Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Glacier hike

Today was a glorious spring day with dazzling sunshine and temperatures right up around 60 degrees. Yesterday was more of the same. The snow is rapidly losing ground (literally) under the intensity of the sun. I know, you can't believe that it could be intense in ALASKA, but trust me, it is! 60 degrees in the Alaskan sun is downright toasty!

School groups are here in camp for their "Outdoor Education" trips. Camp offers trips to fossil beds and the Matanuska glacier so today Matt Sherrer took Brian Wilbert, Aaron Meeuwsen and I down to the glacier to check it out and to teach Brian how to do the trips. Despite the great melt-off we've had this week, it still wasn't quite enough to make it possible to get to the glacier. There's just too much snow and mud to get there safely. Snow is a problem because you need to be able to see holes and crevasses in the ice so that you don't fall through them (they could go down hundreds of feet). Mud is a problem because it is glacier silt which is more like quicksand than your garden variety mud. I was glad I brought my sun hat and sun glasses. It was blinding! I LOVE the blue of the glacier! The water that settles in puddles coming off the glacier is blue too. Beautiful!

Little Miss Naughty Pants has been at it again. There is a small stand of pines in the front yard and Ellie chased her pet squirrel up there today. She stood out there for hours yelling at it and trying to get it to come down and play! Poor Eider could NOT figure out what all the noise was about! If she had access to a ladder I have no doubt that she would be climbing right up that tree! When the weather is nice (which is most of the time now) she spends almost all day outside keeping the house safe from squirrels and the like. Good thing Ellie is on duty keeping us all safe! I'm sure the world would fall apart if she didn't keep watch!

Here's the lake today - it doesn't look all that safe for driving now, does it? Or walking for that matter!
I made reservations to go back to NY in about a month. My mom and dad will arrive for a visit in about a week and then we'll follow them back. We'll be in NY over the Memorial Day weekend, hang out for a week or so, see lots of people, go to the doctor (we have only emergency medical coverage out here unless we want to pay for it ourselves) and basically do a lot of visiting. We also bought another trailer (car hauler) to haul the rest of our stuff up here so I need to fill that while we are there. We're still not certain who will drive it up yet. We've had a couple offers so we just need to see what comes together.

As I said in the last post, things are going to get crazy from here on out. I doubt I'll manage to keep up with regular posts very soon. I've been shooting for weekly posts up until now, but we'll see how things go before I set a "summer" goal! I'd better start some sort of list somewhere or I'll forget what has happened! We've already gotten the first camp "summer" schedule and it's looking pretty crazy. Maybe I'll just hang onto those to remind myself of where we've been! :)

Friday, April 23, 2010


In Alaska, Breakup isn't about relationship, it's about snow and ice giving way to mud and slush. Lots of slush. Deep, machine sucking slush. This is the time of year when even 4-wheel drive isn't enough sometimes. It pays to invest in a winch. Unless you're looking on Craigslist, then you'd want to look for a wench. "4WD ATV with wench for sale." I don't know why they sell so many of them with wenches. Little signs started appearing on the periphery of our awareness building up slowly until now we see them everywhere. They warn truck drivers that axles have limits lower than normal; 50%, 75%, 80%. I finally heard the explanation the other day. The roads are vulnerable to frost heave this time of year so they want to keep heavy weights off of them until the frost is out.

I got to learn first hand how to use a winch yesterday. If you remember way back to October 24, 2009 I showed you the "corduroy road" section of our trail. The reason we had to put down all those little trees to make the corduroy was because there are springs that go across the trail there. The trees allow us to drive across the muddy spots. Things are a little different there now. There is a stretch of path that is one big sheet of ice. Add some fresh snow so I couldn't see where Rodney's tracks were and just a bit too far to the lower side and I went off the trail into a good 18" of slush. There was a ledge of ice preventing me from getting back on the path. Sergei had already messed up the winch once by not operating it correctly so I wisely chose to get someone who knew how to use it (that would be the tired spousal unit). I'm glad I did, not only because he taught me how to use it, but also because he was big enough to do the manhandling required to get it back up on that ledge. The winch may have done the pulling, but he still had a lot of maneuvering to do to get it out of there.

