Thoughts, ramblings, experiences and joys of an Alaska girl. Home is where the heart is, and my heart is firmly rooted in the Great Land of Alaska.

Friday, August 31, 2007


Haven't written in a while, thought I'd post some updates.

I've been jamming my heart out. I've made red currant jelly, strawberry rhubarb jam, and fireweed jelly. I've made so much of it, my kids think that we are going to survive on nothing but jelly and jam all winter! They swear I make it every other day.

To my delighted surprise, I learned that rhubarb can not only be grown in Alaska, but it thrives here! My friend across the street had a backyard patch full of it, and offered it to me. I took armloads full, literally. I've got so much rhubarb that the whole entire bottom shelf of my fridge has been dedicated to rhubarb storage. Some of the stalks are 2 1/2 feet long and about 2 inches wide! No, I'm NOT exaggerating!

The berry picking has been tedious, especially for blueberries. I've made it up Arctic Valley several times, but it has taken hours and hours just to harvest 2 quarts of blueberries. I recently read that berries grow best on southwest facing slopes, so my new goal is to take my gps and find some southwest facing slopes before the weather turns cold. Though the blueberries may be sparse, the crowberries are plentiful. I changed my gathering goal from blueberries to crowberries last weekend and gathered 2 quarts of crowberries up Arctic Valley. I also found a great crowberry pie recipe, and have several crowberry jam and jelly recipes that I'll be using my stash of berries in. Won't my kids be delighted!

We hiked Winner Creek trail last weekend with the MEETinANCHORAGE group. A friend and I decided to hike the path from the hand tram over Glacier Creek (just past the Winner Creek Gorge Bridge) to Crow Creek Road. On our hike, we found bushes and bushes full of blue huckleberries. Blue huckleberries look and smell an awful lot like blueberries, but they don't taste as sweet. Caitlin collected enough to make a blueberry (huckleberry, in this case) buckle out of them! We also found patches of salmonberries and I introduced her to the delights of watermelon berries (her new favorite, she says).

Out of the blueberries I collected at Arctic Valley last Sunday, I made the family a wonderful Blueberry Cobbler. My daughter said it was wonderful, but not worth the 5 hours of work it took to get the berries. I have to agree. Five hours for only 2 quarts of berries was a lot of work! Last year, we got that many berries in less than an hour up Arctic Valley. And, the berries this year that we managed to find are an odd oval shape, not the traditional round, plump, juicy berries we've found in the past.

I'm not giving up though! I still have a few other spots I'm going to check out. Since Monday is a holiday, I am devoting my "Labor Day" to the "laboring" of picking berries. I've discovered that the Internet is a wonderful place to find recipes for all kinds of "berry good" recipes. Woman can not live on jamming alone!

Next weekend, Angie and I are going camping again. More about that in a later post. And, the weekend of the 15th, the family is off to Denali Park for the road lottery winning drive on the 16th! I'm so excited about that!

Live is wonderful! I've said it before, I'll say it again.... I LOVE Alaska!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Denali, here we come!

Well, the results of the Denali Road Lottery are in! We won a ticket for Sunday, September 16th. Angie won for the same exact day.

I reserved a camping space at Riley Camp Ground right inside the park entrance. We have reservations for Saturday, September 15 and Sunday, September 16. Last year, Angie went and left early in the morning from Anchorage. She said the experience was wonderful, but the day was long and she was totally exhausted when she finally got home. We'd like to avoid the exhaustion. The drive into the park itself will still take an estimated 10 hours or so on Sunday, especially if we see wildlife along the way and stop to watch it in its natural habitat.

I'll know more when we receive the package for permit pick-up. The name that won was actually my sister's name! I entered for me, my daughter, my nieces and my sister. My sister's name is the only name that was chosen out of the 10 entries we made for the lottery. I guess I should contact her and thank her for being my sister!

