For the first time in 70 years, no one climbed Denali in 2020. In an average year, 1200 climbers attempt to summit the tallest peak in North America, with around 58% being successful.
The National Park Service has announced that climbing permits have resumed for 2021. So far, most applications have been for domestic climbers, with the number of requests from foreign climbers being down from normal years.
This was certainly good news for businesses in the Northern Susitna Valley, which provides everything from transportation to The Mountain, as well as supplies and accommodations for the climbers.
The Nenana Ice Classic tripod was raised on the Tanana River this past weekend. The Ice Classic is our annual event, where residents and visitors can guess when the ice goes out on the Tanana. This is the 104th year of the event. Tickets are $2.50 per guess. The ice thickness as of Sunday was 44-1/2″.
The 2021 Iditarod:
The Last Great Race is seeing a lot of changes for Covid-2021. The race will not end at Nome this year, due to Covid concerns. In fact, to protect villagers, mushers will not be venturing into communities like in a normal year. Due to the new route, which is now an 850 mile long loop, teams will race to the ghost town of Flat, and return to Willow.
There was no ceremonial start in Anchorage this year. The 46 mushers and their teams went directly to Willow for the Sunday morning start time. Press accounts have the crowd at starting line at 300 visitors, mostly family and dog handlers. In a normal year, there would be at least 6000 cheering the teams on.
Mount Veniaminof, which is located on the Alaska Peninsula, erupted last Thursday. The ash plume that exploded from the volcano did not reach 10,000 feet. Veniaminof last erupted in the fall of 2018.
Mount Veniaminof is a rather active stratovolcano, having erupted at least 14 times in the past 200 years. It is surrounded by a 25 square mile ice field. According to the National Park Service, the glacier is the only one known in North America with an active volcano at its center.
As of 7 March, Veniaminof continued to show an ash plume via satellite imagery. Mount Veniaminof rarely shows itself for the camera. The volcano is visible only one or two days a year, the rest of the time, Veniaminof is shrouded in clouds and fog.
I was invited earlier in the week to attend an online screening of the new documentary Frozen Obsession. For 18 days, a research crew ventured into the Northwest Passage on board the Swedish ice breaker, Oden.
The ramifications of the opening of the Northwest Passage for those of us in the Arctic are large. The documentary explores some of that, along with the drastic changes we are seeing, and some of the history of what truly has been an obsession at times, regarding the famed passage.
The expedition was clearly geared towards education, with 28 undergrad and graduate students on board the vessel, conducting research. It’s extremely rare to see undergrads involved in research at this level. This included two Inuits from Nunavut. The team also did 40 live Q&A sessions via satellite, to museums and education facilities back on the mainland, including institutions in Alaska.
One of the frightening takeaways was the amount of plastic that was found frozen in the sea ice. Researchers could not contain their surprise at the amount that was discovered in the core samples. In an area that is still considered pristine by many, plastics and micro-plastics have made their way to the far northern waters.
The documentary is an hour long, and well worth the time if it becomes available to your community or streaming service. The excitement of the young researchers alone is rewarding to see.
It appears that the “Happiness Engineers” here at wordpress have figured out which behind the scenes gremlin has been messing with life between The Circles. This site is not exactly fixed, but the offending “plug in” has been deactivated, and I hope that action does not cause any unforeseen issues. We shall see. For the moment, at least, the site has returned to it’s somewhat normal state.
Due to the hiatus, I am no longer in the habit of collecting post ideas, let alone building posts, so we will go the easy route and bring you bears. After all, with every movie out of Hollywood on Alaska, they always throw in a bear, whether it fits the story line or not. Here between The Circles, we are going all out by bringing you top of the line, Katmai bears.
The application deadline for permits to head to McNeil River to view the Katmai bears was yesterday. I’m late in relaying this information, but it does increase my odds at getting a permit. Camping within the Last Frontier also appears to be loosening up for 2021, as several National Parks and State Parks are either open for reservations, or are about to open. That is good news for most of us in-state.
Due to Canada continuing the ban on cruise ships larger than 250 capacity, there looks to be no cruise ship visits to Alaska until 2022. Cruise ships below that 250 passenger mark will be visiting both Alaska and Canadian ports. This would be a great year to visit Skagway, assuming Canada allows us to drive through Haines Junction.
As promised in the headline, explore.org, the fine folks that bring the Katmai Bear Cam to the world, has a 2020 Bear Close Up video for your bruin viewing pleasure:
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.
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.
In 1948, what would become the Alaska Marine Highway System, started out as a ferry service between Haines and Juneau with a surplus WWII landing craft, which was dubbed The Chilkoot. Demand quickly outpaced what the 14 vehicle Chilkoot could provide, so the territorial government commissioned the building of a dedicated ferry at the cost of $300,000.
The MV Chilkat came on line in 1957, as the first ferry in the new Alaska Marine Highway System. Painted blue and gold, the ferries soon took on the nickname Alaska’s “blue canoes”.
The Chilkat was “the Queen of the Fleet”, and traveled the Lynn Canal daily, between Haines, Skagway and Juneau. Later, it would ply the waters between Ketchikan and Annette Island. The Chilkat carried 59 passengers and 15 vehicles, and was a workhorse in Southeast Alaska until 1988.
The Chilkat became a scallop tender in 1988, when the State sold her.
High winds hit Anacortes, Washington on January 13, where the Chilkat was docked. She broke loose from her moorings in gusts of 50 knots, shifted awkwardly, and sank within minutes. Three boats broke free during the storm, but only the 99 foot former ferry sank.
Since the Chilkat had been taken out of service, she had no fuel or oil in her system. The owner of the boatyard says the Chilkat will be eventually be raised from the sea bed.
It’s been a warm winter so far for Interior Alaska. The low temp for this winter season was officially -29F at the airport. At this same point last year, we already had seen two weeks worth of -30 or colder. We have not hit that mark yet, although I have seen a few -30F degree mornings at the cabin.
The winter started out with some decent dumpings of snow, but that tap has been turned off since mid-November. We have had a total of 5″ since November 16. That is well below the average of 22.4″ during that period. The record snow over that same time frame is 86.8″, which fell during the 1970-71 season.
Anchorage and Fairbanks combined have had 8/10 of an inch of snow over the past two weeks. By comparison, and I’m enjoying this, several towns in Texas have had more snow the past two weeks: Austin with 1.3″; Midland: 3.2″; Waco: 4″; College Station: 4.5″; Lubbock: a whopping 7.6″! Congrats on the snow.