Saturday, March 18, 2017

Cooper Landing Spring Break with Alyeska Add-on


Last year with so litte snow we decided to do a Cooper Landing Spring break to get some early season hiking in. This year we ended up there by different circumstances.  Our goal was to go to Alyeska Resort and downhill ski/snowboard, but the resort was full when we called a couple weeks before break.  Lots of people stay in Anchorage and drive the 45 minutes to an hour to Girdwood, but we really didn't want to go to Anchorage so we decided to stay at our usual motel in Cooper Landing, the Sunrise Inn, and drive to Alyeska from there--also about an hour drive.  It ended up working out very nicely for timing and enjoyment, and we got to explore some new places as well.

No new snow for weeks made for a firm base, despite 346" of snow so far this year at Alyeska 
Waaaaaay up there is the top of Alyeska's aeriel tram.  On the other side of it is "the bowl".
A little closer view shows the North Face, supposedly the longest continuous double black diamond in North America
Moose Meadows is an outdoor playland at the base of Alyeska:  groomed cross-country ski trails, marked as multi-use for fat-tire bikers, hikers, snowshoers, runners and more.

Moose Meadows in the other directions, with the biking single-track on the left.
Bike trails wove throughout the woods all over.

The Alyeska snowcat trail is also multiuse and made for a fine, fast ski mostly uphill one way, and mostly downhill back!

We decided to let Denver snowboard for the day and we explored the many multi-use trails around Alyeska Resort.  It was almost deserted in the morning, but after noon when the temperatures rose out of the single digits folks came out enforce. Bikers, skiers and walkers populated the trails simultaneously, which only worked  with a dose of patience as sometimes families blocked the trail, dogs jumped on me as I skied or skiers came zipping down  hill as I was about to head up.  

All in all, these newly developed trails add a lot to Girdwood and for us, the value of Alyeska Resort. 

A quick hour back to Cooper Landing after a day on the slopes and trails got us back to our comfy hotel room.  A delicious St. Patrick's Day dessert at the Sunrise Inn Restaurant topped the day off nicely.

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Heading out the next day, we weighed our choices of trails to hike and opted for Fuller Lake. Denver hadn't done it for 10 years since we'd used it as a practice run before backpacking the Chilkoot Trail. Again, no new snow for weeks plus cold temperatures keeping the thaw cycle to a minimum made for almost perfect walking conditions: hard packed, crunchy snow with good traction.  The only non-perfect part was the temperatures, which were -3 when we got up in the morning and were hovering at about 6 above by time we started hiking. Sunshine and 3 miles of uphill hiking got us to a sweat fairly quickly despite the cold temps and both Doug and Denver stripped down to 2 layers of shirt, no jacket.

Snowmachine tracks had helped pack down the trail and widen it
And more trail...

Lower Fuller Lake winter view

View of Skilak Lake from Fuller Lake Trail

Winter gear:  tights, pants and thermal skirt on the bottom; thermal shirt, wicking layer and two jackets on top; balaclava, hat and neckwarmer to start (now tucked in my waistband, adjusting as temperatures changed); multi-layer gloves; sunglasses


Overall, it was an active and outdoorsy quick get-away which we enjoyed despite cold temperatures. Dressing right was important, but having calm and sunny weather was preferable to last year's expedition to Alyeska when it was pouring rain and 32 degrees and windy. That can be miserable to be in and difficult to warm up once chilled. Meanwhile, we're reveling in a "real winter"!  And the greatest revelation for me was that we can go hiking all year round and don't need to wait till the snow is gone. In fact, we've found winter hiking conditions to be better than summer (lack of bugs and bogs), so we may make this our new winter hobby!



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Visit to Nikiski

The Region III 3A basketball tournament was this past weekend in Nikiski. I decided to keep Doug company as he did his supervision duties. The draw for me was that across the parking lot from Nikiski Middle/High School there is a cross-country ski trail.  My kids have moaned for years about how brutal the hills are here as a cross-country running course, but I have never actually been out on the trail here. So this was my golden opportunity!

I was disappointed at first to discover that only half of the trails were groomed; the rest were ungroomed. The first day there I headed out on fishscale (waxless) skis and decided to take the ungroomed trail. It was delightful to explore, and while it took some concentration to maneuver on the steep hills with 90 degree turns at the bottom with ungroomed snow, I only fell once!

