Mid March 2017:
Trails, A Connection Between Species
Many Alaskans use
trails made by animals. Bear trails make good hiking
trails in Prince William Sound. Caribou trails make good
hiking trails in the Brooks Range. Moose trails in
Anchorage parks have become primitive "social trails" for
mountain bikers, runners, orienteering racers and walkers.
But it goes both
ways. Animals also like to use human trails. We of
course see this in winters when there is lots of snow.
Moose will gravitate towards firm human trails so they don't
have to struggle in deep snow.
Recently I saw
another situation where a moose decided to follow a trail made
by humans. In the Knik River Gorge there is now a narrow
bottleneck where the Knik Glacier comes up to the steep slopes
of a mountain. Here fat bikers, hikers and skiers have
been sneaking through this narrow gap to explore the upper end
of the gorge. If there were no tracks here, it would
likely seem impassable, to people and to moose. But it
looks like a moose noticed the trail and followed it. Evidence:
moose poop. Whichever way the moose was traveling, he or she is
now in country they have never seen before, as this passage is
impassable to moose in the summer.
narrow gap used to get past the Knik Glacier at the Knik River
Gorge this winter.
poop, evidence that this is not just a recreational trail of the
Mid March 2017:
Susitna Station, More To This Place Than Most Know
Every year thousands
of travelers pass a location on the Susitna River, two miles
south of the mouth of the Yentna River, called Susitna
Station. As people go by via snowmobile, dogsled, bike,
foot or skis - most don't realize that they are passing the
location of a former large and vibrant village. 100 years,
and more, ago Susitna Station was a thriving "jumping off"
location for gold mining activities in the Cache Creek and
Iditarod areas to the north. Steamships would bring
supplies up the Big Susitna River and offload them at Susitna
Station. Smaller boats or dog teams would then move the
supplies north from here.
100 years ago
Susitna Station was at its heyday. Hundreds of people
lived at this thriving outpost. Stores, a school, a church
and many buildings stood here. But then two things
happened that led to the demise of Susitna Station. The
Alaska Railroad was built, making it easier to transport gold
mining supplies to the Cache Creek area. And in 1918 an
influenza epidemic decimated the large Dena'ina population that
lived here. Now only one original building still stands
here, along with a few recreational cabins (see above picture).
Also still here is a
defining feature of Susitna Station, a rock outcrop that sticks
out into the Big Susitna River. The Native name for this
place references this rock outcrop: Tsat'ukegh "Beneath the Big
In the summer this
outcrop can create a small whirlpool off of its point. The
size of the whirlpool depends on the level and force of the
river. When boating here in the summer I often go by
to check out the whirlpool. Sometimes there is no
whirlpool, sometimes it is a hissing and gurgling hole in the
river that looks rather ominous. It probably looks more
bad-ass than it really is. If you went into it with a pack
raft, you'd probably be stuck and spinning for a long time, and
get really dizzy, but would probably still stay upright in your
boat. I figure it could tip over a canoe though.
canoeing: Canoeing in the sweeper-lined, powerful, cold and
silt-laden Big Susitna is not smart, in my opinion. The
Susitna River has a long history of killing canoeists. I
once talked to an Upper Cook Inlet setnetter that told me
a story of finding a dead canoeist in his setnet near the mouth
of the Big Su. Grim.
And then there is
the story my father-in-law once told me. It was the late
1930s and a Native couple had paddled their canoe from Susitna
Station down to Alexander Creek to fish for salmon. After
catching their salmon, they had a long and brutal paddle against
the current to go back upstream, so my father in law offered to
take them, and tow their canoe, to Susitna Station (it was rare
to have outboard motors back then). As they were coming up
the East Channel of the Big Su, a few miles below Susitna
Station, the Native woman started crying, screaming and hitting
her husband. My father-in-law asked what the problem was.
The Native man said: "This is the place where her brother tipped
over in his canoe and drowned." Indeed, the Big Su has a
long history of being a harsh place for canoeists.
More information about Susitna
Station can be found in "Shem Pete's Alaska", by James Kari and
James A. Fall, pages 89-91. Some good pictures of Susitna
Mid March 2017:
Trying To Avoid Death By Otter Sled
A very popular
snowmobile sled these days is the Otter sled. We have one
and use it a lot. It's a good sled for the price.
But the catch with Otter sleds is the narrow tracks they leave.
If the sled goes through wet snow and leaves its narrow tracks,
when the snow freezes the narrow ruts become xc ski traps.
Nordic skis don't fit in these icy tracks, they skitter in and
out of the ruts. And the tracks are good at catching ski
edges and causing you to fall. Hard.
A few years ago I
made replacement Otter sled runners that are the width of a
cross country ski track. I have these wide runners mounted
on our Otter sled. The reason for them is not as much to
set classic tracks, but to leave ski-able tracks in case these
ruts freeze. Just doing my part to help avoid "Death By
made by an Otter sled.
Tracks made by my modified Otter sled runners.
view of the modified Otter sled runners that I made.
Mid March 2017:
Memories That Never Fade
It's interesting how
after decades of travel in certain areas, your memory is
triggered every time you pass certain spots. Here are a
couple of examples in my case, and the stories that go with them
The picture above is
of the Gasline Trail heading east towards the Little Susitna
River. As you can see, it is a well-traveled trail.
And if you look a bit closer, you will see a smaller trail
heading off to the right. This trail eventually connects
back with the Gasline Trail near the Little Su.
I've passed this
spot hundreds of times. But every time I pass this spot, I
remember the 2nd time I passed this spot. It was 25 years
ago, in 1992. I was coming back from a ski-joring/camping
trip with my young Malamutes Fraetre and Qutuq. We had
been on the summit of Mr. Susitna earlier in the day and were
heading back to the trailhead.
