Tag Archives: travel

Sunset by Rail

A sunset in Montana, while riding Amtrak’s Empire Builder.

Camera: Leica M3; Film: Kodak 35mm, Ektar 100


Behind the Ice Classic

I received a request for more behind the ice information regarding the Classic.


The Nenana Ice Classic Tripod on the Tanana River

In 1906, six gentlemen bet on the date the ice would go out on the Tanana River. The contest returned in 1917, when railroad engineers bet $801 on the date. The contest has been held every year since then, and has become an Alaskan tradition.

The tripod, is technically a quad pod. It’s made out of local logs and weighs several hundred pounds. A trough is dug in the ice for the tripod base to sit in, then a hole is bored through to allow river water to fill the trough and freeze the base in place.

Now things get really cool, but keep in mind the system was designed by railroad engineers in the early 1900’s.


The Ice Classic cleaver

A cable is fastened to the tripod, and four ropes run from the cable to a tower on the shoreline. The main rope runs through a pulley system that connects to a barrel weighted with several hundred pounds of rocks at the base of the tower. When the ice starts to move, this rope takes all of the stress and lifts the barrel of rocks several feet into the air.

A second rope has a foot of slack. This one triggers a siren in the town of Nenana to signal that the ice has started to move.

The third rope runs to a cleaver. This one has a bit more slack. The cleaver has been weighted, and also has over the years gained the nickname “Eldridge”. Named after the one time Black Panther leader, Eldridge Cleaver. However, Fred Mueller of Nenana, who designed this elegant system way back in the day, said he received his inspiration for the cleaver from the guillotine.*

When the tripod moves 100 feet, the rope to “Eldridge” pulls a pin, the cleaver is released, cutting the main rope. The counterweight crashes to the ground, and the tripod is free to float down the river.


The Official Ice Classic Chronometer

Once the main rope is cut, it falls pulling the final line, which is attached to a copper wire on the clock. The clock is then tripped, after the tripod moves 100 feet downstream, signifying the winning time.

There are actually two mechanical clocks. The one pictured here, which is a ship’s chronometer, was manufactured by the Elgin National Watch Company – which stopped making clocks in 1967 – needs to be wound once a day. The second, back up clock, needs to be wound only once every eight days.


A closeup of “Eldridge”

Photos and *behind the scenes credit: Dermot Cole/ADN, as well as other local sources


Yukon Quest 2019

The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race starts on Saturday morning from Whitehorse, YT. Thirty mushers and their teams will head down the 1000 mile trail towards the finish line in Fairbanks.


Yukon Quest elevation map

There is one section of trail that does not have enough snow for safe travel. Mushers will have to truck around the section between Braeburn and Carmacks. They will then restart 12 hours after their arrival in Carmacks. It is only the second time in the Quest’s history, that teams had to truck around a section due to lack of snow.


Chutes Montmorency

Going back over the falls:

Qu├ębec, Canada

Camera: Leica M3; Film: Kodak 35mm, Ektar 100


Walter Harper

A book review, of sorts:


Walter Harper’s biography, cover

Prompted by the post on here about the sinking of the Princess Sophia, I had to read Walter Harper’s biography by Mary Ehrlander. It turned out to be a well written, and fascinating read.

Walter Harper was the youngest child of the famed Irish gold prospector Arthur Harper and Athabascan Jenny Albert. He was born in Nuchelawoya, which is now the village of Tanana, in December of 1892. Walter did not know his father, as his parents separated after his birth, and Jenny raised him in the traditional Athabascan ways.

At 16, Walter met the Episcopal archdeacon, Hudson Stuck. Stuck was immediately impressed by Walter, and he soon became the archdeacon’s trail assistant. It was a role that Harper flourished in. Already an accomplished hunter and fisherman, Harper quickly mastered the river boat and dog team, as Walter traveled with Stuck throughout the Yukon River basin.


Walter Harper with a pet fox kit

It didn’t take long for Harper to become vital to Stuck’s operation. In 1913, Stuck and Harry Karstens decided to attempt to climb Denali, North America’s highest peak. There was never any question that the 21 year old Harper would be a member of the expedition. Missionary Robert Tatum also joined the group. On June 7 of that year, Walter Harper became the first known person to step on the summit of Denali. By all accounts, Harper was the glue that held the expedition together, allowing it to succeed.

Walter Harper led an incredible life, in many ways he experienced the very best that Alaska had to offer at that time. Hudson Stuck was a prolific writer, and Harper kept his own journals of his experiences, although only Walter’s journal of the Denali summit has survived. Ehrlander is a great storyteller, and does a wonderful job of recreating Harper & Stuck’s adventures, as well as exploring what had developed into a father/son relationship.

Harper packed a lot of life into his short time on earth. Fresh off of his marriage at the age of 25, Harper and his new bride, Frances Wells, left for a camping trip, spending their wedding night in a tent along the Porcupine River. They did a hunting-honeymoon, for food to stock the Fort Yukon mission & hospital for the coming winter. Having such a good time in each other’s company, they stayed longer than planned, missing a steamer to Whitehorse, for their trip Outside. Eventually, the couple did leave Fort Yukon on the steamer Alaska for Whitehorse. From Whitehorse, they took the White Pass & Yukon Railway to Skagway, where they booked passage on the Princess Sophia’s last trip south for the season. The Princess Sophia would strike Vanderbilt Reef, and rough seas would eventually sink the ship. All lives on board were lost.

Walter Harper and Frances Wells were buried in Juneau.


“Here Lie the Bodies of Walter Harper and Frances Wells, His Wife, Drowned on the Princess Sophia, 25th October 1918. May Light Perpetually Shine on Them. They Were Lovely and Pleasant in Their Lives, And in Death They Were Not Divided

Harper Glacier on Denali is named after both Walter and his father, Arthur. The ranger station in Talkeetna is also named after Walter Harper. I highly recommend Walter Harper: Alaska Native Son to anyone interested in this unique time and place in history. Nothing is quite like early 20th Century Alaska, and Walter Harper makes an extraordinary subject. The sky is the limit as to what this Alaskan could have accomplished if he had lived a longer life. Which is simply amazing in itself, considering what he did accomplish in such a short time span.


Snowy Pioneer Park


Historic cabins within the park

I spent some time walking through Pioneer Park, which was originally known as Alaskaland. The temperature was hovering just above zero at the time, and there was absolutely no one else in the park. None of the buildings were open either, with the tourist season running from Memorial Weekend to Labor Day Weekend.


Border Battle Weekend

The Minnesota Golden Gophers host the Wisconsin Badgers this weekend at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis. The Gophers will be celebrating their 1979 National Championship team on its 40th anniversary. Herb Brooks may be gone, but former players will be honored, and can no doubt be found wandering the rink’s concourse before games and during intermission.

The Gophers defeated North Dakota 4-3 in the title game in Detroit. They had three 70 point scorers on the team: Steve Christoff (77), Don Micheletti (72), and Neal Broten (71). Captain Bill Baker set a program record that year with 54 points from the blue line. Eight members of the 1978-79 Gopher hockey team would join Coach Herb Brooks at the 1980 Winter Olympics.

Prices at the concession stands are said to be at 1979 prices for Saturday’s game. Which makes me ask: Were they really charging $2.00 for a hotdog at the hockey end of Williams Arena back in 1979?

A program note: All University of Minnesota home games will be free to Federal employees & one guest, from now until the government shutdown ends.

Visuals courtesy of Golden Gopher Hockey