Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Santa Claus Charged With Benefice

Is this Santa's Church in Arctic Village?
by Robert L. Gisel

 An investigative team is in Alaska trying to track down Santa Claus, to get some hard answers from the internationally renown world traveler and philanthropist, who appears to be in hot water.

 It has been determined Mr. Claus, who also uses the aliases Saint Nicholas, Saint Nick, Father Christmas and Kris Kringle, is the single most sought individual for answers to the real concerns of peoples today. It is yet to be decided whether he has been answering the questions or causing their origination. For this reason he has been accused by overzealous Prosecuting Attorney Ebenezer Scrooge of deceitful manipulation of information to children of the world, insider trading called gifting, and discretionary favoritism.

 The Prosecutor further alleges he has evidence of a Santa's List with naughty and nice designations. Scrouge claims that on the charge of benefice alone, if found guilty, Santa could be looking at hard time for 6 billion counts of a 100 years.

 The intensity of the widespread search to find the fugitive Santa Claus is so much more than previous years there has been a record high disrespect to the pretend Santa's in the malls of the world. This has resulted in unprecedented reports and more than the usual number of complaints filed for pulled beards and exploratory punches to the stomach pillows.

 Rumor has it that a log cabin church in Arctic Village in the Brooks Range is being staked out for the possible appearance of the famed woolen-garbed jet setter. The sagging roof is believed to be the indication of repeated landing of a reindeer sleigh. Special hoards of eggnog and cookies were flown in for a sting operation to attempt to snare the suspect.

 Some of the burning questions flooding in to his usual hideout in North Pole, Alaska, which been of highest interest are these:

-- What effect will today's economy have on Santa's deliveries this year?
-- Is good will and giving as important as it used to be?
-- Has joy to the world lost its meaning?
-- Will the loss of value in the world's currencies falsely inflate the value of loving friendships?

 In spite of satellite surveillance and drone technologies Santa has miraculously managed to fly under the radar and escape detection. Numerous Elves have been pulled in for questioning as to Santa's whereabouts but no data is forthcoming.

 Mrs. Claus is quoted as saying "Santa is such a quizitive youngster, there's no telling where he and the Elves are playing today." As the Prosecutor says, "This Claus fellow has been illegally crossing borders, transporting goods with no customs checks, or any regard for hallowed authority. We have got to crack down on this beneficious giving before people start getting the idea it is possible to live free and be happy."

 The reward of great satisfaction is being offered to any verified leads on Santa's whereabouts. Just leave the data in the comments below.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Clever Whales and Clever Tour Guides

 by Robert L. Gisel

 As I mentioned in my earlier post Close Up Whale Watching, the bubble net is a trick used by groups of whales to round up their very own smorgasbord. One particular Alaskan company, Alaska Passages Adventure Cruises takes advantage of this.

 You have to come to Southeast Alaska for the event as it is one of the few locations in the world where you can see this phenomena of the humpback whale. Alaska Passages hails out of Petersburg.

 Whales work together as a team activity to create the feast. Freaking out a herring school with an encircling "curtain" of air bubbles, the humpback causes the herring to come together in a tight ball. One, or several whales, creates the bubble net, while others swim below to drive the herring up to the surface, then others yet herd the fish into the bubble net by vocalizing. All together they sweep upward through the center scooping mouthfuls of herring, thousands at a time.

 It is most usually multiple whales, but single humpbacks have been seen feeding with the bubble net technique. When you come to think about it, it is a very ingenuous method.

 In a South Pacific nation the native fishermen would float slats of wood on the surface casting shadows through the water. Creating the appearance of solid bars this way, fish were driven into the shallows where they could be netted. Perhaps they learned this from the intelligent whales.

 It is obviously a very practiced trick. In this video you can see the herring ball before the whales breach together into it. Here is another video that shows the tightening circle of the bubbles around the herring ball.

 Alaska Passages Adventure Cruises is a private yacht that is familiar with this and home in on the group breaching activity for an exciting tourist adventure. Here they have posted their explanation of how it works. They know of the trick and look for it.

 It would be bad business to promote whale watching and not see any whales, but Alaska Passages is clever about this. They utilize a radio network of fishing boats, other whale watching tours, aircraft, and their knowledgeable experience to locate whales. They have seen groups as many as 25 whales strong breaching in mass. That is really delivering the money's worth.

 It must be the massive size of these wild mammals that is such a high interest item. Alaska Passages don't only engage in whale watching, though. They are aware of the other high interest items, fishing, wildlife, glacier touring, and kayaking, or whatever else you might come up with. It is a flexible and cozy private cruise, 6 persons maximum.

 Please note, when it comes to whale watching, close to, not in the middle of, a bubble net is most recommended.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Exposure Alaska -- Active Tours

by Robert L. Gisel

Now this is what I have been talking about -- swing a paddle, left an ice pick, extreme Alaska, go anywhere the tour boat isn't. The tour guide company Exposure Alaska has a trip for everyone, and if you don't see it in their itinerary then they will help you make one up.