When we reached this
point, Fraetre and Qutuq veered right off the main trail and
onto this narrow side trail. I was surprised by this and
was just about to correct them. But I'm glad that I
didn't. Because it dawned on me ... this is the way we had
come! I had forgotten. Neither of us had been on
this route before. But they remembered the way back better
than I did. Instead of correcting them I praised them.
This was the first time, but definitely not the last time, I'd
be impressed at how much smarter sled dogs are than us lowly
Fraetre and Qutuq on
the slopes of Mt. Susitna.
Summit ridge of Mt. Susitna.
Communications station near the summit.
This island pictured
above is in the middle of the Big Susitna River, to the
west of Susitna Station. It's where the Old Iditarod Trail
branches off to the west. I've skied, boated and
snowmobiled by this island dozens of times. And each time
I pass this island I have the same memory.
It was 30 years ago,
in 1987, during the Iditaski, a 200 mile ski race from Knik to
Skwentna and back. One of the skiers in our lead group was
a very likeable guy from Switzerland that lived in Alaska.
His name was Chris Leibundgut, nickname: Krigi. It had
just gotten dark, we had our headlamps on and were were heading
past this island. Krigi was coughing a lot, so I asked him
if he was okay. He responded: "I'll be okay. I've
got strep throat. I probably shouldn't be doing this race.
But I didn't want to miss it!" Wow. One tough guy.
Sadly Krigi died two years later while
climbing Pumori in the Himalayas.
Ever since that
night in the Iditaski, I remember this incident when I pass this
island ... and think of this island as "Krigi's Island".
Early March 2017:
A Simple Therm-a-Rest Modification
You are breaking
down camp after a night out in winter. It's early morning,
dark and cold. Really cold. You are moving as fast
as you can, before your fingers get too cold. You fold up
your Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite pad. But where is that Therm-a-Rest
strap? Did I put in the tent? In my pack?
Where is it? Damn, my fingers are getting cold!
You won't have this
problem if you do a simple mod to your Z pad. Make
the sleeping pad straps permenent. Make two small holes in the pad, and
then tie loops of 1/8 inch bungee cord through them. Use
electrical tape over the knots so they don't come undone.
You will never again wonder where your sleeping pad straps are
Early March 2017:
Demise Of A Vole. One Day We Will Be The Vole.
While skiing across
the Chickaloon Tidal Flats I came to an area where there must be
a big vole community. Tracks everywhere. And an
eagle perched on a nearby tree. In this area I noticed a
vole that likely died of exposure from the recent cold high
winds we've had. Sad. On my way back I noticed that
all that remained of the vole were some small fur balls.
The vole's end meant life to another creature that lives on the
edge of survival in winter in Alaska.
This vole, in a way,
is a metaphor of our last day. We too will be fed on when
Chances are it won't be by a hungry eagle, owl, raven or coyote.
But instead we will be fed on by the medical and insurance
industry, heirs, the probate court system, lawyers, the IRS and
a funeral home/ cremation service. Like this vole, our
death will fuel the survival of other creatures. Our lives
are a lot more complex than a vole's. But in the big
picture, not that much different. And with this cheery blog post ... have a nice day! ;-)
Late February 2017:
DIY Smartphone Tripod Using A Gear Tie
I like the camera in my smartphone. But I wish my smartphone
had a tripod mount. It doesn't, so I came up with this idea
that uses a Gear Tie as a tripod (though I imagine I'm not the
first to figure this out). Yeah, I could buy a smartphone
tripod. But there are pros and cons to such tripods, as I
mention below. To make this simple tripod, you will need a 32
inch Gear Tie. You can get Gear Ties most anywhere (Lowe's,
Home Depot, WalMart, REI,
inch Gear Tie.
the Gear Tie like this.
Insert phone into Gear Tie, and you are ready to take self-timed
Pros of Gear Tie tripod:
Unbreakable, stronger than a plastic smartphone tripod
Easily stored inside or on the outside of your pack
Can be used for other purposes
Cons of Gear Tie tripod:
Not as stable as a real tripod
Slightly longer set-up than a tripod
Mid February 2017:
Big Indian Creek Cabin History ... In Ski Trip Pictures
looking at old ski trip pictures, those of
skiing to Burnt Island, and realized I have historical
pictures of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Big Indian Creek
the Big Indian Creek cabin was this old (and rather nasty)
framed cabin ...
2004, not far from the Big Indian Creek cabin, and on Little
Indian Creek, was this dilapidated old mining cabin ...
the Kenai Wildlife Refuge decided to salvage some of the logs
from the old Little Indian Creek cabin. They then razed
the Big Indian Creek framed cabin and
built a new log cabin in its place, using some of the logs
from the old Little Indian Creek cabin. Back in 2004 as I
skied by the Little Indian Creek cabin, I figured it would rot
away and disappear into the woods. I didn't imagine it
would live on (in part) as a nice new cabin at Big Indian Creek
Mid February 2017:
powder snow to a large corrugated container.
Shake for 25 miles.
Dribble Hershey chocolate sauce on snowballs and eat while still
Early February 2017:
Trail Groomers. "Again".
built a simple trail drag for grooming ski trails near our
remote cabin. After my wife used the drag to groom our
trail network, I asked her: "So, have you ever groomed the
trails you ski on before?" I figured her answer would be
"No". Instead, her response was a bit of a surprise.
And a bit of a memory jog.
groomed ski trails by skiing them in before we trained in high
thought about those days for a long time. Same with me.
In the early 70's we would make tracks to ski in by lining up
the ski team and stomping in a ski loop with our wooden skis. When my
wife was on the Dimond High School ski team in Anchorage, the
team would regularly make their own skied-in tracks on the
school football field, on undeveloped acreage to the east of the
school or on the first trails at Kincaid Park. Not much
manual setting of ski tracks by high school teams at Kincaid
these days. I did the
same in Vermont. Prior to high school, I would use
snowshoes to stomp in cross country ski loops on our farm.
