Tag Archives: snow

Wet & Green

The ridge line above Blueberry Lake

This summer, Fairbanks has seen its 7th wettest since 1925. With 12.6″ of rain recorded as of last Friday, climatologists tell us that we are on a new trend. The typical summer rainfall is now 30% higher than in the 1920’s-1930’s. Juneau also saw its 6th wettest summer in 96 years. That’s saying something about our very wet capital city.

Fairbanks also had 19 days with thunder, which tied a record. We were 3.6 degrees warmer than average, which puts 2020 in the Top Ten, since recording began. Much of the change came in the rise of nightly low temperatures, due to the rain and cloud cover.

Officially, Fairbanks had a growing season of 130 days in 2020. That ties us for the 7th longest. Since 1950, the growing season in Fairbanks has increased by 16 days.

Wildfires burned a total of 181,000 acres in Alaska for the season so far. That is the lowest total since 2002. For one season, at least, wildfire crews did not have to worry about hotshotting into the Alaskan Bush. They have more than enough on their plate, as it is, in 2020.


Worthington Glacier

Hiking up to Worthington Glacier

When we were camping at Blueberry Lake earlier this summer, we spent a rare sunny day hiking up to Worthington Glacier.

Melt water flowing out from the glacier

Worthington Glacier is located in Thompson Pass at Milepost 29 of the Richardson Highway. It’s a typical small valley glacier, approximately 4 miles long, and sits at an elevation of 3800 feet.

Looking up at the glacier face

In normal years, the glacier is one of the most visited recreation areas on the Richardson, but this year we were the only ones hiking out at the glacier, while a few people hung out at the viewing area.

Fresh glacial melt

Worthington Glacier is retreating, although not quite as fast as other glaciers in Alaska. Thompson Pass is the snowiest area in the state of Alaska. On average, the pass gets 500 inches of snow every winter. It holds the state records of 974″ of snow in a year (81 feet!), and the most snow in a single day at 62 inches.

Worthington Glacier’s valley

Still, Worthington is in retreat. In the late 1990’s, the glacier extended to the pond in the picture above. In the last 20 years, Worthington has retreated a quarter of a mile, in spite of the tremendous snowfall in the area.


The White Stuff

Eielson Visitor Center; Photo credit: Denali National Park

Denali National Park saw snow on Friday morning. I was just recently out to the Eielson Visitor Center with visiting family members, so the pictures definitely grabbed my attention.

Fairbanks did not see snow, only 6/10 of an inch of rain.

On Saturday morning, Anchorage dropped below 40F for the first time this season. (The season started August 1) It was the first time since 1961 that Anchorage dropped below 40F before Fairbanks did. By Sunday morning, the natural order had returned to normal, when Fairbanks officially dropped to 34F and Anchorage stayed at 40F.

The (Park) road to Eielson; Photo credit: Denali National Park

I have seen snow fall in every month of the year in Alaska. Both July & August snowfalls took place when I was hiking in Denali.

The average date for the first snowfall in Fairbanks is September 30. We have seen snow in late August, and the latest first snowfall is Halloween. The average first snowfall of an inch or more is October 6.

I am not remotely ready for winter, mentally or physically. Alaska remains indifferent to my level of preparation.


Denali peeks through

Just the peak of Denali showing itself on the left

Denali was out on Sunday, making for the first time I’ve seen the mountain this summer. The picture was taken from the Northern viewpoint along the Parks Highway.


Peter Pan

Film Friday:

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Peter Pan Seafoods; Naknek, Alaska

 

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Peter Pan Alley

 

Camera: Leica M3; Film: Fujichrome 35mm, Velvia 100

 


The Return to Mount Kennedy

Connecting Generations through ice & snow:

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After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the people of Canada wanted to honor the slain president.  In November 1964, the Canadian government, following the suggestion of famed mountaineer, photographer and cartographer, Bradford Washburn, elected to name an unclimbed peak in the St Elias Mountain Range, Mount Kennedy.

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RFK on Mount Kennedy

The mountain lies 145 miles from Whitehorse, YT, within Kluane National Park, and less than 10 miles from the Alaska panhandle.  Mount Kennedy forms a triangle with Mount Alverstone and Mount Hubbard.  At the time of the dedication, the mountain was the tallest (13,944 ft) unclimbed peak in the St Elias range.

National Geographic put together a team to make the first ascent of Mount Kennedy in 1965.  The team was led by Jim Whittaker, who had been the first American to climb Mount Everest, and was made up of mostly experienced mountaineers.  Also making the climb: Bobby Kennedy, to honor his fallen brother.

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Jim Whittaker & Robert Kennedy on the summit

On 24 March 1965, the climbers made for the summit.  This was Kennedy’s first taste of mountaineering.  To add to the tension, RFK was no fan of heights.  The other climbers insisted that politics was far more dangerous than climbing mountains, which would prove prophetic.

Crossing the Cathedral Glacier, Kennedy fell into a crevasse.  Luckily, it was a narrow one, and he only went in to the waist, and quickly scrambled out.  The final run to the summit is the most risky, as the climber has to traverse a narrow ledge with a sheer one thousand foot drop.

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Photos credit: Whitehorse Star

Jim Whittaker and Bobby Kennedy would become good friends on the climb, a friendship that would last until Kennedy’s death.  Whittaker would name one of his sons after the U.S. Senator.

50 Years Later:

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The Whittaker Brothers

Fifty years after the original ascent of Mount Kennedy, the two sons of Jim Whittaker wanted to honor their father and his friend Robert Kennedy.  They decided to climb the mountain themselves.

Leif Whittaker is an experienced climber like his father, but Bobby Whittaker had more experience in Seattle’s Grunge Scene than summiting mountains.  Christopher Kennedy, the son of RFK,  would join the Whittakers on the expedition.

Return to Mount Kennedy is the documentary about the two ascents.  The footage from the original climb is pretty impressive to see.

I saw a screening of the documentary prior to the Coronavirus outbreak.  It was put on by REI, the outdoors store, which had Jim Whittaker as its early CEO.

The documentary is available on several streaming platforms.  The original National Geographic story can be found in the July 1965 edition of the magazine.

Trailer: Return to Mount Kennedy


The sound of moving water

Welcome back


The thaw has finally come to the north.  Running water, which has not been visible for several months now, can be found at every turn.  The change of seasons, so dramatic towards the ends of the earth, is an adventure to experience every year.

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The melt is slowly crossing The Pond

The transition season in Alaska’s Interior is a quick one, as a friend recently reminded me.  As I wrote earlier, it has been years since I experienced the spring thaw in its entirety.  I’m enjoying break up, even though boots are often required to experience the melt, close up and personal.

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Creamers Field

The snow is all gone out at Creamers Field, the local waterfowl sanctuary.  The field was loaded with geese, ducks, a few sandhill cranes, and more trumpeter swans than I usually see out there.  The swans arrived early, and are taking advantage of the retired dairy farm.  I took the Leica out there, so we will eventually see if anything will come out of those pictures.  The swans were putting on a show that day, so hopefully I captured something on film worth sharing.


Alaska Roundup

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Naknek River; Camera: Leica M3, Film: Fujichrome Velvia 100

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.

 

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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.

No offense.

 

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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.

 


The Hilton: Naknek

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Camera: Leica M3; Film: Fujichrome 35mm, Velvia 100

 

 


One Lonely Tree

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Along Kvichak Bay; Naknek, Alaska

 

Camera: Leica M3; Film: Fujichrome 35mm, Velvia 100