Wednesday, July 23, 2008

FISH ON!

So for those of you that haven't heard Mom's bragging (and bygum - she better be braggin'!), I caught my first Alaskan halibut down in Homer yesterday. It was a whopping 40 pounds - so a long, heavy and suffering haul to reel in. Although it's me saying it - without any biased-ness and bigheadedness, my fish was the biggest on the boat. There were 20 fishermen on the boat (only three women - the two other women were older, and the rough lookin' type) altogether. The bag limit for halibut is two per day - so there were about 35-40 fish on the boat - and out of all of 'em, mine was the biggest. It was so awesome.


So, the day started out with Wesley and I driving down to Homer around 8:30 in the morning. We looked around the shops for a while and then piled into The Jackpot boat around 12:30pm, after our fishing licenses were checked and tallied. We then drove out of Kachemak Bay for a good hour and a half before we found what was supposed to be the "perfect" fishing spot. Got the run-down on how we were supposed to use the reels, and then we got to fishin'. We were given halibut poles (rods that can handle over 100 lbs. of fish), twisted line that was about 1/4'' thick, two-pound weights attached to the line, and about a 3-inch hook with herring on it (as bait). Once you let the line out about 150 feet down to the bottom, you wait to feel a pecking on your line. On the first drop, I got a bite. I whipped the pole up and pulled it to the side to lodge the hook in better, and started reeling in like a fishin' fool. Now, if you gather that without a fish you're having to reel in about 150-300 feet of line that is 5 pounds of sheer line, hook and weight, add on the weight of a huge fish - that has a ton of power to fight with you as much as it can.
This is the Jackpot, the boat we were on.


Reeling in was HARD. I have never had to reel as hard as I had to yesterday. By the end of the day, my left hand was cramping, my arms were sore, and I was soaked to the skin. It had been raining all day.


So, you reel in with your right hand and hold the pole steady with your left. Thankfully, I had Wesley and the boat captain helping me with holding the pole. Not only does it take so much strength to reel in the large boulder attached to your line - you also have to hold your rod steady so the fish doesn't pull it out from underneath you. It was hard work. While waiting for the fish to bite, being that it was probably 48-50 degrees outside and raining - you were cold. But once you got to reelin,' you were cursing all the layers you had put on - because you felt that they were now a hindrance.

It was an amazing time, though. To my annoyance, most of the three hours we fished I caught gray cods. Gray cods are trash fish. They play with your mind into thinking you're catching a big halibut, and then after grueling over reeling in 200 feet of line, a gray cod pops up, mouth wide as a size 4 soccer ball - clinging onto the piece of herring that was meant for your record breaker halibut. Gray cods aren't small by any means - some were as long as 2-3 feet probably, and 12-18 inches wide. Unfortunately, they're useless (for the most part), as they're filled with parasites and worms and aren't good eating. The deckhands on the boat said that they don't even use gray cod as bait. I (no exaggeration) probably caught 15-20 gray cods before I caught my halibut. With an all-call stating that there was 20 minutes left to fish, I had to catch one. Once I caught my halibut, it was worth all the effort. Sadly, by the time I caught my halibut, we only had a couple of minutes left so I didn't end up limiting out. Imagine catching 2 40-pounders! That's a helluva lot of meat.
This is me catching my first gray cod. I'm holding ono the two-pound weight as the deckhand pulls off the fish and lets it go.
This is a gray cod. My face looks terrible. Rain was pelting my eyes. Anyway, this is a smaller one. I caught bigger cods than this -but it gives you a good idea as to how they look like. And, I didn't keep any of those. Like I said, the meat isn't good so it was pointless to keep them. Most of us (with the exception of this one here - a man wanted to keep it to use it for bait) threw them back into the water after we pulled our line up. This is my halibut. I didn't have the strength to hold it up all of the way, so you can't tell how big it is compared to me. But it does look pretty big. Wesley held up the halibut so you can see how big it is. It doesn't look as big compared to him...but it sure looks big compared to me!This is the halibut Wesley caught. He felt embarassed that I outdid him. It was really funny - all the guys on the boat were saying, "The littlest thing on this boat caught the biggest fish!" Don't make fun, though - like I said earlier, he caught a 75-pounder just two weeks ago (that was really tasty, by the way). This is just some of the halibut caught on the boat.The rest is on the other side of this picture not shown. The two deckhands filleted all of the fish on the drive back to the dock.


This is one of the deckhands filleted a fish.




Went to Buttwhackers again to check out the damage. Biggest halibut on the end (on the left) was a 45 pounder, so just a teensy bit bigger than mine.


So, after getting back into Homer, we went over to the fish processing place so I could send all of the fish home to my mommy. Guess how much it cost me - for 25 pounds of meat - just guess. Betcha guessed wrong! Cost me 175 bucks to send that sucker home. After filleted the fish, I was left with 25 pounds of meat. So there'll be plenty to make dinner for those hungry for halibut. I'll definitely be taking some up with me to Gainesville.


