Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hilltop and Goose Lake

Last Sunday we went skiing for the first time at Hilltop Ski Area (#25 on the list). It is just about 3 miles away from our condo, but it is an easy and smaller ski area. There are maybe 3-4 runs all parallel to each other, but it is a good place to get your feet under you. We were practicing and getting ready for our soon to be trip to Alyeska (the major ski resort in the area).

We had a lot of fun, and did really well in my opinion. I only fell a few times, mostly from cutting my corners to sharply, but never when I was moving real fast. Rebekah fell once, but she was going pretty fast. It was her first attempt at the black diamond and her skis got tangled up and she went flying. But, she got it on the next attempt.

Earlier today we did the Polar Bear Plunge in Goose Lake (new item #95) to raise money for Special Olympics Alaska. In order to jump you have to raise $100 each (Thanks to all those who donated to help us raise money!).

It was about 4 degrees outside, and we stripped down to our bathing suits (the girls also wore pajama pants and a t-shirt).

They cut a hole in the ice of Goose Lake so you could jump into the 32 degree water.

The water is only about 4 feet deep, and there are divers and paramedics standing by in case anyone needs them. When you hit the water it knocks the breath out of you for a few seconds.

There are two ladders to help you climb out of the water, but Rebekah didn't want to wait and just heaved herself out! The water is 24 degrees warmer then the air, so other than taking your breath away it really wasn't that cold while in the is when you get out of the water that you are freezing!

Afterwards you run up the shore to get in the hot tubs and to recover. It was a lot of fun and we got interviewed by the Anchorage Daily News, so we might be in the paper tomorrow!

And of course the main reason to do this is because it helps a good cause. In total there were over 300 plungers and they raised over $85,000 in their first annual event. Next year we are planning on going down to Seward and doing the Polar Bear Plunge into the ocean (it is colder since it is salt water). That event is run by Relay for Life, and in order to participate for that one you have to raise $750.

Hope everyone has a great Holiday Season!


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sledding on Flat Top

Just the other weekend, we decided to go sledding up on Flattop (new item #96). First, we needed a sled. We ended up finding an inflatable inner tube that has some handles (that you can use to hold on to for dear life!). We thought that it would be PERFECT for sledding, and it was! Then, we set out on our adventure. Here is Steven, posing with our sled and the warm and cozy winter hat from his Mom.

If you remember, we hiked up Flattop back in the summer. Do not get confused- we did not make the loooong hike all the way to the top. We walked up the steep trail for about 10 minutes and we happened upon a very nice hill that was perfect for our sledding adventures! At the bottom of the hill (before you get to the trees) was a lot of fluffy, deep snow. Perfect for stopping your sled before you crash into the scraggly Alaskan pine trees. Then we got to sledding! Here I am riding down the hill on Brittany and Jason's sled...

After a little while of sledding, Steven decided to get creative. He built a "jump". He was thinking that when he would hit the jump on your sled, you would fly into the air and have so much more fun. Unfortunately, he could not get the snow packed down enough on the jump and each time the sled would hit it, a bunch of snow would fly into your face. Good thing Jason brought some ski goggles!!! Here is a picture of Steven narrowly missing the pine trees.

Finally, here I am riding the sled. As you can tell I am a little airborne!!! Oh my! The inner tube sled was scary because it would spin around while we were riding on it. Then, we were not able to see where we were going.

Here is a picture of us at the end of the adventure! We are alive! We were also able to see Denali from up on the mountain! I tried to take a picture, but it didn't come out very well. Oh well!!


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Better Late Than Never

Well this trip actually happened on Labor just took us about 3 months to write the post. But like the title says, better late than never...

One of my customers who has a cabin up near Fairbanks suggested that we take a trip up towards Denali. She said that the tundra turns colors in the fall and that it is definitely worth the trip. So, on Labor Day we left early in the morning to make the long drive up the Parks Highway.

We picked a perfect day as it was very calm, sunny, and warm. As we worked our way North we started to see a color - yellow. The leaves in Alaska only turn yellow. No orange, red, brown, etc. I am not sure if that is due to the cold or the type of tree but they all turn that one shade.

We were just planning on going up to Denali State Park, but it was such a nice day out and we hadn't really seen any tundra yet so we kept going. A short drive from the furthest point we had gone before led to an exciting discover - our first sighting of a real Alaskan igloo!

Finally, we made it all they way up to Denali National Park (#43 on the list). To go most places in the park you have to take a bus (or win a ticket in a lottery they do every year to drive in), however you are able to drive about 15 miles into the park for free. There is nothing really exciting in those first 15 miles, but we had already come about 150 miles so we decided to make the trip.

The nicest part of the drive was the ability to see Denali from the North, and it was out on this day.

The tundra was definitely worth the trip (and probably another trip around the same time next year). As you can see, the tundra turns several shades of red and when combined with the green of the evergreens, the yellow of the trees, the blues of the sky, and the brown of the mountain above the treeline it leads to some picturesque views (new item on the list #97 - see the Fall foliage of the tundra).

And even just the contrast of the yellow trees with the evergreens leads to some nice views.

On the way back down we stopped in Denali State Park to get some views of Denali from the South.

This trip was one of our favorites from this summer and I am glad my customer mentioned this to me. Since then I have talked to several people who have lived in a Alaska for a long time (in some cases their whole lives) who never knew the tundra changed colors and have never driven up to see.

It has snowed about 6 inches in the past couple of there may be some more posts coming soon with our first winter adventures!


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Snowy Day!

The snow is finally here! So exciting! Tonight after it had been snowing for a while, Steven and I went to return a movie and the roads were covered! Steven even tried out his new studded snow tires. I learned something new today too...snow makes a crunchy sound when you drive on it! Here are a few pictures from this evening.

First, my boots and the snow covering the walkway to the condo! The snow isn't very sticky. I tried to make a snowball, but it wouldn't stick together. It is very light and fluffy!
Here is my car covered in snow. Good thing I will get to park in the covered space for the rest of the week!!

This is what we saw from the grocery store parking lot. Pretty snow, falling quite steadily.

Finally, I saw these footprints in the neighborhood and it reminded me of the children's book, "The Snowy Day".

Now, its off to bed. Now that there is snow, we will have to get all 20 preschoolers dressed in snow boots, snow pants, hats, mittens and coats to go outside. I will try to take some pictures one day of the kids getting ready to go out!!

Steven and I are super excited about coming back to Atlanta for the holidays in December!!! :)


Monday, October 12, 2009

Whale Hunting

I saw this interesting article on the Alaska Daily News website this evening. It discusses how a 9-year old boy was the youngest person ever recorded to have killed a whale during a whale hunt. Apparently, someone else "stunned" it, but he "harpooned" it (official whale hunting language here). This took place in Barrow, Alaska which is accessible only by plane and is very far from Anchorage. Barrow is the northern-most city in Alaska. It is very cold there most of the year. In fact, here is the weather forecast for Barrow for Tuesday, October 13th: a high of 34 degrees and a low of 30 degrees. The forecast for Wednesday the 21st is a high of 22 degrees and a low of 19 degrees. Needless to say, Barrow is FRIGID even compared to Anchorage.

Like many places in Alaska, Barrow is home to many Natives Alaskans. "Native" with a capital "N" meaning members of various cultures that were living in Alaska since before the Russians or the Americans came here. This is not to be confused with "native alaskan", with a lowercase "n", meaning someone who was born in Alaska, but is not culturally a part of a Native group. The different cultures include Inupiat, Yupik, Aleut, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Eyak, and a number of Northern Athabaskan cultures. Each of the cultures have their own languages, traditions and ways for subsistence ways of life. For example, the Inupiat culture (the people in Barrow belong to this group), participate in whaling as an important part of life. In contrast, the Tlingit (pronounced Cling-kit) people of southern Alaska, use hunting of small mammals such as deer and bear as part of their daily lives. This difference is due to what is available in the area they inhabit.

I realized just how used to Alaska Native traditions and ways of life I have become in just 6 months. The article referenced above discusses how some animal rights activism groups have commented saying that the boy killing the whale was "disgusting" and other various negative comments. While I feel that senseless killing of animals is indeed senseless and unnecessary, these people depend on the hundreds of pounds of whale meat to survive the long winter. Hunting for whales is as normal a part of their lives as it is for you to drive to the grocery store and buy some hamburger meat.

