Tuesday, April 18, 2017

First Local Slush Cup at Ohlson Mountain

Spectators in costume watch as someone pulled a kayaker down the hill through the slush cup
When I first heard there was going to be a slush cup at Ohlson Mountain as a fundraiser for a local boy who has a rare form of cancer and will be in chemo in Seattle for almost the next year, I was like, "What's a slush cup?" But I recalled watching the annual slush cup at Alyeska, and quickly connected that event with Homer's event, though I couldn't quite picture a huge pit of watery, snowy, slush at the bottom of Ohlson Mountain. However, via a many, many hoses run from the nearest house, they made it happen!

This was actually was of the funnest events I've been to in Homer in awhile. It was a beautiful 40ish degree day, with a mix of sunshine and snow. A downhill ski slalom preceded the slush cup, with kids and adults competing for prizes on skis, snowboards and with costumes and style.  A huge turnout made Ohlson Mountain Road look incredibly busy, with cars lined up quite a ways up and down the road. (As an aside, with such nice weather I was afraid we were going to be in the middle of spring breakup and the road would be a mess, but despite warm temperatures the road was mostly still frozen.)

Lots of food, a silent auction, music, many Homer neighbors made it what we call a "so Homer" event.  The slush cup got the spectators seated on the snow in perfect viewing, some around the fire, some on tarps, others in chairs. A teacher from the high school went first and made it across the slush without dunking. Then came a couple of Hoxie's cross-country ski team teammates, also dressed in costumes. It seemed like about 40 folks attempted the slush cup. Most made it over. Some dunked on purpose. Some made it over with help of a couple assistants in the water. The big sled made it, pulled and pushed over the water after crashing a few times down the hill. The kayak made it with assistance as well.  It was all good for lots of laughs and a good hunk of change was made to help out the family with expenses in this coming challenging year.


I joked with someone that we need to do a slush cup every year...we're guessing it would grow, though a good cause helps. Here's to wishing Hoxie well!

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.


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!).


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....?