Tag Archives: snow

Revisiting the Exit


Exit Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park

Another year, another wonderful day, and another hike up to Exit Glacier. According to the park ranger I spoke to, the glacier had receded 70 meters, or roughly 200 feet since we had last visited Exit in August of 2017.


The view from 2010

The signpost marks where the toe of Exit Glacier was just eight years ago. Due to the sunny weather, the trail was a busy place to be, and the glacier’s toe was an ice fall hazard zone.


Exit Creek

Exit Creek rushes out from under the glacier, on its journey to Resurrection Bay and the Gulf of Alaska.


The Tamarack

I have a soft spot for the tamarack tree. It’s a tough, ornery, slow growing tree, that can be found in the low, boggy areas of Interior Alaska. Our population is distinct, in that it is 430 miles from the closet neighboring tamarack grove in the Yukon.

Tamarack is the Algonquian name for “wood used for snowshoes”, which makes it even more endearing. It is a pioneer tree in the north. Often the first to take hold in a swamp or bog, or after a fire ravages through a lowland area.

In the autumn, the tamarack turns a brilliant gold, often long after the birch and aspen have lost their leaves entirely.


Fair Warning


Comic credit: Jamie Smith, “Nuggets”


Wild River State Park

Along the Saint Croix River, Minnesota Bank


The Saint Croix River

When I was back in Minnesota, I took three kids, ages 11, 13 & 14, camping out to Wild River State Park, which lies along the St Croix River, on the Minnesota side. We had beautiful weather, but it did drop down to the low thirties at night.

We did a lot of hiking, the kids may say that I made them do a lot of hiking, either way… that was the point of getting out. The wildlife was out enjoying the sunshine too, as we spotted turkeys, deer, ruffed grouse, hawks, eagles and plenty of ducks, geese & loons. The kids learned the different croaks of three species of frogs, including the wood frog, which is Alaska’s only frog. They also learned several bird calls. We also did some geocaching, even though an exasperated 11 year old, found that entire endeavor, a complete waste of time.

With three kids, a campfire was mandatory. S’mores, and roasted hotdogs were part of the menu, but I was greatly amused by the kids’ willingness to try out several dried food choices. The freeze dried mac & cheese was a disappointment, the chili a 50/50 deal, and the spaghetti being the overwhelming winner.

I think it is safe to say that my type of camping was a new experience, and this was as close to “glamping” as this wandering Alaskan ever gets. My favorite question of the weekend was: “How do you boil water without a microwave?” I was left speechless. I had picked up a used Coleman stove and lantern, thinking that this would not be the only camping trip I took the kids on. Coleman camping gear is about as bullet proof as gear gets, and the used gear can be picked up at some very reasonable prices. I bought the gear from a guy who had at least a dozen stoves to choose from, and over twenty lanterns! Coleman hoarding?

Pressurizing the stove, I kept getting asked, “Why isn’t it turning on? What’s taking so long? Is it broken?” Alas, I may have taken them out too late. It took some explaining, and I thought I was making progress, but the same questions followed the lantern lighting. My responses were simple, yet widely ignored: “Quiet. Watch the whole process. No, it’s not broken. If the three of you stopped talking at once, you might learn something. It’s the same as the stove. What do you mean you forgot how the stove lit?” In the end, they received a couple of new experiences, if nothing else.


Not the Wild River

Designated a National Scenic Riverway, The St Croix River is one of the original rivers to be protected under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. The St Croix is 169 miles long, and it’s final 125 miles forms the boundary between Minnesota & Wisconsin. It really is a beautiful river, and would well be worth the time to float.

When we were there, the river was over the flood stage, after the area received the ridiculous April blizzard, which dumped 18″ or so of vile snow. Fishing had opened on the river, but with the high water, it was near impossible for the kids to fish from the bank. Shrubs and small trees which would have been behind you, were now under water in front of you. Snags were commonplace, and I had to wade in to untangle lures on occasion.

Overall, a great little park, with a beautiful setting. Lots of wildlife, trails and most important: 18 miles of the St Croix.


Battle of Attu

Operation Landcrab
11 May 1943
75 years ago:


Map of the Aleutian Chain

On 7 June 1942, the Japanese Northern Army landed, unopposed, on Attu Island. The island of Kiska had been invaded the day before. Allied command for the Aleutian Campaign spent the better part of the next year preparing to repel the Japanese from the Aleutian Islands.


Attu Island with 1943 Battle descriptions

On the morning of 11 May 1943, visibility off the coast of Attu was estimated at a “ship’s length”, due to the heavy fog blanketing the island. The 7th Division’s Northern Force was to land at Beach Red, a few miles north of Holtz Bay. Beach Red was a narrow strip, maybe 100 yards long, and surrounded by 250′ walls of rock. The Japanese had no defenses nearby, because they never considered it a viable landing point.

Captain William Willoughby had 244 men in his Scout Battalion. They came up to Attu in two submarines: the Narwhal and Nautilus. They shoved off in their rubber boats with 1-1/2 days rations, landing at Beach Scarlet in Austin Cove. The air temperature was 27 degrees.

The 7th Division’s Southern Force was the largest of “Operation Landcrab”. They landed at Massacre Bay All three landings were unopposed. The beach heads were secure and all forces had made gains, but they were now stalled. The Americans could not see the Japanese up in the fog, but the Japanese could see down out of it.

