface - maybe a house pit? Catherine is supervising the excavation in this part of the site this year and while they still have a lot of dirt to move, it does look like there is a large pit, but it is not a house pit. It is full of charcoal and fire cracked rock and is something we've been calling "smoke processing pits." It appears to have been filled in by a volcanic ash deposited around 3800 years ago.


One of the more familiar aspects of digging at Community Archaeology was that it was HOT. We were all sweltering in our units, even though I was in thin pants and a t-shirt. It is always amazing that it can feel so unbearably warm when the official temperature is 62 degrees Farenheit, but I swear to you, the hottest I have ever been is while digging in Women's Bay. It's not like I've never been or worked in actual hot weather (I spent an entire summer working in CA where the temperature never dropped below 96 degrees during the day). I have no explanation except that the airport's weather station thermometer must be perpetually broken.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Berries in Kodiak







Berry season is upon us in Kodiak! When my friend Sam and I arrived on Friday we spent our first hour picking blueberries with my mom and raked in four quarts in only an hour. Slamonberries are also at their peak. This weekend, with the company of five archaeology friends, my parents and I picked four gallons in an hour. The berries are so thick it was overwhelming. As if that wasn't enough, we got a couple of gallons just in my parents' yard over the weekend. Time to make some jelly!













Oh, and we celebrated someone's 65th birthday!











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