So I guess
it's not that much of a surprise that we now groom our own xc
ski trail system these days. We both were "trail groomers"
over 40 years ago. And now we are trail groomers "again".
Getting the groom on.
My wife grooming our ski trails.
My wife skiing on a trail she
Me riding our remote Alaskan groomed
Early February 2017:
Modern Maps Still Have Their Problems
ago the NOAA/National Weather Service in Alaska started using
ESRI topographic and imagery maps on their web site. While
checking temperatures in areas that I like to travel, I noticed
topography that older maps did not show. In particular, I
noticed some circular moraine features. That piqued my
interest. But then I noticed that one of these "circular
moraines" was out in a featureless swamp. How could that
be? Slopes of the moraine have soils and good drainage and
would allow trees to grow. But no trees showed if you
switched from topographic to imagery views.
is an ESRI mythical circular moraine that is in a southern arm
of the "Great Swamp", just to the west of Fish Creek (that
drains Red Shirt Lake). And right across the middle of
this "moraine" runs the Susitna Valley Winter Trail (SVWT)
Connector. I had skied this trail before, and surely did
not remember any hills. So for a workout, I decided to ski
out to the SWVT connector and visit the "mystery moraine".
When I got
to the SVWT Connector, I was not surprised. There is no
moraine in this swamp. This swamp-land is as flat as a
pancake that has been run over by a asphalt roller. The
ESRI topographic map is clearly in error. Perhaps this
moraine exists someplace, but it is definitely shown at the
wrong place on this map.
The ESRI topographic
Same framing as map to left, but ESRI
"Mystery moraine" should be on the SVWT
Connector trail. But it's not there.
A view of the SVWT
Connector as it heads north from Trail 6. No moraine in
sight. Flatter than flat.
ESRI maps used by NOAA/NWS also have "changing place names"
errors. The ESRI topo map fragment on the left shows
Figure Eight Lake. Zoom out one level, map on right, and
the name of the lake changes to "Leach Lake".
Late January 2017:
It Gets Cold Near Anchorage. Yes, It's True.
is no Fairbanks when it comes to cold temperatures. But
not far from Anchorage, less than 20 miles as the raven flies,
it can get pretty cold. On January 19th it was 35 below
zero F at the Point Mackenzie trailhead. It didn't stay
that way for long. Within a week the temperature climbed
70 degrees to 35 degrees F.
-35 F at Pt Mac, Big
Lake and Willow (1/19/17
NWS Mesonet screen capture).
Late January 2017:
Earth-Friendly Weight Training For Skiers - Burl Bar Bells
So you are
still weight training with metal weights? Are you kidding
me!? That stuff is made in Chinese coal-fired steel
plants. You know, the type of plants that belch carbon and
kill our winters. Not a good choice.
make your own workout weights. Just go skiing and bring
along a saw to cut a few cancerous burl growths off birch trees.
Get an oak dowel and make your own weigh bar and bar bells.
Save the birch trees from dying of cancer and make yourself
And if you
get tired of using a burl bar bell, you can recycle it for use
as a pull-down handle for a
you might make for your cabin.
Working out with an earth-friendly
burl weight bar.
Burl weight bar recycled for use as
a Murphy bed pull-down handle.
Mid January 2017:
Spruce Bark Beetles ... Here We Go Again
trails of the lower Susitna Valley these days makes you think
you have gone back in time. Back to the early 1990's.
In those days massive amounts of spruce trees in Southcentral
Alaska were attacked and
killed by spruce bark beetles. Dead spruce trees were
everywhere. Back then my wife and I harvested many
recently killed spruce trees for use in making a log cabin.
It was great wood, and these trees were destined to be fire
hazards if we didn't use them.
Due to the
recent warm summers (and winters), the spruce bark beetle has
come back with a vengeance. Many mature spruce trees in
the Su Valley are once again being killed by the beetles.
This is definitely the spruce bark beetle and not the spruce
aphids, that have been killing spruce trees in the Katchemak Bay
area. Spruce aphids attack the needles. As can be
seen in the pictures below, it's definitely the bark that is
being ravaged. The needles are fine in the bottom
pictures, but soon they will turn gray. Being a white
spruce tree in Southcentral Alaska is not much fun these days.
Early January 2017:
What Does The Lynx Say?
and cool Swan Valley Connections Facebook
video lets you know what lynx say and how they say it.
I've heard these vocalizations before, but I was never quite
sure what was making the sounds. Now I know. Listen
to the audio of this video a few times, and you will know what a
lynx sounds like. Note: The audio is recorded a bit low,
so you might have to turn your device's audio level up.
Early January 2017:
Willow Tunnels, And The Past Paved-Over
a lot of "tunnels" have been showing up on trails in the Lower
Susitna Valley. Willow tunnels. Willow trees have
seen explosive growth recently due to a couple of factors, IMO.
Recent mild winters and warm summers have lengthened the growing
season for willows. Also, less moose is a factor.
Normally moose graze on young willow shoots and keep them from
getting too big. But the ever-increasing pressure of more
hunters, as the population of the MatSu Valley increases,
ensures that moose are in less abundance than they were in
previous decades. So, less moose-suppressing of willow
growth occurs and willow thickets flourish.
Susitna Valley trails: Every time I drive the Knik-Goose Bay
(KGB) Road, I wonder to myself: "What would Joe Redington think
Redington, the father of the Iditarod, was alive the Iditarod
would often restart in Wasilla. The sled dog race would
then follow the KGB road out past Joe's place in Knik, turn
right at the Knik Bar and then head off the road system towards
Nome. In the 80's there would be mushers running their dog
teams all along the KGB road.
Iditarod restarts in Willow, and the KGB route is not used.
This is a good thing. Because Willow usually has better
snow than Wasilla. But mostly because development long ago
killed the Iditarod Trail along the KGB road. Subdivisions
and new roads now intersect the old Iditarod route constantly.