I'll make sure to post LOTS of pictures on my Flickr account after we return. Until then, I'll be learning all I can about Denali, its history and legends. I am also reading a book about the first woman who ever climbed Denali. The book is called The Accidental Adventurer: Memoir of the First Woman to Climb Mount McKinley, by Barbara Washburn. I've got a little less than a month to find out all I can. I find it shocking and a little sad when I tell people that I won a ticket and they tell me they've lived here for 10+ years and NEVER gone to the park. I fall more in love with Alaska every day, and don't understand why some poeple who live here take living her so much for granted.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Lottery in Alaska

No, we don't have gambling lotteries for cash here. For Alaskans, the lotteries that are most important are the Denali Road Lottery and the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary Lottery. Each year, thousands of applicants vie to drive into Denali on the only park road all the way to mile 91. Access to the park otherwise ends at mile 15, and the only way to see the park beyond that is on foot, by bicycle, or on one of the busses that enters the parks that is run by the park service. For $10 an entry, applicants hope to be awarded one of the 400 daily passes to enter the park for September 14, 15, 16 or 17.

Alex and I entered the drawing this year for Denali road access. We also entered for our kids. We are hoping to win access for at least one day. If we won access for two consecutive days, that would be ideal. We'd camp in one of the camping grounds near the park, and spend the two days driving the unpaved road, hoping to see at least one of the big 5 (bear, moose, caribou, dall sheep and wolf) animals in the park. It would be an amazing experience to win a ticket and be able to experience the park like few are ever able.

Wish us luck!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

From Homer to Fairbanks

I don't watch the major networks much, so I didn't know there was a new show on called "Fat March." I caught it last night when it was on. The premise of the show is that 12 overweight people walk from Boston, Massachusetts to Washington, D.C. That's 570 miles. They do it in 10 weeks. They eat 5 mini meals a day, and two snacks.

Out of curiosity, I map quested how far it is from Homer to Fairbanks, Alaska. For those of you that don't know, Alaska may be the largest state in the Union (YES, we are a part of the United States and not Canada), but we don't have many road systems here. Most villages like Nome, Kotzebue, Barrow and just about everywhere off the main highway system isn't accessible by road. Homer is the southernmost point on a major highway that can be reached, and Fairbanks is the northernmost point on a major highway that can be reached. Anyway, from Homer to Fairbanks it's 579.54 miles. That's only 9.54 miles more than those folks are walking on their Fat March.

I've decided to do my own little Fat March and see if I can't walk the distance from Homer to Fairbanks. I'm going to shoot for doing it in 10 weeks, which means I would complete the mileage by my birthday on the 24th of October, by starting tomorrow. I've been wearing a pedometer to determine how many steps I take a day, and I've been attempting to get to 10,000, though I rarely do. Alex is wearing one too, and we've got a little contest going to see who walks the most steps. Activity outside of walking also has a step equivalent that he's got a chart for. Walking 579.54 miles in 10 weeks would be 57.95 miles per week, and about 11.59 miles a day if I walk 5 days a week (9.6 miles a day for 6 days a week; 8.28 miles a day for 7 days a week). I can walk. I can get up in the morning and walk at the gym or in the neighborhood. I can walk at lunch downtown or along the Coastal Trail or at the gym that's only a few blocks from my workplace. I can walk after work at the gym or in the neighborhood or on the myriad of hiking trails in Eagle River. The show encouraged me that I don't need to spend all day in the gym, or eat snail food, or kill myself with intense workouts. Nor do I need to live in a mansion and have trainers yell at me to run up a hill, do 200 more sit ups or cry on camera in front of a whole nation.

