It’s the first day of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, although to be perfectly honest, we are well underway up here in Interior Alaska. The colors have definitely peaked already, and over half of the leaves are now on the ground.
I had an unscheduled day off on Monday. A job cancelled on Friday, and there wasn’t enough time, or ambition, to schedule something else in its place. It’s unusual for me to get a nice day on an unscheduled day off, and Monday was an absolutely beautiful fall day up here.
So I spent the afternoon hiking the seemingly, endless system of trails that start at my deck. I saw only one other person and her dog at the start of the hike, and after that it was only the grouse, red squirrels, a couple of moose and myself.
The woods were mostly silent, with only the occasional scolding from a squirrel, or the pre-flush clucking of a grouse. Even the trail, loaded with a carpet of leaves, allowed me to pass with barely a sound: Only a faint rustling was left in my wake.
In August of 1935, Will Rogers and his pilot, Wiley Post, flew throughout the then Territory of Alaska. Post, a well known aviator, would fly the Lockheed Orion-Explorer, while Rogers pounded out newspaper columns on his typewriter.
They left Fairbanks on August 15 for Barrow. Encountering terrible weather, they managed to find a break in the fog, and landed their floatplane on the waters of Walakpa Bay, and asked some Inupiat hunters where they were.
“15 miles from Barrow.”
Post & Rogers returned to the plane, and took off. At an altitude of approximately 50 feet, the engine died, and the plane nosed-dived into the lagoon. The engine was driven back into the cabin, and crushed Post. Rogers was thrown from the plane. Both men appeared to die instantly.
The wrecked Lockheed after the crash
Will Rogers was easily the most recognized and beloved celebrity at the time of his death. His columns were read by an estimated 40 million people, and syndicated in over 600 newspapers.
Post was a famed aviator, and the two men had planned on flying across the Bering Sea to Siberia after their stops in Alaska. A Trans-Siberian flight on to Moscow was also part of the agenda.
Memorial to Rogers & Post at the Pioneer Air Museum
Two metal crosses were constructed to honor both Post and Rogers.
The crosses were deemed too heavy to transport by air from Fairbanks to the crash site near the Walakpa River, and approximately 11 miles from the community of Barrow.
The crosses are displayed at the Pioneer Air Museum in Fairbanks.
A marker and monument that stand near the crash site
Alaska’s annual day to celebrate all things salmon, is still on, but it’s going virtual this year. No salmon grilling open to the public this year, but you can always grill up some Alaskan sockeye in the privacy of your own backyard.
After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the people of Canada wanted to honor the slain president. In November 1964, the Canadian government, following the suggestion of famed mountaineer, photographer and cartographer, Bradford Washburn, elected to name an unclimbed peak in the St Elias Mountain Range, Mount Kennedy.
RFK on Mount Kennedy
The mountain lies 145 miles from Whitehorse, YT, within Kluane National Park, and less than 10 miles from the Alaska panhandle. Mount Kennedy forms a triangle with Mount Alverstone and Mount Hubbard. At the time of the dedication, the mountain was the tallest (13,944 ft) unclimbed peak in the St Elias range.
National Geographic put together a team to make the first ascent of Mount Kennedy in 1965. The team was led by Jim Whittaker, who had been the first American to climb Mount Everest, and was made up of mostly experienced mountaineers. Also making the climb: Bobby Kennedy, to honor his fallen brother.
Jim Whittaker & Robert Kennedy on the summit
On 24 March 1965, the climbers made for the summit. This was Kennedy’s first taste of mountaineering. To add to the tension, RFK was no fan of heights. The other climbers insisted that politics was far more dangerous than climbing mountains, which would prove prophetic.
Crossing the Cathedral Glacier, Kennedy fell into a crevasse. Luckily, it was a narrow one, and he only went in to the waist, and quickly scrambled out. The final run to the summit is the most risky, as the climber has to traverse a narrow ledge with a sheer one thousand foot drop.
Photos credit: Whitehorse Star
Jim Whittaker and Bobby Kennedy would become good friends on the climb, a friendship that would last until Kennedy’s death. Whittaker would name one of his sons after the U.S. Senator.
50 Years Later:
The Whittaker Brothers
Fifty years after the original ascent of Mount Kennedy, the two sons of Jim Whittaker wanted to honor their father and his friend Robert Kennedy. They decided to climb the mountain themselves.
