Sunday, February 28, 2010

Four-legged terrorist

If you spend anytime in the woods of Alaska you're bound to spend some quality time with its residents as well.
In these parts moose seem to run around in concentrations equal to the white-tail deer populations of the suburban east coast.
I realize that's probably a bit of an exaggeration, but they're certainly plentiful enough that conflicts abounds.
Some say that it's not a matter of "if" but "when" you will strike a moose on the highway.
That's not what I'm writing about tonight, but I've had no shortage of close calls with them on the road.
I've also had a couple good scares on skis, and I think the latter would be more terrifiying if I wasn't so zoned out.
With low snowfalls and mild temperatures this winter, it hasn't been too rough a season on the four-legged ungulates, but this is getting to the time of year when life sucks for them, and they don't like burning any extra calories they don't absolutely need too. Prompting them to do otherwise is a sure way to blow what's left of their fuses.
The trails offer a relatively safe refuge for moose with lots of browse growing along the edges and hard packed snow from grooming.
Many a night I've been going along to see in the distance a strange black spot my light simply couldn't pierce, only to suddenly have two illuminated orbs bobbing in the air about 5 feet of the ground.
That's always about the point I'll realize there's a 700 pound flesh roadblock ahead.
The Tsalteshi trails don't have many straight, nor flat sections, and it's easy to move in a moose in a hurry and never mean to.
Early last spring, skiing late one night after work, reveling in comfortable temps and daylight past 8 p.m., I came full tilt around a corner only to find that at the apex was the rump of a moose, who had tucked himself head first into the brush, with his butt sticking out.
For a brief nano-second I was in the cross hairs of a direct hind leg kick at point blank range, but by the time both I and the young moose realized what had happened I was already skiing away.
I let out a holy appraisal and skied on.
On my first ski of this season in November, second lap on the Hillside trails in Anchorage, I skied within 5 feet of a cow and a calf that were standing on the side of the trail in the twilight, bewildered by the hundreds of skiers that had suddenly invaded their forest.
A few weeks later back in Tsalteshi I tempted fate, barreling down one of the steeper hills that features a 90 degree turn at the bottom with a moose feeding on the outside of the corner.
You can imagine I couldn't make that turn close enough.
Friday I think I had the closest call yet though.
I was in lap two of three doing Tsalteshi Specials (15k death loops featuring all the climbs at their hardest) and starting to zone out on a trail called lynx.
There, skiers descend a steep and often icy hill that makes about a 180 degree turn to a flat, before climbing out again 50 yards later.

There's no way to see the bottom from above, and with not much for snow its hard to do anything but let it rip.
As I come around the bootm, dead center in the trail was a fairly large cow I've seen a few times in the past week or two.
I had maybe 25 feet to stop from the second I first saw the moose, but even with a full hockey stop, I closed the distance to less than 15 feet in a second.
Now I have a freaked out moose in front of me, riled by the sound of my chattering skis on the ice, with a hill behind me.
If that thing decided it had enough of these stupid stick footed two-legged pricks harassing it, well, that would have been the end of the story.
For a brief second we made eye contact as I steadied myself out, still not quite at a stop yet, and then she bolted.
The only two things I could have imagined that would have made it worse is that it could have happened at night, in which case my reaction might have been further or just ended with impact, or that I would have slipped out and slid on the ground even closer. Fortunately the moose at least had an easy out and definitely didn't feel trapped.
As the moose crashed through the brush I pointed my skis back down and let out a shrieky hoot, half exhilarated, half hoping to make the whole experience that much more terrifying for the moose.
Ahead, Justin and Orie, who had also nearly run into the moose, came to a stop thinking maybe someone had actually hit it.
Justin's pretty sure my shriek came before the moose left the trail...that's OK by me, it may have...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Spring time hoax

While the eastern seaboard has seen lot of winter this year, the west coast, specifically the northwest, as evidenced by the warm weather in Vancouver and BC, has seen more warm and wet.
Last weekend temperatures shot up into the low 50's, unheard of for February, and the rain poured down.
Our thin snowpack was reduced to mush. On Saturday temps were some comfortable, and the main roads so clear of ice and snow, that I decided to do a spring time freak triathlon. Starting at Skyview High, I did a 20 mile road ride out and back to Kasilof, hopped on the skis and did a horridly slow and strenuous (imagine trying to ski on lush grass) ski, followed by a mild 5k run.
The road ride was more pleasant than many that I enjoyed prior to sometime in mid-April of last year!
The air is cold again, and we even got a little fresh snow here last night, but temps appear ready to rebound by the beginning of next week, and I have a feeling this year's Tour of Anchorage could be a challenging one.
Anchorage has been getting tons of snow however, so hopefully the warm weather has not had the same affect as it has here.

