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Flashback Friday

Mount Prindle - July 2010

The Analogy Between Hotel Ratings and Hiking Ratings

It takes almost two hours to get to Mt. Prindle parking lot from Fairbanks. Most of the hikes you do around Fairbanks sets you on a journey of at least 1 hour in any direction. This summer I went with a couple of friends from the university. We all wanted to explore and see everything Alaska had to offer. We started early in the morning from Fairbanks, and got to the parking lot with plenty of time before lunch. The parking lot is also a campground, but this is not where we camped. Doing Mount Prindle takes at least two days, well depending on how fast you want to hike I guess. We just wanted to get out there. There is a stream crossing right off the bat, and most of the trail overall is kind of soggy, so we decided to go with the Tevas for the trek in. If there has been a lot of rain leading up to the hike, people sometimes can’t even start the hike because the stream crossing is just too dangerous.

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It’s a 19 mile return trip, and about 8400 feet in total elevation change, and the hike is marked as difficult. I once had a climber friend who said that climbing routes and their grades are almost like hotel reviews, I wonder if hiking routes could be consider that as well. Not to say that this hike was anything easy. I think that these ratings are rightful, it also makes you think an extra time before taking on the hike. Mostly I think these ratings are because of the possibility of weather changes, lack of water to drink and in this case also some stream crossings that can be very hard to do if there has been a lot of rain the past few days. Also you are in bear country too so another thing to remember. It’s about 6 miles if I remember correctly to the place where we ended up camping. There is a creek flowing fairly nearby and you have a panorama view of the tors.

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Camping and Moments of Joy

You are not allowed to camp in certain areas around here, so always good to check online, at BLM, exactly where you are and where you are not allowed to camp. We had arrived so early, it was only lunch time, so we set up our tents, had some food and then we went on a short hike to get a first taste of the tors. We goofed around on the tors and enjoyed the view. Later in the evening we had good food and s’mores and other candy for desert. Hot chocolate was also consumed after dinner.

I don’t remember there being a spectacular sunset, or sunrise either for that matter. But also, back then I wasn’t so used to taking photos, and also was better at soaking up the moment itself, instead of being busy taking an awesome photo. It’s a balance, a balance between being too caught up in photography and enjoying the moment. This is your moment, don’t loose it by being too caught up in taking a perfect photo. I often struggle with that balance.

Dall Sheep and the Everlasting Question: to Conquer or not to Conquer?

The next day I woke up by a noise, something was definitely outside the tent. Something was munching on grass right next to my ear. I glanced through the mosquito mesh next to my head and saw a white creature, a Dall sheep. These sheep didn’t seem too scared of us but held themselves to a greater distance after we all got up for breakfast. I think there most have been 20 or so of them in total. Later on we could see plenty of them on the hillside farther away from our campsite.

Today we set our goal to conquer the tors. We were six people, and while three of us hung back at a slower pace, the other three were long gone. It’s not the end destination that is the goal for many hikes, it’s the hike itself. That is another thing that people sometimes have a hard time with, or just have a different opinion about. It’s cool and so on to conquer mountains, but the trip there is what makes it worth it. Aren’t you most interested in the hike to the summit, rather than the summit? Oh well. I guess I am secretly excited about the summit as well. These tors are like something taken out of Mordor, or at least that is what I think the look like.

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Mordors Nest, Periglacial-Glacial Landforms, and Solifluction Lobes

This specific area has such an interesting mix of cold-climate processes, something that is a bit rare in this region. A lot of the interior of Alaska was not glaciated during the most recent glaciation, but the area around Mount Prindle had isolated glaciers. You’ll see leftover moraines as you look around towards the foothills of the mountains, and on the ridge line of Mount Prindle you’ll see the characteristic tors. On the sides of the mountains you can see these half moon shaped (Solifluction Lobes) masses slowly making their way down from the mountains towards the valley. These landforms are the result of thawing permafrost.

We spent several hours up on the ridge line and the tors. We climbed around, took photos and had a good time. All the photos of me are taken by my friend Amy. The hike is not hard if you spend the night in the area, what often makes this hike hard is the constant weather changes. We had rain and a cloudy sky during part of our hike, but we were also lucky enough to have some blue sky peeking out from time to time.

Have you done any hiking that you will always remember?

