Monday, July 30, 2007

Its Got To Be The Shoes!!!

Tonight I did something that I thought that I would never do again. First I want to say that I have not run since the end of June. It is not that I was afraid of bears; instead it was the fact that bears were getting to close to the bridge that it would be closed down for multiple hours making one have to wait on one side or the other. Let me tell you that it is not ideal to be stuck waiting to cross for a few hours when you have been sweating and your cloths start to freeze. Needless to say it was a good excuse to be lazy.

Today I decided that it was high time I started to run again. I felt measurably tired all day and was not looking forward to my decision to run. Then my running partner Jen went to the Valley of 10,000 Smokes with her sister (completely understandable) making me even less inclined to go running. Well slightly after getting off work I talked myself into running at least a short distance with a max of 3 miles.

However, when I started running I felt darn good and next thing I knew I was looking over to spot the 4K (K=kilometer) marker. I continued on to the 5K (3.1 miles) and decided that I should just go the extra 3K out to five mile pit. To ensure that I ran the full distance I went a little further than the 8K marker and turned around. Half a K after turning around I started to doubt if I could still make it all the way back so I made little goals for myself to help me along with the additional line of "all take a break at the next one". Once I reached the 6K marker I felt rejuvenated and I fell into the zone. I ran back at a great pace and finished my 16 kilometer run in 1 hour, 31 minutes, and 37 seconds. That is 10 MILES for those of us who are not on the metric system (go USA). If you do the math that works out to just over 9 minutes a mile for 10 miles. I must admit that I am pretty proud of myself.

Until next time with stories a plenty as we journey into the final day of July.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Mageik Lakes!

July 19-21 I traveled the path less trod and went up the right side of the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. My destination was the Mageik Lakes so named b/c they are at the base of Mageik mtn. But the destination is not the journey and the latter is what makes traveling fun.

As such Jen and I left for the trail after work and hiked out to 6 mile (you can guess why it got that name :>) where we camped our first night. Other than being over cast and slightly windy it was a beautiful afternoon and night in the valley when we set up camp at 11:30 pm. You have to love Alaska and its long days. :) That night Jen had a little trouble trying to sleep b/c we heard some noises a few yards from the tent. I being the rational one with more experience told her to cover her ears. Covering the ears was not so that she could sleep, but so that she would not be more startled when I broke the nights silence by yelling at the noises. Some scurrying was heard afterwards followed not too much longer by our departure into the land of dreams known as sleep. The next morning after while Jen was heeding the call of nature I scouted the perimeter of camp to find that a bear, wolf, and wolf pup had all scouted our tent from about 8-12 feet away. Obviously for not only Jen's sanity, but my own, I neglected to tell Jen this information until we were on our way our of the Valley the following day.

That afternoon we reached the lakes where we set up camp in a less windy area and scouted around the lakes. It was beautiful with a green/blue color that came from the glacial flour or fine sedimentary particles floating in the water reflecting the light. There were also 4 waterfalls on the side of the lake opposite of us.

The night passed without incident and we headed out the next morning. The overcast sky always seems to be the best view of the Valley b/c that is when the red/orange color seems to come out most making the ridges and canyons look amazing. We were not going for a speed record, but we still walked the 15 miles from the Mageik lakes back to the Three Forks Cabin overlook in about 5 hours.

It was an amazing trip and I recommend it to anyone who can go with a small addition of crossing over to Novarupta if you only have one weekend. The 25th will be our Christmas in July party that I organized, complete with gifts. Sometime in August I am going to try and summit Mt. Katmai and see the Caldera.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Bear Crazy! and Future Plans...

I just returned from a trip out to Research Bay. I was planning on staying the night, but the only islands to camp on all had bear signs. I saw tracks, trails, day beds, and scat including one with shell pieces. Then I saw one bear on shore running around, so I called in to say I was on my way back. During the radio call I saw 5 bears which increased to 8 by the time I left. I canoed back with Racheal 7-8 miles in just over 2 hours. On the way back there was an amazing sunset. It was a bright orange that turned to red as it set. The moraine kept the light from falling opposite on Katolinat everywhere, but the break in the moraine. It created this beautiful reddish haze on research bay.