The second day I headed out on skate skis and explored all the groomed trails in the morning. Thirty minutes took me over most of them twice.  After watching the Homer girls play, I headed back out for a snowshoe on the ungroomed trails I'd skiied the day before.  It was interesting to note how much more difficult snowshoing is than skiing. Gliding gets me down a hill quickly, but on snowshoes I have to step every single step.

Here is a brief photo gallery of some scenery on the trail.  It is a small little system, but provided me a couple days of skiing and snowshoing with the trails all to myself!

A view of the Nikiski track and stadium from the trail
Moose impressions abounded along the ungroomed trails, along with droppings and hoofprints.
Some strong winds must have blown up sand onto the trail. It was a very small section that was dirty snow.
An oil rig dominates the skyline near the trail.
The thunk thunk of helicopters going to the offshore rigs was nearly constant.
A couple boats off shore.
This was a hill I sweated up. Taking a picture was a great excuse to stop and catch my breath!
Snowshoe tracks, looking down the hill (opposite direction of the last one!)











Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Moose-y Scenery

The high school ski team had their end-of-season banquet at the Homer Elks Lodge on Monday night.  We were treated to a gorgeous sunset and a wandering moose!

Moose silhouetted above Bishop's Beach with Mt. Douglas in the background

Beautiful view of Kenai Mountains, Kachemak Bay and a moose at sunset.
(And a spruce tree hit by the spruce aphids.)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!

After two years of scant snowfall in Homer, warm temperatures and poor winter sport conditions, many folks are reveling in the snow.  At the same time, we have been complaining about the snow, like last week when Homer got dumped with 16" of wet, heavy stuff in a day. The plows are dashing about town and our backs are aching from shoveling. Sometimes we disclaim the bellyaching with "I'm not complaining," as if saying something bad about the weather will make the snow go away. Really, we don't want it to go away. We love snow!  As I came off the snowshoe trail this afternoon, a lady was heading onto the trail with her skis. This stranger gave me a big smile and said effusively, "Aren't we lucky?!"  And thinking about snow makes me chuckle at the thought of a bumper sticker I saw in town last week:  Snow makes me horny.

Miles of bike path in Anchorage become a multi-use winter sport path in the winter
Last week I was in Anchorage for a conference at the Hotel Captain Cook, which is a favorite of mine because it is only a couple blocks from miles and miles of bike paths along the shore. I'd never been in Anchorage when the snow on the path was good, so I didn't realize quite how amazing it is:  the bike path is groomed (it seemed like daily when I was there) for cross-country skiing, with a single track and skate track. How cool is that?  I could have brought my XC skis to Anchorage, walked out of my hotel and skied to my heart's content.  I didn't have skis, so instead I walked.  Which was still cool, to hang out with mom's pulling their kiddo's in sleds, fat-tire bikers, walkers, runners and of course the skiiers.

The Homestead Trail with lots of fluffy snow

Sunshine and skiing--what more could one want?!
Upon returning to Homer (having missed the 16" of snow--my poor husband having to shovel it all by himself!), I headed up Baycrest to Roger's Loop, a 5 minute drive from town. It is my favorite trail for skiing for it's convenience for a quick spin around the trails when I don't have much time. It has been 3 years since there's been enough snow to ski here--good snow.  That lack of snow is why the Sea to Ski run-bike-ski race has been cancelled the past couple years.  As you can see--it's gorgeous! (Snow makes me horny!).

There is indeed a trail hidden under that dimple in the snow

My hard work pays off in a nicely stomped trail
As I'd skiied the Homestead Loop I noticed the snowshoe trail hadn't been opened up, having been snowed over. It was awaiting a hardy snowshoer with the conditioning to stomp down over a foot of snow. I was feeling ambitious and helpful, so got out my snowshoes over the weekend and headed to the Homestead snowshoe trail, which roughly follows the summer Homestead Trail route. Whew! That got my heart rate up and the sweat pouring! My legs were quaking with fatigue and although I'd hoped to stomp the whole loop, I didn't make it. I figured the next person out would be able to take it a little further.