This picture below is of me and Ed, a volunteer here at the refuge. This is when I caught my first Alaskan salmon! As much as I hate to admit this, my fish is on the right. A nice woman volunteered to take the picture for us - but unfortunately, took a crap photo. I'm not just saying this to atone for the fact that my fish looks tiny in this picture. It was small, I grant you that - but not as small as it looks here. The way it's held you can't tell how big it was around. Anyway, Ed and I went fishing around 10 at night for about two hours - and didn't get a thing. We both had a few bites, hooked a few but lost them as they started jumping out of the water - but nothing after that. Then suddenly, Ed caught his big 'un. His is a male Sockeye. Once he caught his, I said to myself, I aint leavin' this place empty handed. So I fished with a determined gleam in my eye (oh yes, I'm editorializing) and in no time, caught my salmon. Mine is a female King. She was probably about 5 pounds. Her body was mostly filled with eggs - but we still got two good-sized fillets out of her and it was SO good. I cooked the salmon the next night. I marinated it in teriyaki, italian dressing and cajun seasoning - and boy, was it good. I cooked some for Sam and had 5 other taste testers - and they all assured me it was finger lickin' good. So no biased-ness there. No worries to the family - I'll be catching some more salmon to send home.




Shortly after I caught my first salmon, I foul hooked one close to the size of Ed's. Unfortunately, it was foul hooked so I had to let it go. To this day I still beat myself up about it, because I should have kept it. The hook was just under the gills, the fish had tired out, and it probably died after I let it go. I should have kept it.


Anyway, since that night, I've fished three times. Hooked and caught a few, but haven't managed to land them. I'm supposed to go out again tonight, so hopefully I'll have better luck.


Last Wednesday, I went over to the Russian River ferry and caught my first Rainbow trout. The limit for that is one per day, less than 16 inches - and it was bigger than that, so I didn't get to keep it.




The Sunday after I caught my salmon, I went to Girdwood with Ed to go gold panning. Girdwood is really close to Anchorage, if you want to look at it on the map. It was an absolutely beautiful drive to there. I swear, the mountains and scenery here are 10x better than what I've been showing you guys already on this blog. The mountains were bigger, and more snow-covered. We saw Turnagain Arm and the Alaskan Train that runs from Seward up to Denali (and probably more North).


We gold panned at what I think was Copper Creek. I can't remember the name of it now. I do recall that the creek's name started with a C. We got our pans, two buckets, and two shovels and then hiked down to the creek. We shoveled a ton of dirt and gravel, put them in our buckets, and then sifted that material handful by handful into the pans, searching for gold. I could almost taste the metallic sweetness of that nugget I was sure to find.



To tell you the truth, I never had much of a hankerin' for gold panning, but I figured I'd add that to my repertoire of Cool Things I've Done. In addition to the fact that you can't go to Alaska - the Last Frontier - place where thousands of men, with hunger in their eyes, pilgrimmaged to make their living - the Gold Rush - without searchin' for a little gold. So search I did. For two hours. And found four flecks. I wasn't expecting much - so I had that going for me. I went for a good time - and a good time is what I got.



Above: Me looking through my pan for gold. Below: Ed searchin' for gold. He reminds me a bit of you, Dad. Not in the looks, but in the personality.

The four flecks I found. Ed had been gold panning before - so it was funny that I should find some - and he didn't find any at all.


Before and after we gold panned, we took a little drive around the area - saw Alyeska Ski Resort - and made a lot of stops at overlook areas. I got some really good pictures.


After we gold panned, we took a hike to the Copper Creek Gorge. We took a hand tram over the gorge to get to the other side of the river.

This is a view from the tram, smack dab in the middle of the gorge.



This is a picture of the path we took to get to the hand tram. The forest was beautiful, and it left kaleidoscope dappled sun patches on the ground wherever we went. This is Ed and another man on the tram. It took you 500 yards across the swallowing depths of 500 yards below your feet. This is a picture looking down from the grate of the tram cage. My shoe is on the lower left corner. The water was running so fast. It was an amazing and beautiful sight. This is a picture of the Alaska railroad and train. It was headed in the opposite direction, away from the mountains. In between the mountains there is a glacier.

Another photo of the train, this time of the front.

This is a picture of a mountain peak from the car. Can you believe it? Just from the car. It's really cool to look at the shadows from the clouds on the snow. Took another one from inside the car. This is on the drive back to Soldotna. Such a breathtaking drive, isn't it?

Photo of the rushing water of the gorge.

The loon tagging and capturing I did last Tuesday was absolutely amazing. I held two loons in my hands. I held their beak tight shut with my left hand, and kept their head down with the right. The two researchers took blood and fecal samples, made several measurements of their beaks, and then tagged their left foot. I met them at the Drake/Snookum Trailhead at 8 in the morning, and didn't get back 'til 9 at night.



The second loon we captured was a thrilling adventure. We set the capturing net and grid and all sat in our designated spots hidden by camouflage curtains we had hooked up. The one researcher (Chris) started playing loon calls from a device, and the three of us sat silent, waiting. Within ten minutes of making the calls, we spotted a group of four loons way down the lake. Four loons is unusual. Loons are, by nature, solitary. They have their one mate and that's it. When another loon comes onto the lake, that loon, by the other male loon's perspective, is not respecting his territory. And this is just what happened. The loon we eventually captured was being extremely territorial. He chased the other loon on the lake for a good ten minutes. Apparently, I witnessed something that was extremely unusual. Chris had said that that was probably one of the longest chases he had ever watched - and he's been working with loons for years.



