Sunday, December 20, 2015

Winter Biking

Tomorrow we leave for Montana and from there on to Patagonia.  I am looking forward to warmer weather and long days.  Here in southcentral Alaska we are in the depths of winter.  OK, technically it is still fall but really it is winter.  It's cold and the days a short.  These last two weeks I have been taking a leave of absence from work which has given me a great opportunity to put some miles on my fat bike.

Recently I have ridden at Government Peak Rec Area, Jim Creek, Matanuska Lake State Park, South Fork of Campbell Creek, and twice on Eagle River.  Today was my biggest ride yet and I really wasn't planning on it.  I took off from home and headed up the frozen Eagle River.  I followed some older bike tracks and newer ski tracks.  I was only planning on a hour or so of riding but my ambition got the better of me.  I just kept thinking "maybe a little father"  and "I wonder what's around the next corner".  Well, I will tell you what is around the next corner, more river!  Eventually I came across some fresher bike tracks, someone who had come down the river from somewhere else.  I started wondering where they had started, and after I checked my map I set my goal of reaching the next river access point.  My little ride turned into a 17 miles and three hours.  I felt spent but accomplished.  What a treat it is to access the Chugach State Park from my front door.  Riding on the river is perfect for my fat bike and great exercise in a beautiful place.  Maybe next time I will try to ride all the way to the Eagle River Nature Center!  Who's in?

My bike at Government Peak Rec. Area

Molly riding on Eagle River

Jim Lake looking towards the Kink Glacier
My friend Russ riding on a lake at Matanuska Lake State Park
Frozen Eagle River
Arriving home from my 17 mile ride on Eagle River

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Underwater Search in Huslia

I recently took a four day trip to Huslia, Alaska in an attempt to help the village locate a local man  who fell through the ice on the Koyukuk River.  For the second time this year I found myself mixing my search and rescue skills with my career as a marine geophysicist.  This time it was more like work than volunteer as TerraSond was hired by the Huslia Tribal Council to provide technical equipment and software with an operator and data processor (me).   A little more than a day after the initial call I was on my way to Fairbanks where I picked up the side scan sonar and then caught a flight with Wright Air on a Cessna Caravan to Huslia.

Huslia is an Athabascan village of about 300 people on the Koyukuk River.  When I arrived the man had fallen through the ice over a week prior.  People had come from all around and there were somewhere between 30 and 50 people helping with the search.  Within a few hours of arriving I was on the river with a team of assistants.  My assistants would lower the side scan sonar through slots in the ice and then tow the sonar along and pull a sled along side while I operated the computer.  After a few hours the sun went down and I headed back to the community hall for dinner.  I spent the evening reviewing the sonar data.

The second day was similar with temperatures hovering around freezing; we covered a lot of ground.  By the end of the second day we had surveyed a section of the river 1400ft long by 400ft wide.  That night the temperatures dropped and when I returned to the river the next morning it was 15 degrees below zero.  Maybe it was the temperature, maybe it was something else, but that morning the sonar would not power up properly.  I spent all day trying to fix it and eventually, after several conversations with a technician at the manufacturer, we determined it was not field fixable.  So, after only a day and half of searching it was done, and its not like you can get another highly specialized sonar on Thanksgiving Day in Huslia, or anywhere in Alaska for that matter.

On my last day in Huslia, I trained a few of the local guys to use a recreational grade sonar that can make similar, but lower quality, images of the river bottom.  I wish the community the best of luck in their search.

Looking out over the Koyukuk River
Pulling the sonar along slots cut in the river ice
A group helping me review the sonar data
The Huslia Community Hall
Sonar opened up for repair

Winter Jellies

Blueberries and Rhubarb
While I was taking things out of the freezer for Thanksgiving I took the opportunity to take stock of the berries and rhubarb left in there. The total was four gallons of blueberries (that's after two or three batches of blueberry jam last fall), two gallons of rhubarb, and a gallon of crowberries I had no idea were in there. We like having blueberries in the freezer throughout the year for baking and smoothies, but we don't need four gallons. Crowberries, however, aren't good for much except jelly (or juice) because of their seeds and bitter skin. So, I made crowberry jelly. I have so much blueberry jam thought that I decided to try a new combination and make blueberry rhubarb jelly. It's a tasty one - and dark - it was hard to tell the crowberry apart from the blueberry/rhubarb once they were in the jars! These will probably be my last batches of jelly and jam before next summer. I think we have enough to make it until then...

