Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Fall Beauty

Sunset, with a sillhouted Mt. Edgecumbe,  from our driveway

Sometimes if can be hard to be excited about the arrival of Fall in Southeast Alaska. Fall weather typically brings more rain, high winds, the dreaded high wind/downpour combo, and darkness due to the ever decreasing daylight. Not surprisingly, I do not look forward to the arrival of these things, but Fall does bring its fair share of beauty, too, which is worth mentioning (and remembering!). For instance, we now get to enjoy sunrises and sunsets again because they happen during normal waking hours! The weather may be dark and dreary often, but sunsets like the one above add much needed color to our lives! 

In contrast to the colors of the sunsets, we have the beauty of our mountains transformed from green to their monochrome white and black. Enshrouded in their blanket of white, the mountains are possibly even more beautiful than their summer versions. Sunshine shimmering and sparkling off white peaks with a deep blue sky overhead is a hard view to top. 

Now, onto the exciting part of the post: our adventures in this fall landscape. A pen switch to Ben who has written about a couple of our recent hikes. 
Looking towards the highest peak on the island while trekking up to Bear Lake

Fall came and went in Sitka. It could be the arrival of the school year, but fall seems to vanish before we can even get our feet under ourselves. Thankfully though, fall passed with decent weather. Decent, of course, is a relative term for Sitkans. But, the nicest weather seemed to come on the weekends, which gave us prime opportunities to go do what we love most- explore the wilderness around Sitka- Wunderbar!

            Stating fall has passed seems like false advertising. Fall, or really the weather that represents the time of year known as fall, could be and usually does come with any season in Sitka. Rainy, wet, and cloudy could be any day of the year and November is no different in Sitka.

Now that November is fading away as fast as the sun is, the wet, cool days are still hanging around. But, after this upcoming Thanksgiving weekend, fall will officially feel over. We hope the weather will agree with this idea and bring consistently colder weather. Snow in the mountains, a frozen Swan Lake, and cross-country skiing on the cross trail- now that sounds like winter.  
            We both have been busy working and keeping our new home in order. We have a kayak rack outside the garage now in hopes to be able to store one of our vehicles in the garage throughout the winter. Emily has been working, staying busy, and subbing at nearly all the secondary schools on the island. I continue to teach and work as the Student Government advisor. Add Chena into the mix and we are keeping with a healthy, busy schedule.

            With the approach of a hopeful winter, we have started to prepare for our winter adventures. Adventures in the winter become limited and harder to come by. The days are short, the mountain ridges are windy and cold, and the snow makes for a slower ascent. But, with limited snow this time of year, we can access the alpine in the same amount of time as it takes in the summer, making our trips seem reasonable.

Recently, we decided to visit the alpine of Bear Mountain. The mountain is a beastly one and trekking up it in the winter is difficult. Thus, we thought spending a few weekends exploring the two sides of the girthy mountain could give us good insight to the mountain alpines this time of year.

Taking into consideration the snow depth and level, we opted for hiking the far side of the mountain first. Our destination was Bear Lake, a high alpine lake fed by mountain rain and snow. The trail meanders through the forest and you eventually pop out into a low sub-alpine terrain. Since you come out of the trees earlier than some of the other comparable hikes, we could enjoy the gifts of being above tree line for an extended amount of time, which was definitely desirable on the day we went. The clear blue skies filled the surrounding area; consequently, we had to put SUNSCREEN on to protect our sun-deprived skin.

Break spot on way up

It had not been cold enough for the lake to freeze, so we enjoyed the open waters of the lake with a layer of white snow and ubiquitous blue sky above. The combination of it all led to nearly perfect reflections off of the lake.

The hike also allows you to peer into the island’s mountain spine, or high rocky mountain line, which separates the island. The spine of the island is filled with rocky, snowy slopes of mountains. Many of the rocky mountains were visible from our lunch spot by the lake.

Erin and Ben, arriving at Bear Lake for a quick lunch--with limited daylight now, there's not much rest time!

As the terrain goes up and inward, away from the sea, the presence of winter is more evident. We marveled in the wintery scene and were reminded of what still can be accomplished in winter’s grasp even with the short amount of daylight.

Not being totally satisfied with only seeing a portion of Bear Mountain, we explored the opposite end of the mountain the following weekend. The forest lasts for a significantly longer amount of time compared to the other side of the mountain. The trees terminate near the base of a bowl that funnels down from the peak. Being relatively close to the summit, we hiked our way upwards to the rocky ridge that leads to a precipitous pitch, which finally leads to the summit.  

