Monday, September 26, 2022

Kodiak Road System Deer Hunt - September 2022

Fieldwork in remote Alaska can be a bear: horrible logistics, bad weather, uncertain schedules that drag on, droning machinery, and sometimes difficult and usually unusual people. Its also a chance to see beautiful and wild places that you might not otherwise. In September I headed to Kodiak Island for a few days of environmental work about an old laundromat that used to throw its dry cleaning fluids out the back door. Some people.

Hoping for a quick overnight hunt when I landed, I tossed my gun in my luggage pile next to the work gear. When I landed on the island I ran to pick up a pile of sampling equipment from air cargo, stuffed a few energy bars in my pockets, then drove south in hopes of finding a buck.

When I pulled off the Pasagshak Road there were already three trucks parked and I wondered if it was gonna be a busy night. I quickly caught up with a group who looked more like your stereotypical moose hunters than my solo backcountry skier type. I worried they might feel like I was encroaching, but they were looking for a goat, and with a promise not to scare off any shaggy white carpets they waved me on.

The trail was steep, though would have been worse if wet and muddy, and I didn't have much time to work with before dark. So, I was drenched with sweat from my sprint to the alpine by the time I emerged from the thick brush and tall grass that is so alien to mainland Southcentral AK. Over the years, a key for me to improve my harvest odds has been to get out of sight of eyes of road hunters glassing from their trucks. So, I dropped off the ridge and out of site of civilization. As I descended to the next low pass I ran into two guys returning from a successful goat hunt. They looked totally worked as they climbed out of the valley; I knew I could be in their shoes the next morning. 

Climbing out of the valley pass in the maroon sunset I could see a couple tents tucked into a draw and knew I should hike as far as possible to give them space. With that in mind, I kept going until I couldn't see the ground under my feet and needed my GPS to confirm I was perched in a high spot that hopefully would have a good panorama of a view the next morning.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Tikishla Ski - 4.14.2022

There is a short window each spring in the Anchorage Front Range as the willow-choked valleys leading to the windswept faces of our peaks transition from bottomless facets and scary windslab, to fast and stable melt-freeze crust, before access is slowed by bare ground and emerging brush.

When the strong April sun began to metamorphose our ever changing snowpack into an efficient and stable crust, Bob and I were focused on taking advantage of it. We both had morning chores to attend to, and corn takes soften in Southcentral AK, so it was early afternoon by the time we were walking out of the Dome parking lot, sliding down the terrifying ice in the shady gorge, then crossing the footbridge into the North Fork of Campbell Creek. From here we hoped to link up Tikishla to Knoya to Kanchee, and if we were lucky, ski all the way back to the neighborhood.

The North Fork doesn't receive much precip to start with. Then you add in the strong downslope winds that pour over the Chugach and scour the valley floors. It doesn't take much sun to vaporize what snow is left. Fortunately dead grass and blueberry bushes are still sort of slippery. 

Reaching relatively continuous snow, or as much as that's a thing in the Front Range, we stopped for lunch. Bob ate delicious looking hummus wraps, while I probably ate something gross like old frozen pizzas - I need to hire Bob as a backcountry baking sensei. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Kenai Black Bear Hunt - September 2022

Briefly back in Anchorage between fieldwork, weddings, and COVID, I was treated with what has lately been a rare dry day to go look for a blueberry bear on the Kenai. Nyssa was down for the count with COVID, and I was dragging too, so motivation was low and I honestly kind of hoped I didn't finder any keepers.

Driving south thru Turnagain Pass, I stopped at each pullout to look into as many nooks and crannies as I could on Seattle Ridge. The countless drainages, ridges, bushes, and terrain features here make it hard to check all the terrain. On the south end of the pass I could see the large three brown slugs of a brown bear sow and her cubs grazing on the shoulder of TT43. I'd never seen grizzlies there this time of year, and didn't feel like it was a particularly good sign for a black bear.