America's Last Truly Great Wilderness

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To be a wilderness then was to be “deserted,” “savage,” “desolate,” “barren”—in short, a “waste,” the word’s nearest synonym. Its connotations were anything but positive, and the emotion one was most likely to feel in its presence was “bewilderment” or terror.
— William Cronon - The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature

Wednesday Thoughts

Arctic Wildlife Refuge

1002 Area

A whole different story from the chanting of “Build that Wall” that I wrote about last week, but still almost the same is going on in the most northern parts of Alaska. The development of the 1002 area, better known as "The Sacred Place Where Life Begins". I have written about it before, but it’s worth mentioning again. It’s been up for debate several times during the past 40 years, but now we are facing the reality of this government and the development of this area. Several articles have been written about Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and that we need to protect it. One of the, for me, most famous instances is the first minute or so in Patagonia’s video the Refuge below. It’s an old recording from hearings in the house, clipped together with environmentalists and other callers to a tv-show. One of the people talking over the phone, who clearly has never been up in Alaska or ANWR describes the "The Sacred Place Where Life Begins" as “Tundra known as wasteland, there is nothing out there, virtual plains as far as the eye can see”. Its a very strong moment in the video and it also highlights the problem of people’s perceptions about wilderness and nature, just look at the old perception about wilderness quoted above from Bill Cronon’s The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.

The Porcupine Herd

The Arctic Refuge now contains the largest area of designated Wilderness within the National Wildlife Refuge System, covering about 19.64 million acres of land and water. The history behind the name “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins" that the Gwich'in people call it has to do with how the Caribou utilizes the large area. The porcupine herd utilizes a far greater area than the 1002 area, but come spring and early summer this is THE area all the Caribou from the Porcupine herd utilize as calving area, which makes it a very important area. Click on this LINK if you want to see the migration of the Porcupine herd with beautiful images. If you want to read the absolute latest (as of early January 2019) about the development in ANWR follow this LINK, or read this blogpost for more detailed information. To comment on the draft of Environmental Impact Statement that BLM put together follow this LINK, and you can read more about how to comment and why HERE, also in the actual Environmental Impact Statement. You have until February 11 to submit a comment. You can also submit your comment by mail:

Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program EIS
222 West 7th Avenue, Stop #13
Anchorage, Alaska 99513 -7504

 

I find it important to think about and share the issues we are facing in this day and age. I tend to focus on the environment and wilderness since those areas lay very close to my heart. What current issues are you burning for?

Fires and Storms altered the City and what is found there now, is far from what once was there

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NOME

I can almost see Russia from here

Flashback Friday

The Siberia of Siberia

This past summer I got the opportunity to fly to Nome and help out with some fieldwork there. Incredible what roads you can take once you have remote fieldwork experience and an eye for boreal and arctic vegetation. I’ve already written a post about Nome, and mainly the 4th of July celebration. Nome is a very special place, laying in the far west of Alaska with no roads leading to the small community of about 4000 people. This is not an unusual setting, many communities in Alaska can only be reached by plane. With only about 200 miles to the mainland of Russia, that is as close as I have ever been to Russia I think. The history of Nome starts with the three lucky Swedes, well, they were in fact two Swedes and one Norwegian, but same same..or? During the goldrush Alaska became a popular destination when word spread about all the gold that could be found in this remote location of the US. Alaska has not been a part of the US for that long, well everything is relative right? On March 30th 1867 the US bought Alaska from Russia, paying only 7.2 million dollar. If you have visited some of the more southern coastal cities of Alaska you might have seen many of the Russian Orthodox churches and other cultural remnants of the Russian influence. Well, maybe remnants is the wrong word to use, because there is a strong influence still in these small communities on the coast. These coastal villages were formed long before the US bought Alaska. Those remote territories have been called the Siberia of Siberia by some. The history of Alaska goes farther back than that, but that is a whole different story.

“The trail enters a cul-de-sac, climbing higher and higher. The valley seems to end; a precipitous wall of gray rock, reaching into the sky, seems to head off farther progress, seaming its jagged contour against the sky — a great barrier, uncompromising, forbidding — the Chilkoot Pass” - Tappan Adney

Gold Rush and the birth of Anvil City (Nome)

The Klondike gold rush started in 1896 when gold was discovered in the remote areas of the Yukon Territory, bordering to Alaska to the east, thousands of people travelled there. One of the most famous photos (that is also sold as a postcard) is a photo of the Chilkoot Trail that goes through the Chilkoot Pass, a pass that many of the gold seekers had to hike through, choosing the Golden Stairs or the Peterson routes. It is absolutely amazing that these people actually managed to hike these mountains in sub zero temperatures (although, many did not make it) and still come out alive. Yukon Territory is still extremely remote and sparsely populated. The gold rush in Klondike did not last that long, and soon word spread about Nome. In 1898 Jafet Lindberg, Erik Lindblom and John Brynteson struck gold on Anvil Creek. Once the word spread the tiny place of Anvil Creek suddenly had more than 10,000 people living there, and when more gold was found the real Bonanza was on. Fires and storms altered the city and what is found there now, is far from what once was there. Since the city was built along the Anvil Creek it was named Anvil City, something that fast was changed, to Nome, since Nome river and Cape Nome was nearby and the post office did not want any confusion with the town of Anvik in the Yukon-Koyukuk area of Alaska. Most cities and areas in Alaska were named after the people that found or founded it, but the name Nome was originally a mistake. An officer had in the past on a map marked the larger area to the west with “? Name” since it had not been identified. Later on when the map was reproduced, it was thought that the ? was a C, and the a in Name was an O, and so Cape Nome was born and the rest is history.

