Sunday, November 29, 2009

In the last week several big storms have come through and dumped quite a bit of snow in the mountains. To illustrate, I suggest you watch the videos on the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center Web site. (LINK) You will be impressed, I promise.
Turnagain Pass has picked up close to 5 feet of new snow in the last week on top of a worthless base. Thirty inches of that fell in a 12 + hour window Thanksgiving night.
As is visible in the tests, it takes a fair amount of force to get a big slab to go, but, if it does, it'll go straight to the ground.
Suffice to say that while all the new snow is certainly welcome, combined with poor road conditions, I didn't make it to the mountains this weekend to enjoy any of the fresh stuff.
Depressingly, hardly any snow fell in the central peninsula over the course of the week. It actually rained on Monday ruining the great early season crust we had. Things came back on Wednesday night at least in Sterling when two inches of heavy wet snow came down making for a great night ski in white out conditions on the Moose River.
The Thanksgiving storm the next night dropped 4-5 inches in Sterling, a little less in Soldotna, meaning open season on skate skiing was out, but not leaving quite enough to groom the trails. I did a nice classic ski on Headquarters Lake with Kjell; my hipflexors weren't too impressed, but I was reminded I can't forget the "other" technique.
Anyway that's sort of where things are at. The fresh snow compressed enough to make it possible to skate ski Headquarters lake on Saturday even without grooming, but it snowed another two inches in Sterling today so my new favorite destination, the Moose, remains nothing but a powdery tip catching slog.
The trails, though thin, have been rolled out, and once I get a new pair of bindings on my rock skis perhaps they'll be skiable.
I have to say I feel a little bitter towards the Kenai gods right now.
All the same, I suppose I should be thankful for what I've got, the lake skiing should continue to be descent.
The fact is, right now, the biggest two concerns in my life is a. where will I ski after work, and b. where will I ski or board this weekend?
Not bad.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Early season crust skiing

We still don't have much snow in the central pen, but the cold temps have set a hard layer of ice over the lakes and streams and the hoar frost that's built on top of the meager snow pack has made everything nice and sugary. It's kind of cool, there's no reason to go anywhere to ski since there's so many lakes in Sterling.
I went and did a four laps around Bottenintnin Lake (map) Friday just off the beginning of Skilak Rd. The 1 by half mile lake with little back bays made for an interesting circuit.

In one of the little corners of the lake I found the remains of a freshly killed rabbit. The first time I went by the rear legs and spine along with balls of fur were scattered about. Two hours later when I came back on my final lap and had my camera with me I skied over to the site and found something had been working on the bits and pieces while I skied. The sugar snow did a poor job holding prints though. Probably an ermine or something small and hardy.

Saturday I had a bunch of errands to do, but I still snuck out for an hour and a half of kick ass crust skiing on the Moose River (map). I felt kind of silly driving a mile and a half to the the boat launch, I could have walked to the confluence from camp in about the same time, but I didn't want to subject my ski boots to the hard river stones, nor my rear end to the chance of slipping on any glaciation.
The windy stream was really cool to ski. Once past the power lines the meandering buries your sense of direction and it starts to feel like you're totally out there. If you look at the map and follow the river upstream, I skied to about the point where it makes its first split around a very small island.
I started to ski through the area but recent overflow had weakend the channel ice and the sun was down at that point.
I hope I get a chance to go back up there when its not overrun by snowmachines, what a treat.
Oh ya, the sunset and temps up in the mid-teens was all OK too I guess.

This was the only open water I saw but it was enough to make me nervous. At that point the stream was only about as wide as a trail and there was no way to skate without pretty much being in the center.

Skate skiing the Moose. It's far from perfect I apologize. It's really rough in the beggining but hang in there, once you see the ski pole stick out front I get a hold of the camera and it gets better. Also, not to stroke my own ego but... watch my shadow go by early on, and note that I'm only skiing with one pole. I'm not even pushing things and its still a good clip. What did I say about my ego?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ferrets and fruit flies

