Tag Archives: hiking

Burning Increase

Graphic credit: IARC

It may seem like an odd time to think of the fire season here in Alaska. After all, we officially had 29 inches of snowpack at the end of March, and have been adding to that steadily during this first week of April.

In a state that boasts some of the finest summers on this planet, one thing that can ruin a summer in a hurry is a bad wildfire year. Alaska has been trending upward in acres burned over the past 60 years. From 1.6% of the state seeing wildfires during the decade of 1961-1970, to 3.1% of the state going up in smoke in the most recent decade.

2004 was the worst year on record with 6.6 million acres burned. It was a nasty summer here in the Interior. I had hiked the Chilkoot Trail at the end of June, and had made it back to Skagway in time for July 4th, only to find out the embers had really hit the fan. Wildfires were everywhere between Fairbanks and Whitehorse in the Yukon. In Skagway, I called my Dad to tell him not to visit in a few days, because the smoke was so bad, but he came up anyway. We sat on my deck one evening and watched lightning start a fire a couple of valleys over. The next morning air tankers were dumping water over the fresh fire. We climbed to the ridge top in the evening to see a wall of flame across the valley floor.

I couldn’t count the number of dry thunderstorms we saw that summer. I remember standing out on my deck at 2am one morning, lightning was flashing down on the hills all around me, but all I could see was an eerie glow in the thick smoke, followed by the thunder crashing down, rolling across the land. If a fire had started close by, I would never know until the flames were roaring upon the cabin. The smoke was so thick that visibility was down to mere feet.


Turnagain Arm

Looking across Turnagain Arm

Turnagain Arm, south of Anchorage, received its name from one William Bligh, who was serving under Captain James Cook, during his search for the Northwest Passage. Bligh was sent out with a party to explore the two arms of what is now Cook Inlet. Both arms of the inlet led to rivers, and not the famed Northwest Passage, and Bligh testily named the final arm Turn-Again, because they had to turn around for a second time. It’s no wonder his crew would eventually mutiny.

The Turnagain Arm tidal bore; Photo credit: Alaska Railroad Collection

At low tide, Turnagain Arm becomes a large mud flat. The tides here are the largest in the United States, coming in at 40 feet. The arm is also known for its tidal bores, which can be as high as six feet, which is an impressive sight, as it rushes across the arm. Beluga whales often surf the bore as it comes in.

The sun sets over the waters of Turnagain Arm; Beluga Point, Alaska


Tundra Travel

Film Friday:

Newtok, Alaska

We were in the calm between the storms when I took this photo. It gives a good look at life on Alaska’s tundra. The airstrip for the village is in the background, with the hanger, housing the grader/snowplow, on the horizon. A plane had not been able to land for several days, and it would be several more before one came in. People were going about their business: walking or riding a four wheeler or snowmachine. Dogs roamed about, on their own personal business, as well. “Bear”, my seemingly constant canine companion, was sitting in the snow at my side, taking in all the action with me.

Camera: Widelux FVI; Film: Kodak 35mm, Tri-X400


Wading through the snow

Film Friday:

Just a little bit of snow on a winter walk

Camera: Leica M3; Film: Kodak 35mm, TMax100


Denali Trestle

Film Friday:

Alaska Railroad trestle bridge over Riley Creek; Denali National Park & Preserve

Camera: Minolta SRT201; Film: Kodak 35mm, Ektar100


#OptOutside 2020

Proper wildlife distancing, courtesy of National Park Service

With the pandemic encouraging many of us to put off large Thanksgiving gatherings this year, and foregoing the annual insanity of “Black Friday” (an event I honestly have never understood), there remains the opportunity to explore the outdoors.

The current situation is what it is, and we are stuck with it. For the moment, at least. Now, more than ever, why not opt to head outside? Social distancing is a lot easier to accomplish, and it’s good from time to time to remind ourselves that we are still a part of the natural world.

So try to spend some time outside this weekend, but remember to keep your proper wildlife distance.


Trying to squeeze in one more shot…

Film Friday:

Denali National Park

…and not quite making it.

Camera: Minolta SRT201; Film: Kodak 35mm, Ektar 100


Alaska Railroad

Film Friday:

Alaska Railroad bridge in Denali NP

While out on a hike in Denali NP, the Alaska Railroad bridge was off in the distance. The Alaska Railroad has a station within The Park.

Camera: Minolta SRT201; Film: Kodak 35mm, Ektar100


Glacier Scouring

Film Friday:

Worthington Glacier Valley

Camera: Minolta SRT201


Bus 142

The famed Magic Bus; Fairbanks Transit Bus #142

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.

Bus 142 gets flown out by Chinook

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.

Bus 142 in front of the Museum of the North

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:

https://crowdfund.alaska.edu/project/22255