Sunday, February 28, 2016

Hiking in Spring Conditions

Max, Emily, and me at the Rainbow Overlook

A friend in Seattle once asked me if spring break was a good time to visit Alaska. I said "Sure, as long as you know it's still winter." After being back in Alaska for three years, I have changed my mind. We've barely even had winter the last two years. There are pussy willows out already, many trails are completely snow-free, and today it was 50 degrees at my house. By all accounts, that is spring in Alaska and it is not even March.

I hiked on the Turnagain Arm trail this weekend with my friend Emily and her dog Max. It was the first day I've been out and about that really felt like spring. We brought our grippers and expected to find ice but there was only mud. Emily wore long underwear and I wore lined soft shell pants. Both were a mistake. The forecast for the next week is for sun - one more week with no chance of snow. Soon enough it will be real spring and one more year will have passed with only a tiny fraction of our normal snow fall. I hope, like a lot of people, that this is not the new normal.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Fat Tire Biking to the Cross Cabin Again

Molly and I had such a nice time biking to the Cross Cabin last weekend we decided to go again.  This time my Mom and Dad joined us.  Dad took the supplies with the snowmachine so our bikes were even lighter than last weekend.  Just an inch or so of new snow had fallen making the trail softer but still relatively easy biking.

Dad and I got a few jobs done around the cabin and I still had time for a snowmachine ride out to Clear Creek.  I enjoyed plotting the trails using the Gaia app on my phone.  Sitting around the wood stove with family and chocolate was a was a great way to spend Valentines weekend.

Dad and I talking about the trails
Molly and I headed out to Talkeetna

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Penguins in Tierra del Fuego

Nesting Magellanic Penguins
 One of the highlights of our time in Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego (on the Argentine side) was visiting a penguin colony. The colony  near Ushuaia is where both Magellanic and Gentoo penguins nest. We were especially lucky because we also got to see six King penguins who just happened to show up earlier in the week. King penquins have colonies elsewhere in Tierra del Fuego, but they don't nest near Ushuaia.

We took a zodiac out to the colony, on an island. It's kind of crazy that people are allowed to walk around (within a roped area) where the penquins are nesting. We were told studies have been done to determine how many human visitors the penquins can tolerate per day and the tours are restricted to that number. The rule is that you're supposed to stay at least two meters away from penguins at all times, but our guide told us the penguins "don't respect this rule." Below is a penguin not respecting our need to walk up the staircase to view more penguins.

The Magellanic penguins are the small ones with a black stripe around their white front side. They nest in burrows, which they reuse year after year. If they have to dig a new one, it takes them three months! The Gentoo penguins are a little bigger and don't have the black stripe. You can see one King penguin in the photo below, it has yellow around its head. The Kings were pretty comical. The six of them were spread out among the Magellanic and Gentoo penguins sitting perfectly still looking very stoic while the smaller penguins ran around in every direction. Makes me wonder why they chose to go ashore and chill with penguins of another species, rather than any other piece of shore in the Beagle Channel.

Stoic King penguin
The Magellanic penguins chicks were 1-2 months old when were there - a funny stage because they are essentially adult-sized but (mostly) still had their down. Some were molting, but they were still pretty adorable.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Fat Tire Biking to the Cross Cabin

Last year we tried fat tire biking by renting and borrowing bikes to go to the cabin for my birthday. This year we decided it was time to buy our own fat bikes.  I bought a KHS 3000 for myself off of craigslist last summer and Molly got her 15" Motobecane Sturgis from Bikes Direct.  We then set up both bikes up with 4.7" tires with carbide studs.

We had plans to ride our new bikes to the cabin before the holidays but after twisting my knee while skiing and then a bit of late season field work it never happened.  So finally last weekend we made it happen. The trail conditions were perfect, hard packed but not icy, with temperatures just below freezing.  The bikes performed great and we made good time getting to the cabin.

Our friends Wynne and Nicholai also purchased new fat tire bikes this winter and joined us for the weekend.  They came in later on Saturday but I was able to send them a GPS track and detailed directions. Molly even sent them photos of some of the intersections.  Modern technology can make navigation easy!

The conditions were so good that I went for an extra ride with Wynne and Nicholai out to Chase and back to the cabin Sunday morning.  It felt like a March day but we were reminded it was still February by the early darkness.  Even though it was a clear day, the sun was noticeably low on the horizon.

We had so much fun that we are planning on going back again this weekend with my parents.  This time it should be even easier as my parents will be able to haul our food and gear on the snow machine.

Molly pedaling across the lake with the cabin in the distance. 
Wynne, Nicholai and I getting ready to leave the cabin

Nice winter sunshine

Enjoying the great riding conditions