The owners say about the business "After living, working and traveling around the world, we've made Alaska our home because there's really no place else on earth quite like it." (Emphasis mine.) This is what prompted me to write a book about Alaska, to start the blog Once An Alaskan, and to help promote tourism for people who really want to reach out to the wilds of Alaska.

To stand and look from the deck of a cruise liner you will see memorable scenerama. When you spend some time paddling with whales in the salt water mist, tossing down the rapids, backpacking through remote woods, or mounting the glacier, this is live experience which will impact you even more with its rich experience.  "Sure you might get a little tired and wet, but the rewards will be well worth it."
You can see I am a firm believer in activities that put one hands on with the wilds of Alaska, so I can relate to the guiding services provided by Exposure Alaska.

This site came up on a Google search for a winter dog sled tour but I didn't find this on their site. The winter tours button went to a "page cannot be found", however. The principles Don and Tina document their having worked at the South Pole so this would very likely include dog sledding experience, but I'm stretching. Perhaps they will fill me in when I can get my cell phone back from where I left it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Big Storm Is Not Unusual

Photo: Alissa Pasinski
by Robert L. Gisel

 The AP is running a news feed that the monster storm in Alaska is unusual. This is dubious. Not at wind gusts up to 80 knots. Where I come from it is called Taku winds, and it happens pretty much every year in Juneau. It could be that the news reports are overblown.

 This one is "different", it is said. The forecast 7 foot higher water apparently hasn't occurred recently, but it is still 1/2 the 1974 storm, which was less than the record storm in 1913. Also, it comes earlier in the year before the ice has formed that would normally shelter the shore. It is likely to be an exceptionally high tide on some low land beach front not protected this time by the harbor ice.

 "The last time forecasters saw something similar was in November 1974, when Nome also took the brunt of the storm. That surge measured more than 13 feet (4 meters), pushing beach driftwood above the level of the previous storm of its type in 1913."

 So things are moved up to the second story, the picture windows of the beach front Polar Cafe in Nome are boarded up, the people will live through a bit of storm, Alaskans are still Alaskans. The reporters who are in a whoo-haw about this should stay out of Alaska and forget any on-location reporting. The residents don't want to have to save the rear end of some Chechaquo who can't take a little weather.


Monday, October 24, 2011

On Alaska: An Alaskan Boy Talks of Life With A Bush Pilot Dad

by Robert L Gisel

 To publish or not to publish: it is getting really down on the line, and as usual the author is never yet satisfied.

 There have been a lot of questions of when the book will come out showing that there is much interest in it, which is a good thing. This may even encourage the author to stop choking up on the bat and slam it home.

 Publishing is a wonderful gig, but you have to appreciate the trepidations of a writer. Once you hit publish, it is out there, public domain forever, minus retractions. Regardless of how many times before you have hit the publish button it is always with a sense of anticipation and generally undue concern.

 With today's electronic society we have a high speed freeway of information. Flub a tweet putting out a nonsense word like "refudiate" and it can become the subject of two million articles in a matter of months. What is the worst that can happen? It could make it really tough, if not impossible, to run for President. That suits me fine, as I never aspired to run for President.

  With that in mind the book, On Alaska: An Alaskan Boy Tells Of Life With a Bush Pilot Dad has been finished three times, at the least. This time the deadline line is to be released in December.

 The delay is in part for final thematic edits.  The book will actually be one you will be glad you read. The other part has to do with the final fact checking which is requiring some adjustments to the text. Then there is the report yet to come by from the Private Investigator on some particularly salacious...(just kidding).

 Contrary to popular speculation it is not an expose. I'm sorry if that disappoints the gossip columns, but I cherish my friends. It might be amusing in a weird sort of way, but my philosophy is that juicy is for chewing gum, screenplays and romance novels. So my friends are off limits for that kind of tripe. Except for my big brother.

 There is a lot of humor in the book just so you don't get bored. In case you have any problem with that there is a drill. You bounce your stomach while saying Ho, Ho Ho, and it will come naturally after a bit. We can't have anyone saying it wasn't funny.

 This is all camouflage for the real reason for the book, something I have wanted to say that has to be said without sounding too serious. When my family first arrived in Alaska it was the year of Statehood. It is not something I would have voted for, but they didn't ask me. After the official tally it was only a State in name and still wearing the mantle of Territory for many years yet to come.

  The flavor of frontier is what makes Alaska what it is, and Alaskans proud to be a part of it. In too many ways this has been threatened by clueless politicians four thousand miles away and "well meaning" Chechaquos. The last stronghold of the freedom, independence and rights to life of the nation founded on those tenets is seeing a last stand against mongers of endless rules and control. Heaven forbid that Alaska will subdue to a mindlessly boring status quo.

