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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