Friday, August 31, 2012

Blackberry Season

I've been happy to get back to Seattle just in time for the start of the urban blackberry season during which I usually wander around my neighborhood with a ziplock bag trying not to get hit by cars and trying not to look like I'm actually in anyone else's yard. I've started a new routine this year where I put a quart-size bag in my little running pouch, I scope out good blackberry patches on my run, and when I've had enough running, I hit up one or two of them on my way home.

Today I stopped at two on my bike just before I got home and the ripe berries were pretty sparse - somebody else must be out there picking! Surprising because I have never, in six years here, ever seen anyone else out braving the giant thorns and the big ugly spiders.

It's worth it for the blackberry pancakes though.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

New Barefoot Running Shoes

New shoes!
Ever since I found out that Merrell makes a "barefoot" running shoe in a wide size I've been wanting to order a pair. They cost more than  a few bucks though so I longingly stared at them on the Merrell website for months before I finally shelled out the money and bought a pair. They came a few days ago and I love them. But I've had some issues.

When I put them on I could immediately feel that they were too tight in my mid-foot area - basically where they lace up, but the laces were as loose as they could get. They were definitely the right length though (and I thoroughly enjoy the spacious toe box) so I inspected the lace-up area and found that these silly grey straps were what was making the shoe feel so narrow (funny for a style that is supposed to be wide).

So I pulled the grey thingies out of the lace holes and put the laces through them on their own...much better. As soon as I did that, my right foot felt like it had arrived in the perfect shoe. My left foot is another story.

Ever since I actually started buying shoes in the correct size for my feet (after years of buying bigger sizes for the extra width), it has become very apparent that my left foot is bigger than my right foot. And it's kind of annoying. Especially with tight-fitting shoes like this. So my left foot isn't very happy with this shoe but my right foot loves it. It's only the width that isn't big enough on the left shoe - the length is perfect. I think I'm going to take them into the Wide Shoe Store and see if the left shoe can be stretched.

I have run in these shoes once. I did a mile and a half and I loved it. I naturally land on the ball of my foot when I run so I knew these would feel good to me. You're supposed to ease into them though so I'm back in my regular running shoes for the next couple of runs.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Nephew Time

Oliver, Mollie, Mark and Henry on Henry's birthday!
Oliver decorating the cake
Cake decorating by Oliver (note to self - next time check the lids on the containers of sprinkles)
The birthday boy enjoying some of Grandma's chocolate rhubarb cake
Before I left Alaska I had a chance to hang out with my nephews a little bit in Anchorage and even got to be there for Henry's first birthday. He looked a little bewildered when the cake and candle was put in front of him, but his big brother knew exactly what to do to help blow it out!

After cake Henry opened a few presents while Oliver watched a little enviously. I think this series of photos is just too funny as Oliver creeps in hoping to get a chance to try out the new toy.

Oliver and Grandpa, reading about their favorite subject
I also had the chance to go to the Anchorage museum with Mollie and the boys. I should have taken some photos of Oliver there. He is at such a great age for new things. In addition to the Imaginarium downstairs, Oliver loves the "real" exhibits upstairs. There are several reconstructions of ancient Native Alaskan house styles. After I pointed out to him that one of them had dirt on the walls and roof for insulation, he ran around to all of the other houses, pointing out which ones also had dirt. His enthusiasm is contagious. He also really liked a rack of drying salmon with an eagle on top. Just around the corner from the drying salmon was a case with whole salmon inside. He looked at the whole salmon, looked back over at the drying salmon fillets, and said "that's what they look like on the inside?!?"

After a good half and hour of real exhibits we went down to the Imginarium where Oliver played with the little wooden train set, which he told me is his favorite part of the museum.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

More Copper Ridge and Chilliwack Trail Photos

When we crossed the Chilliwack River we saw tons of spawning salmon. It was a little stinky, but still cool. I'm glad my underwater photos turned out because it was cold! The section of trail along the Chilliwack River is through old growth forest. There were a lot of very impressive trees as well as some very impressive avalanche destruction zones. Most of those were full of thick brush which is where we came upon a black bear chowing down on berries. It was maybe only 15' off the trail, I couldn't see it though (Ryan got a glimpse). All I saw was bushes moving. It crashed away farther into the bushes, but only a few strides before it stopped. I think it did not want to leave its berry patch! We just made some noise and kept moving. With all those rotting salmon and ripe berries it wasn't really surprising to encounter a bear.

