Sabbatical 1999/2000 - Part V Fairbanks, Alaska
By: William R. Cotton

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I'm back in the saddle again! We just took off from DIA heading north where I can look down at my home. On this trip I am going to Fairbanks, Alaska via Seattle on United and then Alaskan Airlines. This is the second trip to Alaska for my sabbatical. O n this trip Jerry Harrington and I will begin work on the now-funded proposal to IARC that we prepared during my last visit to Fairbanks. In addition, we will work on an ONR proposal letter of intent that Jerry is taking the lead on and put finishing touc hes to a joint proposal we are submitting to NSF/SHEBA. I will also be presenting an institute-wide seminar at the UAF Geophysics Institute (GI) and a seminar to the Fairbanks chapter to the AMS. The former talk will be more technical on "Extreme Precipit ation Estimation", while the latter will be much less technical. I call it, "My Love Affair with Aviation and Meteorology". For that, I have dug through my old slides and pictures to present a history of sorts outlining my early interest in flying and ho w that got me into meteorology. I will discuss both my own flying experiences and those of serving as meteorological flight observer on numerous field programs over the years. I plan to introduce a number of anecdotes about those field programs and conclu de with my experiences as sailplane pilot and its relationship to meteorology.

On all my aircraft flights so far I have used carry-on baggage only. Not so on this one! I am bringing two pairs of my own skis, my touring telemark skis (tele's) and downhill tele's, my ski poles, and another set of touring-tele's that I bought at Jer ry's request for his wife, Debra, all in my new ski bag that Chris bought me for Christmas. I got Debra's skis at the CSU Outdoor Adventure Program, where they sold new Fisher E-99's for $125 with bindings. They normally sell for over $300 with bindings. During his visit to CSU, Jerry bought a pair for himself after I brought the deal to his attention. I guess when he got home, Debra decided she would like a pair, too, so he e-mailed me to see if I could get another pair. The Adventure Program decided to sell out that model skis because the students wouldn't rent them because they were too lazy to use wax. They now rent either waxless skis or full tele-downhill skis.

In addition to the ski bag I also checked this huge, almost 5 ft tall and 2ft diameter duffle bag filled with two pairs of ski boots, my goose-down sleeping bag, sleeping pad, backpack, and cooking gear, and assorted long-johns, wool socks, and surviva l gear. Jerry has rented a cabin for us to ski into one of the weekends of my visit. Plus I plan to commute by skiing and get my exercise skiing on the course right on the UAF campus.

Also as carry-on, I am bringing my normal travel pack/suitcase filled with work-related clothing and shaving kit, and my daypack that I use for hiking/skiing, filled with notebook computer and its bag of peripherals, two cameras, lecture transparencies , and anything that didn't fit in the other three bags. I am amazed that this plane got off the ground!

Jerry and Debra met me at the airport and helped me load all my stuff in the Ford Explorer. We then stopped to unload the stuff in the Nordic House on campus where I am staying. It is a rather rustic log-house with two bedrooms on the main floor, two u pstairs and two in a finished basement and baths on the main floor and basement levels. If the place were full it could get interesting fighting for the bathrooms, kitchen facilities, etc. But for the moment I have the entire place to myself.

After unloading, we went to the Thai House for supper. It is the best place in town to eat. I had an excellent eggplant concoction.

After a good night's sleep in the rather warm Nordic House, I woke up at 5:30AM (7:30 Colorado time) and decided to see if a grocery store was open to get breakfast stuff and groceries for the rest of the week. In a balmy -15F (the Explorer displays te mperature and compass heading), I found a Safeway open and got my supplies. I then headed back and had breakfast, unpacked some more, and decided to ski to the GI. After a few bad turns I found a groomed ski trail about ¼ mile from the cabin and started s kiing to work. Even though it was now about 0F, I had overdressed and began to strip off layers. The trail curved along through the aspen/birch forest and actually came to within 10ft of the GI parking lot. I took off my skis and marched in the institute and up to Jerry's office. He wasn't in yet, so I decided to begin the process of getting an office and keys, etc. At the IARC office, the woman at the desk is either on holiday or has left, so a young lady who didn't know me was there. She had to ask an other lady who knew me how to go about getting me an office, keys to the office and building, and parking permit. That lady didn't seem to want to take any responsibility, so things moved slowly through the bureaucratic quagmire. I told them Peter Olsson' s office, which I was previously assigned, was still vacant and could I get a pass key to get my stuff out of the hallway? On my previous stay they had handed me the pass key and I opened the office and got started. This time I was escorted down to the of fice with the new lady at the desk, feeling a bit like an ex-con. But I finally got my stuff out of the hall and Jerry popped in and said he would get Glen Shaw, the group leader, to help me get officially assigned to that office and begin paperwork on ke ys. By the end of the day, I still didn't have keys, but I did have a parking permit and an office assigned, with no way to get into it. I'll probably have to be escorted to it again on Monday!

Then there was the problem of getting on-line. Jerry no longer had the computer I used previously, and I didn't have a local dial-in account for my notebook. Jerry put out an e-mail requesting a PC for me to use, and he got several favorable responses. By the afternoon I had one to telnet home to check my office e-mail. I also checked with several local server companies and found one that gave 30 days' free service. Since that was longer than I planned to be here, I signed up. I'll see how that goes.