I'd like to lose 30 pounds in the next 10 weeks. I know that it's advisable to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week, but I'm convinced that is for skinny chicks who want to lose 10 pounds in order to fit into their size 2 jeans instead of their size 5s. I haven't seen a size 5 since I was 5. I've got a lot to lose, and 30 pounds would get me into my snow pants with room to spare, help me snowshoe without getting terribly winded, allow me to buy lower weight rated snowshoes and XC skis, and really get me motivated to lose the rest of what I need to lose by next summer. Plus, we are planning on going to Hawaii the end of December for a winter vacation. I'm not going to have people trying to harpoon me on the beach in Hawaii! Other goals I have will only be helped by losing the weight: running the mayor's half marathon in Anchorage next June; running the Nike half marathon in San Francisco next October; biking the Sonoma wine country next summer; biking from Eagle River to Seward next summer; camping and hiking and biking my hiney off next summer and fall.

No one ever intends to become overweight. I didn't hit my teens and think, "WOW, now I can get a fat ass and wide hips!" Life handed me food on a silver platter, and I ate every bit of it and asked for seconds. But, I know I don't have to stay like this, so I'm not going to.

If those 12 folks on Fat March can do it in front of a nation, all of us seeing their rolls, tears, attitudes and accomplishments, I can do it here in Alaska. I'm not doing it for 1/12 of 1.2 million dollars, but I'll feel like a million bucks when I'm done! And, as I've said before, being fat sucks. I don't like it any more now than I did when I first posted that.

Wish me luck.... the fat march begins! I've created another blog and attached it to this page. It's called My Alaska Fat March... read my progress, pitfalls, pity parties and panderings about it there!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Chitina, McCarthy and Kennicott, oh my!

This weekend, my friend Angie and I headed out on the road for another adventure. So far, we've hit Homer (last winter), gone to Talkeetna for the Moose Dropping Festival and stayed at the Montana Creek Campground, and this past weekend we headed to McCarthy and the Kennecott Mine. We've done hikes, showshoed, hunted for wild salmon on parade in anchorage and have more plans for the coming winter, and the coming year ahead. It's really great to have a friend who has an adventurous and inquisitive spirit that matches (or actually far exceeds) my own. We were both born with wanderlust spirits.

The trip from Anchorage to McCarthy is not a short one. Driving the 7 hours it took to get there further confirmed that Alaska is a huge, HUGE place with such diverse landscape that I know I'll never tire of living here or run out of places to see. We started off at about 10:30 am on Friday. The last time I'd been up the Glenn Highway past Palmer was last year when I moved back to Alaska from the Lower 48.

The weather was amazing when we headed out, and remained so all weekend long. We saw the Matanuska Glacier clearly as we passed it. We stopped at the Sheep Mountain Lodge for lunch, stopped in Glenn Allen for gas, then headed down the road towards the town of Chitina (pronounced Chit-na). Before getting to Chitina, we stopped at the washed out state campground of Liberty Falls. Angie told me that Liberty Falls was one of her favorite places to stop on the road to Chitina, but that the flooding had changed not only the path of the creek, but also the falls itself. There is a road and parking lot before the actual campground, and we got out there and hiked up to see if we could see the falls. We couldn't see the falls from that hike, however. So, we headed up the road to the entrance to the campground. The road is closed, but we left the car at the entrance and walked past the baracades to the camping area. I could tell that Angie was a little disappointed that they hadn't started to rebuild the campground, but when they do, I'm sure we'll be going back there to camp.

Chitina used to be a ghost town, but it's slowly being rebuilt and reinhabited. It's the end of the paved road area, and the starting point of the McCarthy Road. On the road to McCarthy, Angie maneuvered around potholes and old railroad posts, across old railroad bridges and past moose, snowshoe hares, and ground squirrels till we made it to the campground where we stayed, Glacier View Campground. The campground was quiet, most of the areas were nice, and it was only a mile from McCarthy.
To get to the actual town of McCarthy, it requires walking across a footbridge over the Kennicott river. There used to be a handtram across the river, but the bridge was built in 1995 to replace it. We stopped on the bridge to take a look at the Kennicott and Root Glaciers on our left. We passed the city's watershed, a stream with signs posted that read "Ecologically Sensitive Area: Do Not Wash Dogs, City Water." The last day we were there, we actually saw a man back his truck up to the area and plop a hose with a filter on the end of it into the water and pump water into a huge water holding tank. McCarthy itself is compromised of maybe 10 buildings on a "main" street. There's two restaurants, a take it restaurant called "Potatoes," and a restaurant at the McCarthy Lodge. We ate at the McCarthy Lodge both nights we were in McCarthy. The food is awesome! It was a lot of fun sitting there listening to people from all over the world who were visiting, trying to determine where they were from by the language they were speaking.