And traffic is 100 times than what it used to be last century.
The suburban sprawl that has consumed the first half of the KGB
road is mind boggling (to those that knew this area long ago).
And to top
it off, much of this former Iditarod Trail route is now a paved bike
trail that is plowed in the winter. Paved trail?
Plowed? The Iditarod Trail along KGB? The thought of
this in the 80's would have made people laugh in disbelief.
I talked to
Joe Redington a few times back in the day. Joe always
seemed to be open-minded about development. I imagine that
is because Joe truly knew what tough living meant. And
development meant there might be less of a struggle to survive
for him. Which he would surely welcome.
everyone has their limits. So I wonder. If Joe
Redington was alive today and drove down KGB Road... what would he
Late December 2016:
A Flagrant Violation of XC Skier - Snowmobiler Protocol !!
Water and oil. They
don't mix. Cross country skiers and snowmobilers.
They don't mix. Everyone knows this. Every one knows
the rules! No mixing!
So what is this? A cross country skier
fabricating snowmobile parts!? Or a snowmobiler that has a
cross country skiing web site!? In either case -
blasphemy! Wrong, wrong, wrong ... in so many ways!
Oh well. Either way, I'm guilty.
Just trying to solve a problem. And this tinkerer doesn't
worry about crossing boundaries.
Snowmobilers use "scratchers" for icy trails,
where there is little or no snow for the track to throw up onto
the radiators. Scratchers make a mist of ice crystals that
hit the snowmobile's radiator and cools down the engine.
Cable scratchers, like the one shown in the
below picture, are good because you can back up and not have to
worry about them catching on anything. But the problem is,
they don't hook to the track rails very solidly. And when
it is cold, the plastic covering stiffens and they hold even
less well. And when cable scratchers come loose in cold
powder snow, too much snow flies up onto the radiator and 100
pounds of ice can build up underneath the tunnel (like on a Ski-doo
Tundra). This makes the sled ride lower and you run the
risk of track studs scratching the radiator (and springing a
solution to this problem was simply to make more secure cable
scratcher "keepers". "Scratcher keepers" I call them.
And to think, this problem, that has plagued
many snowmobilers for decades, was easily remedied by a <cough>
cross country <cough> skier <cough> <cough>. It's
a crazy world we live in.
Tim's "scratcher keepers".
A scratcher keeper keeping a cable
XC Skier Solution to a Snowmobiler's Problem ...
a super-popular snowmobile sled for hauling moderate loads is
the Otter Sled.
The catch with these sleds is that they use a cheap hinge and
pin hitch. With these sled hitches you are always breaking
or losing pins, or the pins come loose and drop out at the worst
time. Nothing worse than driving a snowmobile and looking
back and not seeing your cargo sled.
ring hitches are much better. No pin to lose in the snow.
Just drop the ring on the hitch hook and you are ready to go.
there must be some way to convert a pin hitch to a hook hitch.
The solution eventually came to me in an "ah ha" moment when I
saw some debris lying on the ground of a trailhead parking lot.
Someone had dropped a thing called an "eye & eye swivel".
I bolted this eye swivel to the pin hitch and voila - now the
Otter Sled can be hooked to a sturdy and fail-safe hook hitch.
Cheap hinge and
pin hitch on top, sturdy ring for a hook hitch on the bottom.
An "eye & eye swivel" found in a
parking lot. Can likely also be found at Anchorage Fire
and Fastener, Arctic Wire and Rope or Alaska Industrial
Now a former cheap-ass hinge and pin
hitch can be used with a sturdy hook hitch.
Mid December 2016:
Videos Of An Old Ski On A Cabin. Oh ... And A Couple of Bears Too.
Here are a couple of short
game camera videos from this summer of a bears scratching
their backs on the corner of our cabin. Why is this ski
related? Cuz ... there is an old wooden ski on the cabin
above and to the right of the bears.
Black bear (1 minute long)
Brown bear (12 seconds long)
Mid December 2016:
The Ski For Burls Obsession Continues ...
If you peruse my past blog
pages on this web site, you will see that I like to find burls
while out skiing on remote trails. And then harvest them
if they are not on private property and make stuff out of them.
Well, this pastime of mine is still going strong. These
are my latest creations from burls I found while skiing in
remote areas of the Susitna Valley ...
A "burl throne"
that I made for my wife for our 30th wedding anniversary.
art piece made of birch burls and electroluminescent wire.
Mid December 2016:
The Reason For Global Warming Has Been Discovered ... Cats!
For a 20 year stretch in the
past, my wife and I lived in a dog house. We made mortgage
payments on this dog house, but we didn't have much say as to
what the living arrangements were. That was dictated by
5 Malamutes that ruled the house.
One of the key rules our Malamutes laid down
was what the temperature the thermostat would be set at in the dog house.
55 degrees Fahrenheit. Maybe 60. But NEVER above.
The Mals had thick coats and didn't like warm temps. So we
wore thick coats in the house too.
After our Malamutes passed away of old age,
we were pet-less for a while. Then in 2013 there was a big
snow storm (seriously, I'm not kidding, it actually once snowed
a lot in Anchorage ... please believe me, I'm not making this
up!) When I dug out our back porch, I found a starving
stray cat that had been trapped under the porch by the snow
drifts. Well, this cat quickly decided that our house was
a way-better gig than being a stray. So here he lives, in
his new cat house.
I soon found that cats are much different than hairy arctic
dogs. Cats like warmth. They are good at finding the
warmest place in the house for their day-long naps.
And compared to Malamutes,
cats have a much bigger carbon footprint. Instead of being
content with a house heated by clean-burning natural gas, this
cat DEMANDS auxiliary heat from a carbon-belching wood stove.
If the cat gets into his "wood stove nest" and the stove is not
burning ... you get some serious cat stink eye when you walk by.
