Sunday, July 06, 2008

Better late than never..

It's been a while. I coudl try to argue that we've been too busy doing stuff to find the time to write it up here. Maybe that's a good thing. Or maybe we should be more disciplined like Dea and always post a regular pic and brief run-down on what's been going on..

Either way, here's a run down on the highlights since the end of March (a few pics to be added still):

Nick and Larissa dropping by en route form Europe to NZ. We had a great paddle around Glacier Island out of Valdez, and saw a lot of super cool wildlife - whales breaching nearby, lolling sea lions and sea otters and - much to Lisa's great excitement - puffins. They were flying across the bow as we motored out and then swam by us as we paddled. Really neat.We then had a nice tour up from Valdez to Fairbanks via the unpaved Denali highway, and the park. No bears, but plenty other animals on the trip: whales, sea otters, seals, sea lions, caribou, porcupines, squirrels, Arctic ground squirrel, moose, Mountain goats, Dall sheep. And of course, puffins. Great to see you Buckey and Lah-reesa, and to share a little of this place with you.

Down in Anchorage, Lise got a nice new little camera. Ostensibly for blogging purposes; the irony being that I haven' tbeen aking pictures now as she does, but it was me who used to blog of my pics. Plenty of nice pics so far, just give us a while to get sorted out with the blogging.

We met Ali and Anna, two cycle tourists from Adealide, South Australia at Lake Eklutna near Anchorage (while heading down to pick up Nick and Larissa). These guys have taken a couple of years off work and are off to bike from Prudhoe Bay to Ushuaia - the top to bottom route down the Americas. Check it out here: . They stayed a few days with us after riding Anchorage to Fairbanks, and then again after they got back from Prudhoe. Really nice people. It was like having flatmates who have the beers and dinner ready for us at the end of the day. And very refreshing to have around people who've made the decision to take two years off work to travel and explore this world and to open themsleves up to whatever they experience on the way. In some ways, a nice reminder of home, as this seems much more the kiwi or aussie thing to do. Good luck guys, and we hope to see you again in Tassie or NZ.

Hiking the Pinnell Mountain Trail with Pat Cotter, Jeremy Harbeck and Anna and Ali. 27 miles over two days, after watching the midnight sun on the solstice, 21 June. The trailhead is up high on the Steese Highway, and with refraction effects, it looks like the sun doesn't set at all for the week or so around the solstice. A great trip inclusing: friendly marmots, mosquito head-nets, caribou herds, beautiful open views over the tundra, afternoon storm, clear night camping, mammutus clouds, thunder, lightning, speed hiking to the shelters, side-hillling around Table Mountain ( succesfully avoiding finding ourselves on the regioanl high poing with hiking poles in an electroical storm, but passing right by a bear den!) and finally dinner at the Silver Gulch brewery. Phew. Awesome trip.

Pat and Adia's little baby Torin is growing in size and more adorable. He's more and more like a little person every time we see them, even though behind his back he's sometimes referred to as the 'screamasaurus'. Slightly further ahead is little Chloe Roberts. It was was really neat to see Andy, Anna and Chloe as well as Anna's parents, at a BBQ at our place to see off Anna and Alister. After enduring the winter, we're now enjoying our lovely big home. It has a deck which is a suntrap in the evening, and the perfect palce for Lise to grow her garden. With good sun and shade, and plenty of water running off the roof, it's also elevated so the moose shouldn't be able to plunder it. So far we've enjoyed some lettuce and sweet peas.

Malcolm Ingham staged maybe Fairbanks' first oreinteering event up at Birch Hill before he left. About a dozen of us ran, walked and ambled with baby and dogs around the course that Malcolm desinged and he and Ed set out. Thanks Malcolm! It was really nice having Malcolm in our research group for a few months and to spend time with him in and out of work. We had a great game of golf one night after work with Pat Cotter. A huge sandhill Crane swooped right over us at one point, although we didn't tick off any of the other animals on the score card check-list.

We also hosted Malcolm's student Keleigh Jones, from Wellington, who was up here for field work and to do a sea ice field class. As well as our research on electrical properties of seaice, Malcolm and I are writing a chapter for the book that will come out of the field course too.