At lunchtime Jerry said,"Let's go skiing." So we headed out on the trails right next to the office. It had warmed to 10F and the sun was high enough that when we crossed Smith Lake, I could actually feel the sun on my shoulders. The trails were groomed with tracks and about a 20ft wide swath through the woods. Jerry took off in his racing track skis and I tried to keep up in a quasi-skate-skiing mode with my tele-touring Fisher E-99's. No way Jose! I huffed and puffed along as he took off down the tra il. He would wait like a puppy every so often and we did about a 4.5mile tour. In one straightaway, Jerry really kicked in and disappeared down the trail. There were moose tracks all over the trails but no moose today.

After work we met at the Pump House and had some beers, where I had to listen to the faculty from various departments (atmos, engineering, business) gripe about UAF. Enough already. I heard these same gripes back in September! I ordered a salmon burg er for dinner there, but would you believe they were out of salmon in Alaska? So, I had halibut nuggets instead. I stopped by Jerry and Debra's for a short while and then headed back to the Nordic House.

The plan was for me to call Jerry at 9:00AM and then coordinate for some backcountry skiing or skiing around the groomed trails across town at Birch Hill. Well, Jerry had a muscle tightened up, probably from showing up the old man yesterday, so he back ed out. I then decided to head out for a downhill area to practice tele turns. I first drove over to the Birch Hill downhill area, which is on Fort Wainright property, but it didn't open until noon. Lift tickets were only $10 for servicemen, but for us civilians it was $25.

I then drove in the other direction, through backcountry roads to Moose Mountain Ski Area. It operates like the now defunct Hidden Valley ski area in Rocky Mountain National Park, in which buses are used to haul skiers up to the mountaintop. As viewed from the base, the slopes looked darned steep and very hard packed--fast! As I am still not much of a tele skier, I was concerned, but the people there were very friendly. They suggested I go up to the bunny slope near the top and try that, then an easy d ownhill run that is called Moose Walk, which actually is a connecting trail to the base of the bunny slope and a black diamond run. The bus ride from the base of the bunny slope to the summit was free, so the price was right and they mapped out an easier blue run that I could use if I felt up to it. Then if I wished, I could pay the $23 or $18 after 1:00PM, or $18 if it was -10F or colder, which it was at that moment, to take the bus up and ski down until 5PM. So, I rode the bus up and did the bunny run ( too easy), and then took the bus to the summit and skied Moose Walk (also very easy) 4 or 5 times. At lunchtime I decided to ski down Sunset to another trail and see how I felt after lunch. The run down was not as fast as I feared because of the cold temp eratures, so I handled it well, making lots of turns when it got steep in spots. I made nearly a clean run except for one over-turn that left me facing uphill and down on one knee. I decided not to pay the $18 because I wanted to leave something in my leg s for Sunday's planned backcountry ski. I did, however, drive up to the rental shop at the base of the bunny area and they let me take a bus to the summit to take pictures; all for free. It was sunny and the views over Fairbanks and the Tanana valley wer e just great. The driver said I should come up at sunset. With the Alpenglow and shadows, it was spectacular.

That evening I went to Jerry and Debra's for a chili supper and watched a video.

Jerry arranged for a crew to ski into the Angel Creek cabin, in which we stayed overnight last fall. Joining us were Uma Bhatt, with new skis and boots, who works for IARC; Doug??, who is a faculty member in engineering; Debra with new skis and boots, and Jerry with new-to-him boots. It was about 3.5 miles in to the cabin along a mostly flat trail through a river valley. Temperatures at the trailhead were about -3F, but by the time we got to the cabin it had warmed to balmy 10F. Still, it was nice to b e able to have lunch in the solar-heated cabin. Along the way, I spied a young moose about 50 meters off the trail. We also saw a number of moose as we were driving to the trailhead. Debra counted something like 8 for the day.

It took us about 1.5 hours to ski in. The only snowmobile we encountered was just after I had stopped at the cabin. There was also a single ski-jorer who was moving at a pretty good clip. Even with his dog tugging him, it was clear he was getting a good workout as his beard was all iced up. At 10F, we would have been cold stopping for lunch, so the warmth of the solar-heated cabin was appreciated by all.

Leaving our packs in the cabin, we played around on the hillsides doing tele-turns through the woods. The snow was not too bad for it, but we could have used a little steeper and longer slope. Peter Olsson had complained that the snow wouldn't support a skier off trail, but this was not the case, at least at this time of year. One had to stay clear of trees, as one does in Colorado, because the snow doesn't support any weight at least 5 feet from the tree.

Jerry got a kick out of looking at the hoar frost crystals, which varied in size and structure from the open areas to the shaded woods. In the open areas, the crystals were quite large--several centimeters in diameter, whereas in the shaded forest areas the crystals were only a few millimeters in diameter. He suggested that the open-area crystals experienced higher super-saturations because of radiative cooling to space, whereas in the wooded areas, they experienced less radiative cooling due to down-welling radiation from the trees. Sounds plausible, and I'll have to put it in my memory bank for a qualifying exam question in the future.

