Seward Trip and Cabin on Dolly Varden Lake

It’s been a while since I’ve made a blog post, guess I’ve done nothing noteworthy in a while. This one starts of slow but ends pretty spectacularly, hang in there.

The mini-vacation started off in Seward on Saturday, postponed a day by the back end of a serious low pressure system. Let’s back up a little bit. I’ve had a broken taillight for about a month now, and finally decided to fix it up with some red tape before I left for my aunt and uncle’s place. Well, in trying to sweep the snow from the edges I sliced two of my fingers open on pieces of plastic still hanging on to the frame. So much for that idea, frustration set in and I left it for another day. I sure hope that doesn’t come back to bite me in the ass….

The drive down to Seward, while just as beautiful in the winter time is a totally different experience. I don’t believe I saw pavement for 95% of the distance down the highway, I could have been on Ice Road Truckers for all I knew…snow piled high on both sides of a hard-packed, slick, white surface. Seward provided some good family time as well as some good pictures of eagles on Resurrection Bay.

Can you tell which pictures were taken from my camera phone and which were taken with my uncle’s Canon 40D? Good, I can’t either.

A beautiful day on the beach of Resurrection Bay.

Ruger not minding the cold water

After a nice day and a half with the family it was time to meet up with Emily and Mary-Beth for some cabin camping out in Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Upon leaving Seward I promptly get pulled over for speeding(I swear I never saw a reduced speed sign) just south of Moose Pass where the officer give me a ticket for a busted tail light. Shit. Oh well, it couldn’t get any worse from here right?

I met the co-workers at the Seward/Sterling Hwy intersection around 9:30 PM where we decided to take both cars due to the icy road conditions. A not so quick jaunt through the Kenai Mountains, we reached the side road that would lead us to our trail head and eventually the cabin. The road had not been plowed since receiving a foot of snow in previous days so my two wheel drive car was probably going to struggle. Since I do not want to currently relive the harrowing tale I will give you a condensed version. If you really want to know, just ask me about it sometime. Long story short, my car got stuck/unstuck a handful of times, was abandoned at a pullout, followed by a 1.5 mile hike. The other four wheel drive vehicle would eventually go no further and was in peril of being stuck for good as well, when we were still at least 3 miles away from our cabin at 1:00 AM. Both cars freed and off of the God-forsaken Skilak Lake Rd., plan B was in full effect. Motel time. Which eventually let to…..

The uppity penguin….look at that pretentious bastard.

Ended up switching our cabin reservation to the Dolly Varden Lake cabin not too far away.

Breaking trail really sucks sometimes.

Sunset on Dolly Varden Lake

Breaking more trail on the lake, some spots had a foot of snow on top of slush.

Grainy camera phone pic of me and the full moon, which rendered the headlamp pretty useless.

Our little cabin, only accessible over the frozen lake. Snowshoes FTW!

If there’s one good thing about living in the high latitudes, it’s that you don’t have to wake up super early to catch an amazing sunrise.(click for full size goodness)



The “road” out

While the cabin/snowshoe trip ended here, the spectacular views did not. Driving through the Kenai Mountains with a clear blue sky background did not disappoint. I kept asking myself all the way back to Anchorage, “Is this real? Because it looks *#&$^%*& unbelievable!”

A little left over radiation fog trapped in the valley over Kenai Lake.

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Glaciers Galore

I had my first visitor in Alaska at the end of August as my mom came to visit me. She couldn’t have picked a better time to come, we had the nicest couple of days weather-wise in a month and a half. Once it looked like the weather was going to be great we booked the 26 Glacier Cruise out of Whittier, AK and it did not disappoint. For those that care, the full size pictures look much, much better.

Whittier is accessible through the longest combined rail/road tunnel in North America. It was the longest road tunnel till Boston’s “Big Dig” opened at 3.5 miles.

Entrance to the tunnel

At Portage Lake, not even on the cruise yet. Coast Guard helicopter provides scale

As a testament to how good the weather was this day, here is 250m resolution satellite imagery on the day we were on Prince William Sound. I outlined the cruise path. Anchorage is the dot.

Leaving Whittier

Billings Glacier

Blackstone Glacier
Blackstone Glacier

Buoy 46081

Buoy 46081

Proud looking sea lions

Sailing up Esther Passage

Glaciers here include from left to right: Barnard, Wellesley, Vassar, Bryn Mawr, Smith

First look up College Fjord

Amherst Glacier

Downer, Yale, Baby, and Dartmouth Glaciers

Williams Glacier (I think)

Crescent Glacier

Either Williams or Amherst Glacier

Harvard Glacier

Cascade Glacier

Baker and Serpentine Glacier

Surprise Glacier

Lots of pictures animated of Surprise Glacier calving, if only I could have pointed the camera in the right direction.