You can tell the cat is very, very pissed that the stove is not
heating his fur to 120 degrees F. So you have no choice
but to start yet another fire, and pump carbon into the
This is my
first cat. But I expect all cats are like this.
Millions of cats demanding their owners put another log into the
wood stove to make them as warm as possible. Wow!
What an environmental disaster!
So if the skiing sucks because the weather is
wonky, and people are musing about climate change and global
warming, don't go blaming SUVs and Chinese coal-fired steel
plants. Put the blame where blame is due. It's cats
that are causing global warming!
Cats, and their
affinity for wood stoves, are the cause of global warming.
Yes, cats. Not SUVs ... cats!
Mid December 2016:
Skiing Anchorage's Trail of Fears
"A source told me that a
man was found dismembered on a picnic table, and when another
man walked up on the scene of the crime, he was shot dead."
Back in the 80's and 90's, skiing across
Anchorage got me excited. The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
and the Chester Creek Trail were relatively new. Not many
people used them. And I skied them a lot. Sometimes,
while training for the Iditaski, I'd ski from Kincaid to Russian
Jacks and back twice (100 kms) in a workout. No worries.
It felt so cool to live in a place where you could work and
train. That excitement continued for years for me, as you
can see from my
UBXC (Urban Backcountry Cross Country Skiing) web page.
But now the excitement is gone. Why?
Because the trails in Anchorage ain't what they used to be.
Now they are f*cking scary. Just this summer, four murders
occurred along the Tour of Anchorage ski race route.
Imagine if the Tour of Anchorage was lined
with wind dancer signs (see above) for every place that
something bad had happened since the race was first held, in
1988. Say a
wind dancer sign was placed along the Tour of Anchorage at every
place someone had been murdered (4 locations along the TOA just
this summer), or raped, or attacked, or overdosed on Spice or heroin, or
beaten in a homeless camp, or someone had been shot at, or
someone passed-out drunk and got frostbite. Skiing the
Tour of Anchorage would be eerie. The trail would be
densely lined with wind dancers memorializing the sites of
crimes and human despair. The Trail of Fears. And
for some, tears.
note: The route of the first two Tour of Anchorages was changed
and a state-owned building was put next to where the trail went.
What was that building? A crime lab. Looking back,
there is definitely some fitting irony in this.
What's the answer? Well the answer is
different for every one. And I certainly am not one to
tell others what to do. I just do what seems to work best
for me, and my wife. And that is to spend as little time
recreating in Anchorage as possible. Alaska is big,
663,300 square miles. And 663,000 of those square miles
are safer than Anchorage.
Early December 2016:
A New Take (For Me At Least) On Ski Glove Repair
I figure a lot of skiers like
are like me regarding ski gloves. You have a lot of ski
gloves lying around where the only thing wrong with them is a
hole that is worn out at the base of the thumb. This part
of the glove wears out over time as the fabric or leather rubs
against the pole handle and straps.
In the distant past (high school), athletic
tape was used to fix worn gloves. That technique was
eventually replaced by electrical tape and then duct tape.
And maybe some Super Glue was thrown in now and then.
These solutions worked for a while, but soon the repair job
became a lost cause the the gloves were pitched.
Recently I started repairing ski gloves with
Bondex "Outdoor Restore" fabric. This stuff is cheap (Walmart
sells it) and simple to use. Just cut it to the size you
want, peel the back off the fabric and stick it on your glove.
I've been using gloves repaired in this manner this year and
have found that this fabric lasts longer than duct tape and is
more flexible and not as slippery. I won't be buying any
new gloves for quite a while now. Now I've got a pile of
gloves that have been "Bondexed."
lobster mitts and Bondex "Outdoor Restore" fabric.
Early December 2016:
Anchorage's Best Low-Snow Grooming Machine - The PistenBuron
The Nordic Skiing Association
of Anchorage has a PistenBully ski trail groomer that costs more
than most houses. It sets great tracks, but I haven't seen
it at the Hillside Trails in years because of the low-snow
winters we've been having.
Recently 5 inches of cold and
fluffy powder fell on the icy surface of the Hillside trails.
You have to be gentle packing this kind of snow down, or it will not bond with the ice
and shear off. A pass of a PistenBully would render this meager snowfall useless.
Even a misguided dragging by snowmobile can ruin such a
sensitive snow coverage.
Right after it snowed I was out classic
skiing on skied-in tracks at Hillside. As I got closer to
Service High School I noticed that every uphill had been carefully
side-stepped with skis to gently tamp the snow down. This
gets the air out of the snow and allows the snow to bond to the
ice beneath it. I chuckled, as there was no doubt that
this was the work of Winter Stars coach Jan Buron.
Anchorage is lucky to have a machine that far outperforms the PistenBully in low-snow conditions. It's
called the PistenBuron!
Lighted Loop ski trail, packed by the PistenBuron.
Early Dec 2016:
Recent Events Bring Memories of the Late UAA Ski Coach Tom Besh, Mt. Besh
Photo above of Mt. Besh is by David
appeared in the December 2016 issue of the Alaska Nordic Skier
of Mt. Besh go back to the early nineties. Shortly after
Tom's death in an aviation accident in the Talkeetna Mountains,
I said to my frequent peak bagging partner Bill Spencer: "Hey
Bill, we should go and climb the unclimbed peak next to where
Tom died and name it Mt. Besh!" Of course Bill agreed, and
the mountain was in our sights. We first gave it a try in 1992.
We got near the peak, but turned around due to weather going
summer of 1993 we teamed up with Greg Jacobsen of Seattle to
give it another try. Bill and I always liked having Greg
along on trips with us, especially when things got technical.
Greg was a good technical climber and good at keeping us skiers
out of trouble. Bill, Greg and I headed up the Reed Lakes
Valley, through Bomber Pass and across the Bomber Glacier.
