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!


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!!!


likerenoir said...

It's about time you wrote on your blog. Everyone has been asking about it!

I'm sure glad you survived your harrowing hiking trip. The grade does look really steep and I wonder how you crossed the snowy area. I'm guessing it must have been frozen solid, otherwise, you would have sunk. Get cracking on that GPS so you won't be lost in the woods again.

The scenery is beautiful and makes me envious (once again) that I'm not there. Have enough fun for both of us and talk to you soon.

Love, Mom

Trevor said...

Hey sis, again some awesome shots captured. Another noteworthy entry that has me reeling for more (get it!) So ready to buy a motorcyle or scooter when you get back and ditch 4 wheels for 2 in your travels around gainesville? Stay safe and have fun, Love you :)

The King said...

Emily ... you RAP-scallion you!

"RAPscallion pronunciation: [rap-skal-yuhn]. Definition: a musical rascal, rogue or scamp."

So the musical genes have finally filtered thru eh ... Grandma England ... Dad ... and now RUN EM-BO-LEE! I am so proud!

I wish I was there to hear your camp fire stories and sing-a-longs as I'm sure they are both extremely informative and hugely entertaining ... "Since time immemorial he (she) has existed ... The Storyteller!" ... and I would love to hear you wax lyrical.

Every blog is filled with fun and frivolity and we're all inamoured by your continuing Alaskan adventure.

The pictures are again breathtaking and the landscape is truly amazing.

That paw print is way too large to be a bear ... did you ever stop to think that you might have been on the cusp of a remarkable scientific discovery? It's obvious to me that you've chanced upon a once in a lifetime and extremely rare occurrence, as that is obviously the footprint of the Abominable Snowman ... a Yeti ... Big Foot or North American Sasqwatch!

My God, you need to notify National Geographic, the Smithsonian, David Attenborough or Mr. McCoy!

Did I ever tell you the story about seeing the Loch Ness monster on that Scottish trip?

In lieu of the trauma you experienced trekking up and down the mountainsides, you can now chalk it up to experience and you'll be better as a result. You can also take solace and confidence in the fact that: "If it was easy, then everyone would be doing it."

You are currently basking in the summer of a lifetime, an experience that only a few get to enjoy. You're making the most of it and we're all vicariously enthralled through your endeavors.

We love it, but more importantly we love you.

Tessa Rose said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tessa Rose said...

Blogger Tessa Rose said...

Ummm... I like that one photo in all respects too... mostly in one though.. whew, bring one of them back for me puhhleasse... It's all I ask.

I am super jealous you got to ride a motorcycle. There's a guy at work that owns a bike, and I think I might ask him to take me out for a spin... If only he was Native American... and named Jacob... but alas, I live in real life.

Oh, and thanks for making me look bad... again... =P How can I compete with your blog??

Anyways, I miss you a lot. Stay safe!!

quazeekat said...

It looks like you are having a real adventure! I sure hope you put that GPS to good use...you don't want to be bear food..yikes!

I see your dad has barely left room for me to comment, but I hope you continue having fun and learning more about Alaska. You are so fortunate to be experiencing it! The scenery is absolutely breathtaking and I do enjoy reading your blog.


Love, Barb

Eve's Mom said...

Gosh, I had a lot of catching up to do!! It had been SO long since Eve and you had blogged that I hadn't been checking very regularly....
I appreciate that you are sharing your great adventures and the beautiful photos.
Sounds like you have sure learned a lot from that loooong hike; I had talked to Eve that day and she was quite concerned about how long you'd been gone; I'm glad you made it back safely!
Your campfire programs sound like a lot of fun. I know that I have learned a lot about salmon just from your blog, so the audience must be getting well educated. Keep up the good work and keep up the blogging!!