Saturday, we took the shuttle from McCarthy to Kennicott. By the way, you'll see Kennecott/Kennicott throughout this blog. This is not a misspelling. Kennecott is spelled both ways. The city, glacier and river are spelled Kennicott. The mine and mining company are spelled Kennecott. The road from McCarthy to Kennicott is 5 miles long. At the end of the shuttle ride, we were let off in Kennicott near the Kennicott Lodge. Ruins of the mining town greeted us. The town and mine were active until 1938. Then, the company up and deserted the town and the mine, leaving everything behind. Several of the buildings were razed, but many have remained and are being rebuilt by the National Park Service. We walked around the town taking tons of pictures, picking the wild raspberries (ok, I picked, Angie watched), and finished by eating lunch at the Kennicott Lodge. Another great place to eat, and the views are amazing! We walked the 5 miles back to McCarthy, then on to the campground.

It was an amazing and relaxing weekend in an amazing and beautiful place. I love living in Alaska and having the ability to act like a tourist without having to pay for airfare and car rental! We've already discussed going back next year, and taking a root glacier hiking trip. For 1/2 a day, it's only 60$; full day cost of 95$. I could have stayed for another week and still not seen everything there that there is to see and done everything there is to do. Since McCarthy basically shuts down in mid September, we won't be able to make it back this year, but we'll be waiting for May, when the area opens up again.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

When Alaska Hands You Fireweed

There's a saying that "when life hands you lemons, make lemonade." Well, when Alaska hands you fireweed, make fireweed jelly.... or fireweed honey.... or fireweed ice cream.

I went berry picking up Arctic Valley in Anchorage yesterday. We parked at the lot at Alpenglow, and began the hike up the trail that leads to Rendezvous Peak. We'd hiked it a few days ago and found berries on the way (crowberries, lowbush cranberries or lingonberries, and blueberries), but Alex had a goal and a mission to reach the Peak. That goal didn't include berry picking. So, yesterday I went back and I found about 2 pints of Alaska blueberries (the ones with the green meat inside), but didn't stay long enough to find more than that. I'll go back some time the end of next week when the berries have had more time to ripen.

There is, however, a lot of fireweed up near Alpenglow: thick, long, flower-filled stocks of fireweed in bloom. Seeing them, I decided to change my jelly strategy and go for the fireweed instead of the non plentiful berries. I'd taken my scissors to trim the fireweed to place in bags to take home where I picked the petals off. I stuffed two grocery bags full of fireweed stems and headed home to petal pull. From the two bags of stalks I'd cut, I pulled off 2 quarts of flowers. Since most of the recipes I've found for fireweed jelly call for 8 cups of petals, I got exactly the right amount.

I've never made fireweed jelly, honey or ice cream, but I've tasted all three. Most of the fireweed jelly recipes I found were exactly the same. Here are the jelly, honey and ice cream recipes I am going to try:
Marylin's Fireweed Jelly Recipe
8 Cups fireweed blossoms
1/4 Cup lemon juice
4 1/2 Cups water
2 pkgs Sure Jell (or other powdered pectin)
5 Cups suger

Pick,wash, and measure fireweed blossoms (flower part only, no stems). Add lemon juice and 4-water. Boil 10 minutes and strain. Take the strained juice and heat to lukewarm. Add pectin all at once and bring to a boil. Add 5 cups sugar and return to full boil.
Boil hard for 1 minute. Pour into hot clean jars and seal. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Homesteader's Fireweed "Honey" Recipe
50 pink clover blooms
10 white clover blooms
18 - 25 fireweed blooms
3/4 tsp alum
5 pound bag white sugar
3 Cups boiling water

Wash blooms in cold water (gently rinse) to remove little critters. While rinsing blooms, boil water. Put all ingredients except water in pan, then pour boiling water on. Let sit for 10 minutes. Bring to boil and boil for 10 minutes. Strain through cheesecloth or jelly bag.
Put in clean canning jars and water bath process for 10 min.

