Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Dwindling Daylight

I can't believe we are only a few days away from the winter solstice!  It seems to have gotten here very quickly.  After the solstice, on December 22nd, we will already be gaining daylight again.  As of today, December 18th, the sun rises at 10:43am and sets at 3:01pm.  Even though that's only 4hrs 17min of actual daylight we have 6hrs 51min of visible light.  I noticed on December 1st while I was trying to find a spot to hang the outside thermometer that the sun did not hit our property all day which is due to the 6,000 ft. ridgeline just a few miles to the south of us. So we assume it will be late January before the sun directly hits our cabin again.  We'll have to pay close attention.  
This picture was taken in our backyard on December 13th around 1:30pm.  The first snow storm in a month had just ended and the clouds were lifting causing some great sun rays to shoot up in the sky.  It was brighter the few minutes before Andrew got out there with the camera.  The sun was reflecting off the clouds and highlighting the snow on the ground.  Most of our days this winter have been clear with brilliant blue skies, a big change from the summer which was more rainy and overcast than we've experienced in the past.  Definitely a gorgeous winter so far! 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hauling Water

Hauling water is just one of the simple chores that comes with life in a dry cabin.  In the summer we have water in a 500 gallon tank that is gravity fed to a sink in the cabin, but in the winter we have to keep all our water indoors.  So, we only use these three five gallon jugs for everything.  We hang water above the sink for washing hands and dishes in a four liter bag with a hose and a clamp.  The water drains into a five gallon bucket under the sink that we empty every couple of days.
Here's Andrew filling our jugs at the community well.  The well is located at the beginning of our street about a mile and a half from our house.  A lot of times Andrew will take two jugs on the snowmachine to get water!
Quite an icy build up in the well house.  Fortunately its not too slick though.
For the record, we really do enjoy living in a small, dry cabin, and all the chores and challenges that come along with it.  For us, it is all about the adventure and the low costs that come with it are just a bonus!  Recently, the Alaska Dispatch published an article on cabin life off the grid and the Fairbanks Newsminer published one on hauling water at 30 and 40 below.  Both are interesting and share the facts and stories from people that have been doing it for some time.  The comment sections show some of the colorful people in Alaska like this guy...
"Mowry, Well, now you hit a nerve with this report. I don't want to top your story, but being and old timer I can tell you stories about hauling water in 50 to 60 below while living at the homestead on Shaw Creek Road in the late 50's. We used an old 1954 or so jeep truck with no heat inside. We hauled our water from Rosa Creek, Shaw Creek, and the Tanana river using 5 gallon GI water cans that we bought from Bobby Miller's junk yard that used to sit where the Bentley Mall now is. The holes we dug in Rosa Creek kept freezing so by the middle of winter I used a chain saw to cut the ice. At one time the ice hole was as deep as me but I had to cut down another 18 inches to get to water. Then the water rushed up and washed chainsaw oil into the water. So we ended up with oily water. But no one complained when it is down to 62 F. below. Those were the days. Our house was so cold that our water froze in the house. Anything over 5 feet from the barrel wood stove froze."

Denali Highway

After hearing about a musher driving his dog team with his F250 truck on the Denali Highway we decided to drive down and check it out.  
Dec. 8th, 10am

Unbelievable...gravel showing through on the Denali Highway.  Cantwell, the small town on the western side of the highway, hardly had any snow.  Alaska has had very little snow fall this winter.  But it's snowing now (Dec.13th)!  We've gotten several inches in the past couple of days and they are calling for several more by tomorrow!
With the extreme low angle of the sun right now the sky seems to hold the twilight colors during the few daylight hours we have right now.

 A little bit of overflow water and ice on the road.
 Four caribou walking on the frozen Nenana River.

 About twenty miles down the highway we came up upon this...a trooper (in the closest truck) came to winch out the truck on the far side of the overflow water in the middle of the road.  The trooper told us the water was about 4ft. deep!  Glad that wasn't us!

What a gorgeous day to be in the Alaska Range!

The Nenana River
 Crazy dog!  We keep testing him to see if he has a limit.  Here it's about -15 and we're traveling about 25-30mph.
Big patch of overflow in the road!  It's all ice here, but it was still a little unnerving driving over bare ice on enough of a slant that could send us sliding off the road.
 Interesting ice formations

 We saw this from the road and had to go check it out.

Glad we went last weekend because after the snow we are getting right now, I doubt vehicles will be able to drive on the Denali Highway!  Actually, we were super surprised we were able to then!  A very nice surprise indeed! :)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Sneak Peak

Here's a few of pictures of our new space!  We still have a few little things to do to tie the place together.  More pictures eventually!

It's so nice to be able to stand up in our new loft!  Major improvement for us!  For the last year and a half we have been sleeping in a loft that has less space than our backpacking tent.  We were glad to be able to use one of our beautiful burl logs for the main beam in the loft, and notice how the loft ladder hangs below the loft!  Another bonus...we have eleven windows in this cabin compared to the other cabin which has four. The best part of this cabin is having a well-insulated floor and ceiling, and a heating stove with a thermostat!  No more coming home to a cold cabin and frozen dog water!  A happy space and a happy family!