The article also has some comments from the same animal rights groups suggesting that instead of hunting for whales, the people should just buy their food. This is ridiculous!! Milk in small towns and even smaller villages in Alaska, goes for about $12/gallon!! And the prices for other food items is just as expensive. But, when you factor in the cost of just getting the food and goods to Anchorage from the lower 48, then packed onto a smaller plane, called a "bush plane", this cost for fresh food items is not outrageous. It is just very difficult to get food out there while maintaining its quality and freshness.

I once met a teacher at the grocery store here in Anchorage. He was stocking up to go out to a village to teach and would not be back in town until December (this was in August). He was packing up as many food items as he could and mailing it to himself. But, he told me that he was still going to have to pay the high prices for milk, fruits, vegetable and fresh meat.

If you are interested further in learning about Native culture, the Anchorage Museum has a GREAT exhibit about the various different groups residing in Alaska. There is also a Native Heritage Museum, that is supposed to be pretty good, but Steven and I have yet to venture there.

** In other news, I didn't even know today was Columbus Day. I told Mom that it doesn't count here in Alaska because Columbus didn't discover us! Honestly, there was no mention about it at the school all day either!!

Do not fear, the temperatures have warmed back up again into the 50's. All of the snow that was on the tops of the mountains has melted away! Hopefully it will come back again soon so we can get ready for ski season!!


Friday, October 2, 2009

Moose Encounter

This morning, I was going out to my car and leaving for work when I saw a huge moose eating the bush! I grabbed my camera to take a picture. After getting just a little bit closer (but still far away) I saw that there was another moose there too. The other one was just standing there very still. I took some pictures then hurried back to the car...I am not going to mess with a huge moose!!

Joel- This picture is for you! Here is Steven's TV. Aren't you so jealous?! :)


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Snow and Skis

I was surprised on Tuesday morning when I was driving to work. There was white stuff all over the mountain tops behind the house! At first I wasn't quite sure what it was. I mean, we had certainly never seen it in Georgia before (well maybe once a year). SNOW! It makes the mountains very pretty and with the tourists clearing out of Alaska, there is less traffic and the restaurants downtown are becoming less crowded. It is officially fall and winter is quickly approaching.

Above is a picture that I took on my way to work. The mornings are becoming a little chilly, but nothing more than a light fleece is needed! I know the time is coming nearer for my preschoolers to need snow pants, coats, snow boots, hats and gloves before going outside to play! We will see how long it takes for them to get ready.

Yesterday we went to a winter sports swap at the Sullivan Arena. People can bring their old skis, ski boots, snowboards, coats, sleds, hockey skates and ice skates and sell it there. Steven and I each bought a set of skis and some ski boots.

So we are all set for skiing. Except for helmets...very crucial. We don't want to end up with a concussion like Tim Tebow did during their game yesterday!

Today we drove up past our house to Glen Alps Trailhead parking lot. I really wanted to see some snow-in person. I ended up a little disappointed though because there was only the tiniest bit of snow on the ground. For some reason, I expected there to be a foot of snow already. It was beautiful though!
Here is a picture of the snowball that I threw at Steven's car...

Here is a picture documenting my first experience with Alaskan snow. Notice my red fingers; I need to use hand lotion about 5 times a day. The air is way too dry here.

Nothing else is happening here. Working and watching football and some quilting. I have 3 quilts almost completed, so I will post some pictures when they are all done! Hope everyone stayed dry from the floods.

Don't forget to leave us some comments! Right now we are convinced that Sarah is the only person who reads this blog!!!


Sunday, September 13, 2009

This and That

Well, the summer is over in Anchorage...and it has been for a couple of weeks. The nice weather (the couple of days that were left) were surrounded by cold and rain. So, we haven't really taken any trips recently but we have done a few things around town.

A couple of weeks ago we FINALLY decided to climb Flattop (#35 on the list). The weather was nice and warm and we had the day free. The trail slowly eases uphill for the first part past Blueberry Hill (where you can pick berries) and then turns up some flights of wooden stairs built into the mountain. After about a mile you reach some benches which are the resting point before the final ascent. A lot of people turn back here, because this final part is more difficult. It is much steeper and quite rocky (some scrambling around boulders necessary), but we saw kids as young as 5 making the climb.