When males feel threatened, they do the "yodel" call, which only males do, and they do the "penguin dance," in which they make the call, careen their heads to one side, hold their wings outstretched, and kick the water out from underneath them. It quite literally looks like they are walking on water. This male was doing that several times. It was such an amazing sight. When they "chase" another loon, they stay on the surface of the water, but flap their wings and use them as propellors as they speed through the water. The territorial male was clearly faster than the other, but the other was doing these sharp and quick turns and so was able to escape. After the other male left, we finally were able to snag the other and then do our measurements.


Unfortunately, I didn't take my camera out because I didn't want to risk it falling into the lake - so the pictures with me and loons in my lap are with the researchers. They said they would send me pictures in August. Those should be awesome.


Anyway, that's all for now - but more adventures are sure to follow!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

I gazed and gazed, but little thought what wealth the show to me had brought

So, the tables have been turned. I'm the one posting copiously, while all of you are scrambling to keep up. Come on now, you asked for me to have fairly regular entries, I expect enthralling comments to follow!!

So on Thursday, Wesley, Luke, Andy (two other guys that work at the ferry) and Dusty (one of our law enforcement officers - the one that I went out with on the "cadaver search") went halibut fishing. What's key here is the fact that they went without me. Unfortunately, I had to work that day, so I missed out. But, what reaped out of that misfortune was reward. Wesley came by and dropped off a hunk of halibut meat that was probably 15 pounds. This slab was only 1/4 of the entire fish. Wes told me that all four guys had reached their bag limits (2 halibut per day) and each fish was within the 50-80 Ib range. Just imagine - reeling in a 70 Ib fish!

So. I had 15 lbs of halibut and had no idea what I was going to do with it. Eat it, ofcourse - but I hadn't ever cooked it before. Fortunately, Sue (a grad student that stays with us at the bunkhouse) is a halibut cookin' fool and gave me some ideas. So the next night, we went out shopping together and spent nearly $60 on ingredients to make curry (with snow peas, mushrooms, onions and garlic), macadamia nut-encrusted baked halibut, and ceviche (a salsa of chopped up kalamata olives, onions, cilantro, tomato, green pepper, mushroom and halibut). And it was absolutely delicious. (Tessa, I can't wait to make curry for you when we get back to Gainesville!)

Tomorrow, Wesley is supposed to come over and all of us are gonna eat beer-battered halibut and french fries (aka fish n' chips). Mmmmm. I know all of you are jealous. Especially you, Mom. Wish you were here. Whenever I do go halibut fishing (and catch my Alaskan salmon, don't fergit about dat) I'm sure I'll catch a record breaker (over 400 lbs.) so I'll have plenty to send home some for you.


Yesterday Sam and I had our campfire program. What a downer. Only had 10 people show up...and it was a pretty horrible crowd. On the upside, afterwards, Sam and I saw our first brown bear! It was just on the shore of the Russian River/Kenai River confluence. If you look at the picture, you'll see how close it is to the fisherman up on the top of the stairs. This is probably a yearling on the cusp of turning two.

Today, Eve and I did the Skyline Trail. So I have officially done all of the hikes now! Skyline is
virtually a 45-degree angle ascent up a mountain. Round trip, it covers about 4 miles. At the top, you get a wonderful view of the Kenai Mountains, a lake right there in the middle whose name escapes me (I know, unforgivable) and Skilak Lake in the distance. It was an absolutely beautiful view. Unfortunately, it's been rainy all day, so the clouds shaved off the top of nearly all of the surrounding mountains. When Eve and I got to the top, we decided to take a little restie-poo and eat some snacks. In the span of probably 10 minutes, everything around us was covered in cloud. We couldn't see 10 feet past us in any direction. Before we got to the top, I had told Eve - "Eve, I want to touch the clouds." And by golly, I sure did! As soon as we were covered in mist - I told Eve - go and grab the clouds, baby - 'cuz they're all around us. And so we did.
That's the view when the clouds were rolling in. Below is a picture Eve took without me realizing. Nice panorama of the spruce trees, don't you think? This is just a taste of what we hiked. We had to climb up rocks and other slippery, craggy surfaces. On the way down, we slipped and slided our way down. It was skiing with our feet, without the skis - and the snow, ofcourse. Here's the aftermath:

Eve has a sexy butt.

This is a columbine flower. They were all over the place. It's so amazing to see such an abundance of colorful wildflowers in a place that hosts such harsh conditions during 80% of the year.

Eve and I are hardcore. Does Legends of the Fall ring a bell to anyone? Like Brad Pitt, we put three lines on our face - because we had undergone a tragedy. But see, we're tough - and we're handling it just fine.

View of some Kenai mountains. The snow stays on their peaks for the entire year. Oh, by the way - I just figured I'd tell all of you Florida folks and those of you suffering in the summer heat that it has been in the upper 40s this entire week. Absolutely gorgeous, and I love it. Who could imagine that even in those temperatures, you get all sweaty after hiking - and that's wearing only a t-shirt and lightweight pants!

Eve fell.

Eve died.


video


Here's a video me and Eve made while at the top of the mountain. It had just started raining. And we were hungry. Cravin' some cereal and milk.

