Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Valdez earthquake museum

Valdez small boat harbor

June 26 - Squirrel creek campsite - Richardson Highway north of Thompson Pass - a diving duck fishes alone in a wide spot on the creek, and the grey clouds scuttle quickly overhead racing from the coast, but dissipating after rising up through Thompson Pass and towards Alaska's vast interior.  The slate grey sky reflects as a shimmering background for the ever changing elongated ovoids  of dark green floating and changing and forming, and stretching, and joining, and dissipating as the breeze creates ripples over the water.  An abandoned fishing skiff lays beached among the reeds across the river, it's owner having been absent long enough to bleach the benches, and gunnels pale tan, stripped of any paint.  A bald eagle soars low over the trees at the edge of the river scanning for any prey unfortunate enough to be In shallow enough water for the powerful bird to spy from above.  

We have left the rainy coast and busy fishing and tourist port town of Valdez behind with its steady drizzle, and squads of ubiquitous White boxy rental RVs.  The ferry disgorges a new fleet of travelers with each stop once a day- most of which rapidly dissipate up the Richardson Highway, but some who congregate in the soulless parking lot RV camps near the small boat harbor.

Out near the compact airport is "man camp" a crowded collection of clustered multi story quick build barracks for the army of transient labor working on the new port construction project and its related stone quarry, and at the trains-Alaskan pipeline terminal across the bay and the other  gravel operations. Mining sized dump trucks belch their acrid exhaust endlessly one truck after another all day long drive out of the harbor carrying the blasted and scraped and dredged remains of a shoreside hillside that is being transformed into a new boat harbor.

In Valdez ( actually new Valdez, since the original Valdez was abandoned and burned after the 1964 9.2,  5 minute earthquake and subsequent tsunami) is built on  the terminal end of Prince William Sound, surrounded by the snow capped Chugash mountains. Waterfalls cascades down the steep alder covered slopes beneath the melting  snow fields above. Their is no evidence of the booming heli-ski operations which operate here between mid February though Early April- but two kayak companies keep a colorful fleet of stout double kayaks in the small boat harbor for daily short, and multi-day excursions.

There is a salty fleet of sturdy commercial fishing vessels, sprouting all sorts of tethered super structure, a mound of netting threaded with bouys along one edge, and a deep welled tender, used to stretch the net around the suspecting schools of fish out in the deeper water.  They were all out yesterday, but this morning found them all in port, holds being hosed out and engine compartments open with work in progress. Mountain sized fisherman mingled in knots, smoking cigarettes, and gesticulating dramatically as voices rise to make a point.  Dashboards of the hard working vessels strewn with sea charts and binoculars, and air horns, and threaded with piles of electronic devices leave barely any clear room for the captains to see forward.  The tall proud prows of these vessels reflect the steep seas in which they must often find themselves.

Bald eagle at Blueberry Lake outside Valdez

Bald Eagle on Eklutna Lake

June 29 - Eklutna Lake, AK - 10 miles into the Chugash State Park off the Glenn Highway north of Anchorage lies a gem of an Alpine Lake called Eklutna.  There is a state campground at the end of the paved road, and from there you can take an easy hike along the lake, or a more strenuous hike up into the Alpine high onto Twin Peaks.  If you come Sunday through Wednesday expect to hear swarms of ATV enthusiasts on the lakeside road, kicking up dust, but generally much less disturbing overall compared to Motorcycles or snow mobiles.  You can rent single or double kayaks at the concession (or mountain bikes too) at the lake for a reasonable rate and the park does not permit any gas powered motorized boats on the lake with only a walk-in ramp.  canoes and kayaks only.  The water is a grey/pale green/ blue from the glacial silt contributed by the glacier at the lake's head. The park has a cabin on the lake, at about 3.5 miles in, that you can reserve. There are also two campsites at the end of the lake that have outhouses. There is a flat dirt road, great for mountain biking running all the way down the east shore, so you can use that road to access the hiking trail up Bold ridge. You can also make a day trip from the campsite at the far end of the lake to Serenity Falls and Hut.

Because of the road and the 4 wheelers some of the week, wildlife is pretty scarce on the east side of the lake, but if you paddle up the west side of the lake keep your eyes out for Eagles.  The large scavenger birds tend to perch in dead tree limbs at the water's edge on the downwind shore, waiting to see what the wind will carry across the lake to their dinner table,

The lake is deceptively big, and the water is cold, like 45 degrees cold, and being nestled tight in a glacial valley, the weather can change very rapidly.  The steep chop builds fast as the lake's shores rise suddenly at the edges.  The lake is used as the primary drinking water source for Anchorage, and that same water is used to generate electricity on it's way down the hill. Because of that draw on the water, this natural lake has more the look of a reservoir around the shores, with a steep, graveled bank, rising some 20 feet during our visit before reaching the vegetation line.  I would guess at different times of the year, and during different weather cycles this rocky shore may grow, or disappear, but there are no shore mammals, like beavers or otters or muskrats that would otherwise occupy this special environmental niche due to the unnatural fluctuations of the water level. It's still very pretty, with the snow capped Chugash Mountains Comfortably nestled at the end of the lake beckoning the adventuresome traveler and the heavily forested slopes pleasantly covering the hillsides below the alpine. If you are not an ATV'r, avoid Sunday through Wednesday, but especially Sunday, when the day riders come out from Anchorage.

Glacial meltwater stream near Glennallen, AK

Eklutna Lake, AK 45 degree water and glacial blue

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Bears in Kulani Provincial Park

Root Glacier near Kennecott, AK


More Skoli hiking

June 21 - Father's Day - Skolai Pass - Very hazy day due to wildfires burning to the south.  Peaks are obscured at our breakfast of fried onion, scrambled egg, and grated potatoes but they appear later. Hard to tell forest smoke from incoming weather.  Hiked up towards Hole in the Wall glacier but eastward progress stopped by it's drainage river which was too exuberant for us to venture crossing.  Ate lunch on a rocky knob which had obviously been used by some root to dismantle prey as there was a scattering of bleached small mammal bones all about.  A ten was troubling a bald eagle this morning and we watched it drive the bigger bird first up the valley then down and out of the vast drainage. Photograph some killdeers near the river's edge, loud and   Bold. 

June 20- Skolai Pass- today we hike from our base camp in the Skolai pass to the toe of the Russel Glacier.  We have hiked east, following a series of ledges to a knoll free of the alders. Along the way we crossed numerous creeks, passing beneath one waterfall after another cascading over the steep rocky escarpment left exposed beneath the hanging glaciers clinging to the mountain tops.  Now at lunch there is a nice breeze blowing and no bugs pester us.  Plenty of fresh and not so fresh bear tracks and scat decorate the landscape, so we re calling out "Hey Bear!" And clicking our poles around each bend of our journey.  Looking back the way we came, we can see our camp proudly perched on it's knob 3 miles away. The vista is immense and we are quit sure we are the only human party in a range easily 40 miles in every direction - probably more. There is certainly no evidence of humans, no trails, no straight lines, no campfire rings ( we are well above tree line), and no sounds but the cascading water off the step benches above.

Crossing glacial River below the 7 sisters