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A hiker on the Gulkana Glacier
Cat on the Gulkana Glacier. Trying to get in a few late summer day hikes around Fairbanks.

A Health Update

I recently wrote about how I’ve been having some physical issues after a mystery illness in April and possible negative side-effects of medication. It’s left me feeling rather helpless for months, not able to engage in most of my regular activities at even remotely close to the levels I was only a short while ago. After months of seeing no signs of improvement, things are finally starting to feel a bit better.

I used to run 10k at least a couple of days a week. I had no problem hauling a large pack on long multi-day hikes. I climbed or bouldered regularly. Suddenly I found myself struggling to jog a mile, could barely walk on trails that I used to run on, and just about had to give up on climbing. I was in a constant state of fatigue and always out of breath.

The lower trail at Angel Rocks
The lower trail at Angel Rocks | Purchase Print

Luckily, I’ve noticed some gains over the last month, coinciding with weaning off one of my medications. First, while on a day hike along the Angel Rocks to Chena Hot Springs Trail, I was able to hike continuously for about 3 miles uphill without getting winded or needing to stop to rest my legs. More recently, Cat and I managed a 13-mile hike out on the Gulkana Glacier, and I ran 5k for the first time since March. The running was a real milestone because until now, I’ve had a very solid 2-mile limit, like hitting a wall.

Wet Summer

If there’s ever been a summer to fall out of shape, this is it. It has been an almost miserably wet summer. The seasonal wetlands ponds that typically have started drying up by late summer are higher than they were in the spring.

Walking the rapidly degrading boardwalk at Creamer's Field
Walking the rapidly degrading boardwalk at Creamer’s Field

As it turns out, all this rain isn’t great for our permafrost. A study recently published in Nature Publishing Group journal Climate and Atmospheric Science just this July found that the wetter summers in interior Alaska are causing significant degradation to the permafrost level. And in the five years of the study (2013-2017), we have had the number 1 and number 3 wettest summers in 91 years of records. Each cm of additional rain leads to approximately 0.7 cm of permafrost melt. As of August 11 of 2020, we were already at the 4th wettest year on record.

End of Summer

The Sandhill Cranes returned to Creamer’s Field last month. Every day we see them flying across the sky, practicing their formations. Soon they will turn south and leave Alaska. The weather in the coming weeks look like more rain and night-time temperatures falling into the 30’s F. It will be an interesting start to winter if this precipitation trend continues.

Sandhill cranes at Creamer's Field
Sandhill cranes at Creamer’s Field | Purchase Print

Gorgeous Scenery

Reflections along Chena Hot Springs Road on the drive back from Angel Rocks
Reflections along Chena Hot Springs Road on the drive back from Angel Rocks | Purchase Print

The main reason I wanted to write this post was to share some of the scenery over the last month. Between the rain, the few days I managed to get out were actually quite beautiful. And my favorite part of August is not having to deal with the ridiculous amount of mosquitos that we have from May through July.

Unlimited Photo Storage
Up on the hill above Angel Rocks
Up on the hill above Angel Rocks
One of the tors at Angel Rocks
One of the tors at Angel Rocks | Purchase Print

I was worried while driving to Angel Rocks because I passed through two thunderstorms on the hour-long drive and one was pretty heavy with hail. I’ve been hailed on numerous times while on ridges in Chena River State Recreation Area and it is no fun. Well, a little fun.

Not a drop of rain fell while I hiked up to the top of the first ridge along the Angel Rocks to Chena Hot Springs Trail, a little over a mile past the top of the Angel Rocks loop. It turned out to be gorgeous, although I passed through some more storms on the way back home.

More photos from Angel Rocks: 2020-08-13

Angel Rocks Hiking Guide

Hiking with the dog at Table Top Mountain Trail in the White Mountain National Recreation Area
Hiking with the dog at Table Top Mountain Trail in the White Mountain National Recreation Area
Table Top Mountain
Table Top Mountain
The view from Table Top Mountain
The view from Table Top Mountain | Purchase Print

We’ve had our dog for about a year now. He hasn’t hiked with us because he is not very well behaved on a leash and doesn’t get along with other dogs. Table Top Mountain Trail was a good introduction to hiking for him since it’s generally not very crowded, and only about 4 miles long. He absolutely loved it. It turns out he’s much better behaved when he’s not walking his usual routes. One instance we had to head off-trail to avoid another group with dogs.

More photos from Table Top: 2020-08-15

Table Top Mountain Trail Hiking Guide

Sandhill cranes at Creamer's Field
Sandhill cranes at Creamer’s Field | Purchase Print
Mallards at Creamer's Field
Mallards at Creamer’s Field | Purchase Print

More photos from Creamer’s Field: 2020-08-20

Creamer’s Field Info and Trail Maps

A large moulin and the Gabriel Icefall on the Gulkana Glacier
A large moulin and the Gabriel Icefall on the Gulkana Glacier | Purchase Print

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Light striking crevasses on the Gulkana Glacier before the rain
Light striking crevasses on the Gulkana Glacier before the rain | Purchase Print
Large waterfall flowing into (under) the Gulkana Glacier. The red snow is a from a form of algae that is frequently referred to as "watermelon snow"
Large waterfall flowing into (under) the Gulkana Glacier. The red snow is a from a form of algae that is frequently referred to as “watermelon snow” | Purchase Print

I wasn’t expecting to get very far on the Gulkana Glacier, but was pleasantly surprised to fairly easily make it about five miles up-glacier. With all my health issues I haven’t been able to spend much time in the mountains this year so it felt really good to get out here.

More photos from Gulkana Glacier: 2020-08-22

Gulkana Glacier Hiking Guide

Nome Creek in the White Mountain National Recreation Area
Nome Creek in the White Mountain National Recreation Area | Purchase Print
Fall colors in August in the Nome Creek Valley
Fall colors in August in the Nome Creek Valley | Purchase Print

I had a tough time when trying to meet friends out at Mt. Prindle in the White Mountains. This wasn’t directly health related. I was lugging a lot of camera gear (it is aurora season now). I’m still not very strong yet, and I think my pack was over 40 pounds (15 pounds of cameras, lenses, and my tripod). Usually it’s not a problem, I’ve always been like a pack mule, but I’m definitely not 100% yet. My knee started posing an issue after the first mile. As soon as I reached the steep climb at mile 4 I realized I was really going to have a problem coming down. I decided to bail rather than destroy myself. I felt bad not being able to make it, but it was a smart decision since I can still run and walk now.

More photos from Nome Creek: 2020-08-29

Mt. Prindle Hiking Guide

My Summer 2020 Photo Gallery

Douglas, T.A., Turetsky, M.R. & Koven, C.D. Increased rainfall stimulates permafrost thaw across a variety of Interior Alaskan boreal ecosystems. npj Clim Atmos Sci 3, 28 (2020).

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