Here in camp a few salmon have started turning red early so we have to throw at least one back to get a silver fish. This can be problematic since the bears have been so prevalent in the lower river area. The water is about 2.5 feet lower than average which makes it really easy for the bears to catch fish. However this is not so fun for visitors since there are lots of bears around the bridge closing it down for 1-7.5 hours at a time. It is also more interesting trying to get your salmon since you fish with bears within a hundred yards of both sides of you. In other words we are getting pretty darn good at catching, thumping, and bagging a fish.

As the unofficial event planner for Brooks Camp I organize playing cards, movie nights, group dinners, and other small social events. I am currently starting the "Christmas in July" potluck. It will be held on the 25th and will include a Secret Santa gift swap for those who are interested. There will be other fun things as well, but many ideas are still in the development stages.

This next weekend I will be going off to visit Mageik lakes in the South East corner of the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. I am really excited since this will be my third attempt in 2 years to get out there. Ranger Jen also wanted to go so she switched weekends so that neither of us had to go it alone. It should be a blast and very beautiful area complete with waterfall ranging as high as 100 feet. The lakes are glacier fed so they are very brisk.

I am also finalizing plans for a trip to Katmai Caldera in August. This shall be an interesting trip since it involves some glacier travel...I will be prepared so don’t worry. If it works out Greg, Jen, Ralph and I will be making the trip the 2nd week in August. Depending on the schedule Erica and Mason want to come as well, but we might just have to take a second trip up with one of the original 4 leading these 2. It would be great if we could all go the same weekend, but we shall have to wait to see what can be worked out.

Tis all for now since I need some sleep so I can get up early to beat the crowds to the Falls. I shall try to update the blog once a week from now on, especially after big events.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Survival of the Fittest!

Quick update for you:
A few weeks ago I cut my hair, which does not look to bad b/c my curly hair covers up the patchy spots. Also the salmon are running strong. The bears are being crazy this year. We have had to escort people around bears tons in the last few weeks. Also the bears have been completely closing the bridge across Brooks River for hours. This is not so bad since people want to watch bears, but it does cause some issues and tension.

Friday the 29th was a most interesting day for me. I had the day off, so I traveled to the falls in the afternoon since there was a bear jam (bear blocking any crossing of the river) all morning. I witnessed several bears fishing and had a good time talking to visitors and watching the bears. I left around 5:20 to head back to camp when I spotted two young adults wrestling about 20 yards from the end of the ramp along the falls trail. Being the good off duty ranger I helped get people to the ramp as they approached.

After the bears left I waited a few minutes to proceed down the path so that the bears might have a chance to clear out. 60 yards from the ramp the pair came running down the path behind me, so I stepped off the trail to let them pass me. The first bear stopped about 20 feet in front of me while the second stopped 25 feet behind me. Still not worried. Then a third sizeable male bear runs towards me from the left while woofing at me a couple of times. Speaking kindly I stepped further off the trail into the woods. This is when I get a tiny bit scared. To my right a large dominate male bear bluff charges down a hill towards me to stop about 3 feet away. A bluff charge is when a bear runs at you and stops some times coupled with foot stomping as it stops (as in this case). I stood my ground, unclipped my bear spray, and watch the bear cowboy walk (sideways straddled steps), then turn sideways to show me his large profile. The 2 younger males have run away at this time, but I am still between these two bears, a stand of trees in front, and a large dead spruce behind me leaving no real exit strategies. Then the third bear woofs a few times at me from the left, which causes the dominate male to bluff charge a second time with accompanied foot stomps. Honestly you don't know a bluff charge from a real one until the bear stops. Also bears can run 40 yards in under 3 seconds and this bear was only 10 yards on the second run. Luckily the third bear woofed a few times and walked away, which I promptly followed giving the fourth bear a chance to leave. So all in all it was and eventful night.

I left out July 2 to go on a kayaking trip down the Ukak River and back to camp. B/c of a bear jam we were not able to arrive at Three Forks Cabin (overlooks the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes) until 10:15 at night. We portaged one Kayak and some gear, in the rain, down 1.7 miles and 850 ft loss of elevation to below Ukak Falls. The next morning we got up and portaged the other kayak and gear down in order to start our day. We had walked part of the rim that overlooked the river the night before to check out the quality of the rapids which were supposed to be class 5. Turns out that they were only class 3 when we ran them. It was great. Greg Fahl and I cover the 1st mile in less than 2 minutes.

