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.
This week is the 17 year anniversary of the 2002 Denali Earthquake. At a magnitude of 7.9, to date, it is the largest quake I have personally experienced.
On 23 October 2002, the Denali Fault released a magnitude 6.7 quake. That would be a foreshock of what was to come on November 3.
Highway Shift; Richardson Highway, circa 2002
After the 6.7, I remember the Alaska Earthquake Center saying that the Denali Fault was capable of producing an 8.0. Sure enough, the fault came very close.
I was at an intersection in my ’66 Chevy C-20. All of a sudden, the truck was lurching all over the place, and I found it hard to stay on the brake pedal. There were two university students in the next lane, the passenger rolled down his window and asked what the hell was happening. I said, “Earthquake”. He then promptly hit the driver on the arm and said, “I told you it was an earthquake”.
The light changed, I drove on, but had to stop at the next light. The earth was still shaking. An elderly couple had been walking on the sidewalk, and the wife fell to the concrete, the husband was struggling to stay upright by hugging a signpost. Then the shaking was over. I rolled down the other window, to see if the couple was all right. They were, and I headed home to see if there was any damage.
The quake had ruptured 205 miles of earth along three different, yet connected faults in Interior Alaska. It was the largest ever recorded in Alaska’s Interior. It was the largest inland quake North America had seen in almost 150 years.
Both the Parks & Richardson Highways saw major damage. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline moved sideways 18 feet, and rose 5 feet. The engineers had designed for the fault, and the pipeline behaved exactly as it was designed to behave. Although, it did come within two feet of its sideways movement limit.
The Denali Earthquake was felt as far away as Louisiana.
Previously, the largest earthquake Fairbanks had experienced was a magnitude 7.3 in 1937.
Prompted by the post on here about the sinking of the Princess Sophia, I had to read Walter Harper’s biography by Mary Ehrlander. It turned out to be a well written, and fascinating read.
Walter Harper was the youngest child of the famed Irish gold prospector Arthur Harper and Athabascan Jenny Albert. He was born in Nuchelawoya, which is now the village of Tanana, in December of 1892. Walter did not know his father, as his parents separated after his birth, and Jenny raised him in the traditional Athabascan ways.
At 16, Walter met the Episcopal archdeacon, Hudson Stuck. Stuck was immediately impressed by Walter, and he soon became the archdeacon’s trail assistant. It was a role that Harper flourished in. Already an accomplished hunter and fisherman, Harper quickly mastered the river boat and dog team, as Walter traveled with Stuck throughout the Yukon River basin.
Walter Harper with a pet fox kit
It didn’t take long for Harper to become vital to Stuck’s operation. In 1913, Stuck and Harry Karstens decided to attempt to climb Denali, North America’s highest peak. There was never any question that the 21 year old Harper would be a member of the expedition. Missionary Robert Tatum also joined the group. On June 7 of that year, Walter Harper became the first known person to step on the summit of Denali. By all accounts, Harper was the glue that held the expedition together, allowing it to succeed.
Walter Harper led an incredible life, in many ways he experienced the very best that Alaska had to offer at that time. Hudson Stuck was a prolific writer, and Harper kept his own journals of his experiences, although only Walter’s journal of the Denali summit has survived. Ehrlander is a great storyteller, and does a wonderful job of recreating Harper & Stuck’s adventures, as well as exploring what had developed into a father/son relationship.
Harper packed a lot of life into his short time on earth. Fresh off of his marriage at the age of 25, Harper and his new bride, Frances Wells, left for a camping trip, spending their wedding night in a tent along the Porcupine River. They did a hunting-honeymoon, for food to stock the Fort Yukon mission & hospital for the coming winter. Having such a good time in each other’s company, they stayed longer than planned, missing a steamer to Whitehorse, for their trip Outside. Eventually, the couple did leave Fort Yukon on the steamer Alaska for Whitehorse. From Whitehorse, they took the White Pass & Yukon Railway to Skagway, where they booked passage on the Princess Sophia’s last trip south for the season. The Princess Sophia would strike Vanderbilt Reef, and rough seas would eventually sink the ship. All lives on board were lost.
Walter Harper and Frances Wells were buried in Juneau.
“Here Lie the Bodies of Walter Harper and Frances Wells, His Wife, Drowned on the Princess Sophia, 25th October 1918. May Light Perpetually Shine on Them. They Were Lovely and Pleasant in Their Lives, And in Death They Were Not Divided
Harper Glacier on Denali is named after both Walter and his father, Arthur. The ranger station in Talkeetna is also named after Walter Harper. I highly recommend Walter Harper: Alaska Native Son to anyone interested in this unique time and place in history. Nothing is quite like early 20th Century Alaska, and Walter Harper makes an extraordinary subject. The sky is the limit as to what this Alaskan could have accomplished if he had lived a longer life. Which is simply amazing in itself, considering what he did accomplish in such a short time span.
We can file this one under the heading: I didn’t see this coming.
On the eve of the President’s visit to Alaska, the White House announced on Sunday that Mount McKinley would officially be changed back to its Athabascan name Denali. Alaska has had a standing request to change the name since 1975 when the state legislature passed a resolution, and then-Governor Jay Hammond officially appealed to the federal government.
Alaskans have long referred to The Mountain as Denali, but Ohio politicians have blocked the official change for decades. The Interior Department cites a 1947 law that allows it to change names when the U.S. Board on Geographic Names refuses to act in “a timely manner”. The Board has been deferring to Congress since 1977 on the issue, which seems to qualify.
So I have this friend who is an excessive planner. If he ever got a tattoo, it would be of a calendar. He’s the type of guy that buys his Franklin Planners five years in advance, and follows them on Facebook. He subscribes to the app “What Happened on This Date 10 Years From Now”.
I have another friend who is visiting the area. The Excessive Planner bemoaned the fact that the visiting friend could not make plans with him months in advance, because he had to remain flexible. Upon hearing this, my feelings for the visiting friend went soaring. We’re talking Denali heights.
To celebrate the news, I went out and bought a planner for myself. It’s getting cooler out now, and I’m going to use it for firestarter in my wood stove.
A 1924 Fageol Safety Coach in Denali National Park. Photo credit:Frances Erickson
During the 1930’s, the Mt. McKinley Tourist & Transportation Company used a Fageol Safety Coach to haul visitors into Denali National Park. The Fageol had a 218-inch wheelbase and could carry 22 passengers. In 1941, MMT&T Co lost the National Park concession, and the Fageol was brought to Fairbanks, where it has sat outside for the past 70+ years.
The Fageol Interurban Coach after 70 years of Fairbanks weather. Photo credit: Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum
An old photo of the coach in Denali, led to a rumor that the coach was in Fairbanks. It was found, surrounded by willows. After sitting out in the elements for 73 years, the Fageol Interurban was in extremely rough shape. The coach was donated to Fountainhead Auto Museum in Fairbanks, which went about preserving the vehicle for exhibit.
Photo credit: Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum
The refurbished Fageol Interurban Coach, complete with its Hall-Scott 4 cylinder engine, can now be seen on display at McKinley Chalet Resort.