Unlikely sights for this time of year.

The warm weather caused the river to break up.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

It's been a hard week and I've got little to show for it, sorry, nothing to post this evening.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Beach day

I was on the hunt for some A1 standalone art on Monday and I stopped by the beach in Kenai along the way for some hopefuls and less than hopefuls but still interesting nonetheless.

A grainy UFO image of an eagle perched about 150 yards offshore on a grounded 'berg.

The distant snowy Kenai Mountains.

The clear winner.

Shore birds launch from the surf.

Abstract 'berg art on the beach.

A moment of suspense as a casket shaped chuck of ice is thrown ashore.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Alaska State Masters Ski Championship

Not many pictures from this weekend, I was too busy skiing, then hurting. A two-day ski race was held at Tsalteshi this weekend. Saturday started with a 4X3 coed relay race. I skied a classic leg, the third time I've been on classic skis all year. I actually had a really good time and realized I miss classic skiing. Our team had a good time, but let's say we could have worked on our transitions a little better.
Sunday was a 15 and 30k race. The course was set-up to maximize the trail system's two grueling climbs to their fullest. Thanks to whom ever though that would be a good idea.
The meat for this blog is that I placed 9 of 14 with a time of 1:41, about 25 minutes behind the leaders.
Youch is the first reaction, but I'm very much OK with that placement. The two winner from the 30k are both top level athletes and way out of my class so I never had a chance there anyway.
I went in the the goal of wanting to place under two hours and to get a good work out. I achieved both.
My ski season has been pretty front loaded this year. I put in my first 30k ski wither the last weekend of November or first weekend of December and was consistently putting in a long ski every weekend until I left for the southwest, plus the usual after work skis. Then I disappeared for two weeks where I did almost no cardio, got back and got slammed with work allowing only one easy ski that week. Essentially I took three weeks off. When I got back my technique and my lungs felt it. While my after work skis have picked back up, I haven't been around on the weekends for the past three weeks thanks to phenomenally awesome snowboarding, so I haven't put in more than a 22-23k ski since New Years weekend.
Rolling into this weekend I actually ramped things up after work and did some pretty tough skis so my body go no rest. The classic ski Saturday pretty much buried my hip flexors in lactic.
So without further ado, a few pictures. I'm not going to post names here since I usually don't do first and last's on this site, but full results will be posted on the Tsalteshi Web site.

Poking holes in the snow on Saturday night setting out pin flags for the course.

Bill and Pat talk about damn snowmachine riding punks pulling their punk friends on snowboards behind them, or making jokes about getting old and forgetting stuff, I'm not sure which.

The only action shot I had a chance to get on Sunday.

The Tsalteshi beach. We had great weather.

Kjell keeps things on track and doles out prizes and trophies.

Winners from Saturday's relay.

Women's 15k

Tom won the men's 15k. Tom beat me by 2 seconds in the Homer Marathon last spring. He'll have to carry this trophy in that race this year.

Women's 30k

Men's 30k

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Tracking Pike

I spent the morning at the end of the Kenai Spur Highway in Nikiski with Scott from the paper and Rob from Fish and Game tracking radio tagged northern pike that have been illegally introduced into Stormy Lake.

View Stormy Lake in a larger map

Pike are non-native to this area but have been dumped into a number of river systems and lakes through Southcentral in the last few decades. Where ever they go they cause ecosystem destruction, eating up everything that fits down their gullet before turning on each other and leaving lakes devoid of piscatorial life or full of stunted cannibalistic pike.
This being one of the last bastions for the wild pacific salmon, the threat is not being taken lightly.
I don't want to give much more of the story away from here, so check Sunday's Clarion online or I'll post a link here when I post Sunday night.

As a kid my family would make a pilgrimage to Saranac Lake, NY area in early September each year to fish for pike and and large mouth bass in the Adirondacks. The onset of cold weather made the fish "snap," causing them to feed voraciously and strike more energetically with the dog-days of summer gone by. This is a reasonable size pike circa 1998.
Pike were one of my favorite target species. I never kept them, they were purely a sport fish. They had me hooked, sorry, both by their fierce looks and predatory habits. The more you thought like them, the better a chance you had at finding one.
They also make spectacular lunges at surface lures and will stalk spoons and spinners like underwater lions, waiting for the right trigger to tell them when to strike. My favorite pike story was the day one leapt out of the water when I jerked a lure out as it approached the boat. I was obviously unaware I had a follower. Feet from the stern, the fish nearly landed in the lap of my friend who had started to doze off.
That woke him up!

