Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hospital shoot out

Two were left dead after a gunman opened fire at Central Peninsula Hospital this morning, shattering the pre-holiday aurora of a small Alaskan community. Two hospital employees were wounded during the shooting. One later died from his injuries, the second remains in stable but critical condition as of Wednesday afternoon. The gunman, a former hospital employee, was killed, likely as a result of gunshot wounds after police on the scene opened fire.
Though the incident lasted for less than a half-hour, the entire day, which was expected to be a quiet one at the office, was consumed with follow-ups and chasing down information as it trickled in from different sources. The 20 minutes or so between the time that we first learned of the incident as it began to unfold and listening to unconfirmed reports that bullets were flying were incredibly intense.

Read more about the incident, reactions and how the community responds in the coming days at the clarion's website.

Have a safe and happy holiday

Monday, November 24, 2008

Why I'm not leaving anytime soon

What a weekend. I don't know where to start. Bagging my first two birds at Fuller Lake on Thursday, blowing myself out in "too much snow" at Rainbow lake on the skinny skis Friday, maybe cutting my first knee deep backcountry Alaska lines in Turnagin Pass Saturday or eating those two birds Sunday evening and concluding that they were by far the best pieces of meat I have ever consumed, hands down.

Ahh just forget it and enjoy some pictures, I don't have the energy or the time now. I already posted pics from hunting.

Friday I went up to the Upper Russian Lake Trailhead at Cooper Lake hoping to do an xc ski. I got up to elevation to find 14-18 inches of untracked powder. My legs, still weary from bushwhacking and roaming Fuller Lakes the day before, were less than excited about sklogging all afternoon. I went a bit back down the road to Rainbow lake, where some snowmachiners had poached a track out to the lake. I thankfully mooched off their tracks for a while, skiing around the outskirts of the lake.

I decided I ought to take it easy and rest my legs up for Saturday. Back at the lodge, I made myself a cup of hot chocolate and fired up the iron. My shirts lay piled in a heap in the corner of my room, but out in the arctic entryway, the base of my board was getting some desperately needed heat treatment. The avalanche forecasts had settled a bit and I was heading to Turnagin Pass (turny) to get on the fat plank.

Saturday I awoke early to overcast skies. Around 11 I pulled into the roadside pull off below an area called Tincan. Over a dozen cars squeezed up against the guardrail, and a broken line of skiers and boarders trekked across the meadow into the trees. I'd come alone, but a short ways up I found myself hiking up with Josh, Ethan and Brian from Anchorage. The three were happy to let me tag along with them and show me what the area had to offer. I was super appreciative to say the least, as once above treeline, the up track split and I had no idea where to go. We skied the "trees" which was more like, clusters of trees in wide open space, but they offered protection and better visibility. I was estatic drooping into the dry fine powder, launching off a 4-5 foot windlip less than half way through my first run.
The clouds continually drifting through the pass made picture taking dismal, but check out the videos. Some other skiers finish out a run

Looking across the pass at the low cloud cover.

Josh whoops it up on lower Tincan
Skier chick drops a wind lip

I don't think I've ever taken pictures driving through Turnagin or Summit Pass on the Seward Highway. In fact, I've done a generally lousy job of taking any pictures on the road. Well, here's a few. Now you can pretend you're driving two of the most beautiful highways in the world through a polar solstice sunset.

This twin ridged peak with its cradle bowl is one of my favorite along the drive

The teal waters of Kenai Lake remain unfrozen

With only a month to go before we hit the solstice, the snow piling up, the weather generally cooperating and things going along well enough at work, I'm starting to find myself convinced, that this is a lifestyle I may adopt for more than just a swing around the sun...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Chasing bird

I come from a family that knows how to find fish, and get them out of the water through most of the year. When it comes to stalking land animals though, well, it took my parents over ten years of driving us around on the seldom traveled mountain roads of the Green Mountains in search of Vermont’s largest ungulate, the moose, before they finally found what they were looking for. It’s a good thing we weren’t hoping to have moose burger at any point during that period; I think the buns would have grown moldy.
Last week however, I decided it was about time I introduced myself to the age old tradition chasing bird.

