Alaska Billy Blog

Western Hemlock tree broken by wind

Western Hemlock is the most abundant tree species in Southeast Alaska.
Western Hemlock is the most abundant tree species in Southeast Alaska.

Western Hemlock is the most abundant tree species in Southeast Alaska. It can reach an age of over 1,200 years, a height greater than 70 m (230 feet), and a diameter over 2.7 m (9 feet).

Wind is the primary cause of disturbance in the Pacific Coastal Temperate Rainforest of Southeast Alaska. Wildfires are infrequent and generally small due to the high rainfall, which ranges from 127 cm (50 inches) to over 508 cm (200 inches) per year.

Windthrown Old-growth Hemlock
Windthrown Old-growth Hemlock

 

Storms can windthrow large patches of timber, but in old-growth forest (generally over 300 years old), most openings are very small, averaging less than 0.8 hectares (2 acres). With small openings, the pattern of trees in mature forest is a mixture of sizes and ages.

The Western Hemlock tree in the photo has been broken by wind. Because bedrock is close to the surface resulting in thin soils and shallow roots, trees often are uprooted by the wind. Since this tree broke, we know its roots were strong.

It’s easy to focus only on the beautiful green forest of living trees when we walk in the woods. But both standing dead trees and logs on the ground are extremely important ecological parts of the forest.

Many wildlife species depend on dead wood for food, shelter, nesting, perching, and escape from predators. As you hike through the forest, take time to observe the many forms of dead wood. Look for the evidence of use by wildlife.
Like so many of the features of the forest, the values of dead wood also create high quality fish habitat.

Nugget Falls roars into Mendenhall Lake

Nugget Falls cascades into Mendenhall Lake; Mendenhall Glacier in
CLICK PHOTO TO VIEW VIDEO: Nugget Falls cascades into Mendenhall Lake; Mendenhall Glacier in distance

Nugget Falls roars into Mendenhall Lake, Juneau, Alaska. Follow the creek as it flows into Mendenhall Lake (frozen), and you can see the foot of the Mendenhall Glacier in the distance.

The snowy peak prodding the blue sky is Mount Stroller White (1,570 m; 5,150 ft). The forested ridgeline in front of Stroller White that ascends to the left is one of the shoulders of Mt. McGinnis (1,289 m; 4,228 ft).

Nugget Creek arises from Nugget Glacier, flowing down a valley that separates Mount Bullard (1,288 meters; 4,225 ft.) from Heintzleman Ridge. My IG Post from 11/27/2017 shows me on cross country skis with Mount Bullard in the background.

A dam and a 198-meter (650-foot) long tunnel were constructed by the Treadwell Company during the heyday of early hardrock gold mining in Juneau. This hydroelectric facility provided electricity from 1912 to 1943, just one of a number of hydroelectric plants that put Juneau at the forefront of early industrial use of electricity, including electric locomotives.

Nugget Falls is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Juneau along with the Mendenhall Glacier. It’s also one of our favorite 30-minute hikes of exceptional beauty and the power of the waterfall.

Himalayas of India: Buddhist monastery perched above Markha River

Monastary Perched high above Markha
Monastary Perched high above Markha River in Ladakh, India

How powerful the Himalayas of India are! Countless Buddhist monasteries perched high above us as we trekked along the Markha River in Ladakh, India. The ruins in this picture appeared to be ruins, but strings of prayer flags fluttered from similar monasteries built many centuries ago. It seemed impossible that anyone could have climbed to them, much less built them in the sky.

To walk here is to feel time as if it wavers in the air like a heat mirage on the horizon. There is a sense that people in the time of Buddha, 2,600 years ago walked these same paths, looked up at cliffs and ridges like these. Of course, it would be centuries later that the monasteries would be built, perhaps around 1200 C.E.
Kate Troll & I spent 10 days this summer trekking with 8 other friends in the Markha Valley, a challenging journey with the river bottom at 3,350 m (11,000 ft) to 3,390 m (13,000), and across 2 passes at 4,961 m (16,276 ft) and 5,260 m (17,257 ft).

This is the dry side of the Himalayas with annual rainfall similar to the Sahara Desert, yet the Markha River cascades between mountains topped by these impossibly inaccessible Buddhist monasteries. Water from glaciers and snowfields on surrounding peaks that rise above 6,096 m (20,000 ft).