(view of Anchorage from part of the way up the trail)

By the time we got up to the top, some clouds had closed in on the side of the mountain destroying our view but it was still a nice hike that we will definitely do again.

From the top you can typically see down into Anchorage on one side, down into Potter's Marsh and part of Turnagain arm on another, and back into Chugach State Park from the other 2 sides which leads to some really cool views in all directions.

(you can see people scrapping up the beginning of the final ascent)

On another weekend we drove up to Eagle River and took the 10 mile trip back into Chugach State Park to the Eagle River Nature Center (#22).

There is a nice information center here with trail maps and information on animals, the park, and the history of the area in general. One of the main hikes is closed this time of year (it goes past the river which leads to bear-human problems) but we took a stroll down one of the short loop trails.

On this trail is a salmon viewing deck where you can look down into the pools of the river and see some Red and Chum Salmon.

They weren't huge fish, but some looked to be at least a few pounds.

The Nature Center is also a point on the Historic Iditarod Trail, which we already saw started down in Seward. It ran up from Seward through Girdwood and Chugach State Park, through the Nature Center and up from there. There is a hike from Girdwood to the Nature Center that goes along that path, but it is 24 miles long one-way.

Afterwards we drove the rest of the way up to the Alaska State Fair in Palmer (#63). Since it was a nice day we apparently weren't the only ones who had this idea as we waited in about an hour of traffic to get to the parking lot. The fair was like any other state fair with high prices, lots of food, and lots of country folks. Rebekah ordered a giant block of fried potato chips, which she only managed to eat about a third of.

We spent a few hours walking around and looking at the award winning vegetables, farm animals, and arts and crafts before we headed home. On the way back we stopped by the bluffs past Earthquake Park in Anchorage to get some pictures of the city from across the water.

The airport is right across the street, and as you can see a few planes flew right over our head while we were there.

Winter is almost here and soon we will be writing about skiing instead of hiking!


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Camping and Hiking

Monday July 27th

6:47 pm: The weather outlook in Seward looks bleak for this weekend. Rainy and cloudy everyday. Our plans for the weekend camping trip might be in jeopardy.

Thursday July 30th

9:21 pm: Somehow the weather forecast for Seward has changed for the better. It will not only not be raining but should be sunny on Saturday! However, on Tuesday and Wednesday Seward received as much rain as it typically does during the entire month of July which has caused some flooding in the area. We decide to make the trip.

Friday July 31st

8:03 am: We wake up early to do some work and pack so we can leave by noon.

2:36 pm: Rebekah is finally ready and we hit the road.

4:07 pm: We take the 15 mile side trip to the town of Hope (#45 on the list) thinking it's 15 miles and it will be worth it to see the town.

4:23 pm: We arrive in Hope, and while we get to see the one room schoolhouse that is still in use by the town as a library, we realize it was not worth the 15 mile detour.

8:11 pm: Camp is all set up in Seward. We found a campground in downtown Seward right on the beach and were able to get a nice spot since we were there fairly early. The campsite has a picnic table and a fire circle, and at only $10 per night is a very nice location.

(our tent)

11:24 pm: After grilling out and sitting around the campfires with our camp neighbors, a couple from Philadelphia camping throughout Alaska for a week, we go to bed early so we can wake up and be ready for the long hike.

Saturday August 1st

6:17 am: We wake up early, eat breakfast, and get ready for the hike.

8:36 am: After the drive into Kenai Fjords National Park and to the Exit Glacier Information Center we put on our sunglasses, sunscreen, layers of clothing, camelbacks, bug spray, pack our cameras and lunch, and put on more bug spray for good measure. So far, the sun has not come out. But, there are only low hanging clouds that look like they are going to break up as the sun warms the sky.

9:00 am: Every Saturday morning at 9 am a ranger leads a hike up to the Harding Ice Field (new entry #94) beginning at the Exit Glacier Information Center. The hike is 8.6 miles round trip and goes up 3,000 feet on the way there and back down 3,000 feet on the return trip. The hike is listed as strenuous. We find out that the road to the Information Center was flooded and closed earlier in the week and had just opened back up at 4 pm on Friday. 24 hours before the hike began the ranger did not know whether she was going to be leading the hike or not.