True life in the back of the suby

I’ve seen fools hens, or spruce grouse, commonly on many of my hikes and rides. They’re escape plan, though perhaps effective against their natural predators, is simply to fly a short distance and freeze, making them easy targets. They’re an ideal beginner quarry.
Before entering the woods in search of my target however, I knew I better sit down with myself and have a little chat on where I should hunt, where I could hunt legally and most importantly perhaps, what I would do if I was so fortunate to take a bird.
So I dusted off that age old book of traditions that’s passed down from one generation of great hunters to the next and made myself comfortable for a spell with Google.
It took a good ten to fifteen studious minutes to browse through the state’s game management unit maps and associated regulations, bag limits and season periods.
I had to get up and take a stretch you might imagine, after such an exhaustive search, before sitting back down for another five, to go over the hen’s preferred habitats.
Of course, the hard part came when I had to leave Google. There are some things that these wondrous age old resources can’t teach you, and one of them is how to clean a bird. For that, I had to go out back and get my hands dirty, on the Youtube.
Boy, that was a really eye opener to say the least, but I was ready. The knowledge of my fathers, their fathers and all those who’d tread both the game path and the URL, had been transplanted to another generation in me.
You can imagine the emotions I felt, taking part in a tradition that runs as far back in my past as say, wearing lederhosen and eating bratwurst, and with a surname name like Petri, you know that’s deep.
Tears almost rolled down my cheeks as I purchased my first hunting license from my neighborhood hunting license sales clerk on the Fish and Game department’s website.

Skilak and a polychrome sky descending Fuller Lake

Ok, so hunting is no more a part of my heritage than West African drumming, but I decided last weekend to buck tradition and take a shot, sorry, couldn’t help it, at a new activity.
The day before I was organizing my side of the deep freezer packed with fish, when I came to the disturbing discovery that I had about six more halibut steaks left. I eat halibut every Sunday; it’s a nice break from my salmon diet, which, fear not, I still have plenty left. On that note, mom and pop, you better enjoy the rest of those precious white steaks!
While I’m not tiring of salmon, I enjoy the break once each week. As I piled my fish back in, I mulled over my options. I could try and trade some salmon with someone, but most people I know have plenty of it. It’s too cold to smoke anymore salmon and I don’t have any other game like moose or caribou to trade with, and if I did, that would solve my problem that would solve my problem wouldn’t it.
Suddenly the thought of those seemingly slow witted birds crossed my mind, and I realized what I had to do.
Later that afternoon Joe set me up with a .22 and a couple boxes of ammo. I brought the gun, out back, and started doing target practice. The site was pretty far off, but a half hour, a few clips and some fiddling gone by, I had it shooting square enough that I thought I could knock a hen off its roost.
The next morning I took off for the foot of the Kenai Mountains to try my luck. I’ll say that I didn’t have much, to make it short.
In five and a half hours of wandering among the spruce clad ridges I only flushed two birds. At the time I had shells with small game shot loaded in the clip. I realized immediately when I flushed two hens I would be better off with slugs.
The birds like to make short flights from one tree to another, hiding themselves in the dense cover around the trunks as soon as they can. Often they’re on the ground and never take flight at all. If you can keep your eye on them though, they’ll remain paralyzed for long enough to line up a shot.
By the time I’d reloaded, the two birds had moved down the ridge and I had no interest in chasing them back down.

This is certainly a new twist on an old activity, and as snow continues to accumulate, it will likely become something of a biathlon sport I’m looking forward to already.
Oh ya, some fresh bird will look good in the oven on Sundays too if I can manage!

