The current Iditerod commemorates that amazing feat.
Saturday, July 30, 2011
Monday, July 25, 2011
"The mine was operating from 1937 until 1941," she began. "It was around 1941 that Pearl Harbor happened, and everyone got nervous, because, if you know your geography, Alaska and Hawaii are real close."
Silence. What did she just say? "Around 1941"? How about exactly December 7, 1941? And Alaska DID feel threatened, but not because they thought the Japanese might make a lefty at Hawaii and beeline for the Hatcher Pass in Alaska -- but because Japan was just 2000 miles away from the Aleutians, that curving string of islands that juts out from the southwestern edge of Alaska and almost reaches Russia. Landing in the Aleutians (which they did in June 1942) would give them a base in North America from which to launch further attacks. And the mine didn't close in 1941 -- it operated for a couple years under a war-time exemption (other gold mines were deemed non-essential in wartime and closed) because, in addition to gold, this mine was a source of tungsten which was deemed essential. It was, however, eventually closed in 1943, not 1941.
Tokyo to Honolulu: 3860 miles
Honolulu to Anchorage: 2780 miles
Move men and planes 6640 miles or 2000 miles? Which would you choose?
So we were off to a humorous, if unbelievable start. Fortunately, she knew a bit more about the mine than she did of what was, from her 20-something perspective, "ancient history," but she lacked even that information unless it was in her tour. Her stock answer to most questions was, "I don't know" accompanied by a quick return to her script.
And I used a classroom globe to show a curiosity that can be found on many old globes: manufacturers used to fill that huge empty space in the Pacific Ocean with an analema. An analema looks somewhat like a figure 8, but is actually a representation of the path that the sun transcribes in the sky. If you were to take a photo of the sun at the same time each day for a year, the resulting pattern would be the analemma:
Saturday, July 23, 2011
We stopped at a recreation of a Dena'ina Indian encampment and trapper's cabin, where John got to show off new "head" gear:
Friday, July 22, 2011
It is the dragonfly, in particular one named the Four-Spot Skimmer. I have not yet seen a Four-Spot Skimmer here, but I did see this dragonfly last night:Richard Orr -- thanks, Richard!)
nautical or astronomical twilight. I have gotten used to sleeping with a light sky, but I still find myself staying up very late as there is no darkness "cue" to tell me to get sleepy. Good thing the Internet is always there to entertain me!
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
When we got up this morning, the sky was a clear, cloudless blue. From our viewpoint in Talkeetna, Denali, still 60 miles away, was a sparkling, shimmering jewel. Weather here is quickly changeable, but we knew we had a beautiful day for our 10:30 flight to see "The Great One" up close.
As instructed, we got to the airport before 10 and spent some time chatting with the other fliers and watching the planes and helicopters. By the time we took off at 10:30, high cirrus clouds had set in and the summit of Denali was obscured, but everything else was still in the open.
Our plane was a 6-seater Piper. Our pilot, Dale, briefed the four of us (John and me and another couple) on safety features of the plane -- how to open the plane's door from inside, where the emergency food and water was stashed, and how to buckle a safety belt. Really, is there anyone on the continent who doesn't understand how to buckle a safety belt? We got in, donned our headphones, and took off.
Northbound, we followed a braided stream whose source is a glacier on the mountain:
The summit was still mostly fogged in, but we did catch brief glimpses of it as our pilot circled through the snow-covered peaks. The only brief feeling of "uh-oh" came when he told us he was going through a pass, and asked us not shift our weight during the maneuver. When a pilot says that, it is very easy to sit perfectly still! A bit of turbulence and we were through it. My Dramamine did not let me down.
The climbing season on Denali is now over -- Dale showed us where base camp is, but all that remained today was a few ski marks from the planes that had dropped off climbers.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
"Village Arts and Crafts" = Maybe the "Human Arts and Crafts" are done indoors.
This is just asking for trouble:
This is the historic Fairview Inn:
We made some new friends while we were in the campground in Fairbanks. They told us not to miss the drive through Hatcher Pass (it is also called the Willow-Fishhook Rd). They were so right! What a gorgeous drive (but NOT for RVs!).
