Camera: Widelux VI; Film: Kodak 35mm, Tri-X400
Naknek sits along the shore of the Naknek River, where the river flows into Kvichak Arm of Bristol Bay.
Bristol Bay is Alaska’s famed salmon waters. It is the world’s most productive salmon fishery. Naknek is home to both Trident and Peter Pan Seafoods, among many others.
Naknek lies less than 20 road miles from King Salmon, which is also on the Naknek River. It’s definitely fishing country, with over 75% of the jobs in fisheries.
When we visited, the town had only begun to get ready for the fishing season. Many were worried about what the Corvid-19 virus was going to do to the industry. At the time, Alaska had no known cases of the virus, but Washington State was already a hotbed. Many summer workers come up from Washington every year. Concerns were rampant, and not unexpected.
The community was welcoming and open about their unique lifestyle on Bristol Bay. Naknek has a population of less than 600 in the winter months, but explodes to around 15,000 during the summer. I have always wanted to visit the area in the summer, it must be absolutely beautiful. The sockeye runs are a major temptation, but I simply could not imagine so many people in such a confined space as Naknek. There is a nearby alternative, but more on that in a future post.
Winter 2019-2020 seems to have dragged on forever. We are finally turning the much anticipated corner into spring. I understand, for some of you, briar & tick season leaves you feeling itchy over the upcoming season, but up here in the Far North, I’m more than ready for spring. Without any hockey, we might as well melt the ice.
Spring officially arrives early this year. We have not seen a spring this early on the calendar for 124 years. Looking at the snow still on the ground here in Fairbanks, only the warmer temps signal any sign of spring.
Here in Fairbanks, we have finally pushed over the 12 hour mark for daylight. We gained 6 minutes, 44 seconds from yesterday. That makes both the moose and I happy.
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.
The Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race started on Saturday morning. Fifteen teams left Fairbanks, with the goal of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory in 9 days, give or take.
It was a rather chilly morning to be hanging out on the Chena River to cheer the teams on their way, but several hundred people turned out to do just that. It was -25F when I left the cabin, and it must have been -30 down on the river ice. Everyone, including the dogs, were bundled up.
The 1000 mile race between Fairbanks and Whitehorse first started in 1984. A 1983 bull-session in the Bull’s Eye Saloon in Fairbanks, led to the race’s creation. Twenty-six teams left Fairbanks that first year. The winner, Sonny Linder, made it to Whitehorse in just over 12 days.
The Quest follows the historic gold rush routes between the Yukon and Alaska’s Interior, traveling frozen rivers and crossing four mountain ranges. Dawson City, YT is the half-way point. In even years, the race starts in Fairbanks, and in odd years the race starts in Whitehorse.
There are ten checkpoints and four dog drops, where dogs can be dropped off, but not replaced. Sleds can not be replaced without a penalty. The record run happened in 2010, when Hans Gatt finished in 9 days, 26 minutes. The slowest time happened in 1988, when Ty Halvorson completed the race in 20 days, 8 hours, 29 minutes.
Forty Below brings calls about frozen pipes when you work construction. I’m not a plumber by trade, but when Fairbanks hits a cold snap, there are not enough plumbers or heating guys in the north for all of the calls. I don’t go out of my way to do these jobs, but if one of my regulars tracks me down, I’m not going to give them the cold shoulder.
The pictured cat belongs to one of my regular customers, and she does not like to be ignored. This was not the first time I’ve ignored this cat, only to have it leap upon my back, or shoulder, or use my leg as a scratching post. A thick work shirt is required here.
The cat is a curious creature: always fascinated with the work I’m doing, the tools of the job, and the materials needed. A newly opened wall is an invitation to a new adventure, and a ladder, of any kind, causes a race to the top.
The house also comes with a dog. The dog is not curious. In fact, the dog is a bit of a coward. Any work I do, sends it off shivering to the farthest corner of the house from where I’m working. The shivering often comes with a lot of whining. In the summer, I can let the dog outside, but at Forty Below, I’m stuck with the high pitched soundtrack coming from the corner.
First time in my life I find myself less of a dog-person.
Interior Alaska had a decent cold snap drop in for the Winter Solstice and Christmas holiday. From December 17-28, Fairbanks did not see temperatures climb above zero. By Alaska standards, the period was neither long nor extreme, but we did make some ice, as they say. For comparison sake: The 11 day streak of below zero is tied for 42nd longest in the past 50 years. *
The Koyukuk & Yukon River Valleys saw the largest drops, as Allakaket and Manley Hot Springs fell to -60F and -65F respectively. The Manley temp was the coldest officially recorded in Alaska since Fort Yukon dipped to -66F in 2012.
Fairbanks officially reached -40F for the first time this season on Dec 27. That was the only day it dropped down to -40 at the cabin, as well. We had not seen -40F in Fairbanks since January 12, 2019, which is quite the stretch for us.
On December 28, the Deadhorse airport combined -38F temperatures with a 21 mph breeze, to offer a -73 degree windchill to residents of Prudhoe Bay.
No record lows were set during the 11 day period. The record low statewide for the month of December is -72F, which happened in Chicken, Alaska on New Year’s Eve of 1999.
In spite of the cold snap, there is little doubt that 2019 will be the warmest on record for Alaska. Currently, the temp outside the cabin remains above zero, some birch logs are smoldering in the wood stove, and a window is open, as I type this out, dressed in shorts and a t-shirt.
Interior Cabin Life.