Footloose at Handtroller Cove

Footloose anchored at Handtroller Cove-Southeast Alaska. Chilkat Range in background.
CLICK FOR VIDEO: Footloose anchored at Handtroller Cove-Southeast Alaska. Chilkat Range in background.

The sun sets behind the Chilkat Range of mountains as my 18-foot (5.5 meter) skiff named “Footloose” floats at Handtroller Cove, Southeast Alaska. Click the picture for my video taken from Shelter Island, our base for camping and kayaking. The dark low island beyond the skiff is Lincoln Island.

The Chilkat Range in the distance is inaccessible wilderness once you get past the narrow shoreline. Westward, the vast sharp mountains and glaciers give way to Glacier Bay. Fly beyond Glacier Bay, and you’re looking at the Alsek River watershed, the largest continuous designated wilderness in the world. Browse my blog to find a variety of posts about reefs and ecology of the Handtroller Cover area, and also about the spectacular beauty of the Alsek River.

Handtroller Cove is a dimple of an indentation on Favorite Channel, but the junction of Chatham Strait and Lynn Canal, two of the largest channels in Southeast Alaska, must be crossed to reach the Chilkat Mountains from here.

All of the major sea channels in Southeast Alaska follow geological fault lines that run from the southeast to the northwest. The channels have been carved by glaciers during the ice ages, giving them steep shorelines and surprising depths.

The water under the boat is only 6 ft (1.8 m) deep. But between the boat the Chilkat Mountains in the distance, the depth reaches 1,900 ft (579 m). If you imagine what the landscape would look like if there was no water, you would be standing on top of a mountain with steep slopes leading down into a 1900 ft (579 m) valley!

Kate Troll shares peace & beauty in wilderness of icebergs

Kate Troll rafting Alsek Lake
Kate Troll shares a moment of peace and beauty among the icebergs of Alsek Lake, Southeast Alaska, near Dry Bay on the Lost Coast

Kate Troll (@katetroll) shares a moment of peace and beauty among the icebergs of Alsek Lake, Southeast Alaska, near Dry Bay on the Lost Coast. Kate & I have been living in & exploring Alaska for 40 years. She combines her adventures here and around the world with her long career as a leader in environmental conservation, and her thoughts about hope in the face of climate change, in her book: “The Great Unconformity: Reflections on Hope in an Imperiled World”.

Just one more magnificent highlight on our float trip down the Tatshenshini River to the Alsek River, which runs through Alsek Lake before emptying into the Gulf of Alaska at Dry Bay. 11-day trip with 10 friends through 3 Canadian and USA national parks that combine into largest designated wilderness in world.

The powerful Alsek River flows under the mile-wide ice berg jam from huge glaciers that calve into the lake, and exits around a large island. The ice can completely block the exit, forcing rafters to get picked up here by bush plane. We hiked in to scout a route, and were able to find an open channel between the shoreline the ice jam, the eerie growl of river going under the ice off to our port side, forcing us to row far out into Alsek lake.

Video-Juneau Icefield viewed from helicopter

CLICK PHOTO for video of Juneau Icefield from Helicopter

Video-Juneau Icefield viewed from Astar 119 helicopter just above Taku Inlet, probably over Norris Glacier. The helicopter pilot is our son, Rion Hanson. Although named the Juneau Icefield, it extends 140 km (87 mi) north to south and 75 km (47 mi) east to west, making it the 4th largest icefield in the Northern Hemisphere.

Era Helicopters has a dog sledding camp on the icefield for summertime tours, with access only by helicopter. I’ve flown over different parts of the icefield during the last 40 years, and it remains one of the most astoundingly beautiful places I’ve seen. At its thickest, the ice is 1,400-meters (4,590 ft.) deep!
While valley glaciers like the Mendenhall, Eagle, Herbert, and Taku Glaciers near Juneau flow down close to sea level, the vast ice field is completely invisible from saltwater and cities.

Fog rises as the Mendenhall River flows out of Mendenhall Lake

Mendenhall River at mouth of Mendenhall Lake
Mendenhall River at mouth of Mendenhall Lake

Fog rises as the Mendenhall River flows out of Mendenhall Lake. The water is clearing up now that winter is setting in. Kate Troll, Nellie the Sheltie, and I skied around the shoreline of Mendenhall Lake to the outlet where the Mendenhall River originates.