Picture of me at the Skyline Trailhead after we braved the wild. I know it says 1 mi. First of all, the trailhead doesn't include the roundtrip. Second of all, we hiked past the saddle of the mountain and went up through the ridge, which cost us another mile. Hence the four-mile trek.

Anyway, that's all for now. On Tuesday, I'm supposed to meet with some researchers and do loon captures and tagging! I'm excited. We get to canoe some lakes and hang out with the loons. It'll be a long day though - from 8 am - 8 pm!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

HOT OFF THE PRESS!!!

Guess who's famous?! That's right, we are! All four of us made news in the local Kenai newspaper, The Clarion. Click on the link below to check it out. :)

http://www.peninsulaclarion.com/stories/071108/out_258462039.shtml

Friday, July 11, 2008

Third time is indeed the charm

So, I went to the library - discovered they were about to close. Then I went to Mugz coffee shop - I couldn't get hooked up to the internet. Then dear, sweet, sweet Kaladi Brothers Coffee shop was the charm, and alas, here I am writing another blog entry.


As I mentioned in the previous, I didn't get a chance to relay all of my exciting adventures here. So I'll begin with telling you about what I did about 3 or 4 weeks ago with one of the refuge's biologists. An e-mail was forwarded to me and the rest of the SCAs detailing a notice that one of the biologists was looking for volunteers for a snowshoe hare survey he would be conducting later in the week. So of course, I jumped on the opportunity and went with him, his two sons, and Julia. Lo and behold, we find out that our survey involved us counting hare "pellets" - i.e. poop - for the entire day. Although some of you might find this disgusting and boring, it was actually enormously fun. The area where we went was in complete wilderness, so Julia was assigned to carry a shotgun and I, on the other hand, had my trusty bear spray attached to my belt. We had to travel through thick forest and navigate our way across the grid with a map and a compass. There were no trails - just a smattering of tape markings leading the way from plot to plot. And I do not exaggerate when I say "smattering." Many times there weren't any markers...so we had to bushwhack for a while until we got back to where we thought we were supposed to be. We saw bear prints, moose prints and other animal paraphernalia while we were out, but no actual animals.


To do the actual survey, we had two metal pieces that we attached together to form a square. Once we got to the plot (marked by iron rods in the ground), we put down the metal square, and counted as many hare pellets as we could find within the square. If there were pellets right outside of it, we couldn't count them - as we were testing how often snowshoes use certain areas of a grid. We also had to make sure that we didn't confuse those pellets with porcupine ones...as they look really similar - but there IS a difference. (Fascinating discussion about fecal matter, isn't it?) Anyway, I think the most poop we found in one plot was 60 pellets...but we were beaten out by Toby (the biologist), who found over 150 pellets in one plot!


This is me, with my trendy bug head net, marker tape attached to my backpack strap, Xtra Tufs secured on feet, and snowshow hair poop in my hand. Check.
This is a little spruce grouse chick. They are sooooo cute. On our way out from the bush, we happened across this little chick. We were peturbed by the fact that it was all alone...and then within a matter of seconds, I hear this weird whirruping (I know it's not a word) noise, and then out of nowhere wings, feathers, and Hell in the form of Momma Spruce Grouse flew right at my face. I nearly died. It's funny...because if you were here to see the string of photographs I had taken at that point...they get gradually blurrier - as I first get a nice in focus shot of the chick, then a couple of ones even closer - then a photograph of momma, then a shot where you can't see any shapes or forms except for blurred streak - because at that moment in time, I was under attack.


Anyway, I know I said that I'd be telling you about looking for dead guys on boats. Correction: just one dead guy. Please forgive the desensitized way in which I mention a poor man who has yet to be found, most likely laying at the bottom of Skilak Lake. A couple of weeks ago, a father and his two sons went rafting down the Kenai River and were fishing. All wore a life vest except for the father. Suddenly, all three were thrown or fell overboard (I don't know how) and a huge search team had to go out to find them. Helicopters, planes, law enforcement officers on boats and rafts all went looking for the three men. Thankfully, the two boys were found - and still alive. But the father has yet to be found. So, nearly two weeks ago now, on one of my days off, I had called up one of the law enforcement officers and asked if I could tag along with him that day - and that day happened to be when he would be taking part in the "cadaver search," as they so-called it. So, more or less, it was an excuse for me to hang out on a boat all day. I hate to sound morbid - but it was fun. We left at 8 in the morning for Skilak Lake, got in a boat, and patrolled the lake and the river from which it feeds all day. We went out with two other law enforcement officers (one on a bigger boat, the other on a raft) and two trainers and their dogs. So we had search dogs with us as well. It was really cool...even if they were useless.

We weren't successful - so the guy has yet to be found - could turn up in months - or he may never show up. It's always weird when you hear about these stories - because they usually happen to residents. That guy was from Anchorage. I think residents feel as if they know the area and how it is...but don't really take it as seriously as they should.

Here's a photo of one of the dogs. He looks really cute with his little life vest, huh? It was amazing watching him get so excited to get on the boat. These were water dogs, no doubt about it.