After that the river slowed down and the guide book we had read, copyright 1973, proposed that the rest of the river was class 1. About .5 miles later we hit more rapids that are way more intense. This is a little scary since we are surrounded by a 75 ft high canyon wall with 34 degree glacier fed water. In these rapids is when Greg flips his kayak and goes in the water (aka attempts suicide by river). Through clear mind and a little skill I was able to back paddle, unbuckle the throw rope, and toss it to with in 3 inches of Greg (text book toss) in about 3 seconds (Greg has been bragging on me ever since we returned). Next I paddled forward while keeping hold of Greg in order to ram my boat between two rocks, thus safely bring him up on the only bank available. After Greg was discovered to be ok, I took off down river and managed to get the kayak before it was too far down river. I was able to get out about a half mile down river and pull out the boat. Greg walked over the ridge to catch back up with me at which point we tossed the rope back and forth so that I could tie the kayak to it then let him drift it back to himself on the other side. Some how, we cannot crack this mystery, Greg ended up with the paddle so it was not lost, but he was not holding it when he was pulled ashore. While we were getting Greg and his kayak back together we were getting hypothermic.

To add insult to injury it started to rain and the wind picked up. Two hours after the flip we were back in the water paddling towards an area to get out and get warm. The river still had some good rapids which we managed well. It was interesting to see the Novarupta ash end so went from 60 ft cliffs to no ash 3 ft later. The weather got better and worse over the day as well so we went from hypothermic and back several times, but we knew we had to finish the river in order to get a chance at a boat pick up from Neknek Lake. The rest of the day went pretty well and we even recovered an item that Greg lost from the Kayak later on in the day. The rain had an interesting effect on the river in places. It would cause the river to stack up creating 4-5ft waves in the center of the river which would slacken into mostly flat water then back again to huge waves. I went through it once for fun, but interesting enough you could paddle to the left or right of the wave and be close enough to touch the wave with your hand. Finally we reached the braided stream at the end that feeds into the end of the Savanoski River quickly followed by the Iliac arm of the Neknek Lake. The last .5 mile of the Ukak was so shallow the boat would catch on sand so you had to hip thrust the boat into a narrow channel that lasted 3-6 ft. Needless to say my abs hurt and we eventual decided to get out and walk through the cold water to the side of the river and out to the lake.

It is about 7 pm when we stare down 2.5 ft white caps and a strong head wind against us on the Neknek. Being such a terrible location and so cold we had to tough it out and paddle for the closest reasonable area to camp. Luckily we knew of an island that turned out to be amazing. It had a nice flat spot protected from the wind that was perfect and enough dead/down wood (also drift wood) for me to make a fire to warm ourselves. We reached the island by 8 and called back to Brooks Camp to let them know we had arrived on the lake. We made dinner on our stove and went to bed not too long after.

The next morning was 40 degrees and strong winds. We called about getting a possible ride in to camp, but no one was available and bear jams prevented getting out a boat. So we braved the white caps, cold, and head wind. As the day progressed it became very nice. I switched from sweater and rain jacket to just a t-shirt and the sun even came out as we were paddling the main stretch across the lake. That blessing became a curse as I got really sunburned especially on my elbow where I had scratched off a good bit of skin saving Greg. When we reached the moraine break, which separates the iliac arm from the main body of Neknek Lake, we encountered a sharp increase in wind which created several waves about 4 ft high with white caps. Luckily we made it through with no problems and reached camp just before 6 pm.

Today was just another fun day working with bears and bridge closures. The sunburn has been a little tough, but worked out well and I was even lucky enough to get a back rub last night. All said and done we had a good time and it made for a great story. "The Ukak Gauntlet" as we are naming the trip was probably the first time it has been run in 30-35 years and might be a while before another sole paddles its length again. Good night & happy thoughts to all until we meet again.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Please Stand By!!!

I truly apologize for not writing more. This year has been incredibly busy. I feel like I have so little free time and the summer is half way through. I should be writing more on the 5th involving hair cuts when surrounded by cackling witches, my July 2nd-4th adventure kayaking around Katolinat (1st time run in 20+ years)...people are praying for us to make it back with out radioing about a tragic accident. Don't worry though we are both returners who know the area very well and will laugh in our critics faces at our triumphant return. Also I will tell the harrowing adventure of how I escaped being trapped by 4 bears and stood my ground during not one, but two bluff charges. So stay tuned readers until the next exciting issue of the King blog. Know that I will see you later and hope that all is well for you and me.