The Hunt, Cont.

The caribou hunt has been put on hold for now.  The season in that area stays open until March 31st, so hopefully we'll have another opportunity.  As of now though, Andrew doesn't feel comfortable taking the snowmobile that we have.  When the 1985 Tundra was given to him last winter it was known as the "Pyscho Machine" and it still lives up to its name.  Occasionally it decides it just doesn't wanna move.  Idles just fine, but bogs and sputters when you throttle.  If you keep on trying, eventually it will take off again, but it's frustrating when the machine stops on it's own while going uphill.  It is hard to rely on such a rebel machine.  And with a thread-bare track,  it's one of those times that the reward doesn't outweigh the risk of being stuck miles from the truck in well below zero temperatures, especially with an animal in the sled.
As for the hunt...on opening weekend there were quite a few hunters at the trailhead despite the mercury reading 40 below zero.  From the parking lot Andrew rode north on the Quest Trail twelve miles and gained nearly 2,000 ft. in elevation to get to Rosebud Summit.  The riding was extremely rough on humans and machines.  This year, completely opposite of last year, there is hardly any snow on the ground causing lots of sharp rocks and grassy tussocks to be exposed.  Andrew said that several times he found himself on his back without any warning because some object in the trail tossed him and the machine.  By the time he reached the summit he was completely drenched in sweat even though he had been riding with all his jackets and pant vents unzipped.  That's how hard he was working to keep the machine upright.  Above treeline you can see for miles, and as he sat on the ridge glassing for critters all he could see was other hunters riding the ridges.  He realized then that he should have waited until Monday to go out when most other people would be at work and the temps were forecasted to be ten to twenty degrees warmer.  Being wet from sweat makes it really hard to keep warm sitting around at -30 with a steady 10 mph breeze, which works out to a windchill of 53 below!  After a while he decided to call it a day and head back to Two Rivers.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Fortymile Herd

About a week before Thanksgiving we read an article in the Fairbanks newspaper about the Fortymile Caribou Herd, about 50,000 animals, surrounding the Steese Hwy. by the thousands.  So the day before Thanksgiving, we took a drive 150 miles north of Fairbanks to see what there was to see.  All in all, we saw between 350-400 caribou!  It was a pleasure to be in the presence of such graceful and inspiring animals for the day.
The White Mountains provide beautiful scenery and great wintering grounds for the caribou.  Caribou have always amazed me.  They get my utmost respect.  First of all, they have managed to survive for thousands of years, in large numbers too (today there are about 900,000 caribou living in Alaska).  Meaning they don't over-graze their slow growing food sources and have survived increased human impact.  They live in one of the harshest climates in the world, above treeline (for the most part) battling bone-chilling winds and extreme cold.  They travel hundreds to thousands of miles every year to.  And, most mind-blowing to me, they survive on lichen for half the year....in the harshest half of the year!  Another very cool thing about caribou (only member of the deer family where the females grow antlers) is that the pregnant females will carry their antlers all winter long because it makes it easier for them to shovel snow off of the very important food source, lichen.  Again, such amazing creatures.
The first group of about 50-60 caribou that we saw was just before Twelvemile Summit.  They popped up almost out of nowhere, and for 15 minutes or more they slowly meandered across the road.

In fact, two young bulls used the road to duke it out a little.  That was fun to see!

After a while we decided to move on which caused the rest of the group to hurry across the road.
We started seeing small groups, 10-50 animals, all around. 

Beautiful animals.

Love this picture!  These animals are so nimble and full of spunk!

It's Prancer!  
Going to find Dancer, Dasher and the gang no doubt.

Another group in no hurry to run away.
I love the inquisitive look caribou often give you.  

This guy was a little more cautious than the others and rightfully so with hunting season opening in ten days.
Not this guy...he was on a mission!

A larger group in the distance, just below Eagle Summit.  They were mostly lying down until our car stopped and they saw humans get out.  Then, they stood up and pondered their options.

Best defense...RUN!
Another group, way out there.
Being above treeline, the wind molds the landscape into intricate designs and the sun provides great light and shadows for a dramatic effect.  These "snow dunes" as I like to call them will change shape and form all winter long, growing and shrinking.  I wish I could capture the detail of some of the individual snowflakes or the crystal feathers that they grow into...they are just magnificent.  I will try eventually. 

By late afternoon on Eagle Summit the wind started to pick up.  Time for us to go.

Just as we topped Cleary Summit about to descend into the Fairbanks valley, The Mountain was singing loud and clear.  For us, it was the perfect way to end yet another perfect day in our wonderful lives. (Actually it ended just perfectly with a great meal and great company in Two Rivers, AK! :)
Always so thankful to share another day in this beautiful world.