No pike were jumping in Stormy, the lake has a thick sheet of ice over it.

This screen mesh netting at the outlet of the lake is all that has stood between the pike of Stormy and the Swanson River since 2001. The Swanson is a noted rainbow and silver fishery.

Rob replaces the 12-volt battery at the stationary site which monitors the outlet to see if any of the tagged fish approach it. So far so good this year, but that probably has more to do with the thick ice keeping them out.

A map of the lake, divided into regions. When Rob finds a fish, he marks it's location to see where its moving from week to week.

Scott catches a lift back to the car. On the side of the machine, the antennae picks up beeps emitted by the fish so Rob can hone in on them. There's a lot of anglers out there who would probably love one of those. We were able to find most of the tagged fish in the few hours we joined Rob.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Low viz

A storm system moved through this weekend and dropped much needed fresh snow across the peninsula.
I met up with Jack and an Anchorage posse to make some stormy turns on a ridge south of Fresno Creek almost directly west of Raven's Ridge.
Not many pictures with so little to see. For a few more shots including one of yours truly check out Jack's post from the trip.

Click to enlarge.

View South Fresno in a larger map

Looking down the ridge we skinned up.

The little knoll part way up and Manitoba in the background.

E on the final climb.

Looking up the magical disappearing ridge we were skinning up.

In other news, a short subzero cold snap that rolled in Wednesday night left the river frozen by Friday morning.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


Looking at my pile of gear at the edge of the ridge, I realize how insignifigant it seems compared to the view beyond it.
It was a scene that made my gut flutter, and I quickly looked away from what appeared to be a 2,000 foot cliff, feet from where my splitboard poles and backpack lay.
It’s the view I saw last week on top of a windswept ridge in Summit Pass.
Really, it was not nearly as wild as it appeared.
The run below it was actually quite mellow compared to some of the slopes one could find on nearby peaks, but the drop of the cornice made it appear as though the valley floor was an express elevator ride away.
The backcountry demands much of those who spend time there, and one thing above all is perhaps the establishment of habit.
Through the week I monitor the weather, avalanche forecasts and trip reports on forums while talking with other skiers and riders about their forays.
On the morning before I go I enjoy the same hearty breakfast, pack my bag in the same order, etc etc.
It should come as no surprise than, that at the top of a ridge, I stick to a plan in preparation for the descent.
It’s a smart idea to stay organized in a place known for chaos, for blowing snow, howling winds and changing visibility.
I go through a process, throwing on layers to keep me warm, reassembling my board from two skis to one, popping a sweet in my mouth for a small reward of having earning a summit.
At the bottom I have a set of steps I go through as well.
At the bottom though, I don’t usually have a racing heart, driven by the unknown of what lies just feet away.
While my busy work of preparation keeps my mind preoccupied, in the back, a lingering feeling of anticipation grows.
I’ll go through my paces, and in about 10 minutes I’m standing, buckled in, backpack on, staring ahead.
This is what I worked so hard to do. I’ve burned probably a half calorie for every vertical foot I’ve climbed; now it’s time to cash in my gravity check.
It should come as no surprise; I want this to be perfect.
I don’t want to get halfway through this run and feel the fine airborne powder filling my jacket, nor reach the bottom and find it’s infiltrated an open pocket; I just want to focus on beautiful elegant turns.
I go through the final checklist: Bindings, tightened; pant zips, zipped; pant pockets, closed; powder skirt, snapped; jacket pockets, closed; pit zips, zipped; backpack sternum and waist straps, cinched; helmet and goggles, aligned.
I’m physically ready now.
I looking out at the view: A sea of satin sheets has been draped across a ruffled landscape. As the adrenaline in my blood stream begins to rise, the sight is more beautiful than I’m capable of expressing.
My heart is beating noticeably now.
I inhale, filling my lungs and surging my chest cavity outward. The cold air is unlike anything else, it must be enriched with oxygen 100 times the content of normal air.
I can feel it hit my bloodstream. My heart changes pace. It’s beating a firm beat now, one that pumps confidence through my bloodlines.
That blood reaches my nervous system, my mind quiets, and envision myself five or 10 seconds from now.
I see myself reaching cruising speed, I’m flowing with the terrain, and each turn feels carefully orchestrated.
Nothing but peace at the thought of what’s ahead fills my entire line of focus.
The world has completely slowed. For a bare moment, a fraction of a second has taken what feels like an hour.
I breathe out, see the entry line, commit with a 90 degree spin or a nudge, and make vision a reality.