Monday, March 30, 2009

A non-volcano related post...sort of

Despite there being a 10,000 foot volcano throwing ash 12 miles into the atmosphere only 60 miles from my front steps, another particulate has been falling out of the sky these past few weeks, one that's easier on the lungs and the mind.
Though I've been dealing with the volcano everyday, through my coverage of the volcano, trying my hand at eruption prediction just to make daily everyday decisions or losing sleep at what appears to be a general ineptitude ( on the state's part in handling the situation at the Drift River; life is managing to go on, even on the weekends.
After weeks of dodgy conditions in Turnagain and Summit Pass, the snow pack has started to recover from our hellacious January hurricane followed by a windy February, though avi concerns are still pretty high, especially now with ash mixxing in.
I'm also told that this is a bad snow year.
Obviously the folks that say things like this to me aren't gaining much traction.
There's a 112 inch base at the crest of Turnagain pass (1,000') as of Monday evening. Comparatively, back east, killington is advertising a 38 inch base one week after what is typically the climax of the eastern seaboard's maximum winter snowpack.
Don't forget either, that Killington offers one of the most extensive snowmaking operations on any mountain the world. Those 38" are anything but all natural.
I can say that I remember more than a few winters of old back east where the total season snow fall at 1,000 feet above sea level didn't make it much into the triple digits, let alone the compressed base.
This is all to say, that maybe things aren't phenomenal here this year, but I can't tell.

Since my life, and last two posts have been focused on the volcano, here's photos from March 20, 21, and 28.

I caught up with a few local cen-pen tele skiers two Friday's ago to hit my favorite hill in Turnagain, Lipps.

Here's two views of Pete's North, the mountain I skied the next day with Ethan and Josh, taken from Lipps.

March 23 cover photo

Saturday, March 21; "Pete's North," Turnagain Pass:

A view of Lipps from Pete's North

This is an awkward shot from an awkward situation. The thin black line stretching off the crest of this windlip is Ethan's P-cord we were going to use to try and cut off an over hanging wind lip. A well intentioned idea, but our anchor, the head of Ethan's shovel, became impaled in the crusty lip. For a few minutes it looked like that might be the last the shovel would be seen or heard of as no one wanted to go under the lip nor walk too far out on it to get some upward pressure. Eventually it did pop back out, I'll credit a guy who knows a thing or two about getting lures unsnagged off of rocky river bottoms with that feat, and we decided to forgo the avalanche exercise.

Small glacier

A costly weekend, I broke a toe strap on one of my bindings, but more importantly, ended this pair of sunglasses reign over my head and face. Sunglasses, unlike other pieces of gear, generally make it for every trip, whether its skate skiing after work (these were interchangeables so I wore them with clear lenses at night), everyday road rides, or epic unforgetable adventures on skis, boards, bikes, boots boats etc etc at any time of the year. They're the one piece of gear that's always there, for every season, for every sport, and they've seen almost every sight that I have.
I was actually really let down.
This was my second pair of Coyote Phantoms, and for the reasonable price of $40, they've survived an incredible amount of adventure and bashing around for the last two seasons. I had a pair before this one as well, but those were set atop a car and not removed before hitting the road one day.
Of course, a good thing never lasts, and Coyote no longer makes this model.
Saturday, March 28; "Pete's North," Turnagain Pass
Snow conditions were buttery

Powder conservation. Pete's North has a limited offering of skiable terrain, especially when avalanche concerns are as high as they were Saturday. Ethan, Josh and I split the mountain with another group of three, keeping our turns as tight to each other's as we could while still each getting a healthy serving of fluffy fresh. The tight pattern was visible from all the way back down at the trail head and we definitely maximized the number of runs we could all get out of the mountain.


Oh crap

After getting slammed with a projectile snowbank, my lense got water on it, and picture taking was pretty much done with for the rest of the day. Worth it for this shot though.

These two moments of glory were at least sort of captured as Josh (above) and Ethan hucked a small cliff.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wednesday UPDATE: Volcanic Destruction

Mt. Redoubt's series of explosions Sunday and Monday melted a large portion of its glacier clad summit, flushing millions of gallons of water down the Drift River. Total obliteration ensued.
Scott and I chartered a plane with a news outlet from Anchorage and flew over to the west side of the Cook Inlet to take a look at the Drift River Terminal, an oil storage facility at the mouth of the river on the lonely coastline.
I'll let the photos do the talking in this post, to read more visit the Clarion.

Here's a photos of the river mouth taken when I flew out there in February.

Early Monday morning the intense heat of Redoubts first five eruptions melted parts of the Drift Glacier sending it cascading out of the mountains and through the valley below.

The wall of mud, boulders, logs, volcanic debris and glacial melts charged out into the river’s flood plain at a flow rate that has yet to be calculated but could put the Mississippi River to shame.

Literal mountains of mud and ice were sloshed up on either side of the raging river that scoured away everything on the valley floor.

The oil terminal is a rectangle of order amidst a river of chaos. The black strip (click lower image to enlarge) perpendicular to the storage tanks is the former runway. It is now buried several feet deep in mud.

The next four pictures of the facility are from a press release issued by Cook Inlet Pipe Line Co. I was unable to take any photos while we flew over the facility as I was taking notes and trying to lock in the imagery for the story.Mud has just begun to overtake the levees built up around the facility.

Not all areas of the compound were as affected. The runway undoubtedly took it the worst, but unfortunately I don't have any pics from that.

Over 6 million gallons of Cook Inlet crude, or two thirds the amount spilled by the Exxon-Valdez on the other side of the peninsula twenty years ago Tuesday, is being stored in two tanks at the DRT right now. Three of the facility's seven tanks are out of commission and not considered a risk. The oil is being kept in the two selected tanks to keep them grounded should the levees fail. Environmental groups are calling on CIPL to get a tanker to the area and remove the remaining oil. Meanwhile scientists at AVO are saying future eruptions could cause more flooding. With the channel of the river now running up against one side of the earthen levee and mud spilling over in other locations, the pieces for a potential catastrophe all seem like they’re in place. Then again, perhaps even if the walls come down, the tanks will stay put and hold the toxic oil back.
I hope that’s not going to be on the test.

Here's photos from the rest of the flight.

This is another oil storage facility farther north, I think Trading Bay, but I may be wrong.

Pipeline contruction

Huge frozen waterfall cascading into the Drift Valley from Double Glacier

Back in Kenai: