Tag Archives: history

Nenana Ice Classic 2020

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Not surprisingly, even the 103 year old Nenana Ice Classic has seen some changes this year due to Covid-19.  Every year, since 1917, Alaskans have been betting on when the ice would go out on the Tanana River at the village of Nenana.

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The Ice Classic time schedule

The earliest the ice has gone out was last year, when the famed tripod tripped the clock at 12:21 am on April 14.  The latest the ice has gone out was on May 20, which has happened twice.

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As one can see from the above graph, 2019 was an anomaly for more than one reason.  The ice rarely goes out between midnight and 9am.

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Image from the Nenana Ice Cam on April 7.

As of April 6, ice thickness near the tripod was 32.5″.  Usually, all guesses/tickets must be in before April 6, but the deadline has been extended to April 10.  We usually buy the tickets at various venues that have the bright red Ice Classic Can on their counter, the filled out tickets are then dropped in the can.  This year, since so many businesses are closed, and people are urged to stay at home, guesses can be mailed to the Nenana Ice Classic directly.  Entries must be postmarked no later than April 10, 2020.  Each guess/ticket is $2.50.

I have never missed an Ice Classic since I moved to Fairbanks, and this year joined the stay at home club, and mailed in my guesses.  Last year’s jackpot was $311,652.


The Yukon Fox

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Emmitt Peters crosses the Iditarod finish line in Nome in 1982.  He came in 4th place that year.  

Emmitt Peters, the Athabascan sled dog musher from Ruby, Alaska, passed away this past week.

Peters, known on the trail as “The Yukon Fox”, won the 1975 Iditarod as a rookie.  Not only did he win, but he shaved off six days from the previous record time.  To this day, The Yukon Fox remains the only musher to win the Iditarod as a rookie.

Peters was 79.


Happy Seward’s Day


Naknek, Alaska

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Looking out over Naknek from the Tribal Hall

Naknek sits along the shore of the Naknek River, where the river flows into Kvichak Arm of Bristol Bay.

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Bristol Bay is Alaska’s famed salmon waters.  It is the world’s most productive salmon fishery.  Naknek is home to both Trident and Peter Pan Seafoods, among many others.

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Hiking along the shore of the Naknek River

Naknek lies less than 20 road miles from King Salmon, which is also on the Naknek River.  It’s definitely fishing country, with over 75% of the jobs in fisheries.

When we visited, the town had only begun to get ready for the fishing season.  Many were worried about what the Corvid-19 virus was going to do to the industry.  At the time, Alaska had no known cases of the virus, but Washington State was already a hotbed.  Many summer workers come up from Washington every year.  Concerns were rampant, and not unexpected.

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The nightlife hotspot of Naknek

The community was welcoming and open about their unique lifestyle on Bristol Bay.  Naknek has a population of less than 600 in the winter months, but explodes to around 15,000 during the summer.  I have always wanted to visit the area in the summer, it must be absolutely beautiful.  The sockeye runs are a major temptation, but I simply could not imagine so many people in such a confined space as Naknek.  There is a nearby alternative, but more on that in a future post.

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Naknek, circa 1946; Naknek Native Tribal Council

 

 


Got Snow?

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Breaking trail with the snowshoes

Interior Alaska does.  

Fairbanks officially received 8.9″ of the white stuff from Sunday night to Monday afternoon.  That’s 13″ for the month of March, and more on the way for Wednesday.  It looks to be our snowiest March since 1991.

On the ground, we officially have 32″ of snow.  At the cabin, I have more than that, and in the hills above Fairbanks, there is certainly even more yet.

For the outdoor enthusiast, the snow is a boon for social distancing.  No staying inside, when one can find a trail, or make your own.


Vernal Equinox

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A young moose blocks my way to the job site on Wednesday; its twin was eating willows in the slough to the right.

Winter 2019-2020 seems to have dragged on forever.  We are finally turning the much anticipated corner into spring.  I understand, for some of you, briar & tick season leaves you feeling itchy over the upcoming season, but up here in the Far North, I’m more than ready for spring.  Without any hockey, we might as well melt the ice.

Spring officially arrives early this year.  We have not seen a spring this early on the calendar for 124 years. Looking at the snow still on the ground here in Fairbanks, only the warmer temps signal any sign of spring.

Here in Fairbanks, we have finally pushed over the 12 hour mark for daylight.  We gained 6 minutes, 44 seconds from yesterday.  That makes both the moose and I happy.


On the shoreline of the Ninglick River

Film Friday:

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Newtok, Alaska: After the storm

Camera: Rolleiflex 3.5MX; Film: Kodak 120, Tri-X 400 

 


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Newtok Post Office

The lean in the post office building is quite visible here.  This was the day after the storm, and when we first walked by, you could not see the building under the snowdrift.  On our return, a couple of hours later, the front had mostly been shoveled, but the front steps and door were still encased in snow.

Camera: Rolleiflex 3.5MX; Film: Kodak 120, Tri-X 400 

 


Leaning

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I don’t think I saw one power pole standing completely upright when I was in Newtok.  Due to the melting permafrost, the poles were all leaning one way or the other.  Some lines were so slack, I had to duck under them, some were so taught, I expected them to snap at any moment.  Several poles had been propped up with lumber.


Mertarvik

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The streets of Mertarvik, Alaska

We needed a ride across the Ninglick River to the new townsite of Mertarvik.  So the word went out, and by morning we had a couple of offers of snow machine rides.  I also had received an offer to guide us the nine miles across by foot.  Of our little troupe, I was the only one who was intrigued by this, although I had one guy who said, “If you’re walking to Mertarvik, I sure as hell won’t let you be the only one!”  In the end, lack of time overcame intense desire, and I hitched a ride on the back of a snow machine.

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The snow machine trail back to Newtok

Thirty minutes later, I was dropped off at the Tundra View Lodge.  Within fifteen minutes my partner in crime arrived, and we set off to explore the new location for Newtok.

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The Tundra View Lodge

People started to move across to Mertarvik from Newtok in October of last year.  First in line were the people who were displaced or very soon to be displaced, either by the melting permafrost or the river erosion.  Approximately twenty-two homes have been completed in Mertarvik, along with an evacuation center that currently houses the school.

In the evacuation center, I talked with an elder on the move from her traditional home.  She told me that she had cried for weeks leading up to the move, and the first few days in the new location.  But after a week or so in Mertarvik, she no longer wanted to go back to Newtok.  This was home now, and it was time to move forward.  The upcoming weekend had an area wide basketball tournament at the Newtok gym, the elder confessed to me that her granddaughter was playing, but she didn’t even want to cross the river for that!

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Toksook Bay traveling basketball team

Since the planes were not flying between the villages due to high winds, the basketball teams from around Nelson Island headed over to Newtok by snow machine.  I believe this is the Toksook Bay team, as they took a break on the edge of Mertarvik, before taking on the final nine miles to Newtok.  Toksook Bay is approximately 59 miles, as the caribou plods, from Newtok.

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Mertarvik, looking back across the river towards Newtok

The move across the Ninglick River has been 20 years in the making for the villagers of Newtok.  A lot of challenges remain, and the move for the remaining people of the village will still be a long and slow process, but the residents here are a hardy bunch.