We then donned our packs and skied back to the cars in a little over an hour. On the way back we encountered two women ski-joring with two dogs each, and each woman pulling a sled filled with overnight gear. They were moving at an 8-10mph clip. I gather Debra and Jerry knew one of the women, as she is a librarian at GI. On the way back we stopped at a general store, restaurant, etc, called Tacks, and sampled some of their great pies. Then it was home for a nice hot shower, after which we met for a pizza. It was an enjoyable day.

I've tried to start my first workday at GI/IARC. I say tried, because I'm still trying to get an office set up with computer and telephone, so that I can use my notebook computer through a local internet provider. I guess someone has pulled rank on Pet er's old office, reserving it for visitors who come one day a week. My options seem to be Jerry's shared computer room, in which Jerry doesn't have a running computer and where there is no telephone and no window, or a library office, one of which has a c omputer and telephone, but it may be assigned to someone else, or possibly Glen Shaw's laboratory. But, I have to wait until Glen gets in to see if that option will work. At least that has a computer, telephone, and window, and no one is already in the qu eue for the seat. Boy, they sure make you feel welcome here!

It was finally decided that I use Glen Shaw's laboratory for an office. It has computer, a telephone and windows facing north toward the parking lot and snow-covered trees. It should work out just fine since no one else is using it.

Jerry and I took a noon-hour jog along the roads. It was about 15F, but with the exercise it didn't feel bad at all.

After a ski back to the Nordic House, I "veged out," as it was my fast day.

After a bit of trial and error, I finally got my PTI-ALASKA local computer server account working, so now I can go on line with my notebook computer at the office and at the Nordic House. The first thing I did when I got to the office was to get the si gned forms for getting a key to Glen Shaw's lab, and then walk the mile+ across campus to pick up the keys. It was 10AM by the time I got things set up.

After work I skied back to the Nordic house and then skied on the trails near there for about an hour. The trail winds through the forest with very modest up and down. On the way back I encountered about 5 skiers. It is a popular sport.

I was starved after all that exercise and made a supper of "veggie burgers," vegetables, boiled potatoes, and clam chowder. I then ran the dishwasher, but I used liquid dishwashing soap because that was all there was. I used too much! Soap flowed out the door and I was busy with a mop for almost an hour. So much for being domestic! It is always a challenge figuring out how to do things in a strange place.

It is 1 March and the sun is rising about 0800 and setting 1800h, but it is light enough to get around without lights at 0700 and until 1900. Temperatures have warmed from a low of -3F to a high of 30F. I again skied to and from work and over lunch hou r I skied a loop trail that started near Smith Lake and looped north and east across a small pond and back to the office. I have started skiing in the tracks. I get a good workout but the metal edges of my E-99 touring/tele's grab the edges of the tracks. I think I get more speed in the tracks, though, than in the wide skate-ski areas. I am really impressed by the speed the skate skiers get. I'd like to try that. I might rent some, one day, and maybe even get a lesson. It really looks neat seeing these pe ople swaying back and forth as they cruise along at close to 15mph. I'd like to talk Vollie into trying it. The Colorado State Forest is now using a snow cat with groomer for snowmobiles and that track should be useful for skate skiing. But a complete out fit of skies, boots, and poles runs about $350, so I would have to be sure I'd use it.

On the job I have been working on another proposal, this one anticipating the NASA CRYSTAL RFP. I am also busy putting out fires back in the office in Colorado via e-mail. Steve Rutledge, the department head, even asked me to write up three qualifying exam questions. I prepared one based on our observations of snow crystals while skiing this weekend.

I find it a little lonely up here, what with being alone in this house and being alone in Glen Shaw's large laboratory. The only people contact is the occasional talks with Jerry, who of course has his own things to do, the occasional talk with Glen Sh aw, and brief visits with the National Weather Service (NWS) people. Speaking of NWS, it looks like they are going to pay my way to visit Anchorage and give a talk to NWS people down there about our mesoscale NWP experience. It now looks like I will leave Sunday and stay the night at Peter Olsson's (a former student of mine), then give a talk on Monday and return Monday evening.

Another factor in my feeling a bit alone is that neither Jerry nor Glen has any graduate students, so I miss having chats about science with students. It is the absence of students up here that bothers Jerry the most, to the degree that he is consideri ng looking elsewhere. In my opinion, the only way to fix that problem is to get the academic stream out of physics and chemistry. Right now, atmospheric science is not a department but a program, and faculty members have their tenure lines in either chemi stry or physics. The students are in one of those programs. I suggested that they should form a department of atmospheric and ocean sciences that builds on the expertise in the GI and IARC. They could become "the" high latitude academic center for atmosp heric/ocean/sea-ice/surface land-use studies and, as such, should be able to build a healthy student body and faculty. A number of courses could be of common interest across atmospheric, ocean, and land surface process studies, including dynamics embedde d in a geophysical fluid dynamics course, a boundary layer course in the atmosphere and ocean, a surface land-use class that covers sea-ice, snow-evolution, soil/vegetation, and surface hydrology, and atmospheric/ocean radiation class, a cloud and precipi tation microphysics class that includes the physics of ice in the atmosphere, and on land/ocean surfaces, and so forth. I think a graduate student body of 20-25 students and a stable faculty of 10-14 members could be attracted to the program.