The very first shot fired by American land forces was a 105 mm howitzer. The big guns had been mired on the beach. Cat tractors tried to maneuver them, but their treads broke through the muskeg, and were quickly spinning uselessly in the black muck underneath. A Japanese mortar crew was spotted on a ridge, and a howitzer was moved into position by brute strength. The howitzer fired, and the recoil of the big gun slammed the gun’s sled 18 inches into the muskeg.*


Massacre Bay, Attu Island 12 May 1943

The following day, men and equipment streamed onto the beaches. The Navy ships bombarded the ridges. The Battleship Nevada unloaded her 14″ guns onto the mountain tops above Massacre Valley. The Japanese positions were heavily entrenched, the progress for the Allied forces was slow. The Arctic conditions were brutal, and exposure-related injuries common. Travel over the island was through mud, snow, ice and the unforgiving muskeg. After two weeks of endless fighting, the Japanese were finally pushed up against Chichagof Harbor.


Japanese troops lie at the bottom of Engineer Hill after the banzai charge

With no hope of victory, and little hope of rescue, Colonel Yasuyo Yamasaki led his Japanese troops in one final banzai charge. The Japanese broke through the front lines, and rear echelon troops suddenly found themselves in hand to hand combat with the Japanese. The Japanese charged Engineer Hill in an attempt to gain control of the big guns set up there. The 50th Engineers held their ground, however, and the charge failed. Almost all of the Japanese in the charge were killed, many by suicide by grenade after the charge failed. The failure of the banzai charge effectively ended the Battle for Attu.


American troops making their way across Attu

Officially, the Battle of Attu ended on 30 May 1943, but isolated Japanese troops continued to fight until early July.

549 men of the U.S. 7th Division were killed on Attu, 1148 wounded, and over 1200 suffered severe cold weather related injuries, 614 disease, 318 other casualties: accidents, drowning, self-inflicted.

The Japanese lost over 2350 men. Only 28 were taken prisoner.

The Battle of Attu, when considering numbers of troops engaged, would rank as the second most costly battle for the United States in WWII – second only to Iwo Jima.*

The Battle of Attu was the only battle of World War Two to have taken place on U.S. territory. It was also the only battle between the U.S. and Japan to have taken place in Arctic conditions.

The Japanese had assembled a massive fleet in Tokyo Bay to repel the Americans from retaking Attu. The fleet had 4 carriers, 3 battleships, 7 cruisers and 11 destroyers. The Allies captured Attu before the fleet could leave the bay.

*The Thousand Mile War by Brian Garfield


Engine #8


The Palm Sunday Avalanche

3 April 1898:
The Chilkoot Trail, Alaska Territory


Front page of the Dyea Press, 4 April 1898

The conditions were perfect: Late season snow, followed by days of unusually warm temperatures, which were followed by another snowstorm. Experienced packers refused to head up the trail, due to the conditions, but many stampeders didn’t listen and carried their own supplies up the trail towards Canada.

The avalanches started on 2 April. A small camp of 20 men was buried, but all were dug out alive. The snow really started to fall on Sunday, the third, which happened to be Palm Sunday. Mini avalanches rumbled from the mountain pass, so The Scales on the Chilkoot Trail were abandoned for the day. Roughly 150 men headed down the mountain pass towards Sheep Camp.

Then the main avalanche hit.


Stampeders looking for fellow buried miners after avalanche. Courtesy of Yukon Archives

The avalanche swept down from above The Scales and headed towards Sheep Camp. When it came to a halt, it covered an area of 10 acres under 30-50 feet of snow. Stampeders raced up from Sheep Camp digging frantically for survivors. At least 65 men were killed by the avalanche, but that number is an estimate, considering the mad rush that was taking place on the Chilkoot to get to the Klondike gold fields.

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The Slide Cemetery
Dyea, Alaska


The Slide Cemetery in Dyea, Alaska – Camera: Kodak Folding Cartridge; Film: Kodak Verichrome 120

I hiked the Chilkoot Trail several years ago, and have written about that trek on here before. When I did that hike, one of the cameras I carried was an old Kodak No.2 Folding Cartridge. I thought it would be cool to carry a camera that was at least close to the era of the Klondike Stampede, even though this particular Kodak was manufactured around 20 years, or so, after the famed gold rush.

There is very little left of the town of Dyea from its heyday. A few store fronts are propped up in the woods, and the old dock piers are still visible going out into the bay. Dyea is also the location of the Slide Cemetery. All of the bodies that were found under the Palm Sunday Avalanche are buried here. I ventured out there with my cameras before I started on the hike. It’s an eerie place, which is only compounded by seeing the same date etched onto every grave marker: April 3, 1898. The air hung heavy, and the only sound that broke the silence was the click of my camera’s shutter.


E.T. Hutton Camera: Kodak Folding Cartridge; Film Kodak Verichrome 120

I was out there for quite some time, but I had the cemetery to myself; not one other person came by. The cemetery is not layed out in neat rows; the grave markers are haphazardly scattered about, which makes complete sense considering its origins. Today, the forest is reclaiming much of the cemetery.

I had taken several pictures from different angles, when a strong breeze blew in; I could follow the gust as it moved its way through the trees towards the cemetery. It blew overhead, and I looked up in time to see large broken limb fall from the trees above. I easily jumped out of the way, and the shaggy treetop landed right where I was standing. I thought for a moment, then said out loud: “I can take a hint. Just one more picture, and I will leave you in peace.”

I took the silence for an answer, clicked my final photograph, then left Dyea. Looking back at the print, I think the old Kodak did a great job of capturing the eerie feel of the cemetery that day.


A Kodak No.2 Folding Cartridge Camera