Friday, September 25, 2009


Fall is by far my favorite season.
Each season has it's sounds. Each season has it's beginning and end. Each season has it's feeling of the weather and the "change" in the air. All of the wild creatures react to these changes.
Fall is the time of the moose and caribou rutting. It is the time you hear the grunting and the slashing of the bulls as they compete for dominance. It is the clashing of large antlers as the big bulls battle for the right to propagate the species.
It is the long moans of the cows as they search for the dominant bull.
The wilderness is alive with the calls of the ducks and geese as they prepare for their long journey south.
The bears are finishing off every edible salmon, grass, and berries before the land is covered in snow and ice.
I think my favorite sound is the song of the loons on an unnamed lake.
Too much of our lives are taken up in the struggle with mortgages and the never ending battle with paying the bills.
It seems that we spend most of our time trying to find happiness and peace in a world that has neither.
I guess most folks define happiness as the things they can acquire, which never will fill the void.
Too soon we get old and find that we have missed the opportunity to find what we have fought so hard to get.
I learned as a youth that most of who I am could be found in the wilderness.
I always felt more at home in the mountains. I always felt more accepted in the wilderness.
Wild places never required me to act a certain way, or to be a certain way. It always allowed me to fit in and flow with the way wild critters lived.
I learned very young HOW to fit in without having to change the way the winds of the wild spirits would blow.
There is nothing about the ways of nature that I would change.
Most town folks will never understand what I'm talking about. Most town folks are happy with being around other town folks. Most town folks also seldom stop and enjoy a sunset.
How sad it is to live out your life depending on others for your happiness.
The wilderness has never let me down. It has never left me feeling unfulfilled. It has never failed to bring the inner peace and quietness of my spirit. The wilderness will find me at peace with myself and my Creator.
Fall always finds me camped in the mountains for many weeks.
Fall is the time I fill my freezer with moose meat. It is the time I gather firewood for the long, cold Alaskan nights ahead.
I actually look forward to the challenge of survival through the long months of winter.
I am at my best preparing for these challenges. I haven't let health issues stop me or slow me down much.
This year has been tough and probably would have stopped most. I had a 4 pound cancerous kidney removed along with 14 inches of cancerous colon.
I went on to get the set nets out a few weeks later and catch the salmon for four families.
I have all of the clams in the freezer for winter that I dug with a belly full of stitches.
Lin and I have several gallons of berries that we picked during moose camp.
A lot of folks enjoy the opera or the latest movie. We would rather share a berry patch with a bear.
Today the leaves have turned to their fall colors. Today I felt a crispness in the air. It was like the air was thinner with the promise of heavy frosts ahead. Today the "change" was definitely in the air. Soon the rains of late summer will give away to the quietness of blowing snow.
Soon the colors of fall will give away to the soft white blanket of winter.
Soon the only sounds will be the mournful howling of the wolf pack on it's winter nights hunt.
The ducks and geese will be long gone to their wintering grounds in the south.
Alaska will be buried in long months of darkness and ice.
The tourists will be home smoking on their exhaust pipes and we will be sitting around the fireplace drinking hot chocolate.
It will be a time for reflecting on the year gone past and plans for the new life of spring.
We will be pouring over maps in search of new moose hunting camps. Already we are talking about moose season next fall. Already we are putting plans together for family meetings to get ready for next fall.
Soon the lakes will be frozen over several feet thick. Soon we will load up our fishing gear and heading back into the bush on ice fishing adventures. Soon we will be living the adventures that others can only dream about.
Tonight I look out over the Kenai River Valley into the falling darkness. The Alpine glow of the Kenai Mountains has finally gone from pinkish purple to the long shadows of an Alaskan night.
I can't help but to feel fortunate to be here on my mountain. I can't help but to feel very blessed for our log home and the warmth of our fire and friends. The thought of being somewhere else would be unthinkable.
We are ready for the challenge of the long Alaskan winter. We are ready for the temperatures to fall well below zero. We are ready to watch the snow falling around the house and down into the river valley below.
We are ready to snuggle up under the down blanket and feel secure. We are ready for all the fury and beauty of the Alaskan wilderness. We are ready!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Not So Dumb After All

Well, there are some pretty smart weather folks out there after all.
I called the National Weather Service in Anchorage about those "tornado's".
It didn't take them long to e-mail me back with the answer as to what we went through.
I had heard of "williwaw's before, but never on the main land. I found out they do appear in Chile, and Greenland etc.
They are caused by "down sloping winds" that come down from the mountains in glacial country.
The wind gravitationally sinks very quickly causing the winds to heat up and gain speeds of over 120 MPH. They cause tornadic twisters that are very dangerous.
During WW11, in the Aleutian Islands williwaw's caused heavy damage to aircraft and the military encampments.
If you are interested in williwaw's, you can look it up on the web. There is quite a bit of info on them.
I know that we don't want anything more to do with them!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Glacial Tornado's of the Twenty Mile River