We lightened our load at the Bomber Shelter and then went light in pursuit of Mt. Besh. We climbed the technical North
Summit first. Once on top we looked to the south and said:
"Hmmm. This doesn't look to be the true summit. The
summit to the south looks higher." So we rappelled off the
north summit and scrambled the ridge to the southern summit.
(You can see both north and south summits in the Evans picture
above). After toasting Tom with the last of our water,
some dirty glacier water, we retraced our route to the Bomber
Shelter. There we met my wife Tammy and Bill's wife Wendy.
After staying the night we hiked out the next day. This
panoramic picture I took from Lynx Peak in 2009 shows the area
leading up to Mt. Besh. Here are some pictures from this
1993 trip, the first ascent of Mt. Besh ...
North summit of
On north summit, south summit of Mt.
Besh to Bill Spencer's left.
Greg rappels off the north summit.
Bill on the ridge between the north
and south summits.
Greg on the
ridge between the north and south summits.
Group shot on the south summit.
Bill toasts Tom Besh with a swig of
Greg's Saucony Jazz 4000s that he
bought the day before at REI. They didn't last a day.
Hiking back to
the Bomber Hut (this is the glacier where the Evans picture
above was taken).
We met Tammy, Wendy and our dogs at
the Bomber Hut. By coincidence, Roger and Mary Kemppel
were there too.
Visiting the site of the 1957
B-29 crash. The remains were not as spread-out and picked
over as they are today.
You could climb into the tail gunner
space back then.
When the bomber
crashed in 1957, the nose cone separated and was not found for
many years. 1993 was one of the first years, due to low
snow, that the nose cone was visible. Of course, it is
always visible now. In 1993 I found the control pedals, a
clipboard and a parachute in the nose cone debris. I left
it these items there because they are historical artifacts.
Unfortunately, many people over the years have not abided by
Fraetre takes a nap on a cozy rock
Mid November 2016:
Nordic Skating Is More Fun With The Right Pole Tips
The type of pole tip you use
Nordic skating can be a factor in how much fun you have on the
ice. If you use ski pole tips that don't stay firmly
planted in the ice, your poles will pop out of the ice too soon
and you will lose a lot of poling power. Of course, dull
or missing pole tips can cause this. But the biggest
factor is often the shape of the pole ferrule and tip.
Take Swix ski pole baskets for example (as
shown in these pictures). Older Swix ski pole baskets have
a long and pointed carbide tip. These are great for
getting bomber purchase on ice. They firmly plant into the
ice and stay planted as you move forward and the angle of the
pole to the ice decreases.
Some newer Swix baskets are a different
story. They have a short, wide and blunt tip. The
plastic of the pole ferrule keeps the tip from going far enough
into the ice. And when the pole is rolled forward, the
ferrule plastic causes the tip to be leveraged out of the ice.
When you are pushing on the pole as the tip leverages out of the
ice ... the pole slips out on you. The result of this
annoying pole slip is a loss of power (and you swearing under
your breath at your choice of poles).
So check your poles before you go Nordic
skating again. If you have blunt and short tips on the
poles, maybe switch them out for old-school baskets that have
some ski tips with bite. Or just use your roller skiing
poles or ferrules for your Nordic skating.
The above three
pictures show good ski pole ice tips on the right, not-so-good
ice tips on the left.
Mid November 2016:
A Skiing-Related Project Rooted In Optimism
I had a bunch of scrap metal
at our house. So I decided to use a some of it to make a
new trail drag for the trails out at our cabin. I got the
design for this simple trail drag from pictures on the Internet
of a similar one a guy in Canada had built. But the big
question is when (or if) I get to use this trail drag this
winter? As I worked on this project in bare hands in
mid-November, in 48 degree F temps on the green grass of our
yard ... I had the feeling that it might be a while before this
trail drag sees any use. But I'm a skier that has not had
the optimism melted out of me ... yet. So hopefully it
won't be long until this trail drag is smoothing some remote
Susitna Valley ski trails.
December update (see
pictures below): I took the trail drag I made for it's
first grooming run. Worked out okay. I'm glad I used
chain for the hitch. It's really easy to hook-up and
unhook from the drag compared to a stiff hitch. Plus, you
can change the length of chain to adjust the pressure on the
front of the drag. I'm using chain link fencing on the
back of the drag to smooth the trail, sift snow to fill in
depressions and leave some texture. Yes, I could have used
plastic and made a corduroy finish. But I've used chain
link before (for mushing trail drags) and it does an adequate
job. However, I think I will shorten the amount of chain
link on this drag. Is this a perfect trail grooming drag?
No. There is no such thing as a perfect grooming device.
If you are serious, you need a quiver of drags, rollers and
tillers. But this is a cheap option that covers a wide
range of grooming conditions. And ... I would rather ski
than groom, so this is good enough for me.
UAA and UAF ski teams sure had their share of drama this fall.
Thankfully it turned out well for the ski teams, and they still
exist. You can read all about it
pretty involved in this issue (as did over 5000 other believers
in UA skiing). I currently don’t know any UAA or UAF skiers,
and I don’t know the coaches. But my past is filled with UA
skiing connections, especially with past coaches – the late Tom Besh and
Bill Spencer in particular. I even skied on a “UAF ski team”.
I used quotes there because I’m joking a bit. The ski team was
three UAF skiers and me (a guy from Anchorage and 10 years older
than them) on a relay team at US Nationals (in 1990 when they
still had national relay championships). That was fun.
UA athletic budget fiasco, a UAA ski team alum and friend called
me. This guy, that came to UAA from Finland, was in disbelief
as to how anyone could consider cutting skiing at a university
in Alaska. Here is a recap of the conversation that I had with
him. I believe it likely tells the big picture. I am not
using my friend's real name here, I will use the name “Norman”
“So Kelley, what is the deal? How can anyone cut skiing at UAA
and UAF? This is Alaska! This is the most northerly state and
the state that is most connected to skiing. What the f*ck is
President Johnsen thinking? Why can’t he cut budgets on all
sports, and not kill skiing?”