Maggie reminded me that we wanted to live out here. Actually, that was a great reminder. It helped me to be thankful for the privilege of living in such a beautiful spot, in such a beautiful house, in such a wonderful camp, with such amazing people! :) But I'll still be happy when the rest of the slush melts! We're using the ATV path exclusively now and it is quite a hike if you have to carry things. It's also a bit of work when it is REALLY slushy. I'm not that comfortable with the ATVs and mine doesn't have chains anyway so most of the time I'm hiking if I want to go out. That includes hiking IN groceries! Thankfully I also have teenagers! Lee Althens (the guy who built this place and raised his kids here) said that they used to drag a canoe across the lake with one foot in the canoe and one foot on the ice and push themselves along that way. Using that method, if the ice gave way they always had the canoe to jump in. I'm not quite Alaskan enough for that yet!

I actually bought a small motorcycle (Honda CR85R) for making the trek in but will have to wait until the snow melts to be able to use it. Nate built a windscreen for Rodney's ATV which makes it much more pleasant to ride in the cold weather, but it doesn't have a defrost unit or wipers so sometimes it is still a bit hard to see. It does block a ton of wind though! Slowly but surely we're figuring out what works, what doesn't and learning what to do better next time.

Rodney has had some really crappy days lately. He and Nate spent two days this week trying to thaw a frozen sewer pipe. They do that by blasting hot water into the pipe. Unfortunately due to the nature of a BLOCKAGE, all that water (and other "stuff" in there) has no where to go but to come right back at you. That section of pipe is only 16" below the surface at that point so it is frequently a problem. They would like to replace it with a line that is straighter and further under the surface, but to do that would require that it be built to current code, apparently a rather expensive endeavor. At this point there are so many other project requiring time and money that it isn't high on the priority list.

Speaking of priority lists, one of the highest priorities at the moment is for staff housing. There are a LOT of families preparing to come on staff at Victory soon and very little housing available. Camp is trying to raise the funds to put in a number of new houses. We're also still trying to fill counselor slots for the summer (at both Victory and Li-Wa). If you know of any college age teens that would love to spend a summer in Alaska working with kids, have them check out the Victory website!

Summer is fast approaching! May starts our work team schedule so things will be HOPPING here! I'll have to fill you in a bit later on exactly how all of that works because we've never actually seen all of it in action. We saw a little bit of it last year, but we were still settling in ourselves at that point so we didn't really get that deep into it. Keeping those work teams running will be a big part of our summer. Since they are here non-stop from May through September, we'll be BUSY! I may not be able to blog as much this summer so I hope ya'll can forgive me! Just because we still have snow on the ground does not mean summer isn't almost here. Sunrise is now at about 6 am and sunset at 9:30 pm, with twilight an hour before and after that so our days are LONG already! The kids have less than a month of school left at this point. Summer will hit us before we know it.

One more sign of spring is that the squirrels are out in full force. Ellie has taken over as squirrel-chaser-extraordinaire! She is filling the empty shoes left by the mighty squirrel hunter Piper. Too bad she doesn't fill the rest of Piper's shoes! Piper was such a great dog and Ellie is the naughtiest dog on earth. I'd started to forget that recently until yesterday. Ellie had a busy day yesterday. First I looked out the window to see Eider happily busy under my suet feeder. I became suspicious and upon closer inspection I noticed the naughty hound on TOP of the wood pile! She had broken open the suet bag and shared her ill-gotten gains with the black beast. Then she spent half the day chasing that crazy squirrel which was funny until I saw that she was standing ON the insulation around the pipe right below that feeder! It will not be a happy day if she breaks that insulation loose! Later that afternoon she suddenly appeared from upstairs! I have no idea how she got there or how long she was up there, but I had not been up there in quite some time. Somehow she had gotten past the barrier and up the stairs and then hid up there without my noticing. She wasn't done yet though! Sergei left his chair out after dinner and those who know Ellie can guess what happened next. To her, a chair left out is an invitation to climb up on the dining room table and see what she can find. Yesterday was no exception! To top off the evening she sat down next to Rodney (who had rather foolishly set his mug of water on the floor next to the couch he was lying on) and proceeded to drink all his water. There was water in the DOG water dish, but it tastes better out of a cup! Anyone want an adorable, sweet little hound dog? She had a bath recently. Not that it did any good. She was stinky again the next day! Oh wait, I'm supposed to be convincing you to take her...