I have been putting off writing this story due to the lack of information I had in trying to explain the event. I have not ever been exposed to the kind of wind problem we had.
Most folks don't seem to get a grip on the situation we faced.Everyone I've talked to get funny looks on there faces and try to understand, but they have never heard of such a thing.
I have camped in high mountain passes over the last 40 years. I have had to get up several times to repair broken tent poles, broken rope "tie downs", and about every thing else on a tent that can break.
These high winds can rip up about anything out there.It takes a very good tent to withstand some of the harsh winds. High winds are the norm and I always make great preparation to set up our camp with the wind direction in mind.I use trees, alders, rocks, logs and anything else to block the winds. I am certainly no rooky when it comes to setting up a safe camp
Actually Lin and I camp out for two months a year.
This year we both got our moose in a couple of days, and decided to join my two nephews, Frank and Ernest Hunt, on their moose hunt in the Twenty Mile River area.It was a once in a life time draw and it was in the most scenic area in Alaska.
The Twenty Mile is a valley just north of Portage Glacier. It is an area known for very high winds. With that in mind, we set up camp on a gravel bar next to a row of trees.
The first couple of days brought rain in buckets. The river begin to come up the bank and we were soon surrounded by rushing water on our little island.Luckily I had my SAT phone and was able to call our boat friends to move us down river.
We set up camp about 3 miles down river on a bend. We had nice high ground and were able to set the tent up in an alder thicket.I love alder thickets! It provides many great places to tie to the bases of the bushes.We took liberty of all of the bushes.
I knew a storm was coming up the Prince William Sound and high winds were coming.Prince William Sound dumps wind over Portage Pass and down over the frozen glaciers at speeds of nearly 100 MPH regularly. It wasn't something I did not expect.I even tied a rope over the top of the tent to hold it down in case of one of those gusts.
What I didn't know was the warm air would come over the passes and become "down-sloping" winds. The warm air would hit the frozen glaciers and ice covered river causing "glacial tornado's".
Three mountain passes entered the Twenty Mile valley from the south at 90 degrees.I had noticed that the normal wind currents caused little twisters in the low fog clouds almost every day. It never occurred to me that those same little twisters could become raging glacial tornado's with winds well over 100 MPH.
As I had already stated, these were not the run-of-the-mill gust of high winds.
The first tornado hit the tent at 12:30 AM on Sept 11.The wind outside had only been barely blowing, if at all.We could hear the deafening roar for 45 seconds.
We have never been in a tornado, but we all knew what the roar was about.
The first blast hit the tent and we thought it would explode. The tent blew up like a big balloon, and almost went up. The blast lasted for what seemed like two minutes and was gone. Everything outside was dead calm.We jumped up, got dressed and went outside to re-tie the broken ropes.
We took shovels and dumped a ton of gravel on the tent flaps around the outside.We tied two more ropes over the top, and hung our 5 gallon water jugs on the corners of the tent.Frank grabbed the chain saw and cut three logs ten feet long. He notched the ends and we braced the walls inside the tent. I tied the logs to the upper side rails and buried the butt of the logs in the ground.We were lucky to have most of the bracing done before the next tornado hit.
I was standing outside when it hit. I grabbed the top corner of the tent and tried to hold it down until the roar had passed. I was scared it would lift me up too!
The one strange "other" thing was the warmth of the air. It should have been cold, but it was warm instead. During several of the blasts we were also slammed by hail and rain.When each tornado hit, the hail and rain also hit. Then as quickly as it started it would be dead still and quiet. It was just like someone flipped the switch off.
We were forced to hang on the logs to hold the tent down until 5:00 in the morning.
I don't know how many tornadoes actually hit us. I think it was between 15 and 20.The first 5 were much the worse.
We survived because we done everything right. I had everyone dressed warm and in rain gear in case we lost the tent. I also had a 10X12 tarp tied to a log outside in case we had to spend the night out in the rain.I told everyone to drop to the ground if the tent did explode. I know some or all of us could have been injured very badly if we lost it.
The next morning we found all of our nice awnings shredded and everything else blown across the gravel bar.I had a ground blind set up with a portapoddy. That critter had to be hunted down and dragged back to camp.
The heavy tie-down loops on the tent had all been ripped out.
Not much actually scares me. Not big bears or much of anything else, but this night I was scared. Lin, with her bad back, hung in there and done her job in spite of the pain. She did not come apart as some would have done.
The next morning the stress shown very vividly on every ones face. We were lucky to be alive and we all knew it.
I guess there were many strange things that took place. One of them was a tent 3 miles down river. It had not seen any wind.
I called the boat crew and they came in and helped us gather up our destroyed camp.
I heard from a different camp of moose hunters over on the Placer River, which was just on the south side of Portage Valley.They were not so lucky. They lost their tent and spent the night rolled up in a wet tarp.They were hypo-thermic but did make it.
I know the pilots don't fly near these glaciers for a good reason. I have an idea that the Weather folks don't have near all of the answers about some of those glacial wind currents.
The fact is hurricanes spin, low and high pressure fronts spin, tornado's spin. Most high winds are the result of air masses spinning. Those areas where warm air contacts the glacial ice fields also causes some very terrible, explosive tornado's. They may not be large in size, but they are explosive and very dangerous.
Other than that we had a very nice camping trip.Just having fun.