This is a photo of a merganser and her ducklings that we saw while we were out on the boat. I'm pretty sure she had 11 of 'em. I couldn't believe how many she had. They were so cute. Some of them were sitting on her back. Awwww.View of the mouth of the Kenai River meeting Skilak lake, and the Kenai mountain range in the background. It was a beautiful, sunny day in which I gained a little bit of tan on my face. I've discovered that you're not considered a true Alaskan unless you sport the "Alaskan tan."
I'm sure most of you can guess what that is...a tan on the face, the neck if you're lucky - and your hands. Because that's mainly what sees sunlight - as the rest of your body parts are covered in clothing. So I'm sporting the Alaskan tan in full swing...with my face and hands fairly brown, starkly contrasted by the milky whiteness of my neck and forearms.

Anyway, that day I drove my first boat. Sam and Eve were surprised that I hadn't driven a boat before....and quite frankly, I'm kind of surprised myself. I've been on a boat plenty of times...just haven't driven one before. So Rob (one of the officers) gave me the reigns, taught me how to control the motors, and I drove around Skilak Lake and Doroshin Bay for a good hour or so. It was a really good day.

I think the very next day - I worked the contact station (which is 40 miles outside of town) and then decided to go on a short hike after my shift. On the way to the trailhead, not even two minutes after having turned down Skilak Loop Rd., a large (probably two-year-old) black bear ran right out in front of me (while I was in the car). It was not even three feet in front of the car. Then, less than 5 minutes later, I started passing the Bear Mountain Trailhead and slammed on my breaks, as I saw a black bear out of the corner of my eye - and fittingly, saw it right next to the "Bear Mountain" trailhead sign. The bear was sitting down, nonchalantly feeding on Devil's Club as if it didn't have a care in the world. I watched it for about 15 minutes, took some really good pictures, and then thought, well, better get going. Thankfully, I stayed just a minute too long - and noticed two little heads poking out of the grass. It was a momma bear and her two cubs! How lucky was I?! I probably stayed sitting in my car for 45 minutes or more, watching them and taking pictures like mad.

After having exhausted my camera, I tore my eyes away from the incredible sight and drove down to the Seven Lakes trailhead. I had a nice little two mile hike, and then started heading out. On my way back - I saw a momma bear and her two cubs meandering right on the road. I passed them by - and they didn't even flinch. I'm pretty sure it was the same momma bear and her two cubs. Then, just 5 seconds later, I saw ANOTHER black bear sitting on a little bluff beside the road. It was standing alert, with its ears perked. It merely looked curiously at me, not moving. Just as I got my camera out again, a car came up from behind me and the bear ran off - so I have no pictures of that one. That one was definitely older, and looked bigger, too. So, after seeing a total of 8 bears in less than two hours - I was on such a high. I was so excited. People say here that that's the way with wildlife - you won't see them for days, weeks at a time - and then you see everything all at once. And I have to admit that that is so true, especially evident on that day. I think after those sightings I saw several moose, eagles, snowshoe hares, porcupine, and spruce grouse. Oh, and salmon. I went fishing that night, too.

Here's a photo of the Russian River Ferry, just so you guys have an idea of how it looks like. It doesn't have any motors....it gets across the river purely by the speed of the current.

This next photo, if you look closely enough, is an alcove completely stock full of sockeye salmon. I took this picture at the Russian River Falls. If you remember from a previous blog entry, I had posted pictures from the falls when Eve, Sam and I went on the hike nearly two months ago. (By the way, today marks the two -month anniversary of my time in Alaska! Can you believe it?!) When we did that hike a while ago, the salmon weren't running yet. From working the contact station, I had so many people come in and tell me that they had just done the hike, and saw the salmon jumping and brown bears feeding. That's when I said to myself, by golly, I'm going on that trail again! Typically, I didn't see any brown bears. That's starting to grate on me, by the way. Been here for two months and still haven't see a brownie. I will see them, damnit. Oh, and found out today that the same people I ran into on the trail (they came into the visitor's center today and I recognized them so we talked) had gone to the falls maybe 20 minutes after I had left them and saw a sow and her two cubs feeding on salmon. I swear, the brown bears are conspiring against me. They whisper amongst themselves, "Emily's coming!" and they all go into hiding. Argh.

So, last but not least (because again, I have to leave without telling you everything) I wanted to share my clamming experience! I don't have the pictures with me right now, so I'll have to post them later. Last week, before Sam and I did our campfire program, we went out with Chad (fisheries folk) to Ninilchik area and went clamming. We had two shovels (designed for such things) and a "gun" - a tube-shaped shovel-thing that sucks sand up as you put it into the ground. We went out on what was apparently the lowest tide of the year. To go clamming, you really have to pay attention to the tides. And you also have to keep close watch of them - because if you don't leave in time - the tide will start coming back in, you get stuck in the mud - and drown. No exaggeration. The tide window time frame was just about two hours - around 11 it was at its lowest - then around 1, it starts filling back in.

The clamming was crazy. Chad had gone the day before - spent a good three hours clamming - and only managed to take back with him a grand total of 13 clams. To me, that was a lot - but then again, I didn't know a damn thing about clamming. The day we went, we took home 140 clams. No joke. Chad began finding the clams, and soon Sam and I followed suit. It turned into a little competition, to see who could get the clams the fastest. The bigger, the better. We pulled some out that were longer than 6 inches!

Just so you all know (as I'm positive you're itching to know), here's a bit of Clamming 101:

to know where a clam is, you must first look for a "show." A show is a small perfect circle depression in the sand. If you don't see a show, look for a hole in the sand, or water spitting up from the ground. Once you witness this, you grab your shovel, start digging right beside the show - and dig fast. These suckers dig at 9 inches per minute - so you can easily lose them - as they'll outdig you.