I had my final fieldwork trip to Barrow. No polar bear sightings, which means that I'll in all likelihood I'll leave here having seen all the well-known Alaskan animals in the wild except a polar bear and a wolverine.

I've been trying to get excited about the climbing around here. I've bolted some new routes close to Fairbanks, have a few still in mind, and have reduced to a handful the climbs I haven't done at Grapefruit. It was very exciting to find a superb route gathering dust down near Cantwell (sustained climbing at about 5.12 /25 for 20 metres on slightly overhanging limestone...) and getting kid-in-candy-store excited when I checked the geological maps for the area and found other such limestone crops exist. And a new area that we finally braved the hike into, and started developing. Not enough time to explore these places though with long drives/ hikes, sigh..

Lisa did a multi-day hiking trip into the Delta ranges with UAF Outdoor Adventures, than was cut short by pouring rain every day. She's been satrting to relax into her summer now. After the crazy school year with almost no breaks, she got 3 months off. After 3 1/2 weeks teaching at a summer science camp, she's now a lady of leasure. It's actaully been great for me too as Lise has so far hauled some water, booked our tickets home, and is organizing our one week side trip through Utah and looking into shipping our stuff home.

We're due back late October, after a week in the Moab area which we're really looking forward to. Lisa finally let the school district know that she won't be teaching next year. What followed was a howl of protest from parents who'd already specially requested her for their kids. In some cases they didn't know Lise, but had heard really great things about the 'teacher from New Zeealand'. I thought she did an incredible job throughout her first year teaching, and she was certianyl very well received from those whose opinions matter the most: parents and kids.
Most of us probably have one or two teachers who we really remember fondly. On average, than means Ms. Phelan will be that teacher for about 3 Alaskan 4th graders. I'll bet it was more than that.

Today we had a little paddle on the Chena river through town, and we finally saw a beaver in the water. Quite a show of nose-out-of-water swimming and tail-slapping. Lise had been wanting to see one for a while, so that was cool!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A good kind of dog day in Spring

We finally got out into white spring - with a trip to Castner Glacier, 150 miles south of town on the Richardson Highway to Valdez. Malcolm Ingham joined us on the promise of a gentle ski as he'd just arrived form New Zealand and hadn't been on xc skis for 25 years. He did superbly well even as my enthusiasm ramped up a little with the terrain and we climbed up and explored along the moraine. Malcolm is Geophysicist at Victoria University of Wellington, NZ. He's a former professor of mine, now colleague and is visiting our sea ice group for the next three months.

We followed the tracks left by Dea, Ben, Ted, Trevah, Dan and his pooch Skye last week to arrive at the cool ice cave. After opting against trying to emulate their ski jumps, we scrambled up the ski hill to explore further along the moraine before skiing back, down and out in mid afternoon.

It was so nice to get down to the mountains. I think partly inspired by Skye's tracks all over the place from last weekend, I went off out and back and then down and up the ski hill. Exactly what my dog Ben used to do years ago - his, and my kind of dog day. Much enjoyed and needed.
(Google 'dog days' to learn the ancient Roman origin of the name for hot summer days!)

Lise and Malcolm skiing in.

Lise and Malcolm checking out the ice cave in a large piece of ice left behind as the glacier retreated up-valley.

Interesting layers in the ice with trapped stones, soil and leaves. Probably a few animals in there too.

Lise and Malcolm skiing out after navigating the ski slope next to the ice cave.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

No ordinary venue, like Iceland..

International Polar Year involvements again gave me the opportunity for international polar travel – this time to Akureyri, Iceland. Halldor Johannsson coordinated support from the Northern Research Forum, University of Akureyri and Arctic Portal to support an Executive Committee meeting for the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists.

APECS is all about providing networking, information and opportunities for emerging polar researchers. APECS President, Kriss Rokken Iversen from Norway, likened our Executive Committee work to fieldwork in international science politics and management. I’ve met and worked with some amazing, inspirational people, been exposed to many facets of Arctic research and experienced some unique places first hand.

