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Fire on the Mountain

November 1, 2018

Friday 13thJuly 2018

 

There is ‘fire on the mountain” this morning. Cloud shifts swiftly in long ribbon strips along the hills, white against the green, following the contours as it were, and a light rain intermittently scatters itself, sometimes so light the first awareness is the sound of the drops in the Alder, a fine pitter patter that barely registers on the ground, but after some time leaves you quite damp. We are up fairly early getting gear ready but despite even the best preparation and most comprehensive warning some are still not ready by 8.30 when everyone rushes out of the Lodge and charges up to the footbridge. We arrive there at 0836 just as Hollis arrives in his van, though we had booked him for 0900. Other trekkers or visitors (likely the latter) are waiting and expect to be given a lift but are to be disappointed when Hollis calls out “Are you the party of 19?” Read more

Fireweed Mountain

September 28, 2018

Thursday 12 July 2018

 

Around here the locals tell us they use the Fireweed flower as a weather barometer of sorts. The plant pushes up a single flower stalk which is preloaded with hot pink buds. These open from the bottom and over a period of time the initial blooms drop off and are replaced by new blooms opening further up the stem. So on and so on will the buds at the very top finally open. At that point, when the flowers have expired and the last ones transformed into ‘smoke’ filaments the first snow is due to arrive. There is no prospect of snow right now  since these flowers are only blooming halfway up the stem. However there is another metric at play. Fireweed Mountain, which looms high above us to the northwest of our lodgings and which forms the western buttress through which the Kennicott Glacier attempts to squeeze, is also a winter canary. Read more

Kennecott Mine

September 7, 2018

Wednesday 11 July 2018

 

Once again we set ourselves the target of departing by 0900 and leave at 0940. Today we have a deadline and in fact I had a deadline of 1000 so I’m happy that we are moving by 0940. However, more to the point I am really pleased with the way everyone had breakfast and broke camp. Putting up and taking down tents in the rain is an art form. Last night, with the last of the rain falling I was able to coach some on the drill of getting a tent up without getting into a totally wet home despite the downpour. There is nothing quite like getting out here and doing this sort of thing to learn the tricks. We start the day by getting our food and other scented stuff out of the bear food container then returning to the rock scree to set up breakfast. The weather is slightly overcast but up here I can see south to the Churgach Mountains which have broken cloud over them so I’m hopeful the day will clear up – given the weather moves up from the south. That proves to be the case and the cloud moves off surprisingly quickly. There is no rain to speak of, and no wind. Read more

From Kennicott to Kennecott

August 13, 2018

Monday 9thJuly 2018

Brad Grossweiler, our host, observes with his slow drawl that he was surprised no one was up when he came over at 8am. But this morning everyone slept in and caught up on all the frentic travel that has happened to date. We eventually dislodge (nice pun) ourselves and walk up to McCarthy, pause there then press on to Kennecott. Its an 8km easy walk up the ‘Wagon Trail’ which passes alongside the main road which in our continues to follow the original railway line and its gradient. Its interesting to spot in the road numerous posts that were no doubt part of original trestles supporting the railway, many of them around the McCarthy junction where the museum is located. Just across the road from that museum in the Soapberry bushes is hidden the original turntable, the cradle still sitting in its pit. The locomotive would be turned around here after coming up from Cordova then it would reverse the flatbed rolling stock up to the mine, collect the ore (in hessian bags) then roll down hill back to Cordova 196 miles away. Read more

The Road to Pothole, ahem McCarthy

August 8, 2018

Alaska Diary (3)

Sunday 8 July 2018

We hear a patter of rain through the night but not really enough to stir us. ‘Night’ is a misnomer for it is not dark at any point. The sun sets at 2315 or thereabouts and the remainder of the evening until sunrise is a strange grey half light bright enough to cooperate without a head torch or any other artificial lighting. We aim to be out by 9 and so arrive at the King for a Day campsite by 8, wrenching ourselves away from Brad and Ramona and lots of stories over coffee, with great reluctance. We have such a meeting of minds even after all these years. We find the rest of the crew mostly ready to depart. Tents are down and breakfast eaten so after sorting out the payments for the tents we get on the road just after 9.30 and drive up to the National Parks Centre, back up the highway towards Glenallen. We buy maps and pick our bear canisters which Brad has kindly booked for us, and educate ourselves on the history of the park as well as things such as the various scat we might encounter as well as what various paw prints look like. While I wrangle maps and paying for them the rest of the team watch a movie about the park. Read more

Willow Mountain

August 5, 2018

Alaska Diary (2)

Saturday 7thJuly

The alarm goes off at 0730 which feels way too early, especially given we chatted with Brad and Ramona until about 0200, including walking out to the bluff and watching people fishing below. Brad explains there are two times in Alaskan summer – the time people are active and the time they are not. Even at two in the morning there is plenty of light even though the sun is not yet up, enough to see men down at the rivers edge casting lines into the water. Apparently the fish like this time of the night as well. No one else is up even at 7.30 so I walk through the spruce to the bluff and look out over the Klutina which surges and races below, swollen by flood water. I scan the area with my binoculars, can’t see any one in camp moving and scan right, spotting some keen fishermen then continue my sweep until a fledgling bald eagle jumps into focus, filling the whole view. He’s sitting on a dead spruce below me watching for scraps the fishermen might leave about. He’s later joined by another more mature bird which comes close enough for me to get some reasonable photos. They are remarkable birds. Not as big as the Wedgetail and without projecting the same power. But they are magnificent nonetheless and let’s face it any raptor is worth paying attention. It’s hard to believe that there used to be a bounty on their heads. 50 cents a head in Alaska. There’s an interesting article here about it nearly being wiped out.  Their chatter is quite distinctive and we tune in to the immature birds calling to each other.

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Sydney to Copper Centre, Alaska

August 4, 2018

Alaska 2018

Diary Friday 6th July 2018

The idea started with Frank. Brother Frank that is. Sibling not priest, though he’s pretty good with sacrifices on the altar of Ruger 30-06. He dreamed aloud about going to Alaska and thought some fishing and shooting might be in order. It was a good plan. Still is. But in the meantime it’s been modified somewhat. A handful of our team have often wondered if they could get the wilderness experience but without the rigours of climbing. The initial answer was Alaska and our first discussions with friends Brad and Ramona had me thinking that a week long kayak expedition would be a good idea. It’s an outstanding idea actually. But it would still be too rigorous for some, so the plan evolved into something more tame. Not too tame, but a wilderness experience into which each traveller could stretch themselves as far as they wanted. The answer is Wrangall-St Elias National Park, the largest national park in the US, described as the size of Yellowstone and Switzerland combined. The size means little to us. It’s more appealing for the fact that it is remote. Our lodgings are quite literally at the end of the road, a road we are told very few Americans travel. And on the edge of that road, within five miles of its absolute termination,  lies a lodge which we have booked out for the week. McCarthy hindered by streams only passable by footbridges lies a bit further on, and Kennecott Mine right at the end of the line. From our lodge environs the adventurous can scout. And within which the less adventurous can repine with a book. Or beer. Or whatever. The lodge is a series of cabins overlooking a glacier and is well placed to be a walking hub to lots of scenic and historical sites. I’m looking forward to the historic.

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