OR, another I was told by a friend for fireweed honey that calls for more fireweed than clover:

Fireweed Honey
45 pink clover blossoms
25 white clover blossoms
100 fireweed blossoms
1 tsp. alum
10 Cups sugar
2 Cups water

Wash blooms in cold water. Put all ingredients except water into pan, then add water. Let sit for 10 minutes. Bring to a boil and boil until fireweed turns gray and water is a purple color. Strain through cheesecloth or jelly bag. Put in clean canning jars and water bath process for 10 minutes.

The fireweed ice cream recipe I am going to use is one I modified from a rose petal ice cream recipe I found. I'll see if it turns out. I couldn't find ANY recipes for fireweed ice cream online, so this will have to do. I'll post the final product and review.

Fireweed Ice Cream
2 cups heavy or whipping cream
1 1/2 Cups fireweed petals only, no stems, no stamen
2 large eggs
3/4 Cup fine sugar
2 tsp. honey
1 cup milk

Put the cream, milk, and petals in a saucepan and bring to just below the boil***. Remove from heat, cover and leave to infuse for 25 minutes until cool. Whisk egg yolks in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Whisk the sugar and honey a little at a time, then continue whisking until completely blended. Strain the rose-infused milk into the egg mixture and return to the sauce pan or a double-broiler. Cook very gently until slightly thickened, but do not let it boil. Chill this mixture (custard now) and then freeze or process in an ice cream maker. Store in the freezer.

***An alternative to adding the petals full to a saucepan with the cream and milk is to place the sugar and the fireweed petals in a food processor fitted with the metal blade and make paste. Then, place the heavy cream, milk and sugar/fireweed paste in a medium sized saucepan with the honey and completely blend, then place on medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a simmer and turn off heat then continue by adding the egg mixture as above.

I've also learned through buzzing about online that I could have made lilac jelly from the lilac that blooms in my yard. Also, I've goint to try my hand at rose hip candy, rose hip jelly and rose hip jam. When I do, I'll post the pics of the final products, the recipes and the reviews.

Have I already said I love Alaska????

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Berry Crazy

It's berry season, and I've definitely got berries on the brain. Everywhere I go, I see them: currants, high bush cranberries, crowberries, bog blueberries, Alaska blueberries, lingonberries, cranberries, raspberries... I walk the dogs through my neighborhood in Eagle River, and I see the berries off the sides of the path. My walk took longer than it needed to this morning because I kept going off the path to sample the bounty. By the time I got home, I'd eaten my fill of raspberries, currants and some early ripened highbush cranberries and didn't even want breakfast!

I had a friend pick berries up Arctic Valley this past weekend and she let me know that in one hour, they picked enough crowberries to make 4 batches of jelly. That's 48 jelly jars full, folks. I'm berry, berry jealous!