Ben, Jessica, and Matt 
As we trudged and posted through the crusty snow that laid on the slope facing the low-lining sun, we came closer to the desired ridge. Sweat dripping down our faces and backs, we appropriately took a break. Chena, our adventure seeking pup, stood next to me in alert position. In a moment, she dashed on the snowfield that separated the ridge we were on and the final hillside before the summit. Her ambitious leap and following haul up the steep slope in snow convinced me that she desired something on the far hillside.

I scanned the hillside and saw nothing. I looked again as Chena continued to gallop upwards, when all of a sudden, a movement caught my eye. I watched for a moment and saw two goats scampering up the hillside. I turned to Em, and Matt and Jessica, two of our adventure friends accompanying the trip.

“Goats, Goats” I yelped in attempts to not be too loud and scare them off. Realizing my caution to not scare them made me consider our approaching pooch.

“Chena, Far enough!” I yelled. Chena seemed conscious of my request, but the desire for chasing big, white, fluffy goats outweighed her reasoning. We are still working on that.

“Chena!” I raised my voice and brought out my scolding teacher look, “Chena, far enough!” This time it seemed to work. She got within 50 feet from the goats until finally aborting her attempts.

As Emily arrived, her 20/20 vision came into play. She noticed more goats scampering along the hillside, slowly moving towards the desired ridge of ours. We stared into the white hillside trying to decipher how many goats were there. By final count, we counted and could see twelve goats at once.

Stopping to look at the mountain goats

Mountain goats on the peak of Bear Mountain

The goats were aware of our presence but slowly, and one-by-one, walked the ridgeline directly to the peak. From our angle, we saw the goats walking the ridgeline with clear, Omak (reference Mary Ann will enjoy) blue behind them- a nearly quintessential mountain goat image. Our images could not grasp the true beauty of the scene.

We found our way to the ridgeline and saw the twelve goats circling and standing on the peak of the mountain. We decided to leave the peak for the goats, they deserved it. Sometimes being a part of nature is better than any summit. We enjoyed our lunch on the razorback ridge and descended down, leaving the goats behind.
Emily and Chena enjoying lunch on the razorback ridge
Clark family

Thanksgiving is around the corner, which the Buck parents will be joining us for. We are excited to host and show them our new home for the first time. And with Thanksgiving nearly here, an indicator for the real overtake of winter, it is exciting to think of the future adventures Sitka has in store for us, as long as we take the time to explore.    

Monday, September 22, 2014

Summer 2014 Recap

Paddling Picnic spot

 Summer came and went so quickly, we didn’t even get a chance to record the highlights.  I’ll do my best at a brief recap.  First, the Clarks win the award of being the first visitors to our new house!  Last year you may recall the “Epic Summer” posts full of sunshine and blue sky…well, this summer the rain was back with a vengeance!  But as usual, this didn’t dampen the Clark’s spirits and we still hiked, biked, and kayaked!   Highlights included a picnic dinner (made by Charli) on a nearby island after an evening paddle, biking to Medvejie Lake, and a beach stroll at HPR Rec surrounded by the most vibrant rainbow and at least a dozen eagles.  We were all mesmerized by the combination of the eagle activity and nature’s brilliant display of color!  Hopefully the Clarks will return again soon! 

Mary learning how to properly brown marshmallows from Smore Master, Amy

Next, we traveled to Coeur d' Alene, Idaho to cheer on my big bro completing his first Ironman.  Ben and I thought it looked like a whole lot of fun while we watched the finish line…runners were coming in smiling, pumping their fists in the air in victory while the stands went wild with enthusiasm.  Ben and I admitted that this actually looked fun, despite the insane distance.  Thankfully, we decided to check out the other side of the finish line to meet my brother.  There were no pumping of fists and definitely more groans, aches, and grimaces than smiles.  It was a healthy does of reality for Ben and me.  Ben still seems interested in the idea of a half Ironman, though, so nice job Ryan….you made it look pretty darn good!  