  Why do people go to a frontier if not for freedom to have and independence to do and enough space to be what they want. There's all of that, and there's also usually some really good outdoor eatin'. I just went there for pan fried trout.

 Then there was this novelty that Father was a Bush Pilot. One who loved fun, was mischievous, highly respected, exceptionally courageous and very good at what he did. It added dimension to life. Everyone should grow up that way. But then, if everyone could climb in and fly off from their back yard the the population rush might overcome the remoteness and smother the frontier.

  With all that, here is a book, coming soon on an ePlatform near you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Alaska's Monsters

Loch Ness Monster
by Robert L. Gisel

 Now the Loch Ness Monster is in Alaska, soon to be showing at a theater near you. Since the Kushtaka (spirit people) bear in Chuck Keen's movie Timber Tramps didn't make adequate history we need a remake.

 The Strangest Story Ever Told first made famous, outside of Alaska, the Kushtaka, the spirit people of Alaska Native folklore. Looking for a rich vein of gold reported to be in the Thomas Bay just north of Petersburg and Wrangell, the prospector came back truly scared out of his wits with an unbelievable tale.

 In what is now known as the "Devils's Country", the story teller Harry D Colp's miining partner was chased by these half humanoid, half ape devil creatures. Hairy all over, about four feet tall with very large feet and overlong arms, they took up pursuit of him from which he barely escaped alive.

 He was so shook up about the incident he was very reluctant to talk about it. All he wanted to do was go immediately back to the States. All that drama and other supporting stories gave credibility to the tale which has only garnered more tales since its first telling in 1900.

 The gold rush to the Canadian Cassier area was itself prey to to the Kushtaka that stopped the mining from happening sooner than it did. The Indian Chief refused to take them to the head waters of the Iskut River as he was convinced there were spirit people there killing anyone who went there.

That was in British Columbia off of the Stikine River which comes out just south of Alaska, but also winds up into Canada on the other side of the border from Thomas Bay. Before that you hang a right onto the Iskut River a hundred miles due west of Thomas Bay. That's perhaps not coincidental, as the spirit people can really get around.

 Contemporary stories of the Kushtaka abound around Petersburg. My best friend worked there for a summer, surveying, when he talked to a young man who talked to a lady who had a face to face with a Kushtaka. The man would park down a road with his girl friend near the lady's house. Her husband had gone missing and she put candles in the windows keeping alive a hope for his return. After about a month the candles were no longer there. The man and his girl went to her door to ask about this, that maybe they had found her husband.

 It happened like this. One night she had a knock at the door. When she opened it there stood a Kushtaka. In silence he raised his left hand knuckles towards her to show that he had her husband's wedding band on his finger. She closed the door and that was the end of that.

 Modern enthusiasts for this sort of urban legend claim the Thomas Bay Kushtaka is a Bigfoot. There is no mention of the difference in height from the four feet of the former and the eight feet or more of the later. Don't worry about that -- Wookee or mini-Wookee, we can just adjust the camera angles.

 East of there in Canada is also where Albert Ostman was held captive by a family of Bigfeet (is that the plural of Bigfoot?). That is his story and he is sticking to it.

 Iliamna Lake, Alaska is now presumed to be the host of Alaska's own Loch Ness Monster. After reported sightings the Anchorage Daily Times sent a reporter to investigate. Finding nothing, a reward of $100,000 was offered for any solid evidence. Perhaps the closest encounter was another writer, Craig Medred, who says he lassoed the monster, but he had to let go when it was dragging his kayak in excess of 30 miles per hour. What was he thinking?!

 Alaska's Loch Ness Monster now has attracted the attention of the TV people of The Greatest Catch. An Alaskan fisherman caught a video of the creature in Kathemak Bay good enough to send the TV adventurers looking for it themselves. The critter is being called a Cadborosaurus, just so they have a somewhat legitimized species to give bonifides to their search.

 We'll see. Legends are great things, aren't they?


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Glacier Trekking in Juneau

by Robert L Gisel

 So you want to go home with a wild tale of Alaska? What better yarn can you tell back home than touching and crawling around inside a glacier for your own personal rendition of Jack London.

 In Juneau there is an opportunity to experience the glacier that you won't easily get anywhere else in Alaska. Because the Mendenhall Glacier is so accessible this makes for a very memorable adventure, can be done within a day, and get you back to the ship on time.

 On a trip up the inside passage possibly the best way to experience Ketchikan and the Misty Fjords is by kayak, but in Juneau you can get close in on the glacier, and that is something you don't want to miss, while it lasts. That is a sad tale, for us old time Alaskans.

  Of the glaciers in Alaska roughly 20% are advancing and about 80% are receding. Taku Glacier is advancing. Mendenhall used to advance 40 feet in the winter and recede 80 feet in the summer. Now it is receding 400 to 600 feet a year. It still comes up to the lake, but only for another year or two. Get up there soon, in other words, before it backs off entirely leaving rock in front of it.