Outside of very fruitful work sessions and meetings, highlights included: swimming laps in an outside pool (heated by geothermal hot water) while it snowed; eating hardfiskur, herring, the best trout I’ve ever had and hakarl (putrid shark) with Brenniven chasers at Halldor’s home; dining at the world-class Frederik V restaurant; learning about Iceland’s current situation and history from Halldor and Ragnar Baldursson, Icelandic diplomat and represetnative on the Arctic Council; a blustery soak at the Blue Lagoon en route to flying out; and, above all, the people we met and wonderful hospitality of Halldor and Fanna.

Iceland has a fascinating landscape and history of discovery, occupation, natural disaster, plague, foreign rule and now status as a world-leading economy. Modern Iceland has an enviable combination of a very high standard of living, no unemployment, essentially no crime, abundant tasty fish and lamb, thriving local fashion and music scenes, and friendly multi-lingual people. Iceland's disproportiate succes at Miss Universe pageants is at least partly explained by Viking settlers taking their pick from Scottish and Irish villages on the way over..

Independent only since 1944, Icelanders fled in the mid 20th century due to the harsh lifestyle and grim prospects. Not so now, as Icelanders are gaining a reputation for ther savvy harnessing of natural resources in the form of hydro- and geothermal power and abundant hot water for heating. Iceland is energy self-sufficient, and ‘exports energy’ in the form of Alumnin(i)um which would otherwise use a lot of some other country’s energy to produce.

Iceland’s most famous export is arguably the guttural growling, squealing, yelping and dynamic range of the singing free spirit Bjork. I’ve loved her music for years, so it was cool (but no doubt clich├ęd for the locals) to hear her album Post playing in the airport, and to look her up in the phone book. The Icelanders use a patronymic naming system and no family names. Bjork Gudmunsdottir literally means Bjork-the-daughter-of Gudmun, and women don't change thier name on marriage. Even in a country of only 300,000 people, this can easily lead to lots of people with the same name! So phone book listings are alphabetical by first name then last name, middle name, occupation, address.

Halldor was a wonderful host, ensuring a very fruitful meeting and memorable experience in Akureyri and Iceland. We’re all very optimistic now about the future of APECS after IPY. It was really great to work again with Dave Carlson, Jen, Jose, Hugues, Kriss, Narelle and Peter – top people all of them. I think we'll all be recommending Iceland as a destination too! In the end it was no joke that if we needed anything at all in Iceland, all it needed was Halldor to make a call - takk fyrir, Halldor.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Yukon Quest!

The Yukon Quest is a 1000 mile mushing race between Fairbanks and White Horse, Canada. Real Alaskans (being those who live in Fairbanks, not Los Anchorage) know this as the world's toughest sled dog race, especially compared with that spring time jaunt called the Iditarod ;-)

The race alternates directions, with even years starting in Fairbanks. It was a brisk day down on the river, but we prevailed on a tasty breakfast at Dea and Ben's place, a warming walk down the slough, some great company and all manner of furs and down. The race start was shrouded in ice fog. We stayed out a bit down the trail in the sun.

Highlights included the all siberian husky teams with no need for dog-coats, Lance Mackey (hometown hero who last year became the first person to win the the Quest and Iditarod in the same year), seeing so many excited pooches, and being out having fun in the cold with so many friends. Taco King for lunch on the way home was enlivened with Brian's valentines plans...

Number 6 here is Phil Joy. His girlfriend Kumi is a friend of friends and will be support crew and dog handler. Good luck!

Lance Mackey gets a hometown send off.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Alex Michael Pringle!

Congratulations to Simone and Gareth for the late 2007 arrival of wee Alex! I talked with Gareth just before I flew out of Auckland and he told me Simone had gone into labor but to keep quiet because he wanted to call Mum and Dad only later on.

What a little cutie! We're really looking forward to seeing little Alex this December. Although it was a pity to not be around when he arrived, it was really great to see Gareth and Simone a week before hand. Probably nicer then than afterwards, as we know they would have wanted some time to themselves, just the three of them. Well.. and some very happy Grandparents!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Skiing at 40 below

Yousers, that's cold! 40 below is the point where the Celcius and Fahrenfeit scales give you the same thing. Which for most people is 'stay inside, are you kidding me?'