It is a good thing I am an early riser, since I got a call from a CNN reporter at 6:00AM. I'm sure he didn't have a clue about what the time was when he called here. I just got out of the shower and had to ask him to wait while I put some clothes on. H e asked me my views on human influences on climate and weather. I gave him my skeptic's view that it is very difficult to attribute cause and effect regarding human influence on climate. I made the case that climate models are doing sensitivity experiment s on how increasing CO2 can influence climate, other things being the same. My point is "other things aren't necessarily the same". Many other factors, many of which we don't understand, can influence climate, so that on time scales of decades or longer , we have virtually no predictive skill. I told him what I am doing here and how it fits into the climate picture. We even talked about sailing.

I spent the day working on my CRYSTAL proposal and working with Jerry on a budget for a letter of intent proposal to ONR. Jerry and I ran at noon and the temperature must have been in the high 30's. Jerry wished he had worn shorts. When I skied home it was still too warm and the snow was really slick. I scratched the idea of skiing when I got back. Instead I took a drive over to the Fairbanks Airport and another small strip that I call redneck strip. I took pictures of the airplanes on skis. On the way back near the university I spied a moose grazing on willows and even took a picture.

Just when I got in the door, Jerry and Debra called me and invited me to go out to dinner and have a few beers. Jerry was frustrated from dealing with the contracts and grants people. When they stopped to pick me up we polished off a bottle of Chilean red and had chips and dip. We went to the Pump House where I had blackened salmon, which was very good.

After my ski into GI, I spent most of the morning trying to fix my mail server access. Somehow my Microsoft Outlook got corrupted when I tried to send e-mails with several files attached. I think it was because I didn't realize how long it was taking t o download those files. After discussion with consultants at PTI ALASKA and help from Jason Connor back in Colorado, I finally brought up Microsoft Outlook Excel and was able to go on line again. One advantage of Excel is that it shows a bar graph of the transmission of files and it made me realize just how long it was taking. I guess Outlook wasn't really corrupted. It was just tied up downloading those files.

I then worked on the CRYSTAL proposal and then Jerry came by to do a lunch hour ski. We did the loop trail I took mid-week, only this time in reverse. It was another intense workout for me trying to keep up with him on his racing skies and me with my m etal-edges digging into the track walls. I gave up on the tracks and did most of the run trying to skate ski with those heavy boards. It was another beautiful day and I certainly got some exercise.

Then Jerry convinced me to go to the Chowder House to get some clam chowder. It was good. Actually any liquid would have been great by then. Then it was back to work. After that, a bunch of us met at the Pump House for some beers and food.

I've got a full weekend scheduled: going downhill with Jerry and Debra to teach them basic telemark skiing techniques, and then at 4:30PM I have a mushing trip scheduled. On Sunday I fly down to Anchorage at the NWS' expense to visit Peter Olsson, a fo rmer student of mine, and give a talk to the NWS on Monday.

I am sitting at the kitchen table in the Nordic House polishing off a bottle of Australian Jacob's Creek Shiraz-Cabernet and reflecting on the day's activities. Sitting here alone without Vollie is definitely the down side of the day. By the way, the b est buys in wines in Fairbanks are either Aussie wines or Chilean. California wines tend to run as much as $4-5 more per bottle, yet the Aussie and Chilean wines are quite good.

After a leisurely breakfast, I picked up Jerry and Debra at 9:30AM and drove up to Moose Mountain ski area. I drove to the rental shop, which is where the free shuttle buses run to the top of the bunny run and the summit, where one can ski the Moose Wa lk green run. I then attempted to explain what I knew about telemark skiing, which is not all that much. I gave them my son, Bill's, instructions. Jerry seemed to follow them pretty well, but Debra reminded me of Vollie in that she wouldn't work through the pains of learning new techniques but pretty much stuck to her snowplowing specialty. They began by skiing down a 100m or so and then walking back up and trying it again. Eventually I tired of this and skied down to the bus and back to the top of the b unny run, where I met them for another try. They eventually made it down the bunny run and I convinced them to try Moose Walk. It has, for the most part, a gentler slope than the bunny run, but it is ¼ mile longer. On the first try, Debra walked the firs t 10m. After that, she snowplowed down that segment. The rest of the run was pretty easy. We had lunch outside on a deck overlooking Fairbanks in the warm, 28F temperatures. I brought my lunch but they bought veggie burgers prepared at a grill at the summit. It was very pleasant up there. At that point, they decided to make a last Moose Walk run and I went down the blues to the bottom. The snow was warming up so I could cut my turns just fine. I had a little trouble on one really steep slope and over- turned once. On the lower third of the run they had a race going, so that I was confined to a narrower track, which made an otherwise easy run more challenging. I fell a few more times than I had done previously.