Our stock of jam and jelly before I made these two batches

Monday, November 23, 2015

Patagonia Trip Planning: T-Minus 5 Weeks

In five weeks we will be in Patagonia! Time is ticking though - most of our weekends until then are filled with holidays and outdoorsy adventures and in four weeks we leave for Montana to visit my sister and brother-in-law (a stop on the way to South America). We have buckled down and penciled out a rough itinerary for our trip. With an entire month, there is plenty of space to fill.

For the most part we will travel on a shoestring as we usually do, but Patagonia is a vast place (and I say that as someone from Alaska!) and it appears to be well-worth it to arrange some inter-continental flights ahead of time to avoid multiple 20+ hour bus rides. I've been watching prices for months and they only seem to be climbing.

I finally decided it was time to bite the bullet, as far as both price and having dates we have to stick to in our otherwise fluid plans. Our flight routes are Buenos Aires to El Calafate, then El Calafate to Ushuaia, and then Punta Arenas to Puerto Montt. By far the most expensive leg of this trip would be Buenos Aires to El Calafate (especially because our flights to and from South America were on miles). Whenever I find a brilliant deal on travel arrangements, I have a little ping of regret that I didn't follow a career as a travel agent. But then again when your hobbies become your work, you tend to not enjoy them as much as when you did them for leisure. But whose to say I couldn't be happy as a travel agent doing archaeology as a hobby? Now there's something to think about!

My brilliant idea was to use Delta miles to fly from Buenos Aires to El Calafate. We didn't quite have enough, but even with buying the extra miles we saved about $150. And then I had a thought to search for a multi city ticket for the next two legs, and for some reason that can only be explained by the crazy inner workings of the interwebz, it was $90 cheaper per person to do it as multi city ticket rather than two separate one way tickets.

I also learned two important things about travel search engines during this extensive flights search: Kayak is the best, do not waste your time with Google Flights or Sky Scanner.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


While driving back from Haines last week I snapped a few great photos of a coyote.  I must say, I got really lucky. The sun was out and there was this coyote, just standing in the fresh snow along side of road.  He was aware of us but seemed not to give much care.  He just stood there looking around intently while we backed up and watched.  I had my good camera in the front seat of the truck so with my coworking driving all I had to do was roll down the window to be in the perfect spot to snap these photos.  What a great opportunity.  The only other wildlife we spotted on the drive was a lone caribou just outside of Glennallen.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Brand New Fat Tire Bike

Marta on Powerline trail
First time on my fat bike!
Hot drink break time
My new toy for this winter is a fat tire bike (you may not be surprised to know that Ryan also bought one, but he's in the field right now). After our first decent snow I took it out for the first time on Saturday with my friend Marta. What a perfect crystal clear day - it made it hard to imagine that it would snow on Sunday!

We had a great time on Powerline Trail - perfect snow conditions. I'm still trying to figure out the best clothing and footwear for biking in cold weather. I was on the right track with the clothes and snowboarding helmet, but I must wear the real winter boots next time!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Halloween Party

Despite only getting one trick or treater, Halloween was a success thanks to some awesome friends. Ryan missed the fun due to fieldwork, but I wasn't about to let that dampen my enthusiasm for the best holiday ever.

When I decided to be the girl on the Morton Salt container, I found a sweet yellow dress for $12 on Amazon, but low and behold, they would not ship it to Alaska. I settled for a yellow skirt and a yellow cardigan I already owned. Finding white tights was a total bust. I could not find any in Eagle River. And I thought the white tights would be the easiest part!

Like a real pro I waited to go shopping for my party until Halloween morning. The good thing was anything Halloween-related was on clearance. The bad thing was there wasn't much of it.

The thing I love about Halloween is that the creativity is endless. You could literally be any thing or person under the sun. Or, you could put a white sheet over your head and call it good.

This year my claim to fame is that Hillary Clinton played corn hole at my house.

The Joker

Joker and the Morton Salt girl

Miss Piggy and Hillary Clinton playing corn hole

Road kill and a 40's pin up girl - playing corn hole in those heals deserves serious props

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Monday, October 19, 2015

Fall Hiking With My New Iphone Camera

I recently upgraded to the new iphone 6S plus.  As usual the camera has gotten better.  An iphone is still not replacement for Digital SLR with a good lens but it does impress me on occasion, especially compared to the early days of camera phones.  This weekend we headed up our local trail to Mile Hi Pass and along the alpine ridges.  We hiked above the fog and enjoyed views of the Alaska Range.  Despite a gray day I still snapped a few decent photos with the new camera.

