Tag Archives: winter

Spring has arrived to the Last Frontier

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The melt has started

The temperature on Easter Sunday reached 56F degrees in Fairbanks.  The last time we broke the 50 degree barrier was on September 30.

My daily hikes have been taking place in the morning now.  Partly, because the day is usually wide open for interpretation, but mainly because the snowpack is still firm early in the day.  Breaking trail gets old in a hurry.  The mukluks will be retired any day now for the rubber breakup boots.

Our length of day has surpassed 15 hours.  In fact, length of visible light, has gone over 17 hours.  The northern lights have been out, but they are already faint, unless they put on a show around 2am.  Soon, we will not see them again, until late August.

Rabbits can be seen morning & evening, bounding over the massive piles of snow with ease.  Already, the new brown fur is mixing with the white of winter.  An owl can be heard at night, hooting off in the distance, and I have seen the tracks of lynx, but the wary cat has evaded my camera traps.  Neither the owl nor the lynx seem to have put much of a dent in the rabbit population.  The frisky bunnies seem as numerous, if not more so, than last year.

Plow it, and they will land: 

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Creamer’s Field on Wednesday

At the end of last week, the annual plowing of Creamer’s Field happened.  The old dairy farm is now a migratory waterfowl refuge.  The field is used to tempt waterfowl away from Fairbanks International Airport.  Fairbanks has an annual lottery on when the first Canadian goose lands at Creamer’s.  It’s not as widely bet on as the Nenana Ice Classic, but it may be as closely followed.  Creamer’s saw its first arrival on Sunday the 12th.  However, for only the second time since 1976, it wasn’t a Canadian honker that landed first, but a pair of trumpeter swans.  When I was out there on Wednesday, the swans were off in the distance and ducks were flying in, and landing on the puddles.  The woodchucks are also out and about at the refuge.

This is the first month of April that I have spent in Alaska since 2003!  I always leave around the end of March, if not earlier, to get some traveling in, and head to the Frozen Four Hockey Championship, wherever that may be held.  It’s a bit odd for me to be here to watch the snow melt.

With the above average snowfall this past season, and the quick upturn in temperature, we are in for a very messy breakup with winter.


Newtok School

Film Friday:

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After the blizzard

Camera: Widelux VI; Film: Kodak 35mm, Tri-X400 

 

 

 


Naknek, Alaska

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Looking out over Naknek from the Tribal Hall

Naknek sits along the shore of the Naknek River, where the river flows into Kvichak Arm of Bristol Bay.

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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.

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Hiking along the shore of the Naknek River

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.

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The nightlife hotspot of Naknek

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.

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Naknek, circa 1946; Naknek Native Tribal Council

 

 


Vernal Equinox

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A young moose blocks my way to the job site on Wednesday; its twin was eating willows in the slough to the right.

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.


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.


Yukon Quest 2020

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A musher and dog team take the Chena River out of Fairbanks

 

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.

 

 

 


Pioneer Air Museum

Fairbanks, Alaska

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Pioneer Air Museum

It had been several years since I ventured into the Air Museum at Pioneer Park.  Since they were experimenting with winter hours, I decided it was time to head back over there and see what was new.

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Under The Dome: Inside the Air Museum

The Pioneer Air Museum houses a fairly extensive collection of aircraft and other artifacts mainly pertaining to Interior Alaska and Arctic aviation.

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Ben Eielson Display

The first major display is on Ben Eielson, the famed aviator and Alaskan bush pilot.  Eielson learned to fly in WWI, with the U.S Army Signal Corps.  After the war, a chance run-in with Alaska’s territorial delegate to Congress, led to Eielson heading to Alaska to teach.  By 1923, Eielson had started the Farthest North Aviation Company.  Eielson was the first to fly air mail in Alaska, and the first to fly from North America over the North Pole to Europe.

In 1929, Eielson and his mechanic died in a plane crash in Siberia.  The cargo ship Nanuk was frozen in sea ice off North Cape, and Eielson was contracted by expedition leader Olaf Swenson to fly out personnel and furs.  The plane crashed in a storm, cruising at full throttle into the terrain.  A faulty altimeter is the suspected cause of the crash.  Parts of Eielson’s recovered aircraft is on display at the museum.

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1935 Stinson SR-JR

This bright red Stinson SR-JR, the Spirit of Barter Island, came to Alaska in 1940, and was flying the Interior out of Fairbanks in 1953 for Interior Airways.

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The Stinson in artwork

This SR-JR carries four passengers, has a  cruising speed of 110mph, and a range of 450 miles.  It was an Interior workhorse, and well known in the Fairbanks area.  The image, “I Follow Rivers”, can be found on t-shirts around Fairbanks to this day.

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Stinson V77: Peter Pan

The Stinson V77 is the Navy version of the SR-10 Reliant.  “Peter Pan” flew the Kuskokwim and Yukon River mail runs.  The Stinson Reliant was a favorite of bush pilots, as the aircraft was equally at ease landing on wheels, skis or floats.  In 1949, “Peter Pan” made the flight from Bethel, Alaska to Boston, Mass.  It is back in Alaska, on loan to the museum, from the bush pilot’s family.

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1943 P-39 Wreckage

The P-39 Airacobra was a common sight in Alaska’s Interior during WWII, as it was a mainstay of lend-lease aircraft to the Soviets.  This P-39 only made it to Fairbanks in pieces, as it was involved in a mid-air collision with another aircraft 60 miles east of Fairbanks.  Both pilots survived the crash.

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1942 ST Type Ryan PT-22

The PT-22 was used for flight training all over the globe.  Over 14,000 Air Corps pilots trained in the PT-22.  This particular PT-22 came to Fairbanks in 1956 after it was retired out of the military.

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The “Huey”

Manufactured by Bell Helicopter in 1966, this UH-1H “Huey”, saw combat in South Vietnam.  During a mission in 1969, this UH-1H was hit by a rocket propelled grenade while landing.  After the war, it came to Alaska, and was transferred around the Alaska Army bases, finally landing at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks.  It was retired in 1993, and is on loan to the museum from the U.S. Army.  The “Huey” is still maintained by Army personnel.

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Thomas Ackerman photo

A visitor to the museum several years ago, recognized the Huey’s ID number as the one he flew during the Vietnam War.  Sgt Thomas Ackerman was a crew-chief and gunman on this UH-1H.  He supplied several photos of the Huey, during its time in Vietnam, to the museum, including the one above.  Thomas Ackerman died of Agent Orange related cancer in 2004.


Frosty

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Looking out on a Forty Below World

 


Ignore at your own peril

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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.

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December 2019: Cold Snap

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Map credit: National Weather Service & NOAA

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.

*@AlaskaWx