I dropped Debra and Jerry off, went back to the Nordic House and took a nap. Then I drove up to Ann Woods' house to go mushing. Ann is a librarian at GI and I gather her 18-year-old daughter is the real mushing enthusiast. While she is in Iceland as an exchange student, Ann is attempting to keep the team in shape. Ann had some library function to attend, so we arranged to meet at 4:30PM. I arrived before Ann did, so I decided to get acquainted with the dogs. There were 10 dogs posted out behind the hou se. They are all mixed breeds with some obvious Siberian blood in them as well as who knows what? Six or so of them were very friendly. I could approach them and pet them and get acquainted. Several were weird to strangers, typical of kennel dogs that h ave not bonded to people. There were buckets and shovels, so I decided to do chores and pick up the dog crap. This settled down the weird ones as I just wandered around with the shovel.

Eventually Ann came home. We loaded the dogs in an old (1979) Ford pickup truck and took them about 100m across the road. The dogs were heavier than what I used to run, as they seemed to weigh about 65-75 pounds. I preferred dogs in the 45 to 50 poun d range. This made loading and unloading them quite a chore. We set up two gang lines, one for me with 5 dogs and one for Ann with 4 dogs. I got this old, homemade sled that must have weighed a ton, and Ann used a toboggan sled much like what I had. We se t the dogs in harness and they proceeded to tangle themselves between the two teams. Eventually we got them sorted out and Ann started out with me following. The trail was full of snowmobile moguls, so it was a rather bumpy ride. The trail meandered throu gh the black spruce swamp, and some of the turns were rather challenging. I was glad I was experienced, even though it was 15 (yikes!!) years ago. An inexperienced driver would have been tossed on some of those hairy turns. We went out about an hour, mean dering who knows where. I would have had difficulty finding my way back, as we crossed and crisscrossed tracks numerous times. Near the end, we came head-on with another team in which the driver had several young dogs running free. This created some inter esting moments as the dogs sniffed each other and mixed up the lines. I kept my dogs in line and they got through clean, but Ann had to straighten out her team after the incident.

I enjoyed the scenery of the reddish-colored sun setting behind mountain peaks as we quietly mushed through the tundra. For those of you not familiar with running dogs, they do not bark when running. They are too busy breathing to do that. In fact, the noise they make is less than a cross-country skier makes touring through the backcountry. On many occasions, I have overtaken a skier and had to yell to them to clear the trail, as they didn't hear me coming. So, in stark contrast to a snowmobile, you ar e out in the wilderness, quietly gliding through the snow and enjoying the scenery. Except for sharp turns, you can look about, look behind you, and not concentrate on where you are going. The dogs take care of that for you. It is great. That was what it was like in the old days when horses were the main form of transportation. A guy could go out and get polluted on drinks, get his horse and buggy under way and wake up to find himself at home. A musher friend of mine came home after having had too many dr inks. He decided to check on his dog team before coming to bed. This was in the winter and quite cold, and he passed out in the dog pen. His wife, who was also rather inebriated, went to bed, woke up the next morning and noticed her husband wasn't beside her. Eventually she went out into the dog pen and found her husband beneath a pile of dogs. They saved his life! Now try to get your new Beemer or SUV to do that!

It was great to run a dog team for the fun of it; especially since I don't have to feed them, vet them, shovel dog shit, and all the work that comes with the territory. I'm almost finished with Jacob's Creek, so it must be time to hit the sack, leaving me fresh to pack for Anchorage in the morning. I hate to leave Alaska, but you know the nice thing about Anchorage is that it is only 30 miles from Alaska!

I was fortunate that the north side of the Alaska Range was clear. I asked for a right side window seat because on my previous flights Denali (Mt. McKinely) was always on my right going to Anchorage. Not this time however. But I was able to move to a w indow seat while the pilot came in closer than any flight previously. He even banked around the summit. I took a number of shots of it with my SLR. I hope they come out. It is a very impressive mountain to view up close-far away for that matter! I don't think I'll be climbing that mountain.

Peter and Wolfy met me at the airport. Wolfy has grown much taller and slimmer since I saw him last. We drove across Anchorage and into the beautiful Eagle Valley. Peter's house is on a south-facing slope with an open view of the rugged, snow-covered m ountains to the south. There you can see avalanche chutes, cirques and bowls. The valley is probably 10 miles across but the mountains are high enough that they block the winter sun from shining on their house. They are just now enjoying solar heating aga in.

Peter took me up the valley about 5 miles to Eagle River State Park for a walk. The parking lot at the visitor center was a sheet of ice. Now I know the meaning of overflow parking lot! I was concerned about what the trail would be like. Would it be i ce? Mud? Post-holing snow, or what? Well, it was hard packed snow that was very easy to walk on once we got clear of the parking lot. The trail meandered through cottonwood and birch forest just above the Eagle River. We eventually came to a rental yurt, where I took pictures of the stovepipe setup for helping me set up a stovepipe in my yurt. Walking out on the river ice gave us open views up and down the valley.

It was then to bed. I woke about 6:00AM to the sound of a gasoline-powered generator very close to my head. It was their Siamese cat purring away. It sat on my chest and stuck its face into mine, smelling my breath, and tickling me with its whiskers. I t then curled up in my arm and purred away until I got up to shower. They also have a Manx cat that likes to play chase the string and sit on my lap.