Leif Whittaker is an experienced climber like his father, but Bobby Whittaker had more experience in Seattle’s Grunge Scene than summiting mountains. Christopher Kennedy, the son of RFK, would join the Whittakers on the expedition.
Return to Mount Kennedy is the documentary about the two ascents. The footage from the original climb is pretty impressive to see.
I saw a screening of the documentary prior to the Coronavirus outbreak. It was put on by REI, the outdoors store, which had Jim Whittaker as its early CEO.
The documentary is available on several streaming platforms. The original National Geographic story can be found in the July 1965 edition of the magazine.
“If you are old, go by all means, but if you are young, wait. The scenery of Alaska is much grander than anything else of its kind in the world, and it is not wise to dull one’s capacity for enjoyment by seeing the finest first”
— Henry Gannett
The Harriman Alaska Series
“If you are old and want to see the finest scenery in the world, there’s no time like the present. And if you are young, what are you waiting for? Check the ferry timetable, grab a sleeping bag, and go. Stay for a while. Believe me, it could be the event of a lifetime.”
— Mark Adams
Tip of the Iceberg
My little corner of Alaska
On a personal note: I took the second quote’s advice, loading my Labrador Retriever, camping gear and typewriter into a 1974 Ford Bronco, drove across half of the northern U.S, and took the ferry from Bellingham, WA through the Inside Passage to Haines, Alaska, and stayed a while…
In fact, today is the anniversary of my arrival to the State of Alaska.
It has been several events of a lifetime. With a little luck, I expect to have one or two more.
Earth, caught in a ray of light; Image credit: Voyager 1/NASA
The image was taken by Voyager 1 at the suggestion of Carl Sagan on 14 February 1990. At the time, Voyager 1 was 4 billion miles away from its home planet. As the spacecraft was approaching the fringe of our solar system, engineers turned it around for one final glimpse at Earth.
Artist rendering of Voyager 1; Credit: NASA
‘Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.’
The recovery of the Apollo 13 crew, near Samoa in the Pacific Ocean; Photo credit: US Navy
The command module, Odyssey, was the only module capable of reentering the earth’s atmosphere. Apollo 13’s crew moved back into Odyssey, then jettisoned Aquarius. They splashed down in the Pacific Ocean 142 hours, 54 minutes, 41 seconds from the time of liftoff.
Fred Haise, Jack Swigert and Jim Lovell aboard the recovery ship USS Iwo Jima
Fred Haise remained in the astronaut rotation after Apollo 13, and was the backup mission commander for Apollo 16. Following Apollo 16, Haise transferred over to the Space Shuttle program. He retired from NASA in 1979.
Jack Swigert was selected as the command module pilot for the Apollo-Soyuz test project, the first joint U.S. – Soviet mission. Swigert left NASA in 1977, and was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer in 1982. Swigert died in December of that same year.
Jim Lovell is one of three men to have flown to the moon twice, but he never walked on its surface. Lovell accumulated 715 hours in space, and watched 269 sunrises from space. Lovell, along with Haise and Swigert hold the record for the farthest distance humans have traveled from earth. He retired from the U.S. Navy and Space Program in 1973.
Apollo 13 Command Module; Photo credit: National Air & Space Museum
In the early morning hours of April 14, the Apollo 13 crew maneuvered their crippled craft into a free-return trajectory around the moon and back towards earth. Radio contact was lost with Apollo 13 that evening, as the spacecraft passed behind the moon.
Apollo 13, the mission that was supposed to be the third lunar landing, came within 164 miles of the moon’s surface at its closest. The mission set a then record distance from earth at 249,205 miles.
The above video was put together by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. It uses data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to recreate the view that Apollo 13 had as it passed over the far side of the moon.
As Apollo 13 headed for home, oxygen supplies and cooling water remain in good shape. The astronauts had reduced their water intake to 6 ounces per day. Electricity demand had been reduced by 80%.
Aquarius was not designed to carry three astronauts, and its carbon dioxide filters could not keep up with what the crew was putting into the LM. The filters from the command module did not fit Aquarius, so NASA engineers on the ground were forced to quickly design a makeshift adapter. The setup was dubbed “the mailbox”. All that mattered, was that it worked.