I can manage. I had Thursday off in compensation for having to work the next one, so I decided to chase bird up near Fuller Lake. Being the middle of the week I wasn’t too worried about running into anyone. I took a hen and a Ptarmigan home. Those are stories for another post, but here are pictures.

Spruce Hen


Also, there was a descent quake quake tonight, shook the lodge pretty good.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Staying low

I stayed in the lowlands this weekend. I'll get into why on Thursday. I originally planned to hike Mystery Creek trail, a 4wd road open occasional that cuts across the foot of the Kenai mountains from the Sterling Highway to Chicaloon bay on the other side of Anchorage. I ended up going in the same direction starting at a large gravel pit just east of the trail head thinking I would wander towards the trail or bushwhack my way up into the the low wooded ridges leading into the Mystery hills. I ended up doing the later when I happened across a well used unmarked trail that led me to the edge of treeline before I finally turned about for daylight.

About a quarter mile from the highway I found these, very fresh (a few minutes to a few hours) very large griz tracks. I was less than excited about having this big fella wandering around.

Just past the pits I found this wide break that ran randomly out to the face of a cliff. It was easily wide enough for two or three vehicles to have passed through, but you can see even from this picture that it was littered with stumps, and has never been traversed without at least a good foot of snow to cover all the stumps. I'm not sure why this is here.

Standing below the base of the cliff is a veiw back out towards the break and the wide expanse of the Kenai flats.

A view just below treeline in a fire burn looking up towards the Mystery Hills

Looking through the trees of the low ridge towards Skilak Lake

My camera does a fine job washing out mountains immediately in front of it, let alone distant massifs. Strangely this is a great shot of Mt. Spur on the other side of Cook Inlet. Mt Spur, lies easterly of Mt Redoubt and Iliamna, and is volcanic like its sisters. It is visible from Kenai though I rarely see it this well.

With low light I wear orange shaded sunglasses. As a result, sunsets are often more intense in my view, you can see why.

Staying in the lowlands with their stunted coniferous forests and rolling ridges often reminded me of hiking in the high peaks of the Adirondacks, sans the views of the larger treeless summits above.

Low ridges

Jean Lake looking into the Kenai mountains

A different aspect of hideout hill, the highway and transmission lines are in the distance beyond.

Back at the car

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cutting it close

There are some days you just know you're lucky, and every now and than, you get a whole week. This was one of them.

Beautiful sunrises, sunsets, fresh snow on the trails, a full moon to light them at night, they all help. But today, I felt like I had a high powered belt sander come within skimming distance of the seat of my trousers.
A few times a week I lay out the Nation and World sections of the paper. These section are made up entirely of wire stories. I could easily fill the sections with stories on the economy each day, but often I try and alternate between what the AP classifies as "meltdown" stories, and other topics. It's easy to overlook that the Lower 48 is experiencing a recession. It's impact up here is hard to notice. Working for a paper that's part of a national corporate chain however, we are inescapably linked to the economic fate of the rest of the nation.
I realized Wednesday night, that today's newsroom staff meeting was going to be tough. Sure enough, not long after the pizzas arrived, the publisher came in, the newsroom door was shut, and phone calls were put on hold.
We lost one of our staff members today, as did every department at the paper. I was pretty sure that person was going to be me, and I didn't sleep real well last night because of that.

Nonetheless, it's a real blow, and everyone knows it. We lost a great reporter today. We're already bare bones, and will struggle more than ever to cover everything we wish to in our community.

