Tag Archives: video

Brooks Falls Bear Cam

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Click to link below to visit the Katmai “Bear Cam”, from explore.org:

 

https://explore.org/livecams/brown-bears/brown-bear-salmon-cam-brooks-falls

 

 


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.


Dall Sheep

Alaska’s Big Five; Chapter Five:

 

Dall Sheep, Ovis Dalli dalli, can be found throughout Alaska’s mountain ranges.  Dall Sheep prefer relatively dry country, their territory is the open alpine ridges, mountain meadows and steep slopes.  They like to keep an extremely rugged “escape terrain” close at hand, and are not often found below tree line.

The rams are known for their massive curling horns.  The ewes have shorter, more slender and less curved horns.  The males live in groups and seldom interact with the females until breeding season, which is in December.

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Lambs are born in late May to early June.  Ewes usually reach breeding age at 3-4, and have one lamb each year after that.  The lambs are most vulnerable during their first 30-45 days of life, and mortality rate is high during this time.  Wolves, black & brown bears and golden eagles are the main predators.

Dall sheep horns grow steadily from early spring to late fall, but tend to slow, if not stop growing altogether, during the winter months.  This leaves growth rings on the horns called annuli.  These growth rings can help identify the age of Dall Sheep. In the wild, 12 years of age is considered old for a Dall Sheep, but rams have been identified as high as 16, and ewes up to 19 years of age.  A Dall Sheep ram can weigh up to 300 pounds, with the ewes being about half that weight.

Between 1990 – 2010, Dall Sheep numbers had dropped by 21%, from 56,740 to 45,010.  Numbers started increasing up until 2013, when a later than average snowfall put a damper on recovery efforts.  Dry, heavy snow loads appear to have little effect on sheep population, but the heavy, wet snowfalls, with a frozen crust can make foraging and travel difficult.  Freezing rain has also become more prevalent.  All of these factors contribute to more avalanches, which have become a significant cause of death for Dall Sheep in the state.

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The Wolf

Alaska’s Big Five: 

 

The wolf, Canis lupus, has two distinct subspecies in Alaska.  Wolves in Southeast Alaska tend to be somewhat darker in color, and smaller physically than their northern Alaska counterparts.  Gray or black wolves are the most common, but pelts can be black to near white, with every shade of gray and tan in between.

The adult, male wolves of Interior Alaska normally weigh between 85-115 pounds.  Officially, the largest male wolf from Alaska was 179 lbs., although there have been claims of wolves over 200.  Females weigh 10-15 pounds less than the males, but rarely weigh more than 110 lbs.

Being social animals, wolves tend to live in packs.  On average a pack contains 6-8 wolves, although they can reach numbers much higher than that.  Moose and caribou make up the majority of their diet, although squirrels, rabbits, beaver, birds and fish will supplement their diet.  In Southeast Alaska, wolves primary prey are Sitka Black-tailed deer, mountain goat, beaver and salmon in season.

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Photo credit: Claire Dal Nogare, Flickr; Park Ranger Denali NP&P

Normally, one female in a pack has a liter of 4-6 pups in a year, on average.  Mortality rate is extremely high for the pups.  Few will make it to adulthood.  The lifespan for an Interior Alaskan wolf is 4-10 years, with the oldest known at 12 years old.

The wolf population is estimated to be between 7000-11,000 in Alaska, with a range that covers 85% of the state.  The population has never been declared threatened or endangered in Alaska.  Population density can vary greatly due to food source availability.

 

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Caribou

Alaska’s Big Five: 

 

Caribou are the only members of the deer family where both sexes grow antlers.  The bulls’ antlers are massive, but the cows’ are shorter and slight.  The hooves of caribou are large, concave and they spread out wide to support the animals on snow and tundra.  The hooves also act as paddles when swimming.