I kept driving south towards Summit Lake with a pit stop at Granite Creek to shoot my 270 and confirm I hadn't bumped the scope during my recent bushwhacking and tumbling on Kodiak. By the time I'd made it to the south end of Summit Lake I hadn't glassed any black bears. Figuring that it wasn't my day, I started to make my way north. Looking up from the Johnson Pass trailhead I could see the distinct hump of the shoulder of a big brown bear eating in the alpine. At first I assumed it was the same sow I'd seen a couple hours before, but then watched the sow and her cubs walk out of a gully a quarter mile away.

Another big bruin probably chasing the black bears off the berries - I was really feeling like this wasn't my day. But, looking through my binoculars from the Cornbiscuit lot, I saw the distinctly sharp edges of a black shape waddle out from the yellow leaves of an alder clump high above the road. To my surprise this blackie happily chowing down within a half mile of the four brownies.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Explorer Ski - 4.12.2022

With spines, bowls, chutes, alders, and crevasses, Explorer Peak is a snow globe of skiing in southcentral AK. The problem is that its right next to Whittier, starts at sea level, gets a lot of sun, and is a huge terrain trap. A complete day there requires conditions that rarely line up: calm coastal gap winds, a low rain line, manageable solar affect, and stable avalanche conditions across a range of elevation bands and aspects - things that rarely line up. 

When we saw pix of Bob, Sam, and Emily ripping pow from the summit of the peak we knew to head that way - thanks for the hint guys! Fresh off the plane from Kodiak fieldwork, Nyssa picked me up at the airport at 8 AM and we raced south on the Seward Highway to give the snow globe a good swirl and shake.

We parked past the salmon ponds on the shoulder of the Portage Road, clawed up the icy snowbank, followed crust skier tracks thru the woods (where don't those guy's go?), and skinned into the gully. Getting buried in an avalanche at the bottom of a ravine would always be bad, but getting stuffed into a crevasse here would be an added bummer.

There was another group ascending via a different route and we passed them as we climbed higher in the basin. They weren't close, but Alaska is a small town and we figured we'd probably know em. At the col below the summit cone we peered over the edge into the Skookum Glacier then started the booter to the top. The Skookum gorge, with Carpathian as its crown jewel, is big country that seems out of place on the Kenai Peninsula. It would fit in better in the Alaska Range or the High Chugach.

We made quick work of Bob's bomber booter from the previous day and a few minutes later were standing on the peak looking east towards Middle Glacier Peak, Byron, and Carpathian.

There are still a few peaks and many many lines around here that we haven't had a chance to ski yet - good thing life is long. We made mental notes on the hit list while we sat in the sun eating lunch and watching a solo skier make their way up Middle Glacier. I wondered who it was. Maybe Dane?

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Monument Creek Ski - 4.16.2022

Last spring, when Scott sent me a picture of Adjutant Peak's northwest face covered in hanging snowfields and seracs spilling from its 8,350 foot summit towards the Spectrum Glacier gorge, my first thought was: absolutely not.

Adjutant's northwest face

Yet, somehow, an early morning one year later found us winding east in the Subaru thru the murky darkness of the Glen Highway towards Monument Creek and, if conditions lined up as we forecast, the giant peaks of Alabaster and maybe Adjutant.

We parked along the highway just before the Victory Bible Camp, added our packrafts to bulging packs, and in the first light of the day skied down the dirty mix of spring overflow and crusty old snow towards the Matanuska River. With the ever strengthening April sun we weren't sure if we'd need to packraft across an open river awakening from winter, and were lucky enough to find continuous snow and ice coverage to the far side of the waterway where we stashed our rafts for our evening return.

Here's Scott demonstrating proper form for skate skiing with an under-arm packraft. Maybe a new Olympic sport???

On the far side of the river we followed the old ATV trail as it wound thru the riparian bottomlands, then followed the wallowing trails of moose thru a black spruce forest carpeted in the classic bottomless faceted snow of the cold interior as we climbed out of the valley and towards Monument Creek. Soon we were on the bench above the Mat traversing up, down, and across ravines blocked by alders and Lincoln Logs of fallen birch as we worked to access our creek.

As we turned into Monument Creek, we could see Alabaster's distant summit lit up by the morning sun where it rose from the head of the basin.