Here the naughty monkey is enjoying her ill-gotten gain.
Mr. Innocent. NOT! Too bad for him he's not a chocolate Lab!

The offending squirrel. Cheeky little thing, isn't he? The ear tufts are cute.

My geranium is happy. My cousin's wife Luci gave it to me last fall. I ignored it all winter and this is how it thanks me.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Today was the annual sledding bash at Gunsight, a gravel pit up the road a bit past Sheep Mountain. I figured the best way to show what went on was with some video and pictures. They tell the story better than I can.

The first vehicles arrive:
Ben Gerwig unloads the first of their machines:

Joe Gerwig the next:

The Roubs came well prepared with machine, grill, firewood, chairs, table, food, etc. Their "camp" was the center of activity for the day. The trailer even had a barrel stove in it in case people got cold. It was a mild day though so only those who didn't wear proper clothing got cold.

Oksana and Katie Regier "before" sledding:

Chuck Gerwig hauling a small load of kids up the hill. Some went part way up, other brave ones went the full mile to the very top. Randall Thiessen enjoyed just riding up and down on the snow machine in front of someone.
This video gives a decent overview of the sledding. This is a long-ish video. The others are pretty short. It was hard to get video and pictures because the sun was right over the hill. I could hardly see anything on the screen of the camera because of the sun so it was basically just pointing the camera in the direction of the activity.

The next shows Sergei, Robert VanDaam and Jenny Lee as they come to the bottom of the run.

Then Andrei, Katie and Alaura Sherrer as they get to the bottom. Andrei, Mr. "I Don't Want to go Sledding" actually ended up sledding all day. Katie made him promise to go with her, then Jenny, Miranda... Pretty soon he was asking others to go down with him! He complains that I was laughing too much. It was hilarious. Sorry!

Then finally Rodney decided to go too:

The video of him coming to the bottom was just like any other, but I did get pictures:

Just a few more pictures to just fill out the story. Sergei, Ben and Trayton Cohen chatting by the fire:
Jenny was a little covered in snow:

Sergei wasn't wearing long johns, so he soaked through to the skin. This picture didn't come through well. He was literally steaming standing there by the fire. He ended up wearing an extra pair of pants that I had brought.

I'll finish up with a few pictures of our trail at home. Despite the fact that it looks like there is a lot of snow (and there still is) it is melting quickly. My machine tonight before we went across the lake:
The ATV/snow machine trail in winter:The hill that leads down to our house. This was taken a few days ago. Today that hill is mostly mud.
The view from the overlook.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Oh yeah, definitely spring!

I'm making up for the lack of posting last week and now you've got THREE posts in one week! :) There's just so much to write that if I don't do it now the next one will be a mile long. Can't have that! I left off with us having a foot of water over our "ice road." The next morning Rodney drove out the camp truck and the water was up to the floor boards! He was afraid that it would start coming in the doors, but it didn't. Needless to say he did not bring the camp truck back that night. Nor did we bring our truck over to pick up the cap. We're officially done using the ice road for the year.

Rodney talked to Lee Althens, the guy that built this place and lived here for 20-25 years, and he said that if there is that much water, it is no longer overflow but must be coming through holes in the ice. He said those holes can go from 3" to 3' in 24 hours! Yikes! We could see fish swimming above the ice, so we're pretty certain that is exactly what is going on. We have one of those holes out on the road beyond the generator shed and probably a few more out past the peninsula. Lee also gave Rodney some suggestions about better placement of the road next year (closer to the peninsula) so that it will last longer. We can still take the snow machines across the lake if we stick to certain trails (like straight across the peninsula), but for the most part we're taking the ATV trail. It was a bit of a disappointment that we didn't get some horse manure brought out for the garden before we lost use of the road, but we'll figure out something. We may just have to start a bit smaller with the garden this year.

I got my snow machine stuck in a pile of slush by trying to turn around in a spot that was too soft, not packed trail. Fortunately Rodney wasn't too far off and came to pull me out. Good thing my machine is light! Rodney was a bit annoyed with himself later that he didn't have the foresight to bring the camera. ;) I wasn't too far off the path, but I just didn't have the strength to do it myself. It really is a two man job when you get stuck like that - one to pull and one to hit the gas! The worst that happened was that I got a soaker (a cold one at that!) and had to go change into some boots. I was trying to get going on my way to Anchorage so it was a minor annoyance to think I would be late, but it worked out just fine in the end.

Rodney and I did a little snowshoeing yesterday while surveying the water situations. That was kind of fun! We were able to buy two pairs of almost new snowshoes at about half price so we've been getting some good use out of them. They are a perfect size for me - I hardly go through the snow at all. They are a little under-sized for Rodney, but he'd finds them to be a handier size than larger ones anyway, so they work. At any rate, we walked around the generator shed to check out the hole and then out to the road to look at the ice/water situation there. There are THOUSANDS of sticklebacks (a small fish with spines on it's back) in the hole near the generator shed. I'll try to get a picture of them but it will be hard to see. They are just massed in there, probably enjoying the aeration provided by the water flowing in.

Yes, spring is definitely here! The snow is quickly melting, revealing all the mess that we left last fall with the construction. We're starting to clean up as stuff appears from under the snow. We're gaining about 6 minutes of daylight each day now. According the the local weather, our sunrise is at about 7 am and sunset at 8:45 pm, but it starts getting light at 6 or so and stays light until about 10. Sheep Mountain Lodge up the road from us (owners Zack and Anjanette Steer are the ones who run the Iditarod) has a weather station that is much closer to accurate for us than Sutton, Palmer, Wasilla or Anchorage. It is almost always 5-10 degrees warmer down in those cities than it is near us. I'll try to link this on the front page as well so ya'll can look at our weather and gloat. Honestly, go ahead, I don't mind. I LIKE it cool and/or cold! :) When you guys have 80 degree weather (or worse!) I'm thanking God for bringing us to a nice cool place to live! :) In my opinion, anything greater than 70 is just a waste of degrees! ;) You can always add layers of clothing, but there's just so much you can take off and it is STILL hot!

One more sign of spring is all the rock slides on our drive in to Palmer/Wasilla/Anchorage. The roads are carved into the sides of the mountains leaving HUGE walls of dirt and rock along the road sides. I'm not sure if I mentioned with the "guardrail" post or not that there is a reason for the lack of guardrails. It is so that they can plow the rocks off the road! This is the time of year when we really see that. They don't snowplow this time of year, they ROCK plow! Honest! With the thaw comes loosening dirt and rocks on those hill sides. Considering the angle of some of those hills, gravity takes effect and down they come! They often land in the road and then the plows come by and push them off the other side of the road. It is certainly efficient this way!

Another indication of spring is of course Easter. Dan Woodard, a friend we stopped to visit on our trip up, here recently shared a piano rendition of And Can It Be that was just beautiful! It is one of my all time favorite hymns and the words tell the wonder of the Easter story. Unfortunately Dan's rendition is only on Facebook, not Youtube. If you've got Facebook you can hear it here:!/video/video.php?v=1372439345719 He said it was a Kim Collingsworth arrangement but it didn't sound like the one she plays here: Either way, it is such a moving song! Lyrics below:

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

One more QUICK note, Rodney ran across a video of dog sledding that was really good so I'll link that here for anyone interested in seeing it in action. I think it is a local TV show from Vermont - pretty well done at any rate. So that's my story for today. As you can see, there was a lot to tell and I know ya'll don't appreciate when these get to be a mile long! Oh wait, it is already a mile long!

Morning commute

Morning commute