9:47 am: The guide is leading the group and is sharing a lot of information on the local vegetation. We learn which berries and plants are poisonous, which to avoid, and which are edible. There are many berries along the trail which make for a nice snack on the way, but also attract many resident bears. Bears are seen on the trail almost every day of the summer.

10:16 am: The first part of the trail is in the forest and winds its way through the trees and creeks. We finally clear the treeline and it feels like we have been hiking for at least 2 miles. This ranger kindly informs us that we are only 1/3 of the way to the top. This part of the hike was really difficult, and Rebekah and I agree that it will probably get easier from here. At least the weather is nice - it is sunny and warm and there is barely a cloud in the sky!

(Exit Glacier reaching down into the valley below)

11:29 am: We were wrong - the second part was definitely harder. We winded our way upwards through Marmot Meadow surrounded by brush and berries. The group stops for a break on this rock outcropping which overlooks the valley below. We eat a snack of crackers and trail mix to give us energy for the remainder of the hike. We are now roughly 2/3 of the way there and Rebekah and I again agree that the worst part is probably behind us.

(a marmot in Marmot Meadow)

12:27 pm: Rebekah has started complaining. The third part is definitely the hardest! We are now hiking through arctic tundra and over and around rocks and gravel. This is the steepest and most strenuous part of the hike.

12:59 pm: We finally make it to the emergency shelter (for emergencies) at the top of the hike. It only took 4 hours to hike 3.8 miles and climb 3000 feet! We hike a little farther to get a better view of the ice field and to eat the lunch we hiked up with.

1:13 pm: It is gorgeous up here! You can see ice and more ice for 30 miles in one direction and 50 miles in another. You can also see the ice field head down and form Exit Glacier as it creeps into the valley below. We made it all the way up here and Rebekah only complained about a dozen times! This hike was definitely worth it and is one of my all time favorite hikes! The weather is great and the ranger says is one of the best days they have had all summer. One thing to consider for the future - during the early months of spring you can hike on or across the ice field.

(The ice looks close. But, you can tell by how small the people are farther down in the picture that the ice is still pretty far off. And those people aren't very close to the ice either.)

2:26 pm: The hike down is pretty difficult as well - but for a different reason. Our leg muscle and joints are exhausted from climbing the 3,000 feet up that they are tired and begin to ache on the way down. Because we are tired we are hiking slower than we normally would, which actually makes our leg muscles more tired as we have to strain to walk slowly down the hill.

(more of the ice field)

2:44 pm: We are walking down the trail and as I wind a corner I almost run smack into a Black Bear (part of #86) walking straight towards me on the trail eating berries. It is only about 8 feet in front of us, but doesn't seem to really care that we are there. This is good as it does not want to attack us, but bad as it does not want to give up the trail and we are surrounded by thick brush on all sides. Finally, we make enough noise that the bear gets the idea and walks into the brush itself to get away from us. Rebekah thought it was cute and now wants one as a pet.

(the bear - and this is not zoomed in at all)

3:37 pm: We are now down into the tree line and our legs our killing us. If we stand still our legs will actually shake because of how tired our muscles are. Rebekah, after doing well on the way up and only complaining about a dozen times, has complained about a hundred times and has now declared that she is no longer having fun.

4:09 pm: We made it down to the bottom, but barely. We walk straight to the car and sit down.

(last one)

7:22 pm: After showering, running to the store, and eating a big dinner we spend the evening recovering by the camp fire. Our camp neighbors return and tell us about their day trip. They took a boat down to one of the inlets in Kenai Fjords National Park where a rather large glacier ends into the ocean. The boat tour sets them up with kayaks and they kayak around the bay, looking at the glacier and watching it calve into the ocean. The trip was $400 per person, but they said it was one of their favorite things they have done and definitely worth it - so it will probably be something we look into in the future.

Sunday August 2nd

10:13 am: We finally wake up after a long nights sleep and try to make pancakes. However, we forgot the spatula at the house (twice) and forgot to buy one at the store so it quickly becomes messy and we give up. We were considering going on another hike today, but we are too sore so we will have to save that for another weekend.

11:46 am: The campsite is packed up and cleaned and we begin the drive back to Anchorage. The hike was worthwhile and memorable (for many reasons) and the weather ended up being one of the best weekends in a couple of months. Our first weekend camping in Alaska was a success!
(on the way home from Seward)