You dig about a 1-2 foot deep hole, and then get on your hands and knees and start digging and feeling for the clams with your hands. There's no way you won't get completely covered in sand and muck. You might as well accept the fact that by the end of the day, you'll get sand in places you didn't even know existed. Anyway, elbow-deep in sand, you feel around for the clam - and as soon as you feel something descending quickly down the depths of the sand world - you grab ahold of it and hold on with all of your might and try to suck it out of the sand.

I didn't keep track of how many I caught, but I sure caught a heck of a lot. It had so much fun. Once I get the pictures, you'll get to see how freaking busy it was out there. I'm surprised they haven't coined the phrase "combat clamming" yet, because it sure was. There must have been a couple hundred (if not more) people there on less than half a mile of beach.

That night, Sam and I shucked clams for probably three hours. Being that they were razor clams, our hands and fingers went under some damage - and are still recovering. It was pretty creepy cutting the shells off of the clams - then proceeding to degore them - and their muscles still contracting in your hands. Pretty weird. Anyway, those are in the freezer right now - I still haven't tried them yet - but we plan on making some fried clam strips and clam chowder...so hopefully it'll turn out all right.

Anyway, I must leave again - hope you enjoy and talk to you soon!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

So I realized that it has been nearly an entire MONTH since I last posted, for which I hope all of you must accept my sincerest apologies. But, being that it has been a month, a whole heck of a lot has happened...which cannot all be relayed on this teeny tiny computer screen. I have been super busy and really just haven't had the time to make the trip to the ol' Soldotna library to spend a good two hours conveying my amazing Alaskan experiences. But I digress. I came on here to give you all a little sprinkling of what has been happening.


With the exception of the Skyline Trail (45-degree angle climb all the way up and over a mountain), I can now say that I have hiked all the trails for which the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge has to offer. I have done a ton of hiking this past month, so of course I have tons of pictures to show you. So that (and fishing) has been my main past time here in AK. I'm not sure for definite if this is happening, but Sam and I are supposed to go on a 40-mi hike in August for our 5-day off period. So, the hiking I've been doing in the meantime has been good practice...and a good way to get my body physically ready.

The pictures that are displayed below are from the hike Sam and I did on Vista Trail. As its name implies, this trail had many vista points where you were able to climb up on a craggy precipice and achieve an absolutely breathtaking 360-degree view of the Kenai mountain range, Skilak Lake and surrounding lakes. Although they are harder, the best hikes are those that do have elevation gain - because you get the best views. After spending a good hour traversing over rocks, fallen trees, muck, and climbing precarious steep mountain sides - the end result makes it worth all of the effort.

This is a view of the Kenai Mountain range, the Kenai River, and Skilak Lake behind it.

Luckily, Sam just made it. If it hadn't been for my strong arm pulling her back up and my simultaneous deft maneuvering with a camera, Sam wouldn't be alive to tell the story today.


It really is such a difference from Florida, isn't it? Crazy to think that we're smack-dab in the middle of summer, and yet I'm having snowball fights. Jealous? I think yes.

Another view of the Kenai mountain range, river, and Skilak Lake. My little figure in the lower left corner gives you a better perspective as to how small we are in this huge world.


Thought this might make a good picture. It was an amazing view. One of those, "Had to be there" spots.
So, about two weeks ago, Sam and I decided to hike the Fuller Lakes Trail. As we were constantly reminded, this trail was notorious for getting people lost - especially those people of the SCA kind. We heard stories of last year's SCA crew...who sounded over the radio after hiking for 12 hours with quivering voices explaining that they were lost. I kid you not - I am not sensationalizing here. The interns of last year did the hike, got lost, radioed in sounding fearful - and then finally returned that night. I heard just recently that if we indeed couldn't find ourselves the way back - the most the refuge could do would be for our law enforcement officers to turn on their lights and drive back and forth along the Sterling Highway - which is adjacent to the Kenai Mountain range. That way, those that were lost would assumedly see the lights and hear the sound and just make their way back down the mountain towards the highway. So apparently, no search planes involved.


Now, after having given you such a formidable introduction, at this point you must be guessing (you're right!) that Sam and I got lost. So indeed we did. The way the "trail" works is that two trails - Skyline and Fuller Lakes - connect across a ridge between mountains - so that you can start on one trail and end at the other. We heard differing pieces of advice as to whether we should start on Skyline or Fuller - but in the end, we started on Fuller. Fuller itself is nearly 6 miles of gradual uphill hiking, wherein you come to lower and upper Fuller lakes, which are positioned more or less in a valley between mountains. Once we got to upper fuller lake and hiked completely around it, the trail just dissipated into nothing. Sam and I trudged around for a good 45 minutes to an hour trying to find the trail, but to no avail - so we started to head back. It was during this time that we just happened upon what appeared to be the trail. So we hiked uphill again for a good two hours. We both said to eachother, "Now it's mountain climbing time." But after gaining elevation for those two hours, we then began to go downhill. For a long time. It didn't seem right to us...but we still followed the trail like good little hikers. After awhile, we found ourselves simultaneously experiencing deja vu....because yet again, the trail just disappeared. Again we spent a good amount of time trying to find the trail...but then finally decided to just make the ascent up the mountain...bushwhacking the entire way.

