Friday, April 30, 2010

Six Mile Last Weekend

We Alaskans are blessed in so many ways. As packrafters we enjoy the company of a handful of really good kayakers who are willing to join us for silliness, like running Six Mile last weekend. Boy, was it fun. Most impressive was David, in a yellow boat with thigh straps. It was his first time in whitewater of any kind and he ran both the second and third canyons in style.

Luc Mehl was along and did a cold water roll on his first try after flipping while surfing. Paul Schauer and Tim Johnson and another kayaker, Steve, who was cruising the Hope Cut-off looking for boaters (like us) to join, offer so much cool confidence and security that it was great to have them along.

The water looks to be up this weekend, so maybe we'll be heading continue testing out the new Witchcraft, which I am happy to report is about 50% easier to roll than a standard Alpacka due to its smaller diameter tubes and apparent narrower width.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Iron and Glass: Utukok-Noatak Packraft traverse

Peggy and I flew in to the Upper Utukok in June and floated down in our Double Alpacka to Archimedes Ridge: great wildlife and pretty paddling. We then hiked back upstream to our cache at the strip and headed over the Brooks Range to float the Kugururok and Noatak Rivers to the village of Noatak where we caught a river boat back to Kotzebue.

This is a really neat trip and, of course, my video does it little justice. The National Petroleum Reserve Alaska is the wildest place in the USA and has the best off-trail hiking I have found in the state. Just be sure to get there between the snow and the mosquitoes, like the caribou.

Hig and Erin are planning a trip up there in the NPRA with toddler Katmai as part of a Ground Truth Trek on coal. Looking forward to what they find and relate.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Chuck Comstock: Remembrance

Watching Luc Mehl's Wilderness Classic video of sliding along icy creeks and slogging through shin deep sugar reminds me of a ski trip Chuck Comstock and I made from Kaktovik into the Brooks Range and across to near where the Classic started this year. Like Brad Marden, I had equipment issues: I broke both skiis under the foot about 100 miles from the road and an equal distance from Kaktovik. We managed to splint them. Chuck brought a bottle of Old Bushmills that remained frozen for a week until we came to a cabin where we thawed the spirits and drank them. It was three weeks of sunburned faces during the day and frost-nipped noses protruding from our bags at night -- it never got above zero. That was twenty-four years ago.

Ten years ago this week Chuck Comstock died.

Carl Tobin introduced Chuck and me in the early 80s on a rock climbing trip to the Granite Tors. We eyed each other warily, aware of one another's reputations. I considered him Embick's ice climbing protege. He considered me Tobin's. We didn't get along at first. He threatened me during our "Frostbite Expedition" to the Alaska Range ("You better sleep with one eye open or you might wake up to an ice axe in your head"). Later, I punched him in the gut then threw him on a table in the Sandvik House. Like two male characters in a movie, we started out fighting but ended up bonding as close friends and partners on climbing and ski trips all over Alaska, from Sans Ami in Valdez to the Arctic Ocean, from 100 foot Granite Tors to 1000 foot waterfalls.

Anyway he was really an inspirational adventure partner, probably the wildest cat I ever knew. He had brushes with the law and his best friend had killed a man and shot some others. He was feisty and short and we grew apart when I left AK for grad school with a wife and kids in tow.

He died single and alone in his run down place in Valdez, the roof partially collapsed. He didn't care.

In 1988 he competed in the Nabesna to McCarthy Wilderness Classic, flying his paraglider off the 6,000 foot icefall, and coming in last, during the post-race banquet. The fact is that nobody remembers who won that race, but nobody could forget who finished with the most panache. Crazy Chuck Comstock.

(Click to see the images larger)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Wilderness Classic Ski Video

This video is really good and fun and shows the Brooks Range well. I have watched it like ten times already.

The opening is especially appealing to me.

Think I'm going to have to do this next year....

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Luc Mehl, John Pekar, and Brad Marden Win Ski Classic

Wish I was there......Brooks Range in Springtime.....wolves and sun and aurora and ... grizzly bears, last week , wandering around above the Arctic Circle.

Story here. The Wilderness Classic Ski Race was my favorite back in the late 80's when its started. Hearing Luc's stories reminded me why.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Chasing Skurka: Forrest and Mike Brown Leave Town

Forrest McCarthy and Michael Brown, the National Geographic Photographer, took off from ANC yesterday to go chase Skurka along the Alaska Range, Rohn to Tonzona and maybe to Wonder Lake (doubtful unless awesome crust skiing).

Forrest has these fat short tele skis (150 cm long and 105 mm at the shovel) and Michael -- who's fresh from China -- picked up thinner, metal edge skis with backcountry NNN bindings from AMH. They are skiing east from Rohn Roadhouse, where Andy'll be waiting, and following in reverse the route that Carl Tobin, Paul Adkins and I biked/walked in '96 and Mark Stoppel and I walked in '89.

The stretch from Tonzona to Muddy River just before Wonder Lake is the wildest in the Alaska Range and the longest un-hunted area in Alaska: western Denali National Park. Caribou will be heading toward their calving grounds and moose will still be wandering the willow flats maintaing the best game trails in the state. Andy will cross the high empty plains at the base of Denali and Foraker, perhaps the place that is most magnificent for wilderness and wildlife in a State known for magnificent wilderness and wildlife. No signs of man on the ground (none!), but of course hourly jets overhead between Fairbanks and Anchorage.

They'll have three mountain passes where avalanches are possible, one with a small glacier; there may be bears busting out of hibernation; there's a storm now, so I bet that the pair will not get in right away from Talkeetna as the weather will shut down the flight until the low passes. I'd expect a slush swamp or two on their way to the Tonzona. I wouldn't worry about thin ice, just melt water. Hope they have neoprene socks.

The kid Michael Brown -- well a 32 year old kid -- is remarkably like Surka in age and temperment. I think they even look a lot alike. Smily, young athletic guys full of modern adventure and creative energy.

Mike's traveling around China in a van with an interpreter and 600 rolls of Kodak negative film. His work is beautiful and after meeting him I can see why he gets such intimate portraits. He's a warm and welcoming soul. What an incredible time to be in China, documenting its rush in to the present. A nation of a billion who are interested in him as he is in them. A traveler's dream trip, really, and he's only midway through. He's combining the Skurka trip with a trip to see his folks in WA and then back to China. He is excited and passionate about all that he's doing in China, from loading little cameras and Leicas with negative film to seeing China's headlong rush into modernity.

Maybe we can meet up in September, looking for ice worms in Tibet.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Alpacka WitchCraft

Seen this yet?

Looks pretty cool but also looks sort of ....

In a word, hmmm....

The x-across the top of the legs looks more binding than what I'm using now....but that's the key word -- "LOOKS".

What do you think, besides that Andy Skurka is a stud?
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