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Alaska Performance Backcountry Skiing Photos and Videos
2008/2009

by: Tim Kelley

Oct - Dec Jan - Feb Mar - Apr May - Jun Summer

One Last Ski In The Sound

Prince William Sound - June 25, 2009: Above: Midnight at Perry Island.  Below: Skiing on Culross Island.

Skiing up from Culross Bay.  Ski-able snow started at 200 feet above sea level. There were a few places where snow was a bit skimpy. Small ponds on the ridge had frozen over the night before ... ... so the freeze made for some nice summer crust snow.
Summer sucks.  But as long as you can get some on-snow time ... you can suffer though it! I like having my wife along to protect me from bears! My wife has been getting pretty fast at kayaking ... ... so to keep up I installed a turbo booster on my kayak.  ;-)
 
Map of where Culross and Perry Islands are located in Prince William Sound.   This short video will give you an idea of what summer xc skiing is like in Prince William Sound.
 

Some Non-Skiing Summer Shots
Talkeetna Mountains
  Above is an "ash line".  Volcanic ash was washed down a snowbank by rain to form this deposit.  And then the snowbank melted away. This is a picture of a small whirlpool where water in a mountain tarn was draining through a boulder field.  You can see my reflection near the top of the whirlpool.  Click here to view a video of this whirlpool. Mining shack ruins.  In the distance is Fairangel Pass in the  Talkeenta Mountains.  
Purches Creek drainage as seen from Fairangel Pass in late June 2009.  Fresh snow.
 
Point Campbell to Fire Island Tidal Mud Flats Crossing

Anchorage - June 26, 2009: I read an article in the Anchorage Daily News about a group of Anchorage adventurers planning a hike to Fire Island and back - 7 miles across "treacherous" Cook Inlet mud flats.  This trip can be a little dicey because of the Cook Inlet mudflats, that have a dangerous notoriety, plus the 30 foot tides (fifth highest tides in the world if I'm not mistaken) that completely cover this stretch of mud during flood stage.  When the tide comes in the water level rises at a rate of about 1 inch per minute.  And the depth of the water goes way above the height of a human's head.  So you don't want to be stuck in the mud here when the tide is coming in, that's for sure.

Doing this trip had been on my list for too long, so I figured I would go and do the trip as a renegade hiker/ runner when the group was making the trek.  I figured it would likely be safer for my first time doing this trip to go with people that had done this crossing before.  This was a unique and fun jaunt, glad that I finally did it.  If others are thinking of doing this:  Know how to read tide tables.  Only go when there are extreme negative tides (-4 to -5 feet).  Know how to read tide tables.  And go with someone that has done this trip before.  Oh yeah - and know how to read tide tables.

GPS track The adventurers head out.  On the return this channel was mostly dry. Another renegade hiker, named Dennis, and I decided to head south and avoid the first water crossing. Quite the crew!  About 25 people and one dog.  Point Campbell is in the background.. The middle 70 percent of the trek was on firm mud.  Good hiking.
Near Fire Island it got muckier - about 6-8 inches of muck with hard footing underneath. The wade of the channel just before Fire Island was waist deep going out, ankle deep coming back.  Sand on bottom. Dennis on top of the Big Rock on Fire Island.  It took us an hour to hike across. The rest of the crew wade the last channel before the Fire Island beach.
 
Heading back.  A hovercraft was keeping a safety watch on the adventurers.   A guy named Chris and I ran back in 30 minutes.  Out on the mud flats you can see people hiking back.  The hovercraft is in the foreground.  Good trip, good bunch of hardy Alaskans.

When Skiing Turns Bad ... Explore!
Prince William Sound - June: We went out to ski in the Sound in perfect weather.  But during the night before we were to ski, the weather turned sour - fog and clouds down to 200 feet.  So - it was time to punt.  Instead of skiing we used the time to kayak, fish and explore places that were on our list to check out.  Here are some shots from the evening we arrived in the Sound and from exploring stuff in the Sound that you often don't realize is there.
Nellie Juan Glacier Lagoon ... an exceptionally unique and beautiful place.  Icebergs drift out, and some come back into, the lagoon with the change of  tides.
Derickson Bay and Nellie Juan Glacier Lagoon shots. The snow had just melted in some areas here and you could see remains of under-snow vole tunnels.
Tsunami-wrecked Barge

We were able to find the remains of a barge that was flipped and washed 100 yards up into the woods by the tsunami of the 1964 earthquake.  The last picture in the sequence below shows a scar on a tree made on Friday, March 27, 1964 when the barge got wedged against this tree.  This 8.4 on the Richter scale earthquake was the largest quake ever measured in North America.