I have to admit that I'm not too fond of alders, elderberry bushes, and willows. Actually, to be totally honest, I have a severe hatred of them. So we bushwhacked until our arms, legs, and faces were aching and entirely cut up...and then reached the top of the mountain. Oh, but before that end was reached...we also had to traverse over what was probably 8 feet of snow...in boots that are not equipped for such things. Sam did fine - but I was seriously scared...because one wrong footing would have you slipping and sliding all the way down to most likely your doom. So I may be exaggerating...but it was dangerous. And something I was totally unprepared for.

Once we reached the top, we had a few moments of celebratory hurrah-ing before we realized that we had an even steeper (and more dangerous) mountain to ascend...and beyond that...an entire ridge of mountains to cross before we hooked back onto Skyline. It was at this point that I said no more and we decided to head back. Probably the most disappointing part of this entire fiasco (aka nice jaunt) was that I didn't get to appreciate what we had accomplished when we were at the top of the mountain. My nerves were entirely shot, I was tired and cold, and the wind was blowing like mad - so when we finally did get that amazing vista point - I couldn't take it all in. It was too much for me and the fact that we hadn't even come close to Skyline was constantly looming over my head. So, after trying to take a few feeble pictures to at least prove we got on top of a mountain, we started to descend. We went down the mountain more or less the same way we came back up, and assumed we would just hit up the trail on the way down. But we never found it. So again, we bushwhacked and bushwhacked until we (or at least I was) were bone-weary and ended at a cliff overlooking water. We had decided to get to the source of water and so descend and follow it along to reach upper Fuller Lake - but this point (the cliff) was way too high and the water was way, way down. It was at this point that my frustration turned to actual worry - because we still hadn't found the trail, we had been hiking for 10 hours, it was already 7 pm, and my food was gone, eaten. After having a short 10 minute break, we started climbing uphill again. It was then that we (miraculously) found the trail and then hiked for another 4 1/2 hours until we reached the Fuller Lakes trailhead, dazedly piled into the car, and drove home.

Although I still say to this day that it was a horrible experience, I'm glad I did it. Although it took me quite a number of days to realize it, and I had a pulled groin to boot - I was proud of what I had accomplished. At least I know some of the terrain of that trail and could (hopefully) find my way back, if I were to do it again (not happening any time soon, trust me). I still want to do Skyline - and it will be then that I decide to attempt to go further on Skyline to go across the ridge to meet up where we stopped.


So here's a view of Upper Fuller Lake, with the mountain we were supposed to climb (the steeper one) behind it. The Fuller Lake area was truly beautiful.


I took this picture when I was quite literally hugging a tree. I held on to it for dear life while I took this picture. Gives you a little idea of the steepness of the trek. I don't think I ever quite felt like I did at this moment in my life, where I felt forever grateful of trees, while simultaneously feeling a great hatred of them (for giving me such a hard bout of bushwhacking).


What it looked like straight up. At this point, I was also feeling, "Why the hell aren't we equipped like lynxes and bears to be better able to climb this shit?"


At the top of mountain #1. The one behind me and subsequent ones behind it were what we would have had to cross to connect to Skyline. Doesn't look so bad in the picture, though, does it? Well, pictures are deceiving.

A photo of upper fuller lake and the Kenai mountains. So pretty.

So, the day before we hiked Fuller, Sam and I decided to go to Homer for the day out on a whim. We were able to get a hold of Dan, so we met up with him and had a good dinner at Fat Olive's and had a nice little nature walk. That day we did the total tourist thing, where we looked in a lot of the shops, compulsively bought things we really didn't need, and took stupid pictures. We went back to Buttwhacker's (remember the sign?) and saw it in business. That's where they cut up and de-internal organ halibut. I got some close ups of the whole process for all of you to enjoy (and possibly salivate over?).

From the Homer Spit, a picture of the dock. Beyond that is the Kenai mountain range and Kachemak Bay. A yummy Halibut. I didn't ask how big it was, so sorry folks, can't tell ya how much it weighed. Nice view in all respects, I should think. This is where they were de-goring the fish. Look! A moose! A very strange looking one...Nonetheless, it sure has some big antlers.The Salty Dog Saloon. Place of lollipops, rainbows, and hopes and dreams. Not. But a popular place for those of the alcohol-consuming kind.


As per usual, we saw a ton of moose on the way up and down from Homer...and got to have a real treat when we saw a mother moose and her twins cross the road. Unfortunately, it was getting dark at this point (dark in Alaska? Well...kind of...) so I didn't get a good picture.


As I've mentioned, we've done a lot of hiking. The next string of photos are from when Sam and I went on the Resurrection Pass Trail of the Chugach National Forest (which we did last week). It was an 8 mi hike round trip, that took us to Juneau Falls - an absolutely out-of-this-world sight that had me wowing every 5 seconds for a good 10 minutes. That day we ended up hiking a little over 12 miles, though...because we had to do a little of a detour....but that's besides the point.


Pretty, pretty view of the Kenai mountains from the trail. Right down below from the mountainside is Cooper Landing, which is a cute little town that really doesn't have running water.