I'm heading up Arctic Valley myself tonight to hike Rendevous Peak and scope out the berry crop. The berries I'm most likely to find are bog blueberries, or bilberries. Bog blueberries are closely related to both the blueberry and the huckleberry. Bog blueberries grow on small branched shrubs, with wiry angular branches, that are very rarely over a foot high. They can be distinguised easily from Alaska blueberries by the height of the bush they grow on and the location where they grow. Alaska blueberries grow on taller shrubs near water or near the treeline in partial shade, the bog blueberry on the shorter shrub above the treeline in full sun. The fruit of the bog blueberry is also different from the Alaska blueberry in that it produces single or pairs of berries on the bush instead of clusters like the Alaska blueberry. Another way to distinguish them is that while Alaska blueberry fruit meat is light green, the bog blueberry fruit meat is red or purple. The most commonly cultivated is the bog blueberry, but I've found Alaska blueberry bushes near treelines as I've hiked up to clear treeless areas where the bog blueberries are. Both types of blueberries taste the best a few days after they turn a complete dusty blue and can be removed off of the plant easily. The berries should be firm, and the skins undamaged. Wash them just before using. To freeze, lay them out on a cookie sheet or in a pie pan/cake pan in a single layer and freeze, then place in freezer containers. When they are frozen this way, they keep their shape and are less likely to get mushy and bleed. You can also use them in muffins by tossing them in the batter still frozen and they won't bleed that way or get mush when cooked.

Highbush and lowbush cranberries (lingonberries), bog cranberries and crowberries are best picked after the first frost. These berries can still be found on the plants even after the first snowfalls and into winter. Highbush cranberries should be put through a food mill before using in jams, as they have a large pit in the middle. Highbush cranberries aren't actually a cranberry at all, but are members of the honeysuckle family. That fact doesn't make them any less tasty though! Lowbush cranberries (lingonberries) are not true cranberries, and are actually related to both the blueberry and the cranberry. They taste very similar to true cranberries, however, much like the highbush cranberries. They can be found on small evergreen shrubs in the same locations as bog cranberries, bog blueberries and crowberries. Bog Cranberries, or true cranberries, can be found among the bog blueberries and the crowberries on trailing plants, sometimes the berries can be found just above moss. The vines look so fragile it's strange to see such heavy berries on them. Crowberries can be found on small "pine looking" plants above the treeline in tundra sections. Crowberries can be "force frosted" by picking them when they are the desired deep purple/black color and placed into the freezer. This has the same effect as the first frost would.

Currants are ripe when they become a beautiful red and can be removed from the plant easily. When you hold them up and look at them in the light, they are almost translucent, and the seeds can easily be seen.

Raspberries are ripe when they are the recognizable dark red color and are easily removed from the plant with the center "core" staying behind so that the berry itself is hollow after you remove it from the plant.

As I've said before, make sure you know what you are picking. There are poisonous berries in Alaska that include baneberries. Never eat any berries that are white, also. I don't claim to be the berry expert. I've done a lot of research and own a lot of books. If you don't know what you are picking, don't eat it. I certainly don't. Once you do pick berries though and have enough to make something with, there are plenty of recipes online, and the books I've mentioned in my other postings have wonderful recipes in them also.

Make sure you remain bear aware when picking berries. Just as people enjoy berries, so do the bears, and we pick berries where they live. When I was picking currants last weekend, I had my boy be my bear watch. He didn't do such a hot job, as he pulled his jacket up and over his face and head to escape the mosquitos. I had found a large pile of bear scat and remained very aware that I was not alone where I was. Just as we were leaving, a couple passed us with their dogs and told us that they'd just seen a brown bear about 100 yards down the trail. That was our signal to leave the area.

I really do enjoy learning about all the plants, animals and berries in Alaska. Call me a nerd, but it makes me feel like I'm a part of everything around me when I look around me and know the names of the things I see. It's like knowing the names of old friends.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Berry Picking Locations

As I've said before, people usually closely guard their secret berry picking locations. However, I've been doing a lot of searching online, and have found a few locations that look promising that I'm going to share. Most of them are within the Chugach State Park system, but according to regulations: "Berries and edible plants may be gathered for personal consumption, but not for sale. Disturbing rocks, trees, or other plants is not allowed. 11 AAC 12.170."

