Search
All Posts
Thursday
Jan142016

Swan Lake Ice Skate

Ice is now more common than snow at sea level in Southcentral Alaska. As a result, nordic ice skating has become a mainstream sport. 

Nancy Lakes, near Wasilla, is the most popular place for nordic ice skating in the Anchorage area. If you drive the opposite direction from Anchorage, to where temperatures are warmer, you'll reach the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. It's a bigger version of Nancy Lakes, with more wilderness. Friends Tony Perrelli and Luc Mehl passed on reports from Josh Mumm that the lakes were glass and that Roman Dial was keen to go. 

At six am on a Monday morning I drove a few houses down the alley and picked up Roman. (You have to love Airport Heights!) We drove three and half hours down to KNWR. Our trip started and finished at Fish Lake near the West Entrance of the Swan Lake Canoe Route. From Fish Lake we skated south to Camp Island Lake, with hopes for the West Fork Moose River. No luck on the West Fork. We backtracked to Otter Lake and circled around through Swan Lake and back to Fish Lake. 

Whoops of joy on Fish Lake at 10am. 

 

Our trip was eight hours, 33 miles and covered 33 lakes. That means we did a lot of walking, probably 11 miles. It is easy to skate at 10 miles per hour on smooth lake ice. Nancy Lakes has less walking.  

 

An ice octopus formed by water extruding up through a crack then freezing smooth again. 

 

Roman about to dunk himself in the West Fork Moose River. The river had enough flow to keep the channel open in the near-freezing temperatures. The big lakes were stagnant and frozen. 

 

Roman cleaning his socks.  

 

 

Roman and I mostly socialize over the alley fence or at dinner parties. This was our first time to play outside together.

I'm fascinated by talking with adventurers who have been at it for many years. Their perspective on life, adventure and risk is matured. Roman told me that much of the allure of big trips in the outdoors is survival. If you pull off a tough trip, that feeling of surviving is unbeatable. It becomes addictive. Later, as adventurers have families, and their testosterone subsides, and they learn that dying is a real possibility, their trip priorities shift. Managing risk (avoiding death) becomes their focus. 

 

Roman calculating distance on the next leg. Navigating lakes is tricky because the terrain is flat. Each lake looks the same to a first time visitor. As we burst into each new lake one of us would say, "Have you looked where to go?" And we'd zoom across the glass to the next portage, following our navigation app. 

 

A glacial erratic. 

 

Most of the portages between lakes were easy trails.  

 

One of the bigger lakes, maybe Loon or Swan Lake.  

 Every great trip ends in the dark. We headed to Wildman's in Cooper Landing for dinner. I ate an old corndog with jojos. Roman had a pint of Dreyer's and a Rockstar. Climbing in the car I said, "Whoa, what stinks like sauerkraut?" Roman said, "That's my socks." An hour later, with the car floor heat cranked, I located a massive dog loaf stuck to the bottom of my shoe. Good times.

Thanks for a great day Roman!

Wednesday
Dec162015

Kodiak Island

Each year the Alaska Avalanche School works with Kodiak Island Search and Rescue. This was my third time visiting Kodiak for AAS. Kodiak is always interesting with the wild weather, beautiful ski terrain and colorful people. On this trip I did rope and avalanche training with KISAR and taught avalanche awareness courses in the high school and to the public. 

The Kenai Mountains during the one hour flight to Kodiak. 

 

Steve Wielebski met me at the airport at 3:30 in the afternoon. Forty-five minutes later we were skinning up Pyramid Mountain. Steve's pointing toward KISAR's new training hut. 

 

Then we drank beer at the Kodiak Island Brewing Company. Steve, Dicky Saltonstall and Dan Davis. 

 

On our third day we set out for the KISAR training hut. The day started warm, clear and calm.  

 

Then it began storming. Our plan to practice decision-making was thwarted. A no-go decision is obvious when you can't see anything. Kodiak weather changes by the hour. As Andy Edgerly said, "Kodiak is like an island in the North Pacific."

 

We set up an emergency shelter for a Kodiak picnic. 

 

And watched youtubes on the big screen. Dan Davis, Andy Edgerly, Steve Wielebski, Sharon Wielebski and Philip Tschersich. 

 

Our final day was at the brand new climbing wall at the Navy Seal training facility. They generously let KISAR use the wall for a day of rope training. 

 
Dan Valentine, a wildlife Trooper, and Jason McGrath, a Coast Guard Swimmer, working on rope rescue skills.  

 

Then we climbed. Here's Steve having a spin on the ice climbing wall. Fifty-five feet of the same move. 

Thanks KISAR!

Monday
Dec072015

Greg Hill

Alaska's professional avalanche center is the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center, based in Girdwood. The Friends of the CNFAIC pay for most of the Center. To avoid bad avalanche karma, be a member of your local Friends group. 

Each fall the FCNFAIC has a fundraiser at the Beartooth Theater. In past years they invited Andrew McLean, Chic Scott, Kris Erickson, and locals Jay Rowe and Luc Mehl. This year the FCNFAIC invited Greg Hill, aka Two Mill Hill, to tell yarns about his adventures on skis. Greg pack the Beartooth. Anchorage's fired-up ski community loved his respect and message about avalanche safety. Thanks for coming up Greg!


But first we had to go skiing. Brian Erickson, Greg and myself on Sunnyside at Turnagain Pass. Greg had only skied on Denali and Foraker, the big hills. He was stoked to Alaska's local ski hills. 

