Monday, September 30, 2013

Fall on the Mt. Magnificent Trail

There aren't going to be many weekends left for [almost] snow-free mountain hiking. This weekend was surely that last where you could still feel a warm breeze on the ridge tops. I hiked up the Mt. Magnificent Trail again, but didn't make it all the way to Mt. Magnificent itself; There were too many photos to be taken and berries to picked.

There are still tons of blueberries and crowberries up on the ridge. They have been frozen and are mushy, but they'll be fine for jam. I saw a few lingonberries but not enough to bother picking. My mission next weekend will be to look for a good patch.

Blueberries and Lingonberries

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Kotzbue in the fall

When I packed for Kotzebue, I imagined doing fieldwork in the Arctic in late September would look something like this:

Screening on our second morning in Kotz
 I was not mistaken. When we got up the first day, this was the view out our apartment window:

To compound what looked like miserableness for digging, this is how dark it still was at 8:30 in the morning (even though there are about 12 hours of daylight in Kotzebue right now - as with everywhere on Earth at the equinox - those 12 hours fall between 9am and 9pm due to Kotzebue's position in the far-west of this giant time zone that includes most of Alaska), so we didn't start work as early as we normally would in the summer.

Much to our surprise, the ground actually wasn't frozen, at least in our project area. I did see frozen ground elsewhere in Kotz. We were able to dig!

Here I am at 9:30 in the morning on our second day of work in a snow squall that necessitated all three hoods.

Twenty minutes later the sun was out and I only needed one hood (you can still see snowflakes on the brim of my hat)!

We actually ended up being very lucky with the weather. Even though it was windy, we were fairly protected being back ~50 meters from the beach. The snow was dry and didn't last past the morning on the first two days. Other than that, it was either cloudy or sunny and even though it probably never got above 38 degrees, we were able to stay warm because we were dry (and we went back to our apartment for lunch everyday)

On our last day we had time to go sightseeing before we flew out in the evening. It was lucky that we were done with the fieldwork because despite being a blue bird day, it was freezing cold and the wind was howling.

We drove the loop road out of town and got to see Kotz from the inland side. Unfortunately we didn't see Russia.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

St. George, Alaska

I have been overdue to write a few words about working in St. George.  With the winds gusting up to 50 mph today and the rain coming down sideways I hardly have a reason to leave the hotel and thus will say a little about my new home away from home.  After three weeks here on St. George in the Pribilof Islands I am starting to feel like a local.  I probably have met half the town by now and I know at least 15 or 20 people by their first names.  Last names are harder, mostly because they are Russian and difficult for me to pronounce, although on the upside there are only a handful of last names in the whole village.
As I expected the Island of St. George has remarkable natural beauty, it is the of beauty that you find in the Aleutians.  A rugged, treeless, untamed natural landscape teaming with wildlife and beckoning to be explored.  St. George is an oasis for birds and sea mammals alike.  We are fortunate to be here while the fur seal pups are on the beaches and around the harbor.   I’m not much of a birder, but I certainly have enjoyed watching the fur seals.  The pups are very cute and I find myself smiling and laughing when I stop to watch.  There are literally hundreds if not thousands of seals in and around the harbor.  Some days we watch them surfing in the waves and other days they are hauled out high on the rocks. 
The village of St. George is as you might expect.  A bit battered from the harsh marine climate but otherwise pleasant with a nice old hotel and a classic Russian Orthodox Church.  The hotel has 10 rooms and was originally built for government employees.  It is quite a bit nicer than I expected and really and excellent place to stay.  We share a very large kitchen with the other guest, it’s a social place where guests spend time chatting with one another in the kitchen and the nicely appointed library.  Most rooms have a good view and there is plenty of space to dry our wet rain gear.
At this point we have only a few days of work remaining although the final duration will depend largely on the weather.  We have successfully mapped the harbor bathymetry and deployed acoustic devices on the seafloor that will measure the currents and waves over the next few months.  At some point in couple months from now I will return to St. George to recover our equipment.