Fish Trap Remnant

The first picture in the series below is significant to this year's 50th birthday of the State of Alaska.  One of the first laws the State of Alaska passed was the banning of fish traps.  Commercial fish traps consisted of weirs, nets and pens at the mouth of salmon streams that caught ALL salmon heading home to spawn.

Cable anchor for a fish trap. A floating fish trap in use. There was little federal oversight or management of commercial fishing when Alaska was a territory of the US.  And this helped fuel Alaskans' desire to become a state and to be able to manage their own fish resources.
An Old Cannery Hydro-Power Plant

I was a bit surprised to find this old hydro power plant that provided electricity to a nearby fish cannery.  So I scouted out the remains to see how it all used to work.  Here is a photo sequence that shows what I found ...

This is the dam at the end of the source lake. Water was diverted through wooden sluices above falls and into pipes. The pipes ran the water 300 feet (vertical) down to sea level. You could see that two types or pipes were used: metal and wooden with spiral metal hoops. At near sea level the pipelines fed into two pelton wheel generators.
Here you can see the water jet nozzle and the pelton wheel. The pelton wheel turned a large wheel with grooves for rubber belts. The rubber belts spun the generator which provided power for the cannery 1/4 mile away. The inside part of the generator. After water hit the pelton wheels it would exit out an effluent hole, seen in the distance in the above picture.
Fear ... frozen in time ?

This is the air intake on an oven door.  The oven door was lying in the tidal zone near a fish cannery that was destroyed by the 1964 earthquake.  Three caretakers that were living at this cannery perished when the tsunami hit.  I found the "expression" of these holes eerie.  They resemble a face filled with fear.  When the tsumani hit this cannery I would imagine that the last moments of those that died here would have shown faces filled with fear.  Perhaps these holes still show their fear ... frozen in time.

Note: Facts for the above post were taken from Jim and Nancy Lethcoe's "Cruising Guide to Prince William Sound".  A great book!  I purposely do not identify where historical artifacts are located.  Historical artifacts in the Chugach National Forest are protected by federal law and should not be disturbed.


Esther Island Ridge Skiing

Granite Bay, Esther Island, Prince William Sound - Early June: Granite Bay on Esther Island is a place my wife and I wanted to check out.  It's a beautiful bay on an island that is known for nice ridge hiking.  This time of year the island's ridges are also good for cruising around on cross country skis.

The red arrow shows where Granite Bay is. At the start of this outing I caught (and released unharmed) a pipefish.  This little guy is an Alaskan cousin of the seahorse. A nice day for hiking ... ... watching bears ...

 

... and skiing.
A 360 degree panoramic from an Esther Island ridge top.
Nice snow for turns.  It was corned summer snow that wasn't sun-cupped much yet.  There was a touch of volcanic ash ... but it wasn't bad. I'm going to have to work at being better at respecting the fragile environment of Prince William Sound.  Here I skied across some glacial-smoothed granite and left ruts in the rocks.  Whoops!!   So much for "leave no trace" skiing!!  ;-) Happy to get a good skiing fix in.  Now I won't be saying: "summer sucks and I wish it was winter "... for at least two or three days! Heading back to Granite Bay.

Uphill Kayaking
For good upper body aerobic workouts this summer - consider "uphill kayaking".  Head to a swift moving stream with most any kind of kayak and start paddling against the current (uphill).  After your arms are about to fall off, turn around and enjoy the cruise back to where you started.  Good locations near Anchorage for such kayak outings are Portage Creek, Placer River, Twentymile River, Eagle River and the Knik River.
Paddling up Portage Creek.  No breaks ... or you start moving backwards!  There are not many sports where you have to work so hard to go so slow. This was a brutal 6 1/2 hour uphill paddle to Carmen Lake in 2004.  Another long kayak day trip near Anchorage is the Knik Bridge to the Port of Anchorage paddle. You want to push it so you do this 31 mile trip before the 30 foot Cook Inlet tide turns. A fringe form of resistance kayakng is - Kayak Tugboating.  Here I am paddling against the current and pulling a 24 foot aluminum setnet skiff (with a beautiful woman as passenger).  I'm "saving the planet" by getting this boat to its destination without burning gas!  ;-)
 
Here is a short video that shows scenes from uphill kayaking on Portage Creek on a nice summer day in 2008. And above is another short video which shows some kayak tugboating (kayak pulling a raft) in Prince William Sound.
   