We began at the Willow side, and followed Willow Creek for several miles.
We Are Told To Move Along
Our campground is smack dab in the middle of Nowhere Alaska, a place where old cars, older RVs, appliances, and metal objects of questionable origin come to die. And they all die in the middle of their last owner's yard, ostensibly to remain there until the rust destroys them or an earthquake covers them, whichever comes first.
We told our campground owner we were going for a walk, and she suggested we walk "around the block," the roads all being dirt lanes through the forest, and practically unused. This was our general direction of movement:
Then at point A on the map, a dog came to the road to greet us. He had a collar, and seemed well fed. He didn't bark, just stared. John made "good puppy" noises. The dog kept staring.
At point B, our Threesome of Bliss was shattered -- the posse arrived!
We continued on, a little sadder to have lost such a steadfast puppy friend.
At point C, we took one last look back, and this is what we saw:
Monday, July 18, 2011
We took a day trip today to Talkeetna, famous for two things: 1) it is allegedly the town that the fictional Cicely, Alaska in Northern Exposure was modeled after and 2) it is where Denali climbers begin.
We started our visit at the Ranger's Station where all the climbers must check in. They purchase a climbing permit for $200, and the Rangers make sure that they have sufficient climbing experience to take on the often extreme conditions on Denali, where winds can be 90 mph and temperatures -40 in the summer. Here is the 2011 climbing stats to date and today's weather:
(UPDATE: 17K is not the summit -- Denali, the highest peak in North America, is 20,320 feet)
The Rangers do keep a presence on the mountain at various camps -- a ranger and several medically trained volunteers work at the base camp at 17 K, staying there for a month at a time. They are there to help people who overclimb their abilities or have accidents, and to monitor "litter" on the mountain. They make sure that each climber has a "waste can," a contraption that holds solid human waste and is ultimately packed out by the rangers via airplane.
After visiting the Ranger station, we went to a Ranger talk next to a huge relief map of Denali and the surrounding peaks. We were divided in two teams for a game to see if we had the three things necessary for successful summiting: preparation, persistence, and luck. Each team was issued a rope to hold, an obviously necessary piece of climbing equipment, and then we drew cards to see what our "fate" was at each camp.
Later in the game we got caught near the summit in a snowstorm, and had to go down because we didn't have enough food to wait out the storm -- we could have summitted had we not previously drawn the "Ravens Ate Your Food" card. At least we survived! In real life, not everyone does.
Nine people have died on the mountain so far this year. Sometimes luck makes the difference between success and failure. The Ranger told a a story of a man who got within 200 feet of the summit and had to turn back because he was in danger of being blown off the mountain, and visibility was near zero. Had he pushed on to the summit he might have made it -- however, on his way down he probably would have perished in an avalanche that happened on the spot where he would have been. He missed summitting, but survived.
Sometimes persistence makes the difference. In another story, a mother and daughter team texted from the highest camp (yes, there used to be phone service there until Talkeetna took down a cell tower) that they were huddled in their tent in 100 mph winds, their backs to the tent's side to hold it all from blowing away. They stayed that way for 7 days until the storm abated, subsisting on ramen noodles. The next day they texted: "SUMMIT SUMMIT SUMMIT!"
And sometimes it is preparation. A team of three climbers set off on a steep ridge, roped together for safety. The wind came up unexpectedly, and blew one of the climbers over the edge of the ridge to the right. The other two immediately threw themselves over the edge to the left, to balance the weight, the ropes holding them from certain death. They knew what to do, and they had the right equipment to do it. They all made it.
Congratulations to the 641 who have made the summit this year, and good luck to the 50 of you on the mountain today.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
In 1897, a local prospector re-named the huge mountain peak we know today as Denali to "Mount McKinley" in honor of the President -- even though McKinley had no connection to the area. The original park was also named Mt. McKinley National Park. In 1980, the park and the mountain were officially re-named Denali, although a lot of references to Mt. McKinley remain. Here is the original entry sign: