Sunday, October 7, 2012

Denali and Denali Highway

This is another one of those posts where the pictures speak volumes!  Longtime friends John and Holly Phillips came from NY to see Alaska in celebration of John's 70th birthday and 30 years of marriage.  We were blessed to be able to hang out with them for a few days and catch up on life sprinkled with a few tears and plenty of laughter!  They had a list of things they wanted to do including seeing Denali.  Denali is more often not visible than it is visible, especially the way the weather had been this summer and fall.   Interestingly enough, park rangers draw the view of Denali from the visitor center twice each day during the summer.  I don't know why, but it perfectly illustrates the point:  Denali drawings 2011-August-7pm.jpg  So when there came a sunny break between rain systems, we made plans to GO!  Denali is like a ghost when you drive in toward it the first time.  You catch a glimpse, but aren't sure what you saw.  Could that have been it?  So you look intently again, but you can't see it.  Then all of a sudden there it is again!  Finally you come to a point where there is no mistake.  There it is, dominating the horizon.  If you click on the pictures, it will take you to a larger view of them.  I've tried to optimize the photos to get good clarity yet not take forever to download.  Trust me.  It will be worth the view!

We had never been this close to Denali before, so we didn't know the best viewing spots.  We'd been as far as the lake spot above once before, but turned back as we didn't have time to continue on.  We'd heard that the Princess Lodges often had fantastic views so we pulled off to check it out:

They did have good views, but not as fabulous as we had hoped.

Then just a little way down the road there was a pullout with a great view.  By that point the clouds were starting to come in from the next weather system and Denali was already disappearing from view again!

We did manage to stay ahead of the storm and had an absolutely gorgeous day for travel.  At one point we went past this...  Well...  Ummm...  This thing.  But completely gorgeous all around it.

We stayed overnight just inside the park and made a quick stop at the visitor's center the next day.  Some kids never grow up.  John is standard issue Alaskan.  I kept telling him he fit right in!  Probably half the guys over 50 in Alaska can all be described as not that tall, wiry, bearded, grey haired or greying, a bit hard of hearing, etc.  I'll have to have Sandy Lee fill me in on the rest.  I started a "standard Alaskan" list but hers was much better than mine!

The views heading out of the park were as spectacular as they had been going in!

We had decided to head across the Denali Highway which isn't nearly as civilized as the drive had been the previous day.  If you think we are in the middle of nowhere, you're wrong.  We live on the edge of nowhere. The Denali Highway is in the middle of nowhere!  And it is dirt.  More than 100 miles of dirt!  According to Wikipedia:  The highway is now little used and poorly maintained, and closed to all traffic from October to mid-May each year. Only the easternmost 21.3 miles (34.3 km) and westernmost 2.6 miles (4.2 km) are paved; whether the remainder should be paved as well is a continual source of debate. Washboarding and extreme dust are common, the recommended speed limit is 30 mph.  But gorgeous!!!

And despite what Wikipedia says, it is remarkably well traveled!  Well, it certainly is during hunting season anyway! It was caribou hunting season so there were tons of RVs and campers along the whole 100+ miles.  I didn't want to ruin the view in the next picture, so I tried to keep the arrow minimal, but it points to a long line of RVs parked along the side of the road hunting.  Oh, and the dust is also quite visible.  But the scenery is well worth the drive!

And we passed at least three Princess buses flying along that road!

What a spectacular place to camp, I mean hunt!

By the end of that day the clouds were catching up with us and before long we headed into snow!  Typical fall weather in Alaska - you can go from gorgeous sunshine and warm to snow all in one day!  :)  Thanks for coming along with us!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Glacier hike

If you've followed the blog for any length of time, you know I'm just a little obsessed with our glacier.  :)  I think it is one of the most beautiful things on earth!  I love the color, the ice, the beauty.  I got a chance to go out on the glacier late this summer with one of my favorite work teams (they're Dutch so you know they have to be great).  You can bet I didn't pass up that chance!  To top it all off, the day was GORGEOUS!  It was sunny, but not cloudless.  There was actually rain coming in after a gorgeous morning which made for perfect picture-taking in my opinion!  I love variable light!  I'm just going to keep quiet for the most part from here on out and let the pictures do the talking.  Here we go!

Yes, my backside is wet.  It was a little slippery and better to slide than slip!

:)  Fun peeps!

Lion's Head!

Chitna dipnetting

Many families in Alaska get their salmon for the year by dipnetting, basically dipping a net in the water and pulling your fish out.  It sounds much less sporting and difficult than it is!  Last year just the guys went dipnetting. It isn't exactly considered "girly" activity. This year Jenny Lee really wanted to go before she graduates from high school and I love to eat fish so I really wanted to contribute to the effort so a date was set and off we went!  Here Dan checks out the trail before attempting to drive it.  From this vantage point it looks easy...

But there are parts where staying upright on the ATV isn't as easy as it looks.  From here it looks like Dan is just driving down an incline.  What you can't see is Rodney hanging off the other side keeping it from tipping.  

Like this:

But surviving the trail is well worth the effort.  We hit the salmon run on a great day and were at times hauling in two fish at a time.  This picture does give a good perspective on the Copper River.  The banks are incredibly steep so finding a good spot to fish doesn't always yield an easy climb out!  The Copper is also incredibly fast running and silty - not a place you want to fall in!  We made sure to tie off (blue rope) so that we wouldn't lose anyone.  Jenny and Rodney did most of the dipping.  The next person up (my job most of the day) hauled the net up to a small level spot where we would kill the fish and hang them on a stringer, then haul them over to the fish cleaner/fillet person (Dan).  I knew that I didn't have the upper body strength to fight the water with the net (yes, it was quite a job just to fight the current) but I neglected to consider how much strength it was taking to haul the fish up the hill.  I didn't sleep much that night due to sore shoulders!  Here Jenny is showing off her catch:

And another:

They weren't all that pretty by the time we'd hauled them half way up the hill, killed them and strung them.  They had been GORGEOUS before that!  These are red or sockeye salmon and they were HUGE this year!

It was a gorgeous place to spend the day, even if it wasn't sunny!

The salmon were then taken over to a quiet cove where Dan filleted them.  Once Jenny got tired of dipping she went over to help get them cleaned up before he filleted them.  This is also back at the river level, but you couldn't get there from the dipping spot without going up and over.  So once you got them half way up the hill you had to go back down to where they could be filleted.

The first 40 or so fish were fun, but by the time you hit 50 or 60, it was just plain hard work!  Once they were filleted, they still had to be hauled back up the hill to the ATVs!  A lot less weight by that point, but a lot longer haul!

Then we got to reverse our ATV ride and with a heavy load this time.  Rodney used the winch to assist Dan's ATV up that steep ledge.

But what scenery!

Oh, really?  Funny thing is, they actually take pretty good care of the trail out there...

The parking lots both right and left in this picture were packed.  The tables by the stream are there for cleaning your fish.  That road coming down on the other side was one narrow lane!  Glad we didn't meet anyone coming around the corner!  Almost everyone was pulling a trailer so there was no easy way to get out of there if you did meet someone!  We didn't see any bears but others had seen them quite recently.  Where there are fish there will be bears!  They like to eat the fish probably even more than I do!

The efforts were well worth it!  Copper River reds are incredibly yummy!  Take a look at that meat!  I'm drooling now!  Time to go grab some from the freezer and fry it up for dinner!  :)

Morning commute

Morning commute