Liesl loving those smores!
We spent the rest of the week relaxing at the rental house with lakefront property, and making sure to get in plenty of games of Water Wars on the lake with our nieces.  Turns out, these girls are pretty tough, but since they have the Buck genes, it is not surprising that they are overly competitive.  I always thought Mary was a little more on the reserved side, until I saw her full personality unleashed in Water Wars.   She was the ringleader and willing to scream, shout, and fight with all her might. I must admit, she was intimidating to be up against.  Thankfully we stuck together on the same team and dominated the waters.  During one war, Megan joined our team and abandoned ship to swim over to the enemy raft in a mission to steal our squirt guns back.  She was victorious in her impressive solo mission (we know where Mary gets it from), confirming that we were the dream team of Water Wars.  That was, until Uncle Ryan had to come and throw a wrench in our world domination plans, anyway.  But we don't need to go into those details.  Apparently Lucy and Chiara in the enemy raft were a little too good at fiercely spraying me in the face with the lake water, because my good friend giardia came back to visit while I was on our next trip to visit the Clarks in Colorado.   Fortunately, the Clarks were amazing as always, changing plans to accommodate my sickness and helping me recover! I still brought back great memories despite the “not so fun times.”   
Sweet Pascal, starting preparation early for when he's old enough for Water Wars

Doesn't get any cuter than these cousins....
With that transition, our trip to Colorado is up next.  We got in some family hiking, visited a new brewery, helped celebrate Abby’s birthday a little early, road tripped through southern and western Colorado, and ended up in Flagstaff for Zach and Jess’ wedding.  
Ma and Pa Clark at Great Sand Dunes National Park

Hiking on the Sangrio de Cristo Trail
Grand Canyon
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
The precipitous Black Canyon behind us
The Clarks tearing up the mountain bike trails in Telluride
We had a great time seeing the family and loved getting to see our nieces and nephews and all the changes in them since our last visit.  Abby, Cade, and Molly are just too cute to handle.  Example story: one morning Ben and I were woken up  by Cade who came into our bedroom early in the morning saying, “You want to go with me to ride a bulldozer?”  Bekah laughed and said, “That’s not what you were supposed to ask.”  She whispered in Cade’s ear, and again, Cade asked us about wanting to join him in riding a bulldozer.  It wasn’t until we actually arrived in BOULDER for a family hike, and Cade asked where the bulldozer was that it all made sense.  Poor guy... turns out going for a ride to Boulder and taking a ride on a Bulldozer sounds very similar to a 3 year old.   What a disappointment.

Chena and Otter 

We ended our summer with a trip back to our old interior stomping grounds—Fairbanks!  We stayed with Nellie and Pete and even splurged to bring Chena with us so she could hang out with her BFF, Otter.  Although it wasn’t as sunny as we were hoping, we had a great time (how can you NOT have a fun time hanging out with Nellie and Pete?).  Nellie and Pete were watching a friend’s dog as well, who we are sure is Chena’s Grampa.  You’ll see in the pictures.  Chena and Gramps were very similar to each other in looks as well as in mannerisms! Grampa dog was 11 years old and yet was able to hike the 15 miles Granite Tors hike with us, no problem!  Good news, Chena has great genes! 
One of the many tors on the Granite Tors hike

Chena and Gramps

Which dog is Chena?

I have included some other pictures of outdoor adventures in Sitka that we were able to squeeze in during the limited days of sunshine.  When the sun shines here, the pictures are proof that the beauty is unbelievable! 

Ben and Chena on Cross Mtn

Harbor Mt. 

Medvejie Lake

Ben, making it so our freezer will be full of salmon this winter!

Jessica, Matt, and Ben on ridge above Camp Lake

Camping at Bear Lake

Looking across at 15 mountain goats

Drinking tea preparing to watch the sunset 

Bear Lake nearing sunset
Camping on Crater Ridge with Patrick and Alex (visiting from Switzerland)

Looking at  Mt. Edgecumbe from our campsite at Crater Ridge

Friday, April 18, 2014

Sunny Weekends

Skate skiing at Mendenhall Glacier
 When the sun is out, YOU too, need to be outside.  That is common knowledge in Southeast.  The problem occurs when the sun stays out for so many days, and you fill them with hiking and kayaking, and more hiking, that you almost hope for a rainy day just so you can be content with sitting still.  It seems every weekend has been nothing but sunshine this spring, so Ben and I have stayed busy, squeezing in every minute of adventure we could in the sun.
Ben on his teles