 You can go there on your own, if you have any experience with prowling around glaciers. The fairly easy trails on either side of Mendenhall glacier require no guide, East Trail for viewing it from above, West Trail to access the glacier itself.

Mendenhall Glacier 2002

If you want to explore the ice caves, though, it is safest to go with a guide. The caves can be unstable and dangerous if you don't know what you are doing. For ice climbing, go with a guide.

 You can rent a kayak, if you didn't bring your own, and paddle on Mendenhall Lake up to the glacier to view its magnificence that way. That doesn't require as much vigor and still the scenerama is awesome.
 To make sure you have the best hands-on glacier adventure get a real Alaskan guide to take you to their favorite spots known to be exciting . There is a good tour guide service that will make sure you don't get lost in a crevasse or crushed by the glacier, which I recommend, Above and Beyond Alaska, LLC.

 Born and raised in Alaska that makes them Sourdoughs, for Sean third generation, second generation for Becky, and they are professional, experienced, and licensed guides. Heralded as "a real Alaskan experience", "life changing", and "the highlight of our Alaskan trip", these are great testimonials to their glacier trekking and ice climbing tours.

 Go there while it lasts and get close in on the glacier, bring a camera, and bring back a good yarn.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

On Alaska, The Book

Chilcat Ferry to Juneau, 1959
by Robert L. Gisel

 Soon the eBook will be done and published. Seems much more to do comes to light as I take another read of it and consider its elements. This will just make it that much better. Still, there is an end in sight.

 Having grown up in Alaska with a Bush Pilot father made for some interesting times. We were always going somewhere in the plane or the helicopter. It was an exciting lifestyle. Being neither a city dweller nor a ground animal was ever my gig, so this played to my desires.

 Growing up is a crystallizing experience as it is. Having flying vehicles and the wealth of adventure afforded by that is edifying to a lad. Peers of mine had never been up in an airplane, what I took for a regular occurrence. It just means you get to experience the land from the top to the bottom. Those experiences make for an interesting story.

 Statehood was voted in the year we moved there but in most respects that didn't catch up with the land until much later. We no longer called it a Territory but it acted that way nevertheless. Decades of Federalization has hammered at those freedoms but never taken away the wild side.

 A lot of what it means to be an Alaskan has to do with the fact that it is so newly a State. The rest lies in its circumstance of being so far off the traveled paths, and in being so vast that there aren't even paths to travel to most of the land.

 It has always been that the Great Land provides much opportunity for excursions into the frontier wilderness. The land is so spectacular even the more sedate Tour Boat route takes your breath away.

 The book has much to say about all of this. It is worth reading. Now I need keep my fingers on the key board and make it available.


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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Remote Alaska Backpacking

 by Robert L. Gisel

 The sweet spot of The Great Land is that its wilderness is so vast and its wilds are so uninhabited you truly can go where no other has trekked for some time.

 It has been noted that separating from the crowds and getting out to activities off the beaten track is gaining popularity in Alaska. A trip is a lot more memorable when you get off the tour ship, way off.

 Frontier wilderness can be as dangerous as it is beautiful. Before you set out on a roll your own Lewis and Clarke expedition you should consider going out with an experienced Alaskan guide for this kind of adventure. This is for your protection, whether you are an experienced hiker or initiate, but as much so, to protect the virgin land from careless incursions.

 I have come across a guide service I would recommend. Alaska Alpine Adventures has as a purpose to reach out to "...the most remote and spectacular places in the state..." This fits the growing need to part from the crowds and experience the untouched scenearama (that's a word, now, Wikionary take note).

 Their web site at first (text, not images and layout) seems a bit boring, until you go through it all, read the testimonials, the blog and the staff thumbnails. You will leave civilization and enter remote wilderness. It is an opportunity to touch the natural beauty, to connect with your travel companions and to assume a new peace with yourself.

 Their hiking trips are generally 10 to 13 days, a small group of 8 at the most, with a 1 to 4 guide ratio, running about $3-4,000, rave meals included, with a satisfying package well designed to please.

 The outfit has been in operation since 1998 and have been recognized by publications such as National Geographic, Adventure, and Outside Magazine for their professional service. They have not shown up in Hustler, Mad Magazine, or the 5 O'clock News, which we take as a recommendation as well.

 Their trips are mostly hiking but they do have some some kayaking, inflated canoe rafting, and skiing trips where solitude, wildlife, and nature make for an even more unforgettable trip.

 If you can't hitchhike the universe you can still hitch along on trips into the bush with these professional and personable folk.