Cascade, Barry, and Coxe Glacier

A raft of sea otters

Barry Glacier

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Pioneer Peak

Ever since I moved to Alaska in mid-March Pioneer Peak has been on my list of things to do. One of the more recognizable landscapes in the Chugach, in fact it graces the state driver’s license.

Pioneer rises out of the Matanuska Valley up to 6400 ft, climbing a vertical mile in just 4.5 horizontal. Multiple people told me before hand how relentless of a hike it would be, both physically and mentally. Even though I knew what to expect, it still beat me down in both respects. Steep from the get go there were very few flat areas to catch a break, and once the ridge top was reached, the false peaks are mentally crushing. Just when you think you have made it to the top a new summit shows it’s face. We started around 8:15am and didn’t get back to the car until about 8:40pm. Quite a long day/hike at 12 miles/hours.

At the trailhead

Barely started on the trail, getting close to the clouds. Knik River in the background.

Where a meteorologist belongs

North and south peak within sight yet so far away

With the coat around my waist I look like I'm wearing a dress.

In and out of the clouds

Up on Pioneer Ridge

Starting along the spine for our assault on the summit. Little did we know there was still over 2 hours to go from here

Clouds banking along the southern facing slopes


View from the top. Good thing the clouds cleared out.

Looking southeast, Eklutna Glacier in the upper left

Starting the long trip down

Had a beautiful view of Knik Glacier the whole way down

If one picture could capture how physically and mentally draining Pioneer Peak is, this is it…. we still had 2 miles to get to the parking lot from here.

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The effects of terrain

After popping into work for a couple hours yesterday afternoon, I took a quick look at the visible satellite and one thing clearly stood out. Why is there an anomalous clear patch in the middle of a state-wide deck of clouds?

Exhibit A: look over southwest Alaska near the coast (Bristol Bay area)

The answer lies in something that most people don’t think about in terms of it’s effect on weather: topography.

The Kilbuck Mountains are part of the reason for the clearing. While not terribly vertically imposing at 2,238 ft. above sea level it goes to show that you don’t need much terrain to have  sensible changes in the weather.

The Kilbucks lie in the western portion of the image. Anchorage is off the map to the east.

So why is the clearing happening? Here is a model derived cross section that is packed with information. The cross section looks at a vertical slice of the atmosphere, in the case from Bethel to Dillingham.

What is in this image? (for the non-meteorological types) First the vertical axis looks from the surface all the way up into the stratosphere, measured by pressure in millibars logarithmically. The green lines and color fill denote vertical motion. Warm colors denote upward motion, cold colors denote downward motion. Orange lines are equivalent potential temperature, think of it as a combination of temperature and moisture, used to diagnose stability or resistance to vertical displacement. Wind barbs are pretty self explanatory, plotted in polar coordinates.

The first thing that sticks out is the strong unidirectional northwest flow throughout the column. The packed isentropes (equivalent potential temperature) near the surface denotes strong moist static stability. Any air parcel in this region will resist vertical motion and want to return to it’s original elevation when displaced. When the northwest flow encounters the mountain barrier the air is mechanically forced up the slope, condensing out moisture and cooling along the way. Once the parcel reaches the top of the barrier it is going to want to return to it’s original vertical position. As the parcel descends down the lee slopes, compression and adiabatic (no outside heat introduced) warming dry and heat the parcel as it accelerates. These are the physical processes that lead to the clearing in the midst of a very large stratus deck. Another feature to note in the visible satellite are the trapped waves the intermittently show up in the clearing. These come about from the air parcels oscillating between the ground and inversion above as they try to reach equilibrium.

Upstream of the barrier. Afternoon sounding from Bethel (PABE)

Features to look for: unidirectional northwest flow through the column, moist low levels, and surface based temperature inversion reaching the top of the flow obstruction. (Maybe a bit of wet-bulbing in there)

Downstream afternoon sounding from King Salmon (PAKN) on the lee of the barrier.

Notice the warming and well mixed nature of the near surface air, keeping in mind that King Salmon is a good 60+ miles removed from the Kilbucks.

What does all this mean for an operational setting? The warming is going to increase temperatures as well as the lack of cloud cover promoting more shortwave radiation reaching the surface to further enhance warming.