There was one river crossing along the Chilliwack Trail that has a cable car. The river can also be forded late in the summer when the water is low. We chose the cable car (we'd already had two river crossings that day and didn't really feel like taking our boots off again). I felt like I was in the Oregon Trail computer game when I came to this sign:

This cable car is not for those scared of heights!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Backpacking the Copper Ridge/Chilliwack River Loop

Copper  Ridge

Copper Lake

Copper Lake

The view from Copper Lake

Copper Ridge

This weekend Ryan and I spent three days backpacking the Copper Ridge/Chilliwack River Loop in the North Cascades (~34 miles, the first four miles of which are in the national forest and the rest is in North Cascades National Park). We were lucky to have some time right now to do this trip because the North Cascades get so much snow that Copper Ridge is really only snow-free AND warm for about 3-4 weeks every year. There are still a few snow patches up there now, but nothing serious. We were lucky to have great weather too.

When we started out on Friday morning it was cloudy and chilly. It was nice to hike in cool weather. We blew through the first five miles up to and over Hannegan Pass and to Boundary camp where the national park starts. Then we climbed up Copper Ridge, ate our lunch and kept going because it was a little too chilly and windy to sit still for long. We passed a few groups of hikers who had been out for four or five days and were headed home. It was surprising how many people were out backpacking in the middle of the week.

The elevation gain on this hike seemed pretty daunting when we started, but the trail is so well designed and maintained that it all ended up being very manageable. Even while hiking along Copper Ridge there was a lot of up and down, but we still made it to our campsite at Copper Lake at 3pm (11 miles from the trailhead). The sun came out just before we got there and it was incredibly beautiful - one of those alpine lakes with perfectly clear turquoise water (and quite a bit of ice still). If it hadn't still been a little chilly I would have gone swimming. We lost the sun pretty early behind the ridge, but the evening light on the mountains across the valley was lovely.

Many of the people we talked to along the trail commented on our small packs. After hiking with John and Katelyn in Kodiak with really light packs, we decided light weight was the way to go (especially because we knew the forecast was good). We decided not to bring our whole tent, we just took the rain fly and two poles (we threw in some headnets just in case it was buggy, but didn't end up needing them). We did carry a small bear cannister though which added a couple of pounds, but I still think that beats trying to hang food on trees that have no branches. We didn't weigh our packs but I'm pretty confident they were around 20 lbs each when we started, maybe even a little less. I'm sure having light packs was one of the reasons all the elevation on this hike seemed so manageable.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Alpine Climbing and Happenstance Rescues in the Cascade Mountains

North Cascade National Park with Mt Triumph in the distance

Liberty Bell Mountain, Washington Pass

Ryan W. on the first pitch of The Tooth
View from the summit of The Tooth
Last weekend my friend Ryan and I enjoyed some amazing weather while hiking and climbing in the Cascades. We drove to the north cascades on Friday, slept at the trail head, and had big plans for climbing Mt Triumph. Unfortunately because of a permit issues in the North Cascades National Park we ended up changing plans, but not before we had hiked five miles in and climbed 3000ft.  After returning to the car we headed for Washington pass and climbed a short alpine rock. But we were further delayed after we came across a 60 year old hiker who was traveling alone and suffering from asthma. He was not too bad off but definitely a little scared, so after hiking in 1.5 miles we turned around and walked with him back to the trail head.  

On Sunday we headed out again to climb a local peak called The Tooth near Snoqualmie Pass. The climbing was great and we were treated to hot sunny weather while lower elevations were clouded in. On our descent from the peak we came across of pair of climbers were were clearly having trouble. The second climbing couldn't make it up the climb and the rope was in such a way the she could not be lowered back down. Again Ryan and I jumped into action placing both members of the other team on belay and safely lowering the woman back to the bottom on the climb.  

After two unoffical mountain resue missions in two days, we got a message for an official Seattle Mountain Rescue mission while on our hike out from The Tooth. Ryan and I hurried back to the car and drove down from Snoqualmie Pass to the base of Mt. Si where we joined other people from Seattle Mountain Rescue and Explore Search and Rescue.  We were part of the sixth team to head in but after hiking about two miles in we found the subject was doing fine and everyone hiked out again.

While enjoying an a large helping of Mexican food with our SMR friends that evening I added up our miles and elevation - 25 miles and approximately 8000ft of elevation in two days.  It is no wonder I could hardly get out of bed Monday morning!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Another structure at the Amak Site

Leslie digging the edge of the charred surface

Ashleigh excavating the charred surface

A chunk of charred grass
We did find part of a small structure in a corner of our excavation this year that might possibly be a house or something of the sort. When the structure was build, people dug a hole for it that extended about 10cm into the glacial till. It had stacked sod walls and possibly a sod roof. We found a surface full of charred vegetation at the bottom - the remains of what we think was the roof. Basically, the sod that covered the structure burned and collapsed, so charred grass was left sitting right on the floor.

We took samples of the charcoal and will send it off for radiocarbon dating. I'm excited to find out how old this structure is because I think it's older than the majority of the site - older than 5500 years old.