We drove to Peter's office at the UAA Aviation Technology Center, which is located at a general aviation airport called Morrill Field. He has open, spectacular views of the mountains to the east right from his office. As far as his job is concerned, ho wever, it is pretty much a one-man show. With the loss of FAA funding, it is going to be a long, uphill battle to establish a research program on his own, especially without much infrastructure or mentoring.

We then drove downtown to grab some lunch before my talk at the regional NWS office. We must have tried half a dozen restaurants before we found a place open. Downtown Anchorage pretty much shuts down during the off-tourist season.

I gave my talk to a mix of NWS regional headquarters people, including the director, and to forecasters and the MIC from the Anchorage office located at the airport. They seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say about our experience in mesoscal e numerical weather prediction and its applications to aviation in particular. There was a lot of discussion. I got the impression they provide a lot of moral support (though it is unlikely much else) for Peter's plans for mesoscale NWP in Alaska.

I then grabbed the 4:55PM flight, delayed to 5:30, back to Fairbanks. It was clear, but our flight took us quite some distance south of Denali and with the sun setting on it, the sky was hazy and it certainly wasn't as spectacular as on my flight over.

Since I lectured and visited in Anchorage yesterday, I did my weekly fast today. This didn't stop me from taking a noon-hour jog with Jerry. Then I rented a set of skate skies and took a lesson at 6:00PM at Birch Hill touring area. The lesson lasted 1 .5hr and I was mentally exhausted from trying to get everything together in a single lesson. Skate skiing is a bit like dancing. It is also somewhat like speed ice-skating. I first had to learn how to get my poles on right and how to pole. Then we put the poles away and worked on using my edges and pushing off with swinging my arms in a rhythm. Then I tried putting it together with poling and skating-sure! I have rented the skies for 3 days, and now I am sure that it won't be enough to learn much about th at sport. Yet, when Fairbanks ---. So, I'll give it a try.

I understand I missed another spectacular aurora display last night. This time it was only 9:00PM, and not only was I up, but I was outside. Unfortunately, the lights around town and near the Nordic House make it hard to see it.

I skied to GI for the last time today. In the afternoon I gave a talk on "extreme precipitation estimation" to NWS meteorologists and GI scientists. It went well and I had a number of questions. Later in the afternoon, I met up with Jerry and tried to keep up with him on his racing skies while I used the skate skies. That was a big mistake. I had trouble doing any of the uphill climbs. I suggested that he go on and continue his loop run while I headed back to a groomed lake where I could better practi ce skate skiing. I started to get the hang of skating and poling as I went around the lake, first in one direction, and then in the other. Then I tried to ski uphill to the Nordic House and, again, I just couldn't get enough edge in to power me in a skate mode up the hills. It was pretty much herringbone climbs up the hill. Because I was working so hard with my inefficient stride and the temperatures were about 30F, I just got soaked from perspiration and I was pooped! I took a shower before Jerry picked me up to have dinner at the Wolf Run Coffee and Dessert House. Even though the pasta dish I was eating was rather large, I had burned so much energy that I had no problem finishing it and eating one of their fantastic desserts.

Later I decided to put up a few groceries and stopped by Gulliver's Book Store, where Debra was working that evening. I bought a book, and Debra asked if Jerry had bought her a dessert. I said nope, and went back and picked some kind of sinful brownie for her. When I got back to the bookstore, Jerry was there to pick up Debra. He said, "you are dead" when he saw I bought her dessert. Debra and another clerk said no you are! Oops, stuck my foot in that one. It was all in good fun.

After working about 3 hours, I took off for a jog. I could jog along a snowmobile track, as the packed snow was hard enough. It was chilly, probably about 10F, when I jogged. A large dog of northern breed stock adopted me and ran with me around the fie lds and back to GI. I hope he got back home all right.

At lunchtime I gave a talk to the local chapter of the AMS. As requested, I gave a historical talk, which I called "My love affair with aviation and meteorology". Using slides and transparencies, I documented my interest in flying and how that got me a cquainted with meteorology, how I worked as an airborne meteorological observer at Penn State, working for NOAA, and at CSU on various field projects. I concluded with a discussion about soaring and soaring meteorology. I think they all enjoyed it and it seemed to be what they were looking for in terms of the type and level of presentation. After a conference call that Connie Uliaz has scheduled with Scott Denning, Bob Walko, Mel Nicholls, Jerry Harrington, and me, I plan on taking a few turns around the lake with the skate skies before I return them to the rental shop.

My visit here at GI is drawing to a close. Tomorrow Jerry and I ski to a cabin for the night. I am turning in my keys at the office and have completed travel papers, so that I can leave without someone here trying to track me down.

That evening Jerry and Debra picked me up, and we went to the ice-art festival. It is totally amazing what they can do, carving ice sculptures. All the effort that goes into them! And it is so transient. We saw some of the artists with their chainsaws and hand tools, carving away, dressed in snowmobile type outfits, covered in ice powder. I thought I had dressed warm enough, but I still chilled down after walking about in the 10F air. It is the first time that I have felt cold here. Of course I had be en very active while outdoors, not strolling along among the ice sculptures. There are artists from Alaska, Russia, Canada and other parts of the world. One class of sculpture is made out of a single block of ice. What planning has to go into those! Othe rs are made out of multiple blocks. Most of those were in the construction stages. Large hoists were used to stack the carved blocks together to make these large works of art. We will go Saturday night to see the finished products. I will wear more cloth es next time.

