Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Record Rainfall

I am really really glad we got out for a beautiful hike on Saturday while we were in Kodiak because on Sunday we woke up to rain - heavy rain - the kind of rain you almost never see in Kodiak. And it didn't stop for 2 1/2 days. Kodiak is of course known for rain, but not this kind of rain, more just constant drizzle (Seattle's drizzle is nothing compared to Kodiak). This storm caused more flooding than I've ever seen before.

We were supposed to leave Kodiak on Monday morning and we left the house at 6:15 to head to the airport. There were a couple of places where water was running over the road, and in places where the road is gravel it was eroding along the edges. We were about half way to town when we go the text our flight was canceled so we turned around and headed home. Some of the places had gotten significantly worse, just in 30 minutes, but at least by that time some DOT personnel were in Chiniak and assessing the conditions.

Water flowing across the road near the road maintenance station while DOT was working on clearing debris from the culvert
Water on the road between Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Creek
After noon we headed back to town again to try to catch the afternoon jet (which ended up being canceled). By that time DOT had unclogged some of the culverts and alleviated some of the flooding on the road. When we came home most places had significantly subsided on the road, however, just about a mile past our house (just past the Roslyn River Bridge), the road had washed in a deep little channel and was impassable. I felt bad for people who didn't make it home that night! But, DOT worked on it that evening and by the morning it was repaired with two new culverts, which was still barely enough to drain the water.

Roslyn River, looking upstream, the water was only ~8" from the top of the bridge

Water in the woods near Roslyn River, looking downstream

The wash-out near Roslyn River
Two new culverts barely keeping up with the water at the wash-out
I'm not sure I've ever seen a weather forecast so accurate in Kodiak, but on Tuesday, within 5 minutes of noon, the rain let up and turned to mist exactly as the National Weather Service said. On our final trip to the airport (when we actually made it out), the water had noticeably subsided. I don't know the total rainfall for the whole storm, but in  Tuesday's Kodiak Daily Mirror it said over 3" had fallen on Sunday (a record for that day), and as of 2:00pm on Monday, the record had already been broken with almost 2".

Major new erosion at the Culvert in Chiniak

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas weather

It's amazing the difference a day can make - yesterday it poured rain and slush and we got completely soaked just walking to Roslyn. Today it is crystal clear and the morning light was magical, even without much snow. On days like today I sort of regret not hauling my DSLR camera around with me.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve Hike

Kodiak, like Anchorage, is having a very mild winter. There is hardly any snow and it's not even cold. Today we went for a hike with our friend John. I spent most of the hike just in a long sleeve shirt and no hat until we popped out in the alpine where it was windy.

The weather today was a mix of pretty much everything a Kodiak winter has to offer except real snow- wind, rain, slush, hail, sun, fog and clouds. We were lucky to not get hit with any precipitation in our hike and mostly we were in the trees and sheltered from the winter. The conditions are great for hiking right now with the vegetation down but hardly any snow.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, December 20, 2014


It has finally gotten cold for real. It was in the single digits at our house today and in the teens/twenties in downtown Eagle River. We are right in the bottom of the valley so when it's cold there is a temperature inversion. We also don't get direct sunlight at our house for about six weeks this time of year. The same mountain to our south that provides a beautiful view also blocks the sun. Our condo has big windows and gets lots of light anyway, so it doesn't seem dark when we are home during daylight hours, all five of them.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Walking on the river

We don't have much snow in Eagle River, but at least we have enough to make things white and pretty and brighter at night. There is also lots of frost in the bottom of the valley keeping it looking nice and wintery. 

Eagle River is frozen pretty well and we've take a couple of walks on it. It's fun to easily walk to places we've never been to in the summer. It's colder down in the bottom of the valley than the rest of Eagle River, but it hasn't been all that cold this year anyway. Yesterday it was about 14F at our house and today it was in the 20s. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

New Wildberry Jellies

We had a great berry harvest in Eagle River and Kotzebue this year. I tried to focus on a few new berries and flowers that I had never used for jelly before. This is what I tried that was new to me and how it turned out:

Fireweed Blossom Jelly

I found that picking fireweed blossoms was really easy - you just strip them off the stalk. You boil the blossoms in water (or champagne or whatever other liquid your heart desires), strain, boil again, add sugar and pectin. Mine set up a little too well though. It's still edible, but not very spreadable. Both the champagne jelly and the regular jelly, even though I used about half the amount of pectin the second time. Maybe fireweed blossoms just have a lot of natural pectin? Next year I'll try making a batch with no pectin. It turns out a beautiful deep pink color, much brighter than I had imagined and has a soft floral flavor.

Crowberry Jelly

Crowberries grow on the tundra of much of Alaska and in the alpine. They are tiny little berries but they grow thicker than any other berry I've ever seen. I was first introduced to them working at a fish camp in Bristol Bay and we ate a lot of them because there weren't many other berries around. I don't know many non-Alaska Natives who pick these and I do not know why. They are so abundant and easy to pick and they're juicy and flavorful. The skin can be a little bitter, especially early in the season, but the juiciness makes them perfect for jelly. Ryan and I picked gallons of these this fall. They make a rich flavorful and deep black-purplish jelly (that stains everything).