Puffins (photo courtesy of Karl Woods)

Fur Seals (photo courtesy of Karl Woods)

View from the hotel including Russian Orthodox Church

Village of St. George

Collecting Sediment Samples

Waves breaking into the harbor

Looking for survey monuments

Fur Seals

Library in the hotel

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Our neighborhood

Looking up the valley from our street
These are a few photos I've taken recently running or walking around the neighborhood. It's funny to live in a place where the houses are packed together and barely have yards and yet the mountains and wilderness surround us on both sides of the valley. We may not have a yard, but it's hard to complain about what's right out our front door.

We've had snow on the mountains for a couple of weeks, but today was the first day it snowed in the bottom of the valley. It's not sticking, but it won't be long before it does! I have to admit, it was a bit of a shock after so many years in Seattle, to see snow on the mountains before it was even September.

Friday, September 20, 2013

More Denali Photos

There are still more photos I want to share from Denali - it was just. that. beautiful. And photos, of course, don't quite capture it, but it's still worth trying. We stopped three times to take snap pics of these birch trees. Not only are they the only trees around, but they're up against that big chunk of rock making them stand out. On the day we left the park they were just catching the morning sunlight as we drove by.

Denali from Broad Pass
A rare stand of tall-ish birch trees in the park
Broad Pass
Dwarf birth in the morning frost
Ann Marie, me, and Kelly near the end of the road in the park

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Denali Fall Colors

Our view leaving the park
There are a few more photos worth sharing from our Denali trip. The drive home was so spectacular it is really hard to complain about the foggy weather we had on our lottery day in the park. We also got to be there at the height of the fall colors (I know it's not exactly New England, but the brushy tundra colors are something special in their own right).

I really do think we hit the absolute height of the fall colors spot-on because on our last night it frosted. It 26 degrees when we left the campground at about 9 in the morning, so it had probably gotten down in the low 20's during the night. A lot of the leaves of the dwarf birch and willow had fallen off by the time we drove out in the mid-morning.

Kelly near Polychrome (I think)
Blueberry bushes
Alex and Kelly with our first view of Denali on Friday night
frosty morning

Monday, September 16, 2013

Caribou and Fall Colors

On our way back to Teklanika we stopped to take some scenery photos and while we were parked on the side of the road, Alex spotted several sheet up on a mountain slope just at the base of the fog. While we were all taking turns watching them with the binoculars, I turned around and just happened to catch these two caribou silhouetted on top of a hill. Just a moment later they ran down the ridge toward us and then disappeared over the other side.

As we drove through the park we stopped every once in a while to glass for animals. In one place, Kristin noticed a lone fireweed still in bloom on the side of the road. We both jumped out to take photos. As other cars drove by they'd slow down to see what we were looking at hoping it was wildlife. No such luck!

The game of stopping to see what other people might be seeing gets pretty comical at times. At one point we stopped behind a line-up of several cars and Ann Marie got out to ask what they were looking at. She was told that someone heard from someone else that there had been a bear chasing a caribou near the road a little while earlier. Nobody there had actually seen anything - they were just at the end of a long game of wildlife telephone, all hoping to see something exciting!

Another caribou mother and baby near Wonder Lake
View of Denali leaving the park on Sunday
A lone fireweed still in bloom
fall colors as we left the park
Ann Marie on a little backcountry hike

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Denali National Park Road Lottery

My cousin was lucky-enough to win a ticket to the road lottery in Denali National Park this weekend. The park road is usually closed to private vehicles (buses only), but during the second weekend in September after the buses have stopped running they have a lottery and 1200 private vehicles get to drive into the park. Ann Marie's ticket was for Saturday and my sister and brother-in-law just happened to be in town. We rented a minivan along with one of Ann Marie's friends and were able to camp at Teklanika Campground 30 miles inside the park on both Friday and Saturday night.

On Friday night just as we were getting to the park it cleared and we got to see the mountain on the drive into Teklanika. On Saturday it was pretty cloudy and in some places very foggy so we didn't see many mountains, but we did see four bears, four caribou, and several sheep. It was also the height of the fall colors in the park - they were stunning. Today was a blue bird day. The people who had lottery tickets for Sunday certainly lucked out. We did enjoy the view as we left the park and drove south.