We then went to our favorite Thai restaurant downtown. It was great as usual.

I rose at 6:00AM and made a large breakfast of hash brown potatoes and scrambled eggs mixed with the leftover Thai food from the previous night. I then went to a bagel shop to get tomorrow's breakfast, and picked up Jerry and his gear. Driving up the C hena Hot Springs road, we saw one Bull Moose grazing along the roadside. We reached the trailhead for the Colorado Creek cabin at about 8:30AM. The temperature was about 3F. I donned my 55 lb pack and Jerry his, and we headed up a hard-packed snowmobile trail. There were bicycle tracks on the trail. When we got to the cabin, they had signed the register and stated it took them1.5h to bike in; almost half the time it took us. I gather from the logbook that they have biked the track several times.

After about half a mile, the trail went up a steep slope with a pronounced curve on it. It was steep enough that I had to sidestep up it. After that, the trail climbed, but not so steeply. It rose through Birch forest with black spruce mixed in. At one point, it passed over a branch of the Colorado Creek where there was some overflow ice, but it was not bad to get over. Our biggest problem was that the combination of the hard-packed snow and our heavy packs, which flattened the skies so they didn't hav e a wax pocket, stripped the wax off our skies in about 30 minutes. We stopped once to re-wax, but for the most part we had to compensate on the climbs up the hills and snowmobile moguls by kicking hard in a sort of skate ski step or full herringbone step . This really stressed the inside calf muscles. Although it was cold, I perspired like crazy, as it was hard to find the optimum dress. If I down-dressed too much, then I got cold in the exposed, windy areas. Then I had to wear a hat that covered my ears for fear of frostbite. I had my wind-block jacket unzipped at the pits, but still it was warm.

The day was clear, as it has been almost every day I've been up here, and the views of the snow-covered mountains, such as Chena Dome, were spectacular. Almost every foot of the trail had large moose tracks along it, but we didn't see any moose. After almost three hours, we made it to the cabin. The cabin is a log shed structure about 20'X25', with widows on the northeast corner and a nice view across a meadow of Chena Dome. On the opposite corner to the windows was a barrel-type stove with a platform for heating things. In another corner were double bunks that could sleep 4 people. I claimed the lower bunk and Jerry claimed the upper.

We immediately set to work building a fire and then had lunch, both of us having our thermos of hot water to prepare instant soups. Then I sawed a tree that someone had left at the saw platform, and Jerry went out for some more wood. By the time that w as done, the cabin had heated to a toasty 80F.

We then went searching for some open hills to play on with our tele skies. The snow consisted of aged crystals that had developed these large hoar frost crystals. Generally the skis sunk in only three or four inches and those crystals made for fast gli des. Near trees and bushes, there was no support at all and one would sink in as much as three feet. The hills that looked open from a distance were actually covered by small birch and willows, so it was next to impossible to find a tele slope. At one poi nt I thought I found enough space to make turns down a hill only to catch a ski tip in a small black spruce and do a major face plant. It took me a good 5 minutes, with Jerry's help, to dig out of the hole I made.

We returned to the cabin and Jerry went about sawing the trees he had collected. I started the unending process of melting snow for water. I also took a little nap. Then we started boiling some water for our backpacking foods. Jerry had some pasta stu ff and I some Nepalese rice and beans concoction. I opened a bottle of Australian Merlot and the two of us devoured portions of food supposedly intended for four. Of course that was four adults that had been sitting on their butts, not two guys carrying h eavy packs uphill for 5.7 miles.

We then watched a video-gotcha! And fell asleep. After a few hours Jerry came panting like a puppy from the upper bunk and set up camp on the floor; also like a puppy. All that hot air stabilized at the top bunk level. Even in the lower bunk, with the stove well damped, I never zipped up my sleeping bag. It was 10F or colder outside, and the wind was howling at 25-30kts.

Several times I got up in the night to visit the outhouse and enjoy the views of the Aurora Borealis. This was the first time I had seen it this trip. On the northern horizon was a greenish arc and overhead were two bands that waved about. At my 5:30AM visit, the sky looked like it was cloudy with large patches of Aurora covering much of the sky overhead.

We woke to still stronger winds and built up the fire. We had breakfast consisting of bagels with cream cheeses and freeze-dried huevos rancheros. We then packed our gear, groaned and hoisted on our packs, and headed down to the car. It was a lot easie r this time, and we made it back in less than two hours. We both took off our skis to go down that very steep section, as our packs made it difficult to snowplow slowly, especially as one ski would get stuck in snowmobile ruts and with that weight it was difficult to lift a ski out of it. We made it in one piece, loaded up the car, and headed to Tack's for brunch. Jerry had two huge pancakes and fried potatoes, and I had a large, veggie half sandwich on homemade bread and some veggie chili. It was great! We even got to watch a sled dog race along the way.