  For Ben’s big 3-0, we traveled to Juneau for a weekend full of “shredding the gnar” (aka skiing – for anyone not familiar with ski lingo).  As typical, the hospitality was amazing—Lindsay picked us up at the airport (which I might add was a true sacrifice—we arrived in Juneau at 6:45 AM on a Saturday!) and then drove us up to the mountaintop to ski at Eaglecrest. We were able to trek up to Pittman's Ridge above the highest ski lift for views of Admiralty Island and the bay.  It was gorgeous!  The only thing lacking was fresh powder (due to the aforementioned abundance of sunshine- turns out there are benefits to precipitation).
Up on Pittman's Ridge
Ben starting to head down from Pittman's Ridge
The skiing was still a blast, though, and the snow was fairly decent as the sun warmed the slopes as the day went on.  After waking up at 4AM to get on the early plane, and skiing all day long, we were pretty wiped out by 6 PM.  But the fun kept coming. That evening in Juneau, we were treated to a DELICIOUS enchilada feast by some of Lindsay’s friends, Katie and her husband, who are quickly (we hope!) becoming our friends as well!    We crashed at Lindsay’s that night, dreaming of smooth turns, our skis carving against the mountain, and the spring sunshine warming our bodies. 

We awoke to (not surprisingly anymore) another sunny day.  It was recommended by the Juneau crowd to go skate skiing at Mendenhall Lake.  We couldn’t reject the recommendation when our friends Tristan and Jess offered to let us borrow their skate skis.  Even better, they are both about the same size as Ben and me, respectively, so everything fit perfectly!  To add to this great deal, they gave us their car for the day to get out to Mendenhall.  Does it get any better??  Do people get any nicer??  These were the questions going through our head as we drove out the road to the glacier. 

Despite our senses and common sense telling us NOT to go on a “frozen” lake with temperatures in the high 40s and pools of water starting to accumulate in places, we did anyway because “everyone else was doing it.”  There were many people out walking on the lake, cross country skiing, and skate skiing. If all these Juneau people felt so comfortable, it must be safe, we reckoned.  Probably not the smartest choice, but thankfully we didn’t have to regret our decision.  The lake, true to everyone’s recommendation, was perfect for skate skiing.  

We skied around the lake, skirting the impressive icebergs, and then ate lunch right at the base of the Mendenhall Glacier.  Not a bad view.   We ended the weekend by going out to dinner with Lindsay, Tristan, Jess, and Phoebe and probably laughing harder than we had for awhile from the entertaining Juneau crew.  Thanks to all of our Juneau friends that made this trip so memorable! 
Birthday Boy

Although there have been many more weekends of fun to report on, the last one I will add to this post was this past weekend.   We were invited on a Hunter Family trip up Mt. Edgecumbe, which means we must be doing something right to get that prestigious invite.   Readers will not be surprised, but the day was……SUNNY.  Nothing but blue sky!  The trip started auspiciously with our arrival on the shores of Kruzoff Island.  We were greeted by 45 seals swimming in the bay, whale spouts visible nearly every few minutes, and many, many seabirds floating in the emerald green water.  It is the end of the herring season in town, so the marine life is still quite abundant.  It was hard to leave the beach behind, but we gathered up our energy and made the trek to the peak of Mt. Edgecumbe.

One of the many large groups of seals (all those black dots) hanging out in the bay feasting on herring
There were a few notable differences between this trip and our previous one in February:
Hanging out on top-- enjoying the lack of wind

-       We had an abundance of daylight this time—no need to run up the mountain to get back by dark
-       There was actually some snow on the mountains—we needed snowshoes
-       Due to the snow, we were able to glissade all the way down the mountain—quite the ride
-    There was a lack of wind, THANKFULLY, this time at the summit!  Much different than in February
-       The bears are out and starting to be active again—we got a call on our VHF radio from the captain of the boat coming to pick us up, alerting us that just down the beach from where we were standing (precisely where he wanted to pick us up) was a bear.  We were quite surprised since we had all been running around on the beach enjoying the abundant marine life.  I was always taught the adage, “Never turn your back on the ocean”, but as it turns out, in Sitka anyways, it does pay to at least turn your head to the side to look down the beach…..thankfully the bear ran up into the woods and we were able to safely get on the boat without trouble.

The ice on the post from back in February is quickly melting away...this one crashed to the ground right after I took this picture
Chena leading the way with Jessica, Bob, and Matt making their way up
Me doing a beautiful handstand on top...not really....I wish.  This is the talented, Jessica
The Hunter Crew
Starting the descent
Back on the beach waiting for our boat pick-up
Chena, finally tuckered out after a long day of hiking
We are so thankful for the invite from the Hunters to join them and can’t wait for our next trip to Kruzoff!  This weekend it is looking like its supposed to rain, which could finally give us a chance to relax and lounge around….but you can never trust that Southeast weather….it just might be sunny again!