Glacial rivers change radically from summer to winter. With summer warming, the melting glacier greatly increases the river flow, making the Mendenhall River a whitewater rafting destination for tourists. Silt from the glacier turns the water an opaque gray, and rafters can hear the hiss of silt against the rafts. In winter, flow is much less, and water more clear.

Mendenhall Glacier also causes jökulhlaups (an Icelandic term), glacial outburst floods. Meltwater builds up under the glacier, trapped by ice dams. When the ice dam melts away or breaks, the water bursts out, causing the Mendenhall River rise to flood stage very quickly. These jökulhlaups have become more predictable with sensors placed under the glacier to monitor water build-up.

Buddhist Monks Dance at Hemis Festival, Ladakh, India.

CLICK PHOTO to see video of Buddhist Monks Dancing at Hemis Festival, Ladakh, India
CLICK PHOTO to see video of Buddhist Monks Dancing at Hemis Festival, Ladakh, India

Buddhist Monks Dancing at Hemis Festival, Ladakh, India. (Click the photo at the right to watch video.)

The annual Hemis Festival is held at Hemis Gompa (Gompa = monastery), to celebrate the birth of Padmasambhava, founder of Tibetan Buddhism. Magnificent. The choreographed dancing by monks is accompanied by clashing cymbals, drums, horns, and chanting, in the courtyard of the monastery beneath the peaks of the Himalayas. These monks are dancing in heavy robes in a very hot sun around noon.

A crowd filled every inch of space-both local people and visitors. Hemis is 60 km south of the city of Leh. The summer residence of the Dalai Lama is in the immediate vicinity of Leh.

While acclimating to high altitude in preparation of our 10-day trek in the Himalayas in July 2017, we visited a number of monasteries and other special sites around Leh. We scheduled our trip so we could attend the Hemis festival.

Skiing Mendenhall Lake to Mendenhall River

Bill Hanson with Mendenhall River & Mt. Bullard in background
Mendenhall River & Mount Bullard (1,288 meters; 4,225 ft.) behind Bill Hanson. I’m standing about 6 meters (20 feet) above sea level.

Kate Troll, Nellie the Sheltie, and I skied around the shoreline of Mendenhall Lake a few days ago to the outlet where the Mendenhall River originates.

A little over a century ago, we would have been under the ice of the Mendenhall Glacier in this spot. Today, the glacier is 3.5 Km (2.2 miles) away and receding rapidly. Sometime in the next few years, it will no longer touch Mendenhall Lake, and icebergs will disappear.

Snow was beautiful, but has now given way to light rain. I’m thankful that I skied when the skiing was wonderful. Like many other places in Juneau, we treasure the beauty of our landscape—a new, magical view with nearly every kick of the skis.

We tried skiing on the lake and ran into slushy overflow beneath pristine fluffy snow. First job – scraping ice caked on our skis. Second—adjusting plan to ski the shoreline. Kate and I both have waxing skis. Mine are about 45 years old (!)—Fisher Europa 77’s—sort of like driving a steam-powered car—heavy and long, but still have camber and metal edges, so I like them fine.

Alaska Garden Box Beds-Moving for Winter

Moving Garden beds away from snow plows
Moving Garden beds away from snow plows

Our home sits on a steep hill above the saltwater, so we don’t have a back yard. I grow a few veggies in 0.9 x 2.4 m (3 x 8 ft.) box beds in our driveway.

2017 Bill Hanson with Carrots and Golden Beets from Box Beds
2017 Bill Hanson with Carrots and Golden Beets from Box Beds

To make room for snowplowing, I move them back from the road. They’re around 1,000 kg (2,200 lbs.) each so it takes a bit of finagling with a floor jack, pvc pipe, a couple of heavy pry bars, maul, and heavy rope.

Moving Garden beds away from snow plows
Moving Garden beds away from snow plows
Tools for moving 1-ton garden boxes. Floor jack, heavy pry bars, maul, and heavy rope. PVC pipe-see other photos.
Tools for moving 1-ton garden boxes. Floor jack, heavy pry bars, maul, and heavy rope. PVC pipe-see other photos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017 Box Bed with Beets and Carrots
2017 Box Bed with Beets and Carrots

Fortunately, @katetroll is very strong. The two of us can hand push, coax, pry, and torture the beds into safety adjacent to our flower garden. With lots of travel this year, we moved beds during the first snowfall of the year.