I dropped Jerry off and then took a shower and a nap. I then met Jerry at the sled dog club where the North American Limited championship sprint sled dog race was being held. I wanted to see the dogs that a Swedish couple was running. They were a mix o f German Pointer and English Pointer hunting dogs and husky, but they had a greyhound look, seemed to me. Egil Ellis and his wife both ran teams. She had the A-team and he the B-team. By he end of the second day, she was way out front and he second in t he 8-dog class. Today's run was 10.5 miles and she finished in about 32 minutes. That is moving!

Compared to Colorado, where the race start gates were usually held in an open meadow and then the teams disappeared in the woods after 30 seconds for 30 minutes or so and the spectators stood around freezing, this was upscale mushing. The race start ga te was 20 feet from the large, heated, log clubhouse, where spectators could eat hot foods when they got cold or hungry. Moreover, the course snaked through an open field, so that spectators could see the dogs going and coming for some 5 minutes or more. The trail looked very nicely groomed as well. I mean they really do things right up here.

At 7:00PM, Jerry and Debra came by to take me to the ice-art festival again. This time I dressed in my warmest clothes and felt quite comfortable. Artists were still working on the large multi-ice block sculptures but many were complete enough to get a full appreciation of them. Also the single-block sculptures were lighted in various colored lights that really enhanced them and made them look more spectacular than in the day- time. We also viewed, and participated in, the kiddy section, where one coul d slide down ice slides, sit in ice chairs and even mush an ice sled dog team.

We left with aurora views coming and going overhead.

In the morning I began the project of getting all my stuff packed. It is quite a challenge getting everything stuffed in my large duffel bag, ski bag, and carry-on bags.

Then I went out to the Birch Tree Hill downhill ski area in Fort Waynwright. The ski area opens at noon and runs into the night, under lights, until 9:00PM. It charges $10 for military, and $25 for civilians. I was prepared to pay the $25 but the guy a t the desk asked how old I was, and when I said 59 I got in free! What a deal. It has one double-chair lift and one rope tow for the bunny slope. Now this may not be Aspen or Vail, and the snow rarely is fresh powder, but it is just right for practicing t elemark turns. So I spent a couple of hours going up and down the slope under partly cloudy skies. There was only moderate use of the slopes and no lift line whatsoever. Then I headed back to complete my packing before going to Jerry and Debra's for a par ty. At the party, they had lots of veggie food and I gave a PowerPoint slide show.

The beauty of Fairbanks, if you like winter sports, is that everything is close. The drive to Birch Hill ski area took 15 minutes and to the more respectable Moose Mountain ski area takes about 25 minutes. I could have gone to the North American limit ed sled dog races with world-classes mushers in 10 minutes, or gone X-country skiing or skate skiing practically out my door. The time it took to get to the trailhead for Colorado Creek cabin was about 45 minutes, and to visit Jerry and Debra in the count ry in the hills, it takes 10 minutes, or 10 minutes to a world-class ice-art festival. Moreover, from the quiet country setting where Debra and Jerry live it takes 10 minutes to go to two major shopping centers, a movie, or to work at the University.

Compare that to where I live outside of Fort Collins in a similar country setting, admittedly with super views and almost year-around great weather. It takes 1.5 to 2 hours to get to a downhill area not much better than those close to Fairbanks, and al most 3 to over 4 hours to get to the top ski areas in the state, while fighting some of the worst bumper-to-bumper driving you will ever experience. To go X-country skiing, it takes us 1.5 to 1.75 hrs, and there are few places with prepared trails for ska te skiing. Of course, you can't beat the powder or the views. To view or participate in sled dog races, you have to go to the major ski areas, involving 3 to 6 hours of driving. One of the reasons I quit mushing was because of the hassle of driving to and from the races. From where I live, it takes 35 to 45 minutes to get anywhere in town, and nearly that to get to the office. Although I prefer where I live, Fairbanks offers a lot of advantages that few people appreciate. They think of the dark, cold win ters, but that amounts to 2.5 months at most. Think about it: few places don't have at least that many months of pretty darned disagreeable weather. Where I live in the Colorado Foothills, November, March, April, and part of May can be pretty miserable. N otice, I didn't say the deep winter months because I like the cold, dry, sunny winter days in Colorado, where one can play in the snow. It snows a lot in the springtime in the Front Range, but it is warm, yucky snow that melts and turns to mud in a few da ys, and if you are like me and spend a lot of time in the high country playing in the snow, you are burned out of snow-related activities come mid-March anyway. When I lived in Florida, mid-May to mid-October are barely tolerable months with the high humi dity and high temperatures, yet the remaining months of the year are just great. And so it goes. Every place has it down period, and Fairbanks certainly has its share, but late February, March, and maybe early April can be great. It's hard to beat late M ay, June, July, August, and early September with the warm, long days, and brilliant fall colors.

My second trip to Alaska this sabbatical is over as I wait for connections at Seattle. Flying from Fairbanks to Anchorage, we didn't get very close to Denali and the summit was partly obscured by clouds. No more flights for my sabbatical, but plans ar e for Vollie and me to drive to Tucson in middle April for a couple of weeks. I will be giving a seminar and interacting with colleagues in Atmospheric Physics and in Hydrology and Water Resources. I expect the temperatures will be a bit warmer than Fair banks!