See their site: Alaska Alpine Adventures


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All My Blogs: 
Who Would Write
Once An Alaskan
Favoring Life
Think Tank Man
Limitless Energy
Rights Freedoms and Rights
Designer Geodesics
Fresh Alaskan Air
Robert Gisel's Posterous


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Blue Whale Close-Up

 by Robert L. Gisel

 Some people insist they must watch whales from really close. At feet away, on a paddle board, this was just about too much for the rider.

 It is the season of krill runs off the coast of the organic health food capital of the world, Orange County, California. This has attracted a good number of whales to feast on the delicacy, not missing the fact that nothing provides Omega 3s as well as krill.

 With the whale some tens of yards off, the paddler decided he could slip into the water to get some great underwater footage. When the path of the whale takes it a dozen feet away that is evidently too scary, and the paddle boarder is back out of the water like a shot.

 It is just as well. Twelve feet from the side of an eighty foot blue whale what is there to see? A wall of blubber. Watch out for fins. When the whale dived the fluke surfaced a mere 20 feet in front of the surfer. Seems he could been swatted by the massive tail.

 Truth be known, these sea mammals are quite aware of their surroundings, very alert about people, they are not clumsy, and are not likely to step on you accidentally. They are decidedly not aggressive.

 The guidelines of the National Marine Fisheries Services declare a separation order. You are prohibited from deliberately approaching within 50 yards.of whales. Evidently, when it is other way to, the whale approaches you, you have an alibi. The best interpretation of this is that it is not Moby Dick that is of concern, rather it is the matter of offending the whales lest they change their behavior. We wouldn't think an 80 foot mammal would be so sensitive.

 Communing with cetaceans, whales, dolphins,  and porpoises, is like going to a Mensa gathering: they are very intelligent, much smarter than politicians, in fact.


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All My Blogs: 
Who Would Write
Once An Alaskan
Favoring Life
Think Tank Man
Limitless Energy
Rights Freedoms and Rights
Designer Geodesics
Fresh Alaskan Air
Robert Gisel's Posterous


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Best of Kenai Fijords National Park

Kenai Peninsula tour, day 2.
by Robert L. Gisel

 Surfing links today I came across a great 5-day tour that has a variety of activities and gets one involved. It is too weird to use a cliche and call it proactive?

 Still, you get a train ride, kayaking, boat tour, whales maybe (they have to be home), over water, over land, Alaska fjords and glaciers. This is a pretty good 5-day package for doing the Alaska thing. Just leave your laptop at home, you won't want it where you are going.

 Alaska Heritage Tours calls this their Best of  Kenai Fjords National Park 5 days/ 4 nights. This is one of the partner companies of of the CIRI Alaska Tourism Corporation of Alaska Natives, links at the bottom of their web page. In other words, authentic Alaska.

 Look at their itinerary below.

Kenai Fjords 5-Day Tour:

Day 1: Anchorage / Seward / Fox Island


Day 2: Fox Island / Sea Kayaking


Day 3: Fox Island / Seward


Day 4: Seward

thumbnailDay 5: Seward / Anchorage

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Experience the Everlasting Great Land

Juneau, Alaska, from the gill netter Kiksadi.
by Robert L. Gisel

 It is a bright summer day when you can stand in Juneau and gaze upward to the summit of the mountains, green and white against the clear blue skies, with the last remnants of winter's snowfall glittering in the Alaskan sun. Looking thus you can almost hear the angels song, as your awareness expands outward to appreciate the vastness of untouched lands.

 When next you are asked where you are from you say Alaska, whether this be wholly from where you hail or not, such is the pride of having walked the walk. After announcing this you bemuse the odd questions asked as if Alaska were on another planet, or at least a lesser known continent only newly arrived at by Columbus.

 What you'd take for granted as every day life circumstance will be of intrigue to those who haven't caressed the land and challenged the wilderness.

 It is no myth: Alaska is a magical land. Its scenic beauty is breathtaking. The very extremes defy life. Yet living there brings out the best in more more ways than one.

 A group of bears that rip the salmon in their claws, a wild wolf pack sweeping back and forth in the woods in front of you, passing under the deepest blue of a glacier that does not cave in on you, encountering a snorting moose, very still lest he charge, traversing the rain forest to land on a small lake so remote you won't cross paths with a soul, silently slipping through the water in a kayak next to the blow of a sperm whale -- how many memories does it take to endear one to a special land.

 Invariably when I say I'm from Alaska it elicits the comment, "always wanted to go there". Or having been there, want to go there again. Truly it is an experience that never leaves you.

 It is the land, it is the the wildlife, it is the people that make it an unforgettable experience. It becomes you like no other place I have been. Thus the saying, once an Alaskan, always an Alaskan. If you live there now, or have, you know what I mean.

 You are invited north to experience this greatness. But only a few of you, so we keep the population down to frontier numbers.