The two highest temperatures for the whole state of Alaska yesterday were 74 at Manokotak and 73 degrees at Dillingham which is pretty damn impressive considering their coastal locations right along Bristol Bay.

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Rafting on Six Mile Creek

I’m a little bit late to the game with this as it happened almost a month ago, but oh well here it is. A group of us drove down from Anchorage to Hope, AK on the 4th to give whitewater rafting a try. Six Mile Creek did not disappoint, it is definitely something I would want to do again. Even though most of the 3 rafts were noobs I think everybody did all three canyons including class 4 and 5 rapids. The only thing I regret was not wearing my wool socks. That water was cold! Everything went well, I only half fell out of the boat, but my mates got me back inside the raft.

Over looking the beginning of our float down Six Mile Creek.

Herbie from KY giving us the safety briefing

Mandatory swim test, the water was very cold

Nice shot of all the boats

This looks fun as hell. Where do I sign up?

Our boat

Good shot, we are at the top of the picture trying to go upstream to have another go at it

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Reed Lakes Redux: Bomber Glacier

After inadvertently doing the Reed Lakes hike a couple weeks ago while trying to hit another trail off of the same trail head, it was time to do the regularly schedule hike. This time around the goal was to make it over the ridge top onto Bomber Glacier. The unofficially named glacier gained it’s title from a B-29 that crashed while returning from a ground radar calibration mission from Elmendorf Air Force Base.

Found this summary at :

15 Nov 1957:   A TB-29, 44-70039, assigned to the 5040th Radar Evaluation Flight, 5040th Consolidation Maintenance Group, Elmendorf AFB, crashed 39 miles southeast of Talkeetna at around 1822. The crew had taken off from Elmendorf AFB at 0954 under instrument flight rules on a flight path to the Aircraft Control and Warning radar stations at Campion nearGalenaand then Murphy Dome north ofFairbanks. It was on a ground radar calibration mission.  The flight covered 1,800 nautical miles with an estimated ten hours in the air.  The training bomber carried fourteen hours worth of fuel and a crew of eight  plus an instructor pilot.  It was on the final leg of an approach to Elmendorf AFB when the crash occurred.  The glacier on which TB-29, 44-70039, went down became known a “Bomber Glacier,” and became a popular hiking destination with the scattered wreckage still visible. Officially, the area remained unnamed.  Of the crew, four survived the crash, three with major injuries  and one with a minor injury later  upgraded to major. Those with major injuries were: Lt. Claire Johnson, navigator; TSgt Manuel Garza, flight engineer; and SSgt Robert J. McMurray, flight mechanic.  SSgt Calvin K. Campbell, flight mechanic, received light injuries.  Those deceased were: Maj Robert A. Butler, senior pilot and instructor; 1Lt William J. Schreffler, pilot; Capt Erwin Stolfich, copilot; Capt Edward A. Valiant, navigator; Capt Richard O. Seaman, navigator; and AB James Roberson, radio operator. (Air Force Form 14, Report of Air Force Aircraft Accident, TB-29, 44-70039, 15 Nov 1957.)

An SA-16 Albatross crew from the 71st Rescue Squadron located the downed bomber at 1012. Two SH-21 helicopters were also dispatched from the  squadron to assist in the search and recover the survivors.  SSgt Calvin K. Campbell, a 34-year old fromSan Antonio,TX, received credit for saving the lives of the other three survivors of the crash.  SSgt Campbell and Lt Claire Johnson and SSgt Robert J. McMurray were located in the aft section of the  bomber, which received the least amount of damage.  Those located in the nose section, except for TSgt Manuel Garza, were killed.  SSgt Campbell pulled SSgt

McMurray from the left observation blister where he had been pinned between the fuselage and observation post.  Lt Johnson managed to crawl out before collapsing.  SSgt Campbell covered both men in parachutes and put Lieutenant Johnson in a sleeping bag. He was unable to get Sergeant McMurray into a sleeping bag due to his extreme pain.  SSgt Campbell then climbed up the glacier where TSgt Garza was trapped in the nose section.  After freeing and wrapping TSgt Garza in a parachute, SSgt Campbell carried

him down to the main section of the bomber and placed him in a sleeping bag.  Lt Johnson described SSgt Campbell as “like a mother hen with a brood of chicks.” Lt Johnson had moved from the front of the plane to the rear section before the crash. The two helicopters landed shortly after the down bomber was sighted

while the Albatross orbited overhead.  The four injured men were flown to theElmendorfAFBHospital. (Air Force Form 14, Report of Air Force Aircraft Accident, TB-29, 44-70039, 15 Nov 1957; Bill Prochnau, “Heroism Shown In B-29

Tragedy,”AnchorageDaily News, 18 Nov 1957.)

