Tag Archives: Alaska

Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Preserve

National Park Week Day II; Today’s Park Theme: Volunteer Sunday

The Chitina River en route to McCarthy

Wrangell-St Elias may very well be my favorite road accessible park in Alaska. Denali is closer, and I visit it the most, but Wrangell-St Elias is a trip of its own. First off, it is the largest National Park at 13.2 million acres. It starts at sea level and rises all the way up to 18,008 feet with the summit of Mount St Elias, which is the second highest peak in the United States.

Mount Blackburn

Within Wrangell-St Elias is four mountain ranges: The Chugach, Wrangell, St Elias, and the eastern part of the Alaska Range. Mount Wrangell is one of the largest active volcanoes in North America, and nine of the sixteen tallest peaks in the U.S. are within the boundaries of Wrangell-St Elias.

If you prefer glaciers, Wrangell-St Elias has you covered with 60% of Alaska’s glacier ice within this park. It has the state’s longest tidewater glacier, North America’s largest piedmont glacier, and the world’s longest valley glacier.

The park offers an endless list of things to do. The hiking here is phenomenal, although established trails are few. The beating heart of this park is wilderness. I have seen the gamut of Alaska wildlife with Wrangell-St Elias.

The Kennecott Mine

The Edgerton Highway runs along the Copper River Valley to Chitina, where the McCarthy Road follows the old CR&NW Railway grade to the Kennicott River. For years, you had to stop there to take a tram across the river to the town of McCarthy and the mines of Kennecott. Today, the tram sits unused, and a walking bridge spans the river.

The Kennecott Mine and company town were named after the Kennicott Glacier, but they missed the spelling by a letter. It gets confusing trying to keep it straight. Copper ore was discovered here in 1900, and a rush soon started. Eventually, Kennecott would have five mines operating, but by 1938 operations had shut down. During that time span, the mines produced over 4.6 million tons of copper ore, and gross revenues of $200 million. I’m not sure what that dollar amount would add up to today. The Kennecott Mines are now a National Historic Landmark District.

McCarthy, Alaska in 1915
McCarthy Hardware in 2011

The population of McCarthy in 1920 was 127. By 2010 it had dropped to 28.

Some of the mines like Jumbo can be hiked to, and the green of copper ore can still be seen in the rocks around the area.

Fishing the Copper and Chitina Rivers is an Alaskan tradition, going back millenniums. Dipnetting for salmon is restricted to Alaska residents, but I can tell you that it is an adventure like no other.

If you want a park that you can disappear into, Wrangell-St Elias may just be the place for you. 2018 saw only 79,450 to the nation’s largest park. Like Alaska in general, that’s a lot of elbow room.

Find your Park!

Winter hanging on?

Film Friday:

Camera: Rolleiflex; Film: Kodak 120, Tri-X400

Answer: No, winter has lost its grip. The melt is on.


Is Winter about to lose its grip?

Snow depth graph credit: ACCAP/UAF

After the 14+ inches of snow dumped on us last week, there is only one year since recording began, that snow depth this late in the season was deeper. That was the infamous Winter of 1990-91. We have a whole lot of snow on the ground… and on the rooftops.

Graphic credit: NWS-Fairbanks

We have also set some cold records so far in April. On more than one morning, we have tied the record low temp in Fairbanks. On Friday, we tied the record low of -16F, and shattered the record low high when we climbed to a paltry +3F.

Saturday night saw a return visit to the deep freeze, with the temps dropping to -29F officially at the airport. It dropped to -35 at the cabin. The record low for the month of April is -32F, which we have left intact. Not to be outdone: Old Crow, YT dropped to -40.2C. Way to go Yukon!

Temperatures for this coming week have us seeing +40F for the first time since October. That is also a new record.

Map credit: ACCAP/UAF


Ice Drama

Film Friday:

Camera: Rolleiflex; Film: Kodak 120, Tri-X400


Haida Ermine

The Haida Ermine; Photo credit: Alaska Public Media

Southeast Alaska has a new carnivore on the block. Or, I should say that a new one was identified recently. A new species of ermine was identified on Prince of Wales Island, and some were also found in British Columbia. The new species has been labeled the Haida Ermine.

There are three known species: one in Eurasia, one in North America, and now Southeast Alaska. The Haida Ermine was thought to be isolated around 375,000 years ago, due to a glacial period. Over time, it has developed different characteristics and has become its own species.

I am confident that the one living in my wood pile is just the common North American species, but it never sits still long enough for me to say that with 100% certainty.


Mushing Variants

As mushing season nears an end here in Interior Alaska, we offer you this tidbit:

Comic comes courtesy of The Curator

One of the final dog sled races of the season ended on Tuesday. The Kobuk 440, which is the only race held above the Arctic Circle, brings the season to a close. Results were still pending at press time.


Denali by Alaska Air


Ice Carvings at Night

Sea Turtles
Dragon & Knight
Let’s Dance
Raven


Bleak runs in 2020

Seward, Alaska Harbor

The numbers are in, although I think most of us in Alaska knew the gist of things: The salmon runs in 2020 fit the overall theme of the year. They were bleak.

King salmon returns were in the bottom five for harvests since the 1960’s. Sockeye returns were the second lowest since 1962. Coho and pinks were better than the other two species, but they were still down. The numbers coming back for the coho, or silver salmon, ranked 48th, pinks ranked 53rd since 1962.

The Alaska Department of Fish & Game is predicting a better return for pink salmon for 2021. Pinks are the only salmon species that Fish & Game forecasts the upcoming return. They are hopeful that Alaska will see an increase in all five species of salmon that return to our waters.

From a personal experience level: For several years now, I have seen a noticeable increase in our group’s salmon harvest in odd years, and a downturn in even years. 2020 fit in with that nonscientific trend, but it was certainly the hardest we worked to fill the freezer in 2020. Luckily, we made up for it with halibut and lingcod.

King salmon are now known to be returning to Alaska waters at a younger age. This means that they are coming back smaller. The factors causing this are still unknown, although increased predation and water temperature are high on the list of suspects. Salmon sharks and orcas certainly take a bite out of the salmon population, and it would be expected that they may gravitate towards the larger salmon, but these predators are hardly new to the Gulf of Alaska and beyond.

I admit that I am hoping for a rebound in the salmon return for 2021.

Fishing for silvers, but catching pinks in Resurrection Bay, Alaska

Both photos were taken in 2019


USCGC Healy to sail Northwest Passage

USCG Cutter Healy 700 miles north of Utqiaġvik, Alaska; Public domain photo: Credit USCG

The largest icebreaker of the three in the service of the United States Coast Guard, will sail through the Northwest Passage at the end of this summer. The sailing will be a joint venture with the Canadian Coast Guard.

The Cutter Healy is named after Captain “Hell-Roaring” Mike Healy, who was captain of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear. The Bear sailed the Alaskan coast for decades. The icebreaker Healy has accommodations for the entire crew, as well as for up to 50 scientists. The Healy can continuously break through ice up to 4-1/2 feet thick at 3 knots, and up to 10 feet thick, when “backing & ramming”. The Healy is designed to operate at temperatures down to -50F, and was the first U.S. surface vessel to reach the North Pole unaccompanied.

The upcoming mission through the Northwest Passage is officially a joint research and educational collaboration. That may very well be true, but it’s hard to ignore the geopolitical message that will be sent along with the research.

As the sea ice in the Arctic diminishes, clearly transport through the Northwest Passage will increase.

Currently, plans have the Cutter Healy leaving Dutch Harbor in mid-August for the Northwest Passage. By mid-September the icebreaker expects to do exercises out of Nuuk, Greenland around Baffin Bay.