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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hiking Juneau

East Glacier Trail.
by Robert L. Gisel

 Heading off to the wilderness land without getting off the guided tour is touring without getting your money's worth, says this Alaskan. I'd recommend getting your money's worth on your trip to Alaska, but that may mean you have to be prepared to do some hiking, or pick up a paddle, or trudge a little in the snow. Finding extreme Alaska, or just getting off the beaten path to get a more inside view, you should be willing to strike an adventure.
Ice caves, West Glacier Trail.

 Here are a few tips that might have been missed by the travel agent.

 You can, of course, take it very easy on a trip to Alaska, ride the tour boat to the Main Street tourist shops and the Red Dog Saloon. If you have waited until your later retirement years where that is as strenuous as you best go, that is fine, do it. You can still pick up the flavor of old Alaska. Three short city blocks up the hill is the Capital Building, same as it was in the Territorial day. That is where you can see the legislative chambers, possibly in session, the Governor's Office and so forth. There is a mounted giant Alaska King Crab in reception. It is about half the size of the crabs that were caught in the 60s, yet still it will cover a small dining table.

 Off to the west on 4th Street and around the corner several short blocks is the Governor's Mansion, same one as the Territorial Governor occupied. It is right on the street and you can knock on the door if you want. The Gov may or may not be there, but that is where he stays when he is in Juneau. The street on the way has a good overlook of the lower city, the boat harbor, and the bridge to Douglas Island. If you are just walking the city it is good to walk this way.

 If your idea of seeing Alaska is more than walking some city streets, but rather setting out to explore without the guided tours, more power to you. Here are some options.

 There are evidently 90 hiking trails around the Juneau area alone, so there is no doubt one that will fit your interests and preferences and difficulty level. Lord knows where these all are, but that is the figure that is given.  If you dedicate a couple summers to that you could possibly check them all out.

 Several of these trails can be accessed from the city itself, no vehicular travel necessary. The Perseverance Trail starts 3,000 feet down the Basin Road at the top of the city. It is an easy walk up to the Glory Hole. Literally, you start from the city, and it is one of the easiest trails.

 Also starting from the city but one of the more strenuous hiking trails is the Mount Juneau Trail. It starts off from a little ways down the Perseverance Trail. It is a hiking trail, but it gets rather steep and tricky in places where you have to scramble up the rocks and switch backs. The view at the top is a nice payoff, beautifully panoramic.

 The Mount Roberts Trail starting from the city is factually a rather moderate hike through the tree line to the top, another spectacular view of the area. When you get there you can have lunch in the restaurant and talk with some people who came to the top in the sky tram.

  There are two trails you can drive out to on either side of the glacier. The East Trail winds up on the side of the mountains to the east, past a couple Falls and giving an unforgettable look down onto the glacier.

 From the West Trail you can approach, touch, walk on, and under the ice. This I say with reservation, as the glacier can be as deadly as a bear. You can go into the ice caves, at your own risk.

 These caverns are created from the pull back and the drainage runoff of the glacial mass. It can collapse randomly and will collapse provoked with enough noise. A school friend just had to see Alaska, went to Juneau, walked up on the frozen lake to the face of the terminus with a group of friends laughing, shouting and carrying on, until the face of the glacier calved. Now she is an ice worm, along with the whole group. Don't monkey around with that one, unless you have a death wish for a cold day in hell and like to be smothered in ice.

 On the lighter side there are trails to where you can kayak or canoe, and there is a white water rafting trip you can connect up with. You can even hike up to the ice field or arrange to fly there. The Lemon Creek Trail goes all the way up to the Lemon Glacier from where you can hike onto the Juneau Ice Field, if you are so inclined. If the weather is acceptable a couple of flight seeing tours will land to let you walk around or ride a dog sled on the ice field. This is the part about trudging in the snow.

 What is left of the wilderness frontier is still close at hand. Scraping your hands on the rocks and scratching your arms on the the underbrush in the fourth mile gets the juices flowing that serve to supercharge your happy memories. This is worth far more than any hundreds of photographs you might take. Taking it all in with the exhilaration of a 3,000 foot drop below you is worth more than all those Kodachromes combined.

 Pearson's Pond Luxury B&B Inn, Suites and Adventure Spa, which is highly recommended as a four-star B&B Inn to stay on your trip to Juneau, have gone to great lengths to detail all the pleasure spots and will be happy to point the way to some good hard fun and adventure.

 Come to Juneau for a visit, and bring your hiking boots.


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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Kung Fu Bears

Be prepared: you never know when you might run into people.
by Robert L. Gisel

  It is a hackneyed saying, in the interests of survival in any bear habitat, don't place yourself between a mother bear and her cubs. The instincts of motherhood coupled with the combative power of the species put too much adrenalin in the fore to be reckoned with. It is called 'pissed off', or 'Extreme PO'. Then again, you should consider the wrath of the cubs may be worse.