There seems to have been a number of unwelcome house guests dropping by the lodge this fall.
It started with the aimless buzzing of a few lost gnats, or fruit flies, sometime in September.
The hapless bugs buzzed mostly around the kitchen, showing up almost on cue at meal time, particularly when salad or fresh broccoli was on the menu. Otherwise they lingered around the trash and reminded me to keep moving it out on a regular basis.
Then in mid-October their population blew up overnight.
Hundreds swarmed around the lodge.
Photo courtesy of
We went on a rampage, taking the trash out every day, dousing counter tops with chemicals after every meal, stowing anything even bagged and bottled food and condiments in the fridge, and killing hundreds a day.
In one night alone I left a partially full bottle of beer out and found perhaps one hundred of the pests drunkenly bobbing in it the next morning.
Soon the ceiling of the kitchen looked like a battle field with the carcasses of dozens smeared on the bright white paint.
Yet for all that I killed, the little bugs kept coming in force.
I tore open shelves looking for something, a forgotten piece of fruit or vegetable rancid, rotting and ripe for the eggs, but found nothing.
After two weeks of battle I was growing weary.
We had fruit fly infestations almost every fall in Vermont, but eventually we got rid of the food source -- a compost bucket -- and they were gone soon enough.
Here however, they continued to proliferate with seemingly no end and no source.
I grew fearful the bugs had found something rotting in a wall and this battle would never end.
Then one evening I noticed the giant bag of bird seed by the glass door.
I'd seen the bugs by the door, but that's what bugs do, hang out by windows and doors right?
I didn't even think they could breed in seeds anyways.
Curious though, I opened up the plastic bag.
A swarm of several dozen flew out the top immediately.
When I looked back down, the 25 pounds of black sunflower seeds seemed to be moving themselves as hundreds, if perhaps not a thousand flies began emerging from the seeds.
In a flash I was twisting the bag shut and running to the door before any more escaped.
At 20 degrees out that evening, I knew the bugs had enjoyed their last.
Since then, the survivors have steadily disappeared and the kitchen ceiling has been swiffered clean.
This morning however, a new guest showed his face.
Sitting at the kitchen bar eating my oatmeal and staring into a newspaper, I heard some rustling in the nearby cleaning closet.
When I looked up, a small white furry head was poking though the closet door peering at me.
For a second I stared confusedly back at it; when the white head's body slunk out the door and in a flip, turned back around and scurried back into the closet.
Photo courtesy of
"What the hell?" I murmured as spoonful of oatmeal spilled out of my jaw set agape.
For a second I thought we had an albino red squirrel in the house, but the black tipped tail belied this was an ermine.
The critter was probably preying on vermin under the lodge and had wandered up through a vent.
A few minutes later I heard a rustling again, this time from the two seat couch by the stairs.
There, the ermine peered at me from under the sofa.
This time I needed no direction.
I grabbed a broom and charged the little critter.
In a flash of white it was gone.
In a single bound the erimine could leap three or more times its body length.
There was no way I was going to catch this thing.
It later made a sprint in front of me at full speed across the the living room touching the ground perhaps three times before finding safety in the piles of junk and tools scattered about.
I bought a trap on the way to work, but since I got home this evening, I haven't seen my fuzzy ferret friend.
Hopefully for his own good, he found the door and won't be returning.

This week I've been skiing on Arc Lake after work since the trails don't have enough snow yet.
Temps have dipped as cold as -10 for the skis, obviously its been even colder in the mornings.
Anyhow, normally these temperatures would make skate skiing nearly impossible, but the crust ontop of the ice seems to hold enough moisture to make it more than possible as long as I'm layered up.
Lake skiing isn't the most fun, but it's been good for working on technique and meeting up with others.
It also makes for a unique photo opportunity.
I stopped by the lake tonight towards the end of the ski club's practice to take a few pictures using my camera's "starry night" feature.

Driving through Soldotna I shot a few more.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The temptation of trails covered in snow drew me north this weekend to the bright lights of Los Anchorage.
The word "covered" might be a bit much - there were still plenty of rocks and roots showing on the Hillside LINK trails of the big city - but they picked up a few more inches in the flurry of snowfall we got last week.
I also wanted to peruse the play it again sporting equipment store for some classic boots and maybe a pair of rock-skate skis.
I found both, though I'm not sure how I feel about the latter and may return them.
Anyhow, I didn't take any pics from the trails, they. despite only marginal coverage, are nice. Aside from being well lit, they afford nice views in one direction of the Chugach Mountains towering overhead, and long off vistas of the city, Knik Arm and Susitna Mountain.
In the slow bitter cold sunset on Friday I couldn't help but feel a bit jealous.