I've found the best recipe is to add about 1 cup apple juice to ~6 cups crowberry juice to take away the bitter flavor. These do need a lot of sugar as well. Unlike a lot of other fruit, they are bitter without enough sugar rather than tart (I love tart, but not so much bitter). Every batch I've made has set up fine with 1 box of ball low sugar pectin to ~4-5 cups juice.

Watermelonberry Jelly

Watermelon berries are one of my favorites and they grow all over Kodiak; however, I've never seen them in enough abundance to bother collecting them. I've always just consumed as I picked. It's sometimes hard to imagine that anything that likes a cool wet environment grows somewhere better than it does in Kodiak, but watermelon berries appear to love east-facing slopes in Eagle River. Ryan and I stumbled upon some while on a hiking trip looking for blueberries and couldn't give up the watermelon berry patches for hours.

I strained these to make jelly and added some sugar (don't remember how much), but it was too much. The jelly turned out very sweet and set up fairly well with the Ball low sugar pectin. Now I can see that watermelon berries are very naturally sweet - they are neither tart nor bitter - and need very little sugar to make tasty jelly. I'm not complaining about this batch though, it basically tastes like candy.

Red Currant Jelly

I had no idea that wild red currants grew in any abundance in Alaska. They don't grow on Kodiak at all. I had seen a few in the interior, but also never in any abundance worth taking home. On a hunt for high bush cranberries down by the river near our condo, I came upon a couple of very short bushes with a handful of tiny berries on each. Knowing I love red currants, I decided it might be worthwhile to root around for more bushes to at least get a cup or two for one small batch of jelly. It only took a few minutes before we were in the thick of dead fall in the woods finding bushes so loaded with currants they were laying on the ground. We picked almost a gallon in an hour and a half.

I had heard that red currants have a lot of natural pectin so I didn't use much and the jelly set up great. I also tried to use some of the juice to make syrup, but it set up as jelly anyway, even without pectin. Red currants are also very tart, even for me, and they require a lot of sugar.

I attempted to pick cloudberries in Kotzebue this year, but they have a very short season and I missed them. They are high on my list for next year although I'm not sure if there are good places to pick them near Anchorage - someone please share their secrets! There is a great patch of trailing raspberries on the South Fork trail of Eagle River and next year I think I will dedicate some time to picking enough for a small batch of jelly. Maybe I'll even be able to get a few nagoonberries down by the river as well.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Fat Tire Bike to Serenity Falls Hut

I was invited by friends to join them for a weekend at the Serenity Falls Hut at the back of Eklutna Lake.  The invitation for this early december trip came months in advance when there was no snow on the ground.  In fact, there was so little snow in November that it wasn't until a day before the trip that I decide the best mode of travel would be on a fat tire bike.  It is about twelve miles to the hut so riding bikes saves a lot of time compared to walking or skiing.  I don't own one of these fat bikes so I rented from a local bike shop in Palmer.  I took friday off from work and we hit the trail at about noon.  The temperatures were in the upper 20s and I had no trouble staying warm.  After mile 6 or so we had to break through a few inches of snow so it took about three and a half hours to reach the hut.

This hut is amazing and much different than other mountaineering huts I like to visit in the spring.  For one thing it is huge, with bunks to sleep 13.  There is a wood stove and wall made mostly of windows we grand views toward the Eklutna Glacier.  All this comes at a price though.  This hut is notoriously difficult to heat.  Luckily, someone had left a good supply of dry spruce and with the mild temperatures were were able to get the hut warmed up to the upper 50s in just a few hours.
More friends joined the group on Saturday and I headed out by myself to join Molly at party in Anchorage.  With a little lighter load and better packed trail I was able to make it back to the parking lot in 2 hours and 20 minutes.

This is nice hut and I would like to visit it again in the fall when there are nice colors on the trees.

Inside the hut

View of the hut from the river

My rented fat bike equipped with panniers.

Taking a break on the trail

No ice on Eklutna Lake yet

Monday, December 1, 2014

Cabin Trip

We went out to the Cross Family cabin north of Talkeetna on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. There still wasn't much snow up there (just a dusting), so we took four-wheelers instead of snow machines.  It snowed a couple of inches while we were there, but it was still fine for getting out. It was 12F when we left on Sunday - strange weather for four-wheeling! When we arrived home on Sunday it had finally snowed in Eagle River. The snow just squeaked in before December.

The trail was in much better condition that it was last time we went. It was very rutted out and muddy in October, but now it's frozen solid (even though the ruts are still there).

We got some chores done, rolled some logs, and played a few games. I had the longest streak of Monopoly luck of my life. I'm pretty sure neither Ryan nor my brother will play with me again anytime soon.

And we had this amazing view of Foraker and Denali on our way back.