What a difference three weeks makes. What Upper Reed Lake looked like last time:


From here it was over the ridge you see in the background (a much more daunting task than it looks) and onto the glacier.

The only way up is  through the boulders.

A look back at the way we came.

View from the top of the ridge. At this point the camera on my phone somehow got set to “blue tint” without me knowing it.

View of the glacier from the ridge top with the B-29 in the center-right.

On the glacier.

Nice view of the moraine with landing gear in the mid-ground.

The bulk of the fuselage. The cockpit was further up on the glacier. Everything was amazingly well preserved after 54 years.

Some short videos to get a feel for what the environment actually looked like on the glacier.

Several parachutes frozen in the ice.

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Reed Lakes part 1

The trip to Reed Lakes was supposed to be to a different destination off of the same trail. By the time we figured out that we were in the wrong place we just decided to finish the hike even though some of us were already hiking it in a couple weeks. It did not disappoint and I would be happy to do this hike again. Simply beautiful back there.

Way better than a bridge

Waterfall connecting Upper and Lower Reed Lake

Still pretty icy and snowy at the top

Rolling mossy foliage

Taking in the view

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Eklutna Lake

Eklutna Lake formed from the damming of the Eklutna River provides both power and water for the city of Anchorage.

Eklutna Lake at EveryTrail – Find the best Hiking near Anchorage, Alaska

Twin Peaks, I hope to make it up these sometime.

Lupin on the trail

Bigger version

Up toward the ridgeline

Emily, who showed me the value of hiking poles!

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Wolverine Peak

Took advantage of probably the nicest weather to date in Anchorage (that I know of), to undertake another “backyard hike.” Wolverine peak lies directly east of my house and stands at 4455 ft ASL, just down the ridge between my previous two hikes, Near Point and Flattop.

Here is Wolverine Peak, directly north of Abbott Rd, and my place of residence

Things have really greened up nicely.

Rock pile that I added to, not sure of it’s purpose, maybe to mark the location of the trail to the bottom.

Eat your heart out Grand Forks, here is some serious mountain snirt!

Airplane wreckage from the 50’s apparently, at least that is what I was told.

Tried to get a low profile shot of the mossy foliage, got a fly mid-flight instead.

Snow that has escaped the sun’s wrath thus far.

View from the top, gotta check out those lakes on a future hike.

A couple  other hikers were nice enough to take my pic at the top.

Tried out a new tracking app:

Wolverine at EveryTrail

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On the Effects of Increasing Latitude

The most noticeable change since moving to Alaska is the increasing daylight and lack of true darkness. Shortly after moving to Alaska (approximately 61 degrees north) in mid-March it would be dark by the time I showed up to shift at 10pm local and got completely dark over the course of the night. Near the peak daylight gain we were gaining nearly 6 minutes of daylight per day! That adds up pretty quickly. Fast forward to today, just a week or so away from summer solstice, and the daylight gained is down to 2 minutes 4 seconds or so per day.  Now, I’ve noticed these effect sensibly as I work midnight shifts or am trying to sleep at “night” when the light creeps past the curtains. Recently though I’ve noticed some of the suns effects in more of an indirect way.

When the sun rises or sets, and the network of 159 WSR-88D RADARs gets a direct look at the sun and the radiation that it emits, it causes a sun spike to appear on the display. For the casual weather observer you’ll never see these as they are filtered out by an algorithm that tames both these and ground clutter. For those located in the continental U.S. they generally appear from an easterly direction when the sun rises and a westerly direction when the sun sets. Though here in Alaska I’ve noticed them appearing in at northwesterly direction in the 0600-0800Z time frame then again in the northeast a couple hours later.



Another good way to visualize the effect is by looking at the visible satellite as the suns sets. You’ll notice the terminator(demarcation between day/night, thanks Dan!) encroaching across the state of Alaska. The difference here is that when it reaches northern Alaska the terminator pivots around Barrow as the sun starts to rise in the northeast.

From this image it appears as if all of southern Alaska does get completely dark, but that is not the case. This picture was taken around 2:20am local time. That is 5:20am for you central-ites out there.


you can see the terminator has shifted slightly south from my last loop.

View to the north about 2:30 AM AKDT

View to the east looking at the office and Chugach:

A couple of interesting links….

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