 

Greg track setting in Main Bowl. Greg made a low angle track, but he used his the middle heel lifter. I guess that's one efficiency tip to self-propel yourself up two million vertical feet in one year. 

 

Brian and Greg getting some Sunnyside.  

 

Greg skiing back to the car. He wore jeans under his Gore-tex. Ultra-prepared for his presentation.  

 

Greg with legends of Anchorage skiing: Poacher Dave and Eric the Viking. Jeff Conaway, in the background, will be legendary, once he has 15 more years of skiing under his belt.

Sunday
Nov082015

Khumbu Trekking

In 2001 Cathy and I spent two months in Nepal. It was part of a one year honeymoon living on $10 a day each. Since then I've wanted to return to Nepal with my Dad. This fall it happened. Dad and I spent 16 days trekking in the Solukhumbu region near Everest. Our rough plan was the Three Passes Trek. Friends who spend time in the region told me:

  • "You've seen moraine, so don't go to Everest base camp."
  • "Go counterclockwise. The ascents are lower angle."
  • "Book your flight to Lukla, but nothing else. Stay flexible."
  • "Pack ultra light."
  • "Your dad will love it."

Their beta was perfect. Thank you Winslow, Seth, Najeeby, Eric and Jeremy!

I asked Dad, "What do you think about the earthquakes?" For him it was a non-issue. I guess when you're retired, 76 years old, and love adventure, you won't miss out because of some shaking earth. Plus, Nepal is a tourist economy. They need the tourist dollar. 

We met in the tourist district of Thamel in Kathmandu, a city of 2.5 million people. Most of the earthquake rubble had been cleaned up. There were vacant lots where apartment buildings once stood. Many of the 300-year old buildings in Durbar Square had crumbled. Otherwise the city was much the same as I remembered. The biggest change, supposedly, was that the streets had been widened, the front of apartment buildings shaved off and rebuilt. 

 

Kathmandu refreshed our ultra-sanitized American senses. Incense, sewage, masala chai, cow shit, garbage, smog, dirt. Vibrant and beautiful. 

 

We spent our first day walking around Kathmandu, getting trekking permits, seeing the remnants of Durbar Square and climbing 365 steps to Swayambhunath-the Monkey Temple.  

 

I was supposed to take a pretty photo of the white Monkey Temple adorned with colorful prayer flags. The monkeys were more photogenic. 

 

The next morning we flew an hour to Lukla to start our trek. The Lukla airport is tilted at about 15 degrees, ending in a mountain at one end and a precipice at the other end.  

 

A dzo (cow-yak hybrid) watches Dad on the first day of our trek. Along the way we took route ideas from local Sherpas. In Kathmandu we purchased a mistake-riddled Nepa Map, but it gave a good overview. The GAIA GPS smartphone app had the most accurate trails. 

 

Dad climbing above Namche Bazaar, the tourist center of the Khumbu. We spent two nights acclimatizing in Namche at 3,340 meters. 

 

Tenzing Portse, a local from Portse who we walked with one afternoon. Typical local male, guided Everest 10 times, out looking for his wandering yak. These are the most unassuming athletes in the world. 

 

Namche beasts of burden snacking on cardboard.  

 

We spent our fourth night in Tengboche. This is the Tengboche Monastery. Inside we watched the monks give a puja, a Buddhist ceremony, lots of mumbling and tinkling of religious objects. 

 

This stupa is above Dingboche, where we spent our second acclimatization day. The mountain above is Ama Dablam, one of the iconic mountains of the world like Alpaymayo, Cerro Torre and the Matterhorn. During our rest day I hiked the 5,535-meter Kongma La to Lobouche and back to Dingboche. 

 

Dad climbing above Dingboche toward the cluster of teahouses at Dzongla below Cho La. Like friends suggested, we packed ultra light. Our combined pack weight was 15 kilos on the Yeti Airlines scale. 

 

A frost flower extruded from a plant stem overnight.  

 

Dad near the top of Cho La, the middle pass at 5,430 meters. We took Yaktrax for better grip. 

 

Friends said Gokyo—on the left side of the lake—was the beautiful place to hang out and day hike. They were right. 

 

Dawa Sherpa ran our favorite teahouse on the trek: the Gokyo Lake Side Lodge. Women ran the best teahouses. They were more chaotic and homely with kids running around and a help-yourself bag of yak dung to stoke the fire. 

 

Dad and I on the third and final pass: Renjo La at 5,300 meters. Feeling acclimatized!

 

Our company in Thame. Thame is where many legendary mountain Sherpas come from. Our host, in the middle, said every household has a climbing Sherpa. These are the world's greatest athletes. Just working, making money taking people up mountains. No chest beating or posturing, just climbing mountains for a living. Almost every house in Thame had been leveled by the earthquake. Most had been rebuilt.   

 

The Lukla airport. We got on the last flight to Kathmandu after six hours of waiting. This was the only time we wished for a local guide. The guided groups flew out first thing each morning. The two Czech guys in this photo waited three days, until they bribed the officials. Baksheesh works.  

 

A Sahdu—a Hindu holyman—in Kathmandu. India had blocked most petrol from entering Nepal due to a disagreement about Nepal's new constitution. Miles of dust-covered cars lined the empty streets.

 

Dad starting a very long trip: Kathmandu, Hanoi, Seoul, Seattle, Spokane, Pullman, Spokane, Seattle, Denver, Houston, Buenos Aires, El Calafate, El Chalten. The rigors of being retired and living life to the max.

Thank you so much for a great trip Dad! What a dream to trek with you in Nepal. And to live high on the hog spending over $10 a day.