I think the deal is that Alaska is much different than where you
come from. Many people in Alaska think about life and where
they live much differently than people in Finland.
Finland an administrator of a sports academy is a Finn. He or
she is born in Finland. Has lived all their life in Finland.
And will die in Finland. Finns know that cross country skiing
is. And if they haven’t skied themselves, they know many that
do ski. Skiing is part of every Finn’s heritage and culture.
is much different than Finland. The state’s wealth of oil has
created an economic boom for the last 30 years, until now.
Because of this, many people from all over the US have migrated
to Alaska. They came here for jobs, like state university
administrator jobs for example, that pay much more than where
they came from. They came here for the money and are only here
until they can retire and go back to where they came from. They
are not connected to Alaska. Many don’t care much about
Alaska. Many of these people don’t ski or care anything about
skiing. Neither Alaska nor skiing has a place in their souls.
has a revolving door of people. Finland does not have a
revolving door. Johnsen is likely one of these people that came
here through the revolving door, and soon he will be gone. It
doesn’t matter to him what he does. Because he likely will not
have to face Alaskans for much longer.”
sense. You think like a Finn!"
Early November 2016:
Cross Country Skiing Gloves At Home Depot - $5 to $8 A Pair
Because it is warm much more
often than it is cold in Southcentral Alaska these days, you can
spend a lot of time wearing thin gloves. When it is
warmish (above 20 F.), I always ski in medium-duty work gloves
that you can get at hardware stores. They work fine and
are cheap, so you don't fret wearing them out. I also use
them for roller skiing, mountain biking, bushwhacking in the
mountains and for working in the woods.
If you want to stock up on warm-weather
ski/work gloves ... Home Depot has a good sale going on now.
You can buy three-packs of Husky work gloves and the cost per
pair of gloves is $5 for light duty, $7 for medium duty and $8
for heavy duty. Hard to beat those prices. I think
the medium duty are the most versatile. The light duty
ones would make for decent race gloves, especially for high
school racers. Regarding high school racers, these gloves
actually look pretty cool and don't say "Mechanix" on them.
So you can't really tell that they are work gloves.
Price is for a 3-pack, i.e. 3 PAIRS of
gloves. Picture above taken at Abbot Road Home Depot store in
Early November 2016:
Skiers Tell Stories Of North America's Largest Earthquake
was bending over tying my long thong up at the bottom of the
rope tow just above the Bear Paws Lodge at Arctic Valley when
the earthquake hit. I distinctly remember my first thought, that
I was getting sick and dizzy, but then the sound hit. I was skiing
with my sisterTory
with one of Arctic Valley Ski RatsCy
was down in the lodge. When I hit the ground I was paralyzed as
the ground swelled up and down. I remember looking up the valley
towards the civilian side ofArctic
Valley Ski Area seeing the
"waves" roll down towards all of us lying on the ground, The
wave would hit, lift us into the air then drop us into the
trough - very nasty and unnerving. I also remember the rumble
from deep in the earth like boulders grinding together - the
lift towers and light poles were swaying drastically, the cable
fell off the poem lift and very vaguely I remember some folks
screaming with all that movement. It lasted about five minutes
and then stopped leaving us all stunned.
up off the snow someone said Anchorage must have been hit by a
nuclear bomb, but we looked down the valley towards town which
you could just nearly make out and all was well - AND there were
no missiles on their launchers at the Nike base above Arcitic
Valley - and no jets taking off fromJoint
Base Elmendorf-Richardson JBER (official)-
so that was out and then someone said it must be an Earthquake -
a big one. Communications were out with Ft. Rich and Anchorage
(land lines and they were all down - I think they had radio
communication but it was out as well). So, we sorted it out and
they loaded us on the shuttle busses to send us back down to the
Field House. It was my most memorable ski moment - something I
will never forget.
Several people mentioned the deuce-and-a-half trucks that
transported us up to the Ski Bowl. I have two especially vivid
memories relating to them. One was toward the end of 1963 or
perhaps the beginning of 1964. Someone sitting in the back of
the truck had a transistor radio and I heard the Beatles for the
first time as we waited in front of the field house to leave.
They were singing, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and I remember
someone saying they were English. We didn't believe it because
they didn't have English accents when singing.
I can pinpoint the exact time of my other memory, and again it
was sitting in a deuce-and-a-half in front of the field house on
Fort Richardson. It was 5:36pm on March 27, 1964 – Good Friday.
The truck started shaking violently, and I thought a group of
people were outside jostling it as a prank. I got to the opening
to look out, lost my balance and fell to the ground. Landing on
my back, I looked up at the field house swaying back and forth
above me. Long story short, after 4 and a half minutes of
struggling just to remain standing during the great earthquake,
most of us got back in the truck and went up to the Ski Bowl!
Once we arrived it was clear something big had happened.
Naturally there was no skiing, and someone made the command
decision that the truck was grounded because there could be
crevasses in the roads. The plan was for all of us to remain
safely in the lodge overnight. Employing the same cloudy
thinking that got us up there after the earthquake, a group of
us young knuckleheads decided to sneak off and ski down the road
since there was snow. So in the dark we took off and managed to
do some skiing after all.
Once we got to the golf club we took off our skis and began the
very long walk home. Being teens we were afraid of getting a DR
(delinquency report) by going through the main gate so late at
night, so we “snuck” sneaked on post through the woods. I think
I got home sometime before midnight.
I was checking our backyard
game camera and found these images. They are of a bull
moose that has a case of "sleigh hoof". You see this
sometimes in moose, it's as if their hooves are turning into
small skis. These elongated and curved hooves are not a
good deal for them. It's
caused by a copper deficiency
that makes their hooves grow faster than they can be worn down.