Fog filled Eagle River Valley
This is not a true summit but the views from this point are great
The sun was shining brightly on the snow covered Alaska Range

My new iphone is in a water proof case so am not afraid to take it hiking in the rain.  While I was in Sikta last week I took this photo in the rainforest.  Again not the best lighting but I thought the iphone did well.
Hiking in the rainforest

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Watering Holes of Katmai

John filling up on our descent from the Katmai Caldera
I went back through my Katmai photos recently and found more good ones that I never had the chance to share on the blog. The first few are of places we got water. By the end of June the central Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes is parched. The search and planning for water was a central activity that took up both mental and physical space for us while we were there.

There are often still snow patches near the huts in June, but since it was such a low snow year, we did not expect much and we were correct. We were also not prepared to melt a lot of snow with our choice of stoves (Jet Boils). On our way into the valley, we filled up at the last clear stream coming from the Buttress Range before we crossed the River Lethe (the Lethe and Knife rivers are both very silty, and we wanted to avoid filtering that water if we could).

Clear stream flowing from the Buttress Range into the Lethe
On our second day, we planned to fill up on water on our way down from Katmai Crater. While we could have filled up at the bottom, we could not pass up the pristine mountain water cascading off the rocks above - no filtering needed! At that point we did not know if we would find water the next day when we planned to visit Novarupta, so we filled as many containers as we could, including a gallon-size ziplock bag! In total I think we were carrying around 17 liters between the four of us.

While we were at Novarupta we did look for water, hoping to fill up just enough that we could more liberally use our supply. After a little searching and John's astute hearing, we found a little trickle below snow and ice.

Filling up near Novarupta
Now I will tell you the painful part of our water-saga. As we returned to the huts from Novarupta, we stumbled upon a perfectly usable trickle of water coming from an insignificant snow patch, only 15 minutes from the huts. The snow patch was so small I would never have suspected it had enough melt to produce any sort of stream. The stream only ran for maybe 100 feet before it dried up, and we had simply crossed the valley too far below to know there was running water there earlier. It's a bit embarrassing to tell this story, but I hope someone else heading into the Valley can gain some insight from our mistakes and take the time to poke around looking for water before lugging 17 liters across the valley.

Once we left the huts and headed to Mageik Lakes, through the pass, and toward the coast, collecting clear water was a breeze.

Filtering water at the outlet of one of the Mageik Lakes

Filling up in the Katmai River Valley

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Mt. Eklutna

It's not too late for a hike in the mountains.  If fact, with the right gear you can hike in the Chugach almost any time of year.  With the mild temperatures and a receding snowline we decided to return to one of our favorite hikes.  The Bear Point to Mt. Eklutna hike has some of the the best view from the front range of the Chugach even on a cloudy day like today.  From the Big Peters Creek trailhead we took the trail up to Bear Point and then continued up the ridge to Mt. Eklutna descending the Mt. Eklutna trail.  There are still a few trees with fall colors but for the most part the leaves were down.  The nice thing about the leaves being down is you can see clearly into the woods.  This time I spotted a camper in the woods I had never seen before.  I suspect this eerie old camper trailer was someone's hunting camp many years ago.

I love this trailhead sign

Molly and Mary Kate at Bear Point

The view towards Anchorage from Mt. Eklutna

Creepy camper in the woods

Leaf Kabobs

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Akun Island

Last week I took a quick trip to Akun Island in the Aleutians.  We chartered a plane from Anchorage and were gone for only four nights.  As usual, the Aleutians did not disappoint with spectacular views, interesting beaches, and archaeological sites.  With a little luck we had a break in the weather, and were able to perform our hydrographic survey from the little inflatable boat we brought with us.  Here are a few of my photos.

Artifacts we found lying exposed on the ground in a circle of cobles

Beach vegetation making art in the wind

Getting ready to launch the boat and go survey

Eric standing in a Aleut house pit


East end of Surf Bay

Our chartered flight.  A Pilatus PC-12

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Late Summer Canning

I unexpectedly found myself at home this weekend and took the opportunity to cram in some late summer canning, although I'm not sure there is anything summer-ish about the weather right now - the produce is from somewhere where it's still summer though! My sister brought a bag of adorable little jalapenos from her garden in Montana (who doesn't fly with a giant bag of jalapenos in their purse?). Taking advantage of what will probably be the last decent peaches and corn we will get in Alaska, I used as many jalapenos as I could in a batch of peach salsa and then a batch of corn salsa. The remained  were made into "unfancy" pickled jalapenos from Food in Jars.

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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