 The good news is the mother will not permit this to happen where that is possible. Should you come in down wind,  run  in upon the cubs unexpectedly so as to surprise or corner or threaten the mother and cubs, this would be a sure way to invite battle. Given enough advance warning, the mother will herd the cubs out of danger.

 Yes, danger, as the bear can consider you dangerous to them as you may consider them dangerous to you. If you think about it, people kill far more bears than the other way around.

 An unusual event occurred in the night in Yellowstone National Park where a mother bear with three cubs ripped through tents to kill one person and injure two others before the campers found safety in their cars. The cubs were found to be malnourished. Goes to show, a mother might do anything to feed her kids.

 Use good judgment always, but make sure you have learned the parameters of appropriate response. Here is a link to a fairly good list on attack avoidance, for starters, and a definitive Tongass Forest article on living in peace with the bears. The key is mutual respect. Hey, with respect the Palestinians and Israelis could even learn to live without attacking each other.

 One man, Mark Stintson,  takes difference with the mother and cubs rule. He tells of a black bear sow that hibernated under their porch in Wisconsin for some months. He didn't have the heart to evict this bear, making such a racket under the porch, when he saw she was in labor having cubs. That's truly cohabiting with nature.

 Here is a person who walked with a mother and cubs and caught it on film. This modifying consideration does not invalidate the stable datum: don't get between the mother and her cubs without a negotiated settement. It is an apparency of threat that kicks the adrenalin into attack mode with all the wrath of motherly protection.

 Several decades ago a Southeast Alaskan family raised an orphaned cub as a household pet. This worked out well until he got too big for the house. The grown bear could stand on its hind legs and poke his head over the eve of the roof.

 The family forgot to inform the contract roofer about their pet. When the bear poked his head over the roof the worker was so scared he leaped off the other side -- forget the ladder -- and raced away from there in his truck. They had to get another roofer to finish the job as the first one refused to return. Scaredy cat.

 I believe he was eventually sold to a zoo, or maybe it was Hollywood (the pet bear, not the fearful roofer). Wild animals can learn to get along with people, where the people aren't so ornery.

 Another formidable reason not to violate the mother and cubs rule is that it has now been discovered bear cubs know karate. The Jackie Chan Martial Arts Program for Kids goes out of its way to be indiscriminate.


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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Where Would We Be Without The Coast Guard.

by Robert L. Gisel

 In Alaska you have to appreciate the Coast Guard for all they do, as without them there would be a higher mortality rate in a land already dangerous to the limits. There is no AAA Club Premier service when you are stuck in a crevasse on the glacier or your boat is threatening to sink at Gambier Bay. At times like these who you gonna call?

 To me the Coast Guard is its rescue function. The new emphasis on border patrol and illegal crossings is unfortunate. It is like telling the fire department to keep their eyes out for drugs. I can't think of a more appropriate place to have the air and sea mobile assistance of the CG than in Southeast Alaska.

USCG Rush in Juneau.
 As one Rear Adm moves on another takes the helm for the division that covers the Pacific. The change of command warrants a celebration visit by the USCG RUSH. Nice ship but mostly too much for the Inside Passage. For the Gulf of Alaska though, based out of Kodiak, this vessel could really be utilized. It looks like it will be more broadly used as it says in their website. "every part of the Pacific Ocean as well as to the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea". That means they could be anywhere from Nome to Guam when you make that call for assistance.

 Somehow they always seem to be around to trump the adventure in Alaska.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Northern Lights

 See Terje Sorgjerd's video.

by Robert L. Gisel

 While Alaska has its reputation as viewing grounds for the enthralling phenomena of the Northern Lights, any of the far north countries in the winter will do. In this case the video is of Russian Northern Lights, which they can now share with us since the Iron curtain came down. Alaska has a lot in common with its former owners including the whole array of Arctic climate phenomena.

 Alaska doesn't have a monopoly on the Northern Lights as these can be viewed from any of the far north countries. Alaska was once Russian territory so sharing this video from there is apropos. The photographer Terje Sorgjerd shot the well executed video in Russia. The light show itself is exceptional, one of the best I have ever seen even though this is a compilation of a week's nights.

 The Aurora Borealis, known as the Northern Lights, come out to play most often during the equinox, far north and very cold climes. Terje says it is 70 degree latitude north and -25 degrees Celsius. The northernmost tip of  Alaska is about latitude 68 while Arctic circle is at 66 and change. Minus 25 Celsius is only minus 14 Fahrenheit, which is, to me, is an average winter day in Anchorage.

 The Northern Lights are basically electrical storms outside the atmosphere of earth. For the layman you could think of it as a sort of sheet lightening in the ionosphere around the magnetic poles. Like a magnet pulls in metal shavings, the magnetic poles of the earth draw in toward the north and south poles hot flashes of solar energy, called solar storms. In the magnetosphere, magnetic field of earth, this turns into a visible energy, basically colored light. In short, it's a hell of a show.

