It’s been an odd year, all the way around, but especially with the weather. Fairbanks had a dusting of snow last week, but nothing measurable. Anchorage had measurable snow before we did.
Juneau beat both Fairbanks and Anchorage for the season’s first freeze. Juneau! That’s just not right.
So winter is coming for Fairbanks. Even though 2-3 inches of snow is hardly much to get excited over, at least it’s a start. Denali Park & Black Rapids are at least looking to get a good jump on the season.
I guess I’m ready for snow. Let it fall.
Graphics credit: National Weather Service – Fairbanks
The bus is a 1946 International Harvester K-5. Originally, it was a part of the Fairbanks City Transit System. Since 1960, #142 has been sitting in a clearing along the Stampede Trail.
The Stampede Trail runs from the Parks Highway, north of Healy and Denali National Park almost due west to an abandoned antimony mine. Prior to the building of the Parks Highway, the trail, which dates to 1903, was accessed from the Alaska Railroad.
Bus 142 and two others, were hauled down the Stampede Trail by bulldozer. The busses were equipped with bunks and a wood stove, for construction workers maintaining the trail for the mine. In 1970, the mine ceased operations. Two of the busses were hauled back out, but #142 was abandoned to the elements, due to a broken axle.
Over the years, Bus 142 served as a shelter for hunters, trappers and snowmachiners in the area. Other than that, hardly any thought was given to the old transit bus.
That all changed in 1993, when Jon Krakauer published an article in Outside magazine. The story detailed the travels and subsequent death of Chris McCandless, at the bus, the previous year. The story also inspired a book, as well as a major motion picture. The book is great; the movie: “meh”.
The Stampede Trail is not considered “remote” by Alaska standards, but like any travel off the road system, the Stampede can, and does, have hazards. McCandless unfortunately found them, and tragically perished.
The bus now became a pilgrimage for many people from all around the globe. People flocked to take a selfie, while leaning against the bus, in the chair that McCandless took one from, just prior to his death.
The first 8 miles of the Stampede is maintained, partly paved and partly gravel. After that, the trail becomes more suited to ATV/off-road/hiking. The bus sits 28 miles down the trail. The main summer obstacle is the Teklanika River, although none of the rivers the trail crosses has a bridge. The flow of water can change drastically in the Teklanika with a rain storm or snow melt. When the river is rushing, it is an absolute torrent.
Two hikers who traveled out to see the bus, were swept to their deaths in the rushing water of the Teklanika. Many others were evacuated, after being caught on the wrong bank of the rushing river.
The Denali Borough and State of Alaska had grown tired of the rescues. This summer, as training for the Alaska Air Guard, Bus 142 was flown out to the Parks Highway by Chinook helicopter. It spent the better part of the summer at an “undisclosed location”, probably in Anchorage.
This past week, Bus 142, or as McCandless called it in his diary, “the Magic Bus”, returned to Fairbanks after 60 years. It came up the Parks Highway on a flatbed and posed for pictures in front of the University of Alaska’s Museum of the North. The bus will be stabilized, preserved and displayed at an outdoor exhibit on campus. Its entire history will be detailed with the new exhibit.
Anyone who wants to support the Museum’s conservation effort for Fairbanks City Transit Bus #142, can donate to the cause at the following site:
The North Slope village of Utqiagvik woke up to -20F degree temperatures on Wednesday morning. That was a record low for the day for the village. It was Utqiagvik’s first recording of a record low since 21 December 2007. During that same time span, the village had set or tied 112 record high temperatures.
Alaska has started to “reopen” businesses throughout the state, with everyone seemingly holding their breath as it happens. Travel restrictions into the state remain in place. Restaurants are now able to seat to within 25% of capacity, and members at a table are supposed to be from the same household.
The Fairbanks Borough had seen two weeks go by without a new case of Covid-19, but that ended on Sunday with a case in North Pole. Since then, North Pole has seen another diagnosed case. The State had six new cases on Tuesday, for a total of 351. 228 individuals have recovered from Covid-19, and nine Alaskans have died from the virus. Concerning, to me at least, is the first recorded cases in small, isolated, communities like Kodiak, Petersburg and Sitka after a long period of social distancing.
Fishing communities are still struggling with what to do for the summer season. Valdez has decided to allow fishermen into town without any quarantine, where several smaller communities are demanding a quarantine. The State of Alaska has agreed to allow fishermen to quarantine on their boats, although a realistic plan for that option remains elusive, considering most fly into these small communities, and air travel between towns not on the road system is off limits. Travel between communities on the road system is now being allowed.
Denali, and the Alaska Range
Tourism is all but scrapped for the 2020 season. The two main cruise ship companies have written off Alaska for the year, and have even decided to keep their lodges and hotels closed until late spring 2021.
Denali National Park has now opened the Park Road to Mile 12. As spring takes a stronger grip on the land, the Park will continue to open up more of the road as conditions allow. Denali Park is also considering having additional road lotteries in 2020. The lottery, which allows permit holders to drive well into the Park, where usually only busses are allowed, takes place in September. Additional opportunities would be extremely welcome. I’m thrilled with the idea, since the State is all but closed to Outside tourists this year.
Moose Crossing: Denali Highway at Tangle River
The Denali Highway, not to be confused with the Denali Park Road, is NOT open. Yet, people keep getting stuck on the road between Cantwell and Paxson. The Denali Highway, possibly the best drive in Alaska, is not maintained during the winter. It is also not paved, which keeps the riffraff numbers down. Or at least, the tour busses.
Alaska’s Denali Borough and Denali National Park have teamed up with REI’s #optoutside movement this post-Thanksgiving Friday. You won’t catch me in a store this weekend, but you might find me out on the trail.
See you outside. It should be close to 0F, plus or minus.
The 140 mile long Nenana River forms the eastern boundary of Denali National Park. This tributary of the Tanana River, is a popular white water rafting destination. The Nenana begins as a Class I, but turns into a Class IV in the Nenana Gorge.
A de Havilland Beaver (DHC-2), flying out of Talkeetna on a flight seeing tour of Denali National Park, tragically crashed near the summit of Thunder Mountain on August 4. The crash site is roughly 14 miles from Denali’s peak.
There were four tourists from Poland on board, as well as the pilot. Initially, word spread that several people on board survived the crash, but that is not the case. All five in the de Havilland perished.
Heavy cloud cover hampered efforts to reach the site in the days right after the crash. The National Park Service eventually was able to send out two crews in helicopters. The first was to check for survivors, and the second was to evaluate the scene for possible recovery. Park rangers were dropped by cable to the broken Beaver, which lay precariously on the mountain side.
After accessing the risk, The National Park Service came to the conclusion Friday, that any attempt to recover the five bodies in the plane would put the rescue crews in too much danger. One look at the photos show why. The Beaver is broken behind the wing, and the tail section is pulling the entire plane down. It’s a 3500 foot drop to the glacier below. Since the crash, 30 inches of snow has fallen, driving up the risk of avalanche.
On Friday, I spent some time downtown, and overheard several tourists complain about the NPS decision. I get why they thought that way, but I respectfully disagree. The risk to a recovery crew would be too great, and as tough as it is to hear it, NPS made the right call.