Sunday, March 18, 2018

Snow Cave #1

Winter ecstasy
This week is spring break for Kodiak schools.

Waaaay back in the 20th Century, spring break trips to the mountains were a big part of my time as a student at the University of Alaska.

This year, Elias and I revived that tradition of spring break trips to the mountains and made our long-planned foray to Cope Mountain to spend the night in a snow cave.

In Kodiak, the way to find winter is to walk uphill. We made it up to about 500 m to get to decent winter-ish conditions. Still, the ceiling of the cave started to turn to slush while we were cooking, and the water that I left in our cook pot didn't freeze overnight. Those are two signs of warmth that I never experienced in all my snowcaving in the Alaska Range.

It was great to be reminded of all the old things - the smell of sunscreen on your face while covering ground in a snowy landscape, and the way that light scintillates off the crystals of ice kicked up by your skis. The sound of each sushing slide of a ski forward, step after step, against the profound quiet of the hills.

It was a great trip for finding out that Elias is able to carry a very light pack in the hills (basically just his sleeping bag and spare clothes), and I am still able to carry a light-ish pack (basically, everything else). My knees still feel it, a few days after the trip was over, but for me backpacking in the mountains of Alaska is exquisitely worth it.

Elias was giddy throughout our night in the cave, and the long process of melting snow and drying out our gear with hot water bottles. (I'm occasionally astonished to see people attempting to cook outdoors while winter camping. In Alaska at least, winter camping means cooking inside your shelter, be it snow cave or tent.) And Elias was, well, pretty tough. Few complaints, and he saw the joy of the thing quite easily.

He was particularly enamored of the realization that his mom has never slept in a snow cave, and that he now has one up on her in terms of camping experiences.

Here and below: the view outside the cave.

In the morning, Elias tried to collapse the cave. But it was plenty strong to hold his weight.

I found 7000 Chilean pesos in my parka pocket - about $11.50 US.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Winter Calm

Last week we finally got out on the water to start our pilot study of juvenile Pacific cod winter ecology.

It was a little nerve-racking to use someone else's boat (the University's skiff). We're pretty used to knowing the gear we rely on.

But everything went just fine. We had a cracker day, as you can see.

And as for that part that I have now spoken to more reporters about the project than we've actually seen cod? Well, that speaks to how important the cod collapse is to Kodiak, and also the nature of a pilot study.

Among other things, we're figuring out winter habitat associations for juvenile Pacific cod, about which very little is known. So we go out, and try different things (Friday is our next day out), and over time new knowledge will be created.

It's not always that calm...


In our ten years away had forgotten a few key details about the seasonal progression through an Alaskan winter.

Kodiak City is a pretty equatorial place, in Alaskan terms. We're at 57°47' N. That's the same latitude as northern Scotland. So not really that Arctic.

But there is still this period - up here we call it "January" - when the daily light regimen seems to fall below the biological threshold for the viability of hope.

On the flip side, when the light starts to comes back, it's amazing how much vitality it brings with it. Suddenly, it's noticeably light before we set off for school/work, and broad daylight when we return at the end of the day. The glories of spring and summer are clearly drawing nigh, and I fill my pulse quicken at the thought of analogs tasks to perform. Digging snow caves! Building a cold smoker! Gill netting reds!

Boat maintenance...