Sunshine and warmth
Today I was able to make the whole loop. There was yet more fresh snow; I've snowshoed three times this week and it has been fresh snow to break trail each time. Today the temperatures soared to 37 degrees, rivers of melting snow ran down the roads, and on the trail it felt like and sounded like it was raining from all the snow melting off the trees (be sure to turn the volume up when you watch the video below so you can hear the melting snow!).

video

Spring sports start in Homer next week. We're making our guesses as to how long it will be before the soccer, softball and baseball teams are playing outside (a month, at least). But then this is 'normal', and the past two years were a fluke, so we're back to being the snowy north, for now!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Crazy Waves and Plowing Rocks on the Spit

On my way to the 2:00 hockey game at the Kevin Bell Arena on Saturday, impressive waves were rolling in from Cook Inlet.  A few waves were crashing over the rocks, splashing the road. Nearly two hours later, the tide must have come in, because when I pulled onto the Spit Road later, the road was littered with rocks, a tree was teetering on the edge of the rocks above the road, and waves were crashing over both lanes of the road the entire 1.5 miles from the arena to Mariner Park where the slough adds a buffer to the road. My car was covered with a slurry of salt water, making visibility out the windows poor.  A plow was shoving the rocks off the road, and maybe trying to control the depth of the slurry that was pouring over the rocks as well.

I headed to the car wash to get it cleaned off, and every bay was lined up 10 cars deep. Obviously, that is what one does after driving the spit during big waves!

This would have been an awesome picture or video--but I'm afraid I was so impressed with getting off the spit, I didn't think to get out my camera!

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Brief Window for Outdoor Skating

All fall I kept a pair of ice skates in the back of my car, until a week ago, on the off chance that "good ice" might happen on a local lake.  Upon returning from Hawaii I gave up on the chance and put my skates away.  The next day, a friend texted and said, "Lampert Lake is skate-able!  I'm heading out there now. Wanna go?"  Aaaaargh!  I didn't have my skates ready!  So that evening I put my skates back in my car and plotted catching a few laps on the little lake off Kachemak Drive that is usually skateable if any local lakes are skateable.

Thursday I headed over after work, having noted that snow was on the forecast and the window was a short one for outdoor skating.  It was skateable, with a few diehards out there, but not extraordinary like I'd hoped.  Bums from thawed springs and cracks were a tad too plentiful, and then there was the terrifying crrrrraaaaack of small pockets of surface ice cracking under the skates in some areas.  It wasn't a matter of the overall ice breaking, it was just little surface pockets. But the sound is so stressful that it is difficult to enjoy skating. I did enjoy the sunset, though!


Now we've been dumped with 5 plus inches of snow, and with this delightfully cold winter (it actually feels like winter!!), it is unlikely the lake skating window will open up again this winter.  Maybe if I take my skates out of the car....?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

An Alaskan Vacation: Hawaii!

Since we moved to Homer 10 years ago, every year "Hawaii" seems to be on many people's lips in the winter, though especially at Christmas-time. With no basketball games for our kids to play this year during Christmas break we decided to make a Hawaii family vacation happen.

I was impressed with many similarities between Hawaii and Alaska, and how those things attract Alaskans to Hawaii.

Similarities

Both Hawaii and Alaska have ocean, beaches and cliffs.


Hawaii seems to have more sandy beaches and larger surf, though I will say that Alaska has a whole lot more beaches and I've only seen a very small number of all the beaches in this state. Most beaches here are pebbly or stone-covered.  I will say the waves were much larger in Hawaii than in Homer, with the 'normal' size waves there being the very largest waves we get in Homer, but we are also in the protected Cook Inlet so that makes sense.











Hawaii has remote areas with wide-open vistas, just as Alaska does.


There are areas of Alaska that are so wild and remote, though most are not quite as barren as this mountainside of inactive volcano Mauna Kea that we climbed up.











The drive and then the hike to the Green Sand Beach on the southern shore of the Big Island struck me as remote, despite the dozens of folks walking the rabbit warren of roads to the beach with us, and the handful of amped up trucks carrying tourists to the locale.  This was my favorite hike of our 2 weeks' stay, with the ocean crashing onto the volcanic rocks on one side and a grassy plain reaching as far as we could see.





Both Hawaii and Alaska have gorgeous sunsets and sunrises.


The one difference between Hawaii and Alaska sunsets is that there are beautiful palm trees outlined in many of Hawaiian sunsets!