By the day I fall more and more in love with this place, here's a excerpt from an email I sent to Leila Wednesday evening:

"Some days the sun just won't go away. Sunrise and sunset this time of year is always intense, but this morning was particularly striking getting me off to a smiling start. I just had my game on at work today. I'm writing a story about the volcano across the inlet, and the photographer and I are talking about trying to get the observatory to fly us up there too when they install new monitoring equipment. That would be amazing for so many reasons. One of my co-workers invited me to his home for thanks giving. That was such a nice gesture, I have to work that day, and I really wasn't looking forward to maybe having a turkey sandwich, but hopefully I'll make it. It snowed a half foot here in sterling yesterday, a little less in Soldotna, but the trails are skiing great again. Monday was real sketchy after a day of above freezing temps and light rain, the first of either since early October. There's still not quite enough snow for the groomer to set a classic track yet, but slowly one is forming on most the trails from skiers running over the same set. There's more skiers out at night too so it feels much safer. After seeing bear tracks for the second time Monday and being the only one in the system both times, I was really starting to get concerned. The moon is full, bright and the skys clear these days too. The trail is lit so well by it I can almost ski without my headlamp, and more than once have glanced over my shoulder when I thought I was about to be overtaken only to realize it was just the moon. Trying to plan for the weekend. Avalanche danger is still very high. I did spot some safer areas to board last weekend and I'm tempted to go back, but this place is so big, it could be a two day effort, where the first I just snowshoe out and make an up track. Doing so will take so much time and effort I'd be too beat to ride and probably pushing daylight, but could go back for seconds the next day. It's not so simple as it used to be back east that's for sure. I also learned my boss' husband bagged Denali last spring, and will attempt mt. redoubt a 10k' volcano (google image it, it's the centerpiece of my drive to work on clear mornings) across the inlet this spring. He and his group train every weekend, and I think I'd like to start going with them, I think I've spotted them a few times now."

Monday, November 10, 2008

Double stuff; Prince William delivers the white

Prince William delivered a good foot of the white stuff to the eastern peninsula last week. It's still bone dry in the peaks on this side, so I treked over to the Seward Highway on Friday.

Originally I thought I'd go to Turnagin Pass,an hour and a half toward Anchorage as they apparently have 25-30" at the highway, but when I got to the junction of the Sterling and Seward, I found 8-10" right there. I headed a few miles in the direction of Seward to the southern end of the Johnson Pass trail. The gradual climb made for an excellent first back country xc ski of the season. Down low it was still a bit boney, but as I climbed coverage increased. No one had been on the trail since mid-October, so I had the place totally untracked. The dry powder isn't too bad, but breaking trail is still breaking trail. The ski out was a real treat though

Small glacier

Lark Mtn

I was so happy with Friday's ski I decided almost immediately after that I was going to go back for more. This time I went into familiar territory across the street to Carter Lake. I knew the steep switch backing trail up wasn't going to have enough coverage for a safe descent, so I threw my skis on my pack and snowshoed up to the east end of the Crescent Lake Valley. Once the trail flattened out, I popped into the skis. Past Carter Lake I was on my own and it was back to 'sklogging.' The going was pretty slow but the skys were pure bluebird and the valley was absolutely silent. I hoped to make it to the still unfrozen shores of Crescent Lake, but I lost the trail after a bit and dead ended myself on a small rise blocked by some willows and a still unfrozen creek. With the sun at it's height of the day and the lake within a half mile, I decided to call it a day and enjoy the warmth.

The southern shoulder of Wrong Mtn

Carter Lake overlook. Ice fog hangs in the cold morning air over Crescent Lake.

Moose Peak

LV Ray Pk

The cold night air has been creating heavy hoar frost formations. The frost makes the snow pack extremely unstable when is sucks out its moisture and creates a thick layer of the crystaline 'rotten snow' atop it. I stayed in the valleys this weekend as massive slides were being triggered on almost any slope from but the slightest provocations. Even as I skied on the flat the weight of my skies would collapse the snow around me with loud 'whumpfs'.

The ghostly ice fog begins to drift out over Carter Lake

The shimmer of Crescent Lake is visible about a half mile distant. This is the height of the sun at mid day. We just went under the eight hour mark last week. This weekend the sun will rise just after nine and set a bit before 4:30. We're getting there now, but this weekend's weather made it hard to notice...or care

A different aspect of LV Ray