Berries ripen at different times and are best picked when they are ripe. This past weekend, I found many berries of different types. Alaska Trekker has a great guide that describes when to pick berries and a few different types found in Alaska. If you haven't already gotten it, I'd also recommend the book Alaska’s Wild Berries and Berry Like Fruits to correctly identify what it is that you are picking. Not every berry in Alaska is edible, and those that are edible aren't always very tasty. When I went berry picking last, I not only found watermelon berries, raspberries, highbush cranberries, lowbush cranberries, blueberries, soap berries (not edible), and currants, but I found both colors of bane berries. Bane berries are very poisonous, and ingesting just a few can kill. Through researching other online blogs, state online sites, hiking sites, recipe sites and information concerning different "berry" topics, here's a list of locations that I'm planning to check out. Maybe I'll see you at 1 or 20 of them:

* Eklutna Lake Trails: Take the Glenn Highway to the Eklutna exit and follow the Eklutna Lake Road for 10 miles to the Chugach State Park campground. There is a fee for parking, unless you have a pass. There are several trail from the parking lot, and there is quite a hike to get to the Alpine area for blueberries, but highbush cranberries can be found in the woods. The hike starts in the parking lot and is 5 miles on foot or by mountain bike. Check specific day restrictions if you are going to be taking an ATV on the path, they aren't allowed every day. From the parking lot, cross the Twin Peaks Creek bridge and take a right onto the Lakeside Trail. This trail is rated as easy. It's a 13 mile trail. Bold Ridge Overlook Trail starts at mile 5 of the Lakeside Trail. This 3.5 mile trail (plus the 5 miles it takes to get to this trail, remember) is rated moderate to difficult. It's a hike of a mile and a half to the basin where the berries are. Twin Peaks Trail begins at the parking lot, crosses the Twin Peaks Creek bridge and continues to the alpine tundra. This trail is rated moderate to difficult also because of the steepness in some places. The trail is 3.5 miles. There are highbush & lowbush cranberries, currants, raspberries and watermelon berries along the lower trails, and blueberries, bearberries, crowberries and cranberries at the higher trails and the basin.

* Wolverine Peak Trail: Rated moderately strenuous. Drive about 6.5 miles south of Anchorage along the new Seward Highway and exit east on O'Malley Road. Go about 4 miles to a sharp left curve, and follow the curve to the immediate right. Turn onto Upper O'Malley Road. At the "T" intersection, turn left onto Prospect Drive. Another mile up, bear left where Prospect Drive intersects Sidorof Lane and continue .1 miles to the Prospect Heights parking area. From the Prospect Heights trailhead, mile 2 near Point Trail.

* Flattop Mountain Trail: just above the Flattop trail parking lot on the mountainside above Glen Alps on the Anchorage Hillside. Go back along the Powerline Pass Trail into the South Fork of Campbell Creek.

* Rendezvous Peak Trail: short, easy trail at the end of the Arctic Valley Road next to the Alpenglow Ski Area. Take the Glenn Highway towards Eagle River to the Arctic Valley exit and follow the road about seven miles to the parking lot. There is a fee for parking. This place may be crowded, but there are blueberries, mossberries, crowberries and cranberries enough for everyone.

* Peters Creek Trail: Take the Peters Creek exit off the Glenn Highway and turn right onto Ski Road. Go up about a mile, and go right on Whaley. It turns into Chugach Park Road. Go left on Kullberg, and then right onto Malcolm Drive. Parking is a quarter mile ahead, parking is limited. Use the cleared parking spaces along the right of the road near the trail marker. The trail leads to the slopes of the Mount Eklutna and Bear Mountain above Peters Creek. You have to hike in several miles from the trail head to get to the alpine berry patches.

* Mount Baldy Trail (up the backside, not the face) in Eagle River. Take the Hiland Drive exit. Pass through the light at Hiland, go up the hill. Pass through the light at the Walmart. On your right up about a 1/2 a mile will be Skyline Drive. Take Skyline Drive all the way to the end. The road changes names several times. At the end of the road is parking on the left. The trailhead actually goes through the gated section at the end of the parking lot and up around to your right. The face section is straight up from the parking lot, avoid that section.