Late October 2016:
A Haystack of Needles
Everyone's heard the
expression "needle in a haystack". But you rarely hear the
twist of this saying, a "haystack of needles." Well,
recently Anchorage skiers at the Hillside Trails have been
skiing past a "haystack of needles" of sorts. One of the
few tamarack trees along the ski trail underwent quite the
massive shed of its needles for the winter.
21 October 2016:
First Ski-able Snowfall in Anchorage. Skiers Excited.
Mid October 2016:
Case For October Escapes From Alaska
It took me a while to figure
this out (like 30 years), but October is often a good time to
leave Alaska. The fun Alaskan summer stuff is wrapped up,
the days are getting shorter (and darker and often wetter) and
there usually isn't ski-able snow yet. I remember older
skiers telling me October is a good time for road trips to the
Southwest US. They were right. My wife and I went a
couple of years ago. And we went again this year.
The draw? Cool geology for hiking/running/biking/etc.
Slickrock and canyons in particular. It takes a bit to
learn to deal with (i.e. avoid) the people and heat. But
once you get it a bit dialed in ... it sure is a good time.
And if your are lucky, you will get back to Alaska just before
it snows. Here are a few pictures from this year in UT, AZ
Off-trail canyon exploring
Checking out Anasazi Indian ruins.
squirrel. These cool little guys only live in a 20x40
mile area of ponderosa pines on the Kaibab Plateau north of the
Desert bighorn sheep
I though this was interesting.
A 150(?) year old tree supporting a 150 million year old
petrified log. Old wood contacting new wood with an age
difference factor of one million (approx). Escalante, UT.
I'm guessing the Owachomo Bridge in
Utah's Natural Bridges National Monument has never been cross
country skied? With snow, it would be doable, the top is
flat and accessible. Won't be me skiing it though.
I took a break from hiking and
running and tried birding for the first time. I went
looking for the San Rafael Desert Duck. But I didn't see a
single bird. I guess the ducks blend in with the rocks
Alaska's Governor Walker took half
of our Permanent Fund Dividend this year. So that drove
some Alaskans to Las Vegas to try and recoup our $1000 loss.
I turned $20 into $32! Enough net winnings to buy a tin of
Swix Extra Blue ski wax. But I spent it on pizza.
First time to the Strip. Fun.
Signs Seen In The Southwest
That I Haven't Seen In Alaska, Yet
I haven't seen a "no drones" sign in
AK yet. I get it, drones in the hands of dumb-asses are
obnoxious. But I'm thinking this sign may prove ironic
over time. I would guess that 10 years from now it will be
common practice for SAR in national and state parks to use
drones to find people in distress and assess the situation
before sending humans to the scene.
I haven't heard of "cairn police" in
Alaska yet. Cairns can be very helpful in marking trails.
So not all "stacked rocks" are bad. But my wife and I had
a running joke when we saw a cairn trail marker. "Hey!
Give me Ranger Rick's number! I have to text him about
these stacked rocks! He needs to get here FAST and knock
I hope Alaska doesn't see signs like
this for a very long time.
We're not in Alaska anymore.
Early October 2016:
LowellThomas Jr. Leaves Us
Lowell Thomas Sr. (left) and Lowell
Thomas Jr. (center) skiing at Tuckerman's Ravine in 1936.
Photo credit: Winston Pote.
Recently skier and long time
Alaskan resident Lowell Thomas Jr. passed away. Son of
famous pioneering news broadcaster Lowell Thomas Sr., Lowell Jr.
was once the Lieutenant Governor of Alaska, operated Talkeetna
Air Taxi for many years, was a world traveler and a
philanthropist. Lowell was a generous supporter of Alaskan
cross country skiing.
I knew Lowell, and his wife
Tay, through their son and daughter. I was roommates with
his son at Dartmouth College, where his daughter also went to
school. All three of use were on the ski team.
Lowell's son once introduced me to a girl that was on the Dimond
High School ski team with him. I've been married to that
girl for over 30 years now. So I owe the Thomas family a
big thanks for that.
When I first moved to Alaska
in 1981, Lowell nabbed me to help him deliver supplies to a
trapper's camp in the Alaska Range, south of Rohn. I flew
out with Lowell, where he dropped me off with a big pile of
boxes and equipment. I would ski to the trapper's cabin,
get the snowmobile there and then ferry the supplies to the
cabin. Meanwhile Lowell would go back to Anchorage and get
the second load. This was my first time in the Alaskan
bush, and I can remember Lowell's words clearly as he got in the
plane to take off. "I'll be back in a few hours. But
this is Alaska, so it could be two weeks."
In the mid-80's Lowell flew
me in to the Kahiltna Glacier for the start of a Mt. McKinley/
Denali climb. After the trip, Lowell flew me out. It
was fun to sit next to Lowell and see the world of his Talkeetna Air Taxi operation.
(Side story) And thanks to Lowell's Talkeetna Air Taxi, I became
a dentist (I'm joking). A climbing trip partner lost a
filling while eating an apple an hour before we were supposed to
fly into the Alaska Range. I rummaged around in Lowell's
first aid kit and found a couple tubes of emergency dental
filling compounds. I mixed the goop together and applied
it to my friends tooth. Six months later I saw him out
skiing at Kincaid and asked if he got the filling replaced.
His response was: "Damn! I forgot I still had your dental work
in my mouth!"
Lots of good things have been
written about Lowell. As there should be, because he
was a genuinely wonderful person and his wife Tay was too.
But one important thing has been said too infrequently about
him. And that is: Lowell was a skier. Skiing was
important to him and a passion of his. A note he left in
the Whiteout Glacier cabin log book in 1978 (see below) says it
all, in my opinion. After spending time in Juneau being a
politician, when he gets free of that - he hops in his plane,
flies to the Whiteout Glacier and cruises around on his cross
country skis. Not many politicians like that these days.
Lowell will be missed by many.