  And finally - another form of resistance kayaking is - Berg Herding.  Some boaters in Alaska like to anchor up and not have to worry about ice bergs drifting with the tide and banging into their boats.  So - they bring along "berg herders" like me to herd the icebergs away from their boats.  All my dairy cow herding experience as a kid has helped me become a pretty good berg herder.  "Come on icy girl, let's go ... git, git, git !!"  

Arctic Running
Prudhoe Bay - Early May: Skiing at the Alaskan North Slope oil fields is not allowed, but on days when the weather is safe you can run there (providing you first check in with security, carry a radio phone and don't run on the busy roads).  Seems like you don't see many pictures of folks running on the North Slope, so here are a few shots that show what a run is like on a nice day in May in Prudhoe Bay ...

  On a few runs I saw some of Alaska's coolest beasts - musk oxen.  They were on the other side of some large pipelines and a long ways away (this is a telephoto shot).  There was a small herd of about 16 of them that spent several days eating and sleeping near the main camp.  Grizzly bears are known to feed on musk ox calves.  A security guard told me that they recently found remains of a grizzly that had been charged and stomped to death by musk oxen.  So the bear vs oxen struggle is not always one-sided.  

Skiing For Furniture
Okay, this is a skiing related topic that likely has never been posted on the web.  And that is - how to end up with furniture as a result of going on ski trips in the boonies.  When skiing in the backcountry of Alaska you can occasionally come across strange wood formations: burls, diamond willow and twisted branches and trees.  And in some cases you may look at it and say: "I could make a neat <fill in the blank> out of that!"  But before you take the next step, make sure you follow these rules:

1) Know WHO OWNS the property the wood item is on.  CONTACT THEM and get their PERMISSION to remove the wood.
2) Make sure the tree is DEAD.  Don't cut live trees.
3) Make sure you have a plan to USE ALL PARTS of the tree.  DON'T WASTE anything.

So with that said, here is a picture sequence of a dead burled spruce tree, killed by spruce bark beetles, that I found while skiing, salvaged and have been making various furniture items out of it.  In this case ... a bench:

 I had known of this burled spruce tree for many years.  But a year ago I skied by it and saw that spruce bark beetles had killed it.  So I decided to salvage it.

From the tree I set out to make two benches, two small tables and railing supports. After peeling the burled log, I made jigs so that I could scribe-fit glulam remnants as legs for a bench.  I drilled holes through the legs and fastened them with long lag bolts. The top of the bench was planed and sanded.  All cracks in the burl were filled with West Systems epoxy and then 6 layers of spar varnish was applied.  Only two more layers of varnish to go on the top of this bench and it will be done.  This is not a bench that you bump into and knock it over.  It weighs about 250 pounds!

Turns in the 'Hood
My Neighborhood - Early May: For years, skiers in my neighborhood have had a tradition of climbing up the mountain at the end of our valley the first weekend in May and skiing down "the gully".  Seems like they would do this rain or shine.  This year it was shine ... but with lots of volcanic ash.  I had never gone with them ... so this year I invited myself along to see what the scene was.  I relearned that I have some very cool neighbors.  Neighbor Will has turned into a fearless, studly, bad-ass freestyle shredder.  He made us old guys in the neighborhood look like ... old guys!  ;-(
Hiking up through volcanic ash. This usually is a nice snowfield to ski.  But not this year. Richard drops into the gulley first. Will ready for takeoff. Will launches.
Will had no problem shredding gooey volcanic ash slime. This volcanic ash slime is not a whole lot of fun to ski.  It can grab your skis and slam you down hard.  I wiped out once and got some gritty, snow-ash in my mouth.  It's like the stuff the dental hygienist uses to clean your teeth.  Times 10. Richard bashes alders on the way out. Will "stream skis" between alder patches. "The Gully"
A picture of me taken by neighbor Richard.  This shot was taken up high before the ash got thick.  Lower down it was close to impossible for me to turn on this gritty crud. Back in the neighborhood you could look up and see our tracks.  Even volcanic eruptions and ash fall can't put a stop to an Alaskan neighborhood skiing tradition!
Oct - Dec Jan - Feb Mar - Apr May - Jun Summer
Alaska Performance Backcountry Skiing 2008 Skiing Pictures
2007 Skiing Pictures
2006 Skiing Pictures
2005 Skiing Pictures

2004 Skiing Pictures