* South Fork Eagle River Valley Trail: Drive up the Glenn Highway towards Eagle River. Take the Eagle River Loop/Hiland Drive exit. At the light, turn right onto Hiland Drive. Take the road up and over the South Fork of Eagle River. Just after the South Fork Bridge, take a right onto South Creek and follow it to West River Drive. Take a right and park on the left in the lot. No parking fee. You will have to hike a while to get out of the trees and into the alpine for low bush blueberries. Take either the Hanging Valley Trail or the South Fork Trail.

* Lazy Mountain Trail: This is a steep trail. Take the Glenn Highway north to Palmer. Follow West Arctic Avenue (the Old Glenn Highway) through town and across the Matanuska River Bridge to Clark-Wolverine Road. Turn east and go less than a mile to Huntley Road. Turn right on Huntley and follow the signs to the Lazy Mountain Recreation Area. Take the narrow footpath, NOT Morgan Horse Trail (which will be obvious because it's a wide trail), on the uphill side of the far end of the lot. Bear right, keep bearing right at the fork in the path a half-mile up the trail. The trail climbs for about a mile and a half, but at an elevation of 2500 feet, there's a picnic table and the trail moderates. This is where the berries are.

There are a few other Wild Berry Picking Spots I plan to check out that others have told me about, such as a few off of Abbot Road on the hillside, the Eagle River Nature Center trails, the rest stops along the New Seward Highway, a few camping sights along the New Seward Highway close to Seward, Hatcher Pass near Palmer, and a few near the Kennicott Mine in McCarthy when I head up there next weekend. Now, all I need to do is figure out exactly what I'm going to do with all the berries I get!

Happy picking!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Fishing in Alaska

I managed to catch one red salmon this past weekend when we went camping in Soldotna. The first night, I fished for 6 hours and caught nothing but a hand cramp, but I still enjoyed every minute I spent on the water. Sunday, I faired much better, and even landed one my first cast out.

Depending on who you ask, everyone has their favorite fishing spot, honey spot, or their own secret spot where they believe the fishing is best. Much like favorite berry spots for berry pickers, fishermen are very secretive about their fishing spots. I have a friend, Carol, at work that guards her secret fishing spot location. She will tell me all about how many fish they caught, how many fish were running, when they went fishing, but she stops short of actually telling me exactly where the spot is.

I haven't been in Alaska long enough to have my own secret spot. This is my first summer back here, and we've only gone fishing a few times. There are also several locations, according to the fishing regulations, where we can fish but then have to release everything we catch. That's the case around where we live in Eagle River, so we fish in Soldotna, down the road past the Fred Meyer, at the public boardwalk or the boat launch. When we fish there, we are shoulder to shoulder with the tourists who have no idea how to fish without the standard 20 feet of space between them and the next person. They also have no clue how to underhand toss their line into the water, so they fly fish over their shoulders like they don't see someone 4 feet away from them, with their lines flying wildly around, hooking on everyone and everything around them. I sympathize that their fishing licenses (because they aren't residents) cost $145.00, but the cost of the license doesn't include a fee for fishing like they own the river. They also have a tendency to keep anything they hook onto.

There are legal keeps and non legal keep fishing regulations when fishing for salmon. A hook in the mouth is a keeper. A hook anywhere else is a foul hook (a non keeper). Easy enough, right? Some don't seem to remember, and keep anything they hook into, fair or foul. I don't know if it stems from laziness, disrespect for the sport, or selfishness and greed, but keeping foul hooked fish is just wrong. With 60,000 fish running through a section of river on a given day, it's really not that difficult to fair hook the daily limit. It may take a while, but that's why they call it fishing and not catching. Fishing takes a while. It's about the experience, spending time outdoors, enjoying nature, not just about catching the daily limit allowed. If catching the maximum amount of fish without worry about skill or the experience, then dip net for them. Dipnetting requires no skill, the maximum number of fish that one can keep is increased in number, and it would open up spots at river locations for those of us that enjoy spending 6 hours on the river and going home with no fish, but many memories of our time on the water.