 This video of the Lights I would visually date in early winter, October or November, or near the end. Notice that the sun in the first video sequence moves along the horizon, that is to say, it doesn't sink it a perpendicular arc as we are used to in the States. There is some daylight but not a very long day. The tag says one month ago. March.

 Many a night in Alaska I would find myself out on the lawn in shirt sleeves gawking at the aurora with the neighbors doing the same. It is an unforgettable phenomena to say the least. Nostalgic, I'd have to say.

 Google search reveals the Northern Lights is also an American Progressive bluegrass band with as many fluctuations in its make up as the Alaska Northern Lights.

 Shooting star and moon watching have become so mundane by comparison I'd recommend a trip north just to see the Northern Lights for yourself.


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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Close Up Whale Watching

by Robert L. Gisel

 Watching for whale can sometimes reap a spectacular event, like this one, with no guarantee of a repeat performance.

 The usual way to watch whales is from the safety of a local tour boat or from a cruise liner. A kayaker in Katlian Bay near Sitka, Alaska found himself viewing one from the whale's mouth. He must have decided he'd wanted to watch whales from up close and you know how that goes; you have to be careful what you ask for as you may just get its literal rendition.

 Seems he ventured into a herring ball at the same instant a whale breached to scoop up the herring. The end result was to be straddling the gaping wide open mouth. He reported "Paddle fast" was his thought just then.

 He should have seen it coming. The usual reasons herring will swarm in a tight ball are two-fold. One, is that a school of herring will come together is a tight ball for protection against a salmon siege. This time of the year early king salmon would be arriving in Sitka waters so this is one explanation. The other is that a whale will circle a school and send up a curtain of bubbles out his blow hole. The Herring school will feel trapped and ball up in a tight packed swarm for protection, except the next action is for the whale to breach and scoop up the herring. Either way the paddler should have seen the circle of bubbles, quite noticeable in calm waters like this, or at the least he should have seen the swarm of the herring ball on the surface, visible in the picture.

 Note this in your lesson book for Alaska survival tips, along with datums like don't eat yellow snow. Don't paddle your kayak into a herring ball.

The danger to the kayker is probably less than it looks. Whales don't eat objects like a boat and he is more likely to spit out than chew up the unsuspecting kayak. The whale was no doubt as surprised as the kayaker. It was a pretty composed photographer that caught this shot, though.

 One other scenario is that the boater, who is a local Sitka Dentist, was trying to drum up business. In that case he should know that whale don't have teeth, only baleen. And no health insurance. It is a nice publicity stunt for a dentist who can handle any mouth.

 Go ahead and take that trip to Alaska you've always wanted, but don't expect to get this close to the action.


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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Last Great Race On Earth

Sometimes there just isn't enough dogs.
by Robert L. Gisel

 The Alaska Iditarod is not over by a long shot but this year's Champion has crossed the finish line in Nome. It was John Baker's first win in the score of times he has finished the race. His run time set a new all-time record: 8 days, 19 hours and 44 minutes. The last person to finish, of the 62 who started, who will get the Red Lantern Award, will come along across the finish line in about 4 days. Win or lose, the game and the glory is to finish.

 The terminus city is called Nome by default. The cartographer mistook "? name" for Nome and thus it was accidentally dubbed. The race nominally starts in Anchorage, Alaska, with a PR run to Eagle. The re-start was in Willow nine days ago and this year the route traverses 968 miles overland to Nome. In the gold rush days this was the route to take mail and supplies to Nome and bring back gold. You could say it was the Sled Dog Express. Even to this day there are no roads to Nome and unless you fly or take a boat around the coast of Alaska this is how you get there in the winter months.

 The marathon dog sled race is called the Last Great Race on Earth, rightfully so. It is a long haul and the conditions can be horrendous when the weather gets bad with snow storms, high winds and deep sub-zero temperatures that can stretch the race to 3 weeks. This year seemed almost uneventful by comparison to some but nevertheless an intense endurance race. Even in relatively good conditions it is a race that challenges the toughest. Just ask any of the many veterans of the race and rookies still making their way to Nome.

 Very well done to John Baker and his team of sled dogs on their excellent performance as they now join the many legends in the history of the race.


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Friday, January 14, 2011

Surf's Up in Alaska

Paddle board surfing in Turnagain Arm
by Robert L. Gisel

 Here is a new twist on surfing: a five mile ride. I have seen the surfing crowd in Turnagain Arm doing sail surfing. They were having a lot of fun. Now the stand-up surf board affords a means to catch and ride the waves of the incoming tide -- long ride.

 Turnagain Arm is the body of water that heads out southeast from Anchorage and flanks the Seward Highway that will take you to Kenai, Homer, and points thereof. It is generally always wetsuit water.

 Check out the video. Should change some fixed ideas about Alaska.