The Ice Curtain

Outside of the Seward Peninsula (not to be mistaken for Seward, which lays in Kenai Peninsula) lay two islands, Little Diomede and Big Diomede. They are so close, only 2 miles apart, but yet so far away. Big Diomede is in a whole different timezone, 21 hours to be exact, and belongs to Russia while Little Diomede belongs to the US. As you can imagine, the people who lived on Big Diomede and Little Diomede were related to each other. They are so close to each other so how could they not be. The ice curtain here is as thick as it can be. During the Soviet era in 1948 the people living on Big Diomede were forced off their island to the Russian mainland, and this summer (2018) was actually the very first time they got to see each other again, after several years of not being able to reconnect. It wasn’t only between the two islands people used to cross, but also between all islands of course, and Nome. With the ice curtain families were prevented from returning “home”. 

Front Street

Downtown Nome is front street, and it that lays along the ocean. Here you can find the saloon and several different liquor stores. If you want to eat Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese or Japanese food there are several different restaurants to choose between. Many restaurants also serve a wide array of different foods, ranging from American to Vietnamese. I still haven’t figured out why there is such a large influence of Asian food. Front street is not that long and if you zoom into Nome on google maps you will see how small the town really is. After all there are only 4000 people living here. If you ventured out from front street you will find the larger grocery stores. You can find almost anything in Nome, but it comes with a price. There is a reason why there was such a large hiatus when Sams Club (a bulk size grocery store) shut down in Alaska. Many people from these villages do monthly or quarterly trips to Sams Club, and depend on their shelf food from the store, because the prices in the regular store in the village reflects the cost of shipping (and is outrageous). Of course, the layout of Nome is different now from what it was. Fires went through in the past and even more recently, and the ocean has also taken part of the original city during fierce storms in the past.

The Last Frontier - Oil, Mountains and Freedom?

Just like other cities and villages in Alaska, many heat their home with oil, they have a Toyo or alike and you can see the drum outside the buildings that holds a winters worth of heat. But depending on how well insulated the houses are, the house will keep the heat, or leak it like nobodies business. I’ve had friends who literally could see through the walls of their cabin in Fairbanks, and went through several hundres of gallons oil in one winter, just because the cabin was so leaky. The city of Nome is small, and as soon as you leave the “downtown” your eyes will rest on the mountains and muskox, instead of the ocean and Russia. There is a reason why Alaska is called “The Last Frontier”. If you want freedom, solitude and test your survival skills you can move to Alaska and settle down in a cabin in the woods, or in the mountains. Living like that is not for the light hearted, the winters are brutal with the cold and the darkness. Even though those summer nights last forever, and fall with it’s magical colors, and winter with endless skiing and northern light, come spring and death is knocking on your door. There is a reason why the suicide rate in Alaska is one of the highest in the US right under Montana and Wyoming, especially in the villages and the native population, along with domestic violence. Even though the darkness in itself is not necessarily what triggers the suicides (suicides in Alaska spans the whole year with no real seasonal pattern), it surely doesn’t help. Life in Alaska is tough, for everyone. I would be lying if I said that I’d never been depressed while living in Alaska. I can say that I have gotten a handful of emails from the University of Alaska Fairbanks through the years, letting other students/faculty/staff know that a suicide has occurred on campus. This past fall I read about a man who lived not far from where I lived in Fairbanks, he had like many other people in Alaska, withdrawn from society. They found him this fall, dead from suicide, a suicide that had happened several years ago.

If you or a person you know is considering help, don’t wait

Call 911 for immediate emergency intervention.
Call 877-266-HELP (4357) for the 24/7 Alaska Careline.
Go to the closest hospital or medical facility.
Text “4help” to 839863 Tuesday-Saturday 3pm-11pm.

The Beauty of Alaska

Even in the darkness though, Alaska truly is beautiful. I think that is what captures people. Alaska is captivating, like a spell that never breaks. You’ll get spellbound pretty fast, and once that happens it’s hard to go back. The boreal forest in the interior, the glaciers that touches the ocean in the south, the tundra to the west and north and all the mountains in both Alaska and Brooks Range. It was kind of surreal to drive off into the mountains every day for nearly two weeks. I missed it. That view of the mountains. Flying into Anchortown and later Nome I realized I’d forgotten how beautiful Alaska truly is. I should know, I lived there. But photos of this magical place doesn’t do it justice. Reality is always going to be so much better. Driving the roads out to the field site we saw all of these tiny houses, randomly laid out across the landscape. It’s quite remarkable when you see it. You watch those tiny houses with a backdrop of huge mountains. It makes you wonder, who lives there? When did they move there? Do they use these cabins year round? I’ll write another blogpost about that later, and until then you can rest your eyes on these muskoxen and mountains below!