There are 32 herds of caribou in Alaska, with each herd occupying a distinct calving ground.  Calves are born in late May in Alaska’s Interior, and in early June in northern and southwestern Alaska.  The vast majority of calves are born as singles, but twins do happen, although rarely.  They weigh, on average, 13 pounds at birth, and grow quickly.  By 10-15 days after birth, the weight of a calf doubles.  A calf is running alongside its mother within hours of birth.

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Bull caribou will reach a weight of 350-400 pounds as an adult, although they can get as large as 700 pounds.  An adult cow caribou averages 175-225 pounds.  An average male lives to 7-8 years, while the females can live to 10 years.

Caribou can migrate huge distances between their summer and winter range.  The larger herds may migrate 400 miles between their two ranges, where a small herd may barely migrate at all.

The caribou population in Alaska is currently estimated at 750,000.  Their population can be cyclic, and can fluctuate widely in a rather short period of time.  The declines and increases in numbers can be extremely difficult to predict.  Predation, climate, weather, disease, population density and hunting can all have an effect on the caribou population.

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Moose

Alaska’s Big Five:

Moose (Alces alces), is the largest of the deer family, and the Alaska-Yukon subspecies (Alces alces gigas), is the largest of moose.

A small adult female may weigh 800 pounds, while a large adult male can reach double that at 1600 pounds.  Calves are born in the spring, with single births being the majority, but twins are common.  Calves weigh a mere 28-30 pounds at birth, but within 5 months they will often be pushing 300 pounds.  A moose rarely lives to the age of 16 years in the wild.

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There are roughly 200,000 moose distributed widely throughout Alaska.  On average, 7000 moose are harvested during the hunting season, providing 3.5 million pounds of meat.

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The Brown Bear

Alaska’s Big Five:

Brown bears and grizzly are classified as the same species, with the grizzly considered a subspecies of the brown bear.  Brown bears are found along Alaska’s southern coastline, and are larger and live in higher densities than their inland grizzly counterparts.  The main advantage to coastal living, is the abundance of salmon as a food source.  The thicker vegetation and warmer climate of the southern coast also helps to give the brown bear the size edge.

The Kodiak brown bear is considered a unique subspecies from the brown & grizzly bear.  The Kodiaks have been isolated from mainland bears since the last ice age, or 12,000 years ago.

Brown bear cubs are born in January & February, usually as twins, but a litter of 1-4 cubs will occur.  Cubs usually emerge from the den in June.  Cubs have a survival rate of less than 50%, even with ferociously protective mothers.  Cubs will stay with their mother for 2-3 years.  The oldest known brown bear female was 39 years old, with the oldest known male at 38.  They can reach a weight of up to 1500 pounds.

Bears have an excellent sense of smell, and their eyesight & hearing is similar to humans.  They are excellent swimmers, and can run in bursts at 40 mph.

Currently, the Alaska brown bear population is around 32,000.  Which is 98% of the population in the United States, and 70% of the total North American population.

Kodiak Island has approximately 3500 bears, which makes for .7 bears per square mile.

By contrast, Alaska has approximately 100,000 black bears living in the state.

 


Rest in Peace

America’s Poet: John Prine

Former Navy mechanic, and self-taught guitarist: Bill Withers

Patriarch of a jazz dynasty: Ellis Marsalis


Kuskokwim Highway

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Breaking trail on the Kuskokwim River; Photo credit: KTOO

The ice road on the Kuskokwim River in southwestern Alaska has reached a record length this year: 355 miles.

The ice road generally starts to take shape, weather permitting, in January.  This year, for the first time, the village of Sleetmute is on the river ice-highway system.

On average, the ice road runs 200 miles long, or so.  With unpredictable air transportation, the ice road can be a boon for residents trying to reach medical care, or to just buy supplies mid-winter.

Ice thickness near Bethel was at 3-4 feet, but it dropped to approximately 2 feet thick near Sleetmute.  One 14 mile section was so rough that it had to be bulldozed prior to plowing.

Thanks to KTOO, Johnny Cash, Rebecca Wilmarth and Corey Nicholai for the video.