The fascinating thing with the Hawaiian sunsets is how fast they were!  We could literally see the sun setting in a 2 minute process in this picture, and within 20 minutes it was pitch black out.  Contrast that with the sunset the next day when we arrived home in Anchorage. The sun set at 4:15 pm and we were treated to the afterglow of the sun and dusk till 5:30, over an hour later. The hang time of sunsets in Alaska is amazing!










Both Hawaii and Alaska have wildlife.


As we were hiking the trail to the Captain Cook monument and snokeling area, these wild goats posed on the lava rocks.  In Hilo later in the week traffic was stopped on a busy city street for goats crossing.  Feral goats, pigs and cats are common sights on the Big Island. Alaska, as you know, has moose and bear. Not the same, but wildlife nonetheless!






Both Hawaii and Alaska have steep, narrow roads.


The road into the Wapio Valley reminded me in many ways of the switchbacks at the end of the road in the Old Believer Village. Although it is paved, it was slippery, one way in many places, sheer cliffs on one side with amazing vistas on the other.  It also had an amazing number of tourists walking and driving down it, which is unlike Alaska!












There is food everywhere in both Hawaii and Alaska.


Bananas, papayas, you name it, there is fruit just hanging about in Hawaii, coconuts waiting to clobber an unsuspecting walker or nuts galore.  In Alaska we have an insane abundance of berries, and only in late July through September. The food is different in each place, and the timing is different but the abundance is still there.












Both Alaska and Hawaii have large and beautiful waterfalls.


In Alaska many of the waterfalls are remote and difficult to get to, while the waterfalls in Hawaii are mobbed by tourists and have roads and paved trails leading to them.















Rain forests are found in both Hawaii and Alaska.


In Alaska they are known as temperate rain forests, and are noted by moss hanging on the trees and deep, cushy moss covering the forest floor.  In Hawaii, obviously, it is a tropical rain forest, with the distinctive smells that come with that and the cacophony of birds that seems to come with the tropics too.












Other unpictureable similarities:

There are native Hawaiian cultures that they are working to preserve, just as Alaska has its many native cultures as well. There are many tourists in both places, though I feel like they were very concentrated in Hawaii as we were there during the busiest time of year.  Like Alaska, Hawaii is expensive, with gas prices right about the same at $2.90 a gallon.  However, a survey of Costco in Kona showed items we regularly buy as $2-$5 cheaper in Hawaii than the Anchorage Costco, which outraged me.  And while Alaska is not an island, it sure feels like one, albeit a very large one! But once a person is in Hawaii (or Alaska), it is going to cost some money to leave. It's not a place you want to get stuck. Apparently some folks in Hawaii are very anti-homeless, while in Alaska the climate makes it an inhospitable place to be homeless.


Differences

There are round mountains in Hawaii versus sharp peaks in Alaska.

Mauna Loa, above, is the largest volcano on earth, reaching more than 30,000 feet from the ocean floor.  Even this peak, which is 13,600 feet above sea level, sure doesn't look like a 13,000 foot peak. Distances were amazingly deceptive because of these long, gradual slopes and we were having a very difficult time estimating elevations in Hawaii because of this.







Other nonpictureable differences:

The most distinct difference is the daylight hours. In Alaska, having very short days in the winter and very long days in the summer leads to lethargy to insanity from winter to summer, a frenetic pace that takes a winter to recover from. Hawaii, with it's moderate climate and moderate daylight hours, seems more tempered and sane.

Supposedly folks fish in Hawaii, but we didn't see many marinas or boats in our time there, and didn't really see much sign of fishing, whereas in Homer or Seward, you cannot miss the fishing industry with the dozens of boats being hauled down the road, fish processing plants, charter advertisements and more.

Both Alaska and Hawaii have volcanoes, and in fact a volcano erupted on the Aleutian chain while we were in Hawaii, spewing ash up to 35,000 feet. But the volcanoes here are not the 30-year-flow of Mauna Loa, and the areas around Alaskan volcanoes are not very populated so they are not as high on the world's radar.

Overall, though, I was very comfortable in Hawaii and could see why many Alaskan's feel at home there. In fact, we met Homerites and Alaskans at every turn on our vacation. Will it become a regular pilgrimage for us?  Likely not.  There is much world to explore and as much as  we liked Hawaii, there are other places we want to see as well. The other Hawaiian Islands are on our list, though!