Below is a black bear footprint. It's huge! It was a pretty big pawprint for a black bear. We saw this on our "detour."
So obviously pictures can't capture what you truly see in person...but I hope this picture does Juneau Falls some justice. All you could hear was the crash and thrash of the water as it was roaring down these cavernous canyons.
A little vole we saw along the trail. I got extremely close up to it...and it didn't act frightened at all. Strange behaviour. Sam, after having climbed down the precipice we were on. Although you can't see her very well...I thought it was a good picture to show perspective. She looked so little compared to the majesty of the Falls.

Annnd, we've still been going fishin'. We haven't been in about two weeks, because the salmon run has been slowing down. It's supposed to pick up in a week or two when the second run starts...so we're gonna wait a little while until we go again. The second run is not only Sockeyes, but Coho and Pink salmon as well - so the numbers are higher, and thus a better chance for me to reel in the big 'un. Hopefully soon, we'll also go halibut fishing. Unless you know someone (and I do, but they're not feeling overly generous) to take you out, you most likely have to take a fishing charter to catch halibut - because they're out in the sea. These charters cost a pretty penny - some of them being over $200 for a day trip - but apparently, it's well worth the money because you are almost guaranteed 100 % success in catching 70 lbs of halibut...which ends up being worth way more than $2oo if you were to buy halibut in the store or at a restaurant.

This is Wesley holding up the Sockeye he caught. He's in front of the Russian River Ferry sign - which is the place where we mainly go fishin'. I didn't get to try his salmon...but I did get to try another guy's that works there. Not just two hours before, the salmon that I was consuming and that was currently traveling down to my stomach was swimming up the Kenai River. THE freshest salmon I've ever eaten. And boy, did it really show it. Hands down, that's the best salmon I've ever had. Here's a little view of what is considered "combat fishing" on the Kenai River/Russian River confluence. Crazy busy. And people suffer hooks to the eye and whatever else that could potentially hurt. It's pretty hardcore. Me with my rod, getting hooked by Eve. We caught a lot of rockfish that day.


As I discussed in an earlier entry, we been having our campfire programs! Sam and I have already done three, and they've all proved successful. We've had very different audiences each time, so we had to adjust how we did our program just a little bit to accomodate the range of ages. Our second time we had over 45 people come - and the majority being children aged 10 and below - so it was quite a handful - but we did it alright. The way our presentation is organized is thus: we teach them the 5 species of salmon as I have taught all of you by the "Edward Salmon Fingers" tool, we have two activities where volunteers are needed (and in which they receive swedish fish as a prize - get it? Swedish fish are like little miniature salmon - haha, we're so clever) then we have a bit of the factual, in which we talk about the life cycle, and finally, we end with sharing fishing stories, handing out salmon recipes and salmon jerky to taste. We end on a final note - or ditty- that we sing for the entire audience. (Dad, you would be proud.) Sam and I both don our SCA hats and with salmon puppet in hand, I belt out our "Salmon rap" as it is so-called. For all of you who miss this incredible event, here are the lyrics (below) so you can appreciate (and represent! Yee-aahh.).



I am a salmon just look and see


if you live in Alaska, you see a lot of me


There's five species, if you look


the first is the King, also known as Chinook


next is the Sockeye, which is red you know -


did you know that Silver is also called Coho?


Pink, Humpies, the rivers they clog


don't forget chum, 'cuz they're my dogs


they're born in the river 'cuz they like the water n' motion


and when they grow up - they go live in the ocean



Salmon start as eggs in gravel beds


in little nests, that we call Redds


then they're the alevin with the cute yolk sac,


and they use that sac for a yummy snack


then they're the fry, with parr marks on their sides


to help them hide


but before they become adults,


salmon must become smolts


yes before they go out to the ocean for vacation


salmon must go through smoltification


(Yeah that's smoltification!)


And when it's time for spawning, I go back the the river where I came from-


and this is what I do


I see a pretty female making a redd her nest


then I fertilize her eggs, 'cuz she likes me the best


then you know what people - that is, when I die


but it's not sad, so baby don't you cry


'cuz my body has made the steam o' so healthy,


the nutrients are rich - and my offspring are wealthy!



Fini.


You like? When you read it, sing it as if it were a rap - to the tune of "We will Rock You." We actually have the audience do the beat for us as we lyricize, baby.

Sam, holding up a map of the places on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge of where Sockeye salmon typically run. Behind me is a poster of a picture of the "egg stage" of the salmon life cycle. Oh, and that's us in our hott (with two t's!) uniforms.

That creature attached to my hand is Stan the salmon. He taught us everything we know. No, seriously.
Ok, so I have a helluva lot left to tell you guys, but unfortunately, I have to leave because I promised Sam I'd be back by 5:30 today (and I'm gonna be late). But, right below I'm just giving you a sneak peak (and a reminder to myself) of what else you'll be hearing about soon.
I'll be telling you stories about looking for dead people out on boats, riding on my first motorcycle, learning how to drive a boat, seeing 8 bears in the span of 2 hours, doing a snowshoe hare survey, hiking to Russian River Falls yesterday and seeing salmon jump 5 feet in the air, and seeing a bear not even 40 feet away from me on the Kenai River trail I did today. Miss you all, and I will be writing again soon!!!