Discussion was had of going backcountry on Saturday, but coverage in the mountains looked poor when I drove through and a chat with a skier at the Tincan parking lot confirmed there wasn't much up there.
When Saturday dawned with temps hovering around zero the decision was fairly easily made that we'd pass, and I went for another ski on the Hillside.
The trip up was also nice to spend time with friends and get out of dodge for the weekend.

I stopped in T-pass on Friday to snap a few photos of coverage to share with Ethan and talk to anyone I saw at the lots.
Tincan proper, or Kickstep, I'm not sure. Center Ridge to the left, Sunburst to the left.

Angled shot of Sunburst, which looked halfway descent.


Cornbiscut and the upper reaches of Lips.

Turnagain Arm.
There's a saying about Anchor town that goes, "Anchorage, just 30-minutes from Alaska."
Heading out of town on the Seward Highway on Saturday.

Turnagain Arm.

Looking across Turnagain Arm at Hope and Resurrection Pass beyond that.
Cruise control in Summit Pass.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

First snow; waxing poetic

Despite my lamentations on Sunday, the snow finally arrived this week.It snowed a little Sunday night, I think just to spite me, and Wednesday a few inches came down in Kenai, less towards Soldotna and Sterling.
The forecast had actually called for a chance of rain Wednesday, so of course, I decided to run that morning, but by the storm's end early afternoon, there was enough to golf course ski.
A few more inches are supposedly in the works in the next day here too, so who knows.
Regardless, the trails are still too thin to groom, but Anchorage has picked up enough to get things moving and I'm pretty sure I'll be taking a trip north this weekend.
We’ll see, there’s a reason I don’t like talking plans on this blog, they change all the time.
In anticipation though, I've waxed my skis, and been reminded of what a tedious task that is.
The general rule is that skate skis need to be waxed for every three hours of use. Obviously a good wax job can make or break a ski outing. If a skier gets lazy and decides to push their bases and dry them out, they're going to end up working much harder on the trails.
The truth is though, I don't even totally understand what it is about waxing that makes skiing easier. I get that there's little pores in the bases, but talk of static, water adhesion or even friction just go over my head.
I do at least know that skiing is much easier when I have a fresh base with the correct wax for the snow on.
It's very similar in my mind to lubing the chain on a bike before a ride. The only difference is that when I don't lube the chain, usually the only downfall is that it doesn't take long to develop a "dry chain squeal."
Beyond that, it'd be hard to make the case that the riding gets any more difficult, unless the habit is chronic and the chain gets so dry it splits.
Anyhow, lubing a chain is an easy habit to keep, it takes all of two minutes to apply, cycle and wipe.
Waxing takes much longer.
It usually starts with another task, i.e., before doing some dishes I turn the thermostat up a few degrees and put my skis in the bathroom where the little room heats up to 90+ degrees with the door closed.
The warmth helps to expand the pores in the bases.
I have to set up a bench, lately an ironing board I secure three mounts to that hold the ski in place.
The ski waxing iron, with its thick base plate, needs a few minutes to warm up.
When I wax at the beginning of the week, I'll be waxing for two one-and a half-hour skis, so I look at the weather for the coming week and try and pick the wax that will work best over the next three days; get that wax, along with a scraper, groove pencil and brush out.
Finally it’s time to yank out the now warm skis.
I wax one ski at a time and it’s kind of slow and frustrating to drip the wax out in a zig zag pattern over the narrow skis.
A snowboard for example is a much bigger target to hit and fewere drippings end up on the floor
Smoothing it down with the iron and coating the ski evenly is about the easiest part of the whole thing though.
The waxed ski gets stuck outside where it can cool and harden while I work on the other.
By the time the second ski is coated, the first is cold and ready to be scrapped so the two skis trade places.
Scraping could be easy, however, my current set-up is less than adequate and I have trouble making long clean shaves.
The first few layers of wax come off in nice sheets, and I can sort of imagine the skis being smooth and cleaned underneath.
Then I start to realize there are streaks left along the way. This wax comes off with much more difficulty and soon the now fine dust like shavings on the scraper seem to rubbing themselves back into the base while I try and scrape.
At this point the feather-like strands of wax are also starting to litter the floor while some cling to my fingertips and clothes.
Eventually I decide the ski has been scraped clean and I'm probably gouging my base, and take the stiff nylon brush over it, buffing the ski from tip to tail.
The process repeats on a second ski.
Almost always it seems, I feel like I've scraped the second ski more than the first, and wonder if I'll have one ski that has too much wax on it dragging one leg down while the other glides along.
So far that's never been the case, but I can't shake this feeling while I wax.
If I’m racing, or planning a long ski, i.e. three hours or more, I’ll repeat the whole process with a second layer of wax.
Alas, I put the skis away, hopeful I won't hit the trail and find I'm anchored in place by some patch I've missed or a change in weather conditions.
Of course, I still have to fold up the bench and sweep up the mess before the shavings get tracked back into the lodge.
The whole ordeal eats up at least an hour, and while I'll get more proficient in the coming weeks, likely much quicker than I did last year, it's not really a satisfying process and often I just wish I could squirt a little lube on them and ski away.