In the rest of our excavation we have not found evidence of houses per se, more just evidence of temporary camps. This structure however, might actually be a house. We definitely still think this was primarily a seal hunting camp, but it's possible that at some point people actually lived here for a while and built a little house.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Amak Excavation Conclusions

A hearth
Final shot of the excavation showing the hearths
Jenny and Ryan digging in buggy conditions

Jenny's sideblade

Last Wednesday we finished our excavation and on Thursday it was all backfilled. We opened a huge area this year and moved a massive amount of dirt. Despite finding some very confusing deposits and features, we did figure a lot of it out and were able to answer our research questions fairly thoroughly.

We found good support for our hypothesis that this was a seal hunting camp. We found MANY more bayonets (ground slate spear points) and a few chipped stone points - all of which would have been used for hunting. It still amazes me how many bayonets were in this site. It was not unusual for us to have a day where four, five, or even six bayonets were found (that is very unusual at any other site Patrick or I have dug at). We still not not find any evidence of real houses, also leading us to believe it was more of a temporary camp than a village.

Our second main research goal was to figure out why people in Ocean Bay II times (~5500 years ago)  moved so much dirt. I'm not exactly sure we answered that question in regards to what they were doing in the area we excavated last year, but I think we've done a good job figuring out what they were doing where we excavated this year.

We found what we consider to be a large structure where people had hearths and were cooking or smoking seal meat. It looks like they dug down into the sediment at the site (both volcanic tephra like the orangish ones you see on the left side of the excavation) and the glacial till (sediment that was left behind when the glaciers receded from this valley ~12,000 years ago). In the first photo above you can see five depressions with rocks in the bottom of the excavation - those are all hearths. They are sitting on glacial till that has been sort of cleared off by people - when the people dug into it, they removed the larger rocks to make a smoothe-ish surface. We also found three post holes near the hearths. We think they posts held up hides and perhaps a think layer of dirt and sod was piled up against the back (that later collapsed and we had to dig through it to get to the glacial till). We think people were smoking something here because we found lots of black dirt full of charcoal and fire cracked rock. We assume it was seal meat because other evidence from the site points to seal hunting. Features like this full of charcoal and fire cracked rock are very common in more recent sites (after ~4000 years ago) where people were smoking fish, but this seems to be the oldest feature of this type excavated on Kodiak.

Mapping features in the excavation before backfilling

Andrea and I drawing a profile
After we finished the excavation we had quite a bit of mapping and profiling to do before we could backfill. In the second photo, Andrea is measuring the depth below the surface of a deposit while I draw the profile in the notebook. These profiles help us figure out and record the relationship between different layers at the site. We "shoot" the elevation of the surface of our excavation from a transit (set on our site datum) and then we measure the depth of each level below the surface. We then know the depth of each level below our site datum.

We had an amazing crew for backfilling - especially since most of these people weren't getting paid! Most of them are either volunteers (including Ryan and John) or students. Even Patrick's kids, Nora and Stuey, came out to help (they really enjoyed carrying half-full buckets, although Stuey carried a couple of full ones!). With so many hands, we were done by 3:00.

There is more we learned in our last week that I want to write about, but I'll wait for another day. The internet has been too slow to upload photos at my parents' house, so I'll have to post on days I come into town.

A hard working backfilling crew!
The backfilling crew, minus Jill who had to go into the museum after lunch

Stuey and Nora inspecting our backfilling job

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Hiking in Kodiak

This weekend Molly and I joined our friends John and Katelyn for some Kodiak backpacking.  We had originally planed on exploring Ugak Bay in John's skiff but the weather didn't look favorable.  We opted instead to hike from Sequel Point (out past Cape Chiniak) to Narrow Cape. We camped one night in a place named Sacramento valley.   Molly did this hike in one day with her family when she was 13 so we were confident that an overnight trip would be casual.  There is no hiking trail along this coast line but four wheeler trails and game trails made the traveling fairly easy on the first day. The second day was mostly beach walking.   

It did rain on and off both days but it was never too heavy and it certainly wasn't cold for Kodiak.  We saw plenty of wildlife along the way including two curious mountain goats that wandered down to the beach.  At Narrow Cape there is a rancher that has buffalo.  The buffalo have wandered down the beach to Sacramento Valley and beyond.  Late in the evening I went over to the river to take a photo of the Buffalo grazing in an open meadow.  I was holding the camera up when I noticed something about a hundred yards up the river.  I stood there and looked at the dark figure and thought "that doesn't look like a buffalo." It stood up on its hind legs and looked about 10ft tall.  "Oh SH*!, that's definitely not a buffalo" I thought to myself.  Luckily the Kodiak brown bear then decided to high tail it up the river and I quickly returned to our camp fire to report the news.

The rest of the evening around a campfire was uneventful and we didn't see any more wildlife besides some foxes, seals, and sea otters.  The next morning we walked to the ranch in Narrow Cape where Betty picked us up.