But it was Heike's birthday and I needed some fresh air and a blow out, so I tagged along with Heike and Ben. it was the coldest any of us had skied in I think. But we were well rugged-up and Heike's new reliable Subie got us out and back no problems. (Apart from when she nearly drive it into the bridge leaving the hot springs...)

We skied up the N. Fork of the Chena River only a mile from Chena Hotsprings. We had a soak out there when we were done, meeting up with Pat Cotter who'd been out checking his Beaver traps (nada).

A totally different kind of outing to last weekend, that's for sure. Crazy temperature swings up here in the winter. At 20 F (-5 C), its really comfortable, and you can stop and chat, enjoying the views, sun and company. At -40 C we really dressed warm, fired up the chemical hand and foot warmers, and kept moving except for stops to swings feet and hands to force the blood back into them, and the occasional photo and a few quick words. I've never worn so much, moved for two hours and not sweated.

It was an exceptionally clear, crisp day. The hint of a breeze took out breath away down valley on the way back out - for some of which we had the sun on our faces, and boy was that nice! Pretty neat to be out on the Yukon Quest dog trail too. We could follow the trail markers, although they'll need to do some work in a few stream crossings. We had to navigate some open water at one point - crazy give the temperature. It was only a few inches deep too, so we weren't in any danger although you'd not want your dogs getting cold wet feet out there.

Warm White Mountains mission

Thi weekend was an Alaska all-time high at around 32 F (0 C) at the airport. Out in the White Mountains, Fairbanksans nearby outdoor playground, it was a little colder but still a great and very welcome respite from 'normal' January weather.

A crew of us skied out and back to Lee's cabin as a day trip, and others carried on through to Eleazhar's Cabin to make a night of it. The clear skies and sunny afternoon saw the parking lot full - of skiers' Subarus, dog mushers' trucks with kennel trailers, and snow machiners' huge RVs with trailers for parking lot parties between days of powder-hounding petrol burning.

Ted's video of a dog team passing us on the trail. Turns out the musher is one of the shuttle bus drivers on campus. Bit of a novelty that his team is jingle-jangling bells. Very Christmas-like but at least you aren't surprised by them.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Kiwi Christmas

It was so wonderful to catch up with so many people and so much sunshine over our flying trip home. We were pretty slack with photos this time - it was busy enough as it was! - but there are a few snaps below.

For the most part we were based with Lisa's parents, Jan and Butch, who were marvellous hosts, as usual, despite the chaos of running heir supermarket over the silly season. With trips to Christchurch, New Plymouth, Kapiti Coast, Masterton and the Waikato, we did get around a bit, and managed to catch up with a lot of special people and places.

It was really nice that I got to see Dad's side of the family in Christchurch the week before Christmas (thanks Alister and Sue!), and Mum's side of the family on Chirstmas Day (thanks John and Kerry!). Big thanks too to Sam and Emily for letting us use their car.

The quick rundown of other highlights for me: Nick and Larissa pick-me-up and swimming in Oriental Bay within an hour of touching down; backyard cricket at Sawyer Park and retaining the Tui Cup (sweet); a few fabulous days up the Kapiti Coast at Simone's Dad's beach house catching up with Gareth, Simone, Mum, Mike and whanau (thanks so much Mike!) and our one night away together for fish'n'chips on the beach and a morning stroll and swim; hanging out and climbing with Chris at Baring Head, Whanganui Bay and Wharepapa; catching up with Marcos and Serge; the fabulous hospitality of the Phelan, Pringle, Roseveare and Banks families as well as all our friends - thank you all!

Already, it really does seem like the half a world away that it is. A fabulous trip though, and a wonderful reminder of New Zealand life and outlook, and so great to se so many friends and family. Even if all the contrasts are a bit hard to get used to right now back up in Fairbanks.

Our 'big news' is that we settled on a wedding venue for the end of December, Lisa found a dress she really likes. See a later post for Gareth and Simone's big news - little Alex arrived the day I flew out!