Monday morning, first real snow of the year.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


I went up to Summit Pass on Saturday to check out the snow conditions and explore a mining road on the south side of Summit Creek.
I found the pass almost totally socked in with cloud cover and hardly an inch of crusty mush at the highway.
This winter is off to a depressing start. The first big storm of the season that was supposed to come through last week fizzled and the mountains are still bony. Down low, where I'd been skiing after work now for three weeks this time last year, the trails are bare. Justin and I went mountain biking on them on Friday afternoon and ripped around on the frozen solid ground. Even more depressing is that little to no precipitation is in the forecast for the coming week.
As the darkness rolls on, it's tough to not have something consistent to do outdoors.
Anyway, my hike on the mining trail came to an end rather quickly after I hit the third gate in only a mile. The final one I saw warned of cameras and no-trespassing, and while the road looked like no one had visited in some time, I didn't feel the need to stumble upon some remote meth lab.
I backtracked and bushwhacked over to Summit Creek Trail and started to climb up into the alpine valley.

After an hour and a half or so I entered a strange orb of visibility occasionally punctuated with a patch of blue overhead.

This was the view behind me. Most the hike I had a visibility of 30-40 ft.

Looking on to the pass over to East Creek drainage, the clouds were settled back in.

I stopped just below where I would normally turn off to the Tarn Bowl where Rachel, Mike and I camped in August. There was anywhere from an inch to knee deep drifts, and if I was desperate a few of the gullies would have been boardable, though there's a good chance I'd hit a few rocks on the way. Somewhere on the hike up was a freeze line and the snow became drier and a little nicer quality.
Back into the fog.

Down low, the clouds lifted a bit above the top of the pass.

Admittedly, the gray somber views weren't helped by my memories of the valley from earlier this summer. Photo Courtesy of R.S.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Bitter shade of blue

"The cabin's cold, night air black.
Just past seven and no sign of life.
Rise up from my bag
Ice wraps around me
Draws away warmth

Outside the moon is gone.
Frost crystals twinkle.
The stars overhead.
Frigid air bites my face
Nose puckers up,
5 to 10 degrees.
I need no thermometer, I have my own.

Warm food in my belly
Weak light on the lake
Warm water in a bowl
Sloshes to and fro

Step back outside
Past the lake
Howls and moans

Teeth barred to the cold sky above
Tongues quivering in harmony
Wolves cry out, a farewell bid
To another night of hunting.
Hair stiff on my neck
I listen enchanted

Flames flicker and wither
Light grows ever stronger
Pale mountain tops appear.
From clear skies above them
Burns a bitter shade of blue."

As we enter the darkest days of the year, something must wait for light. Before we turned our clocks back the sun wasn't rising until after 9:30 in the morning, meaning that activities that required daylight just had to wait. In the modern we pump daylight into our lives to burn off the dark, but in the rest of the world, life must wait for the sun to clear distant ridges. Sometimes its nice to fall back on those ways of old: to rise early, eat breakfast, take care of chores, and then sit and wait for the daylight.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Grouse, it's what's for dinner

I ate fresh grouse for dinner tonight, which can only mean one thing, I bagged some birds this weekend. I went two for four, not too bad. I could do better with a shotgun I'm sure, but the rifle works well enough and in the right situation seems to be more fun.
Temps were much colder than I expected them to get, people were few and far between, birds were plenty, what more could I ask for in a weekend? Here's some photos.

My camera has an awesome nightshot feature, wow.

Standing in the dim early morning light, the sun still yet to rise at 8:30, a pack of wolves howled on the far side of the lake. It's beautiful, and yet, every nerve in my body is tense.
All of maybe 10 degrees at 10:30 in the morning.

The 'commute' back to a grove where I'd hit a bird the day before.

Got waterfowl?