Alaska, July 2002
By: William R. Cotton

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9/16/02 - 9/21/02
The purpose of this trip was to attend the AAAS 53rd Arctic Science Conference. My flight up on Monday the 16th of September was long but uneventful. Hauling my huge duffle bag to and from the airports was the biggest challenge. Loaded with my backpacking gear, this 4 foot tall and 3 foot diameter bag was heavy and cumbersome to haul around. The plane was late arriving about 1AM so that it was 2AM by the time I got to bed. Fortunately, I got to see the Aurora Borialis on the way to the hotel, which it turned out was the only time I saw it on this trip.

After sleeping in Jerry Harrington came by Tuesday morning. We had breakfast together and then visited UAF. The mountains around Fairbanks were covered with trees in full color. The hills were golden.

On Wednesday the conference began. In all, I liked four talks in the conference. The first two were by James Ovreland on atmospheric connections across Alaskan ecosystems and then Wieslaw Maslowski on understanding the ocean circulation, ice conditions, and communications among Alaska's three seas. The latter used the same sea-ice model (CICE), Gustavo and Steve installed in RAMS. The other two papers were near the end of the conference and were presented by Mathew Sturm and TA Douglas. Those papers were about the measurements that were taken in the transect from Nome to Barrel that Glen Liston (one of the co-authors) was on. I set up a poster and only a few people other than Jerry and Peter Olsson even looked at it. Part of the problem is that they didn't really have a poster session where everyone came for a set time, had some snacks(preferably drinks to lubricate the discussions) and chatted about the posters. Instead we were supposed to post times we were supposed to be there to discuss the poster. This procedure was a dismal failure.

Otherwise the week was spent jogging with Jerry Harrington, going out to dinner in the evenings, and visiting colleagues at the Geophysics Institute. I did find out another announcement of opportunity will be forthcoming for IARC funding, which was one motivation for going to the meeting. I also met with Jeremy Krieger, who now works there. Jeremy did everything but his MS under my supervision. I suggested to him that he consider a Plan-B masters and told him I'd look into it to see if he can do it without having thesis credits.

Tuesday and Wednesday were nice and sunny with highs in the mid-50's. The trees really shown in the bright sunlight. Somewhat surprising to me, very afternoon thunderstorms formed and on Wednesday a storm came through as we went to a reception and it rained steadily for several hours. Thursday I woke to overcast skies and rain. Jerry and I ran in the rain, but it was cool and not too pleasant.

Friday morning Jerry and I planned on hiking in to a cabin called Styles Creek cabin. The trailhead was along the Chena Hot Springs road. It was overcast still, as we drove in and as we glimpsed the hills, it became apparent that the trees had lost most of their leaves in the rain and wind of the previous day.

The hike began along a muddy track used by ATV's. At one point I stepped off the trail into mushy grass and ended up in the muck almost to my knees. Shortly the trail headed upwards and we left the mud and muck behind. We mainly walked through clouds and fogs so we didn't get many views even though we were walking along a ridge. There were numerous moose tracks along the way and about 4 miles in we could see bear tracks from a young bear (probably a yearling) and its mother. We didn't have bear bells but with Jerry chattering all the time there was little chance of surprising a bear or any other critter for that matter. My pack was relatively light as I only carried enough food and water for a single night and didn't have to carry a tent. I did pack a bivy sack in case we couldn't get in the cabin. The last half mile to the cabin was a steep descent over leaf-covered wet roots and mud. I slid several times and with the weight of my pack, I often landed on a knee or even full down on a shoulder even with my walking stick to attempt arresting my fall. I didn't get hurt as the landings were slow and the ground soft but my clothes were sure muddy! The 8 mile hike into the cabin took almost exactly 4 hours and we arrived about 3PM. There is no water along the way or near the cabin but Jerry had planned ahead and carried about 8 liters of water (about 16 pounds worth!). It was probably twice as much as we needed since there was a lot left over when we headed back.

We immediately set about building a fire and setting out our gear. In spite of having a water proof cover on my pack, my sleeping bag got quite wet from brushing against the wet and snow-covered trees and probably from my falls. But hanging it near the stove allowed it to dry out by bed time.

The cabin is a recently rebuilt cut-log cabin with a loft. It is the nicest looking and biggest cabin I have seen in the Alaskan state system. With the fire going we had it in the upper 80's to maybe 90 inside and had to strip down to our underwear. In fact, I spent most of the night without using my sleeping bag and about 4AM finally used it as a blanket even though we didn't add any wood throughout the night. We spent a nice evening relaxing, reading, eating our supper (freeze-dried meals), and drinking wine which I carried in. In the night it cleared out briefly so that I could see the stars but no aurora.

We woke in the morning to fog again but after breaking camp we did get some views as the fog cleared out at our altitude. We could see the higher peaks covered by snow and the valley below covered in fog. It was actually quite pretty. But as we descended we entered the fog again. The only wildlife we saw were some grouse, one at the outhouse and a number along the trail. One kept flying away from us down the trail so we kept flushing it again and again. In fact the gross we saw later on could have been the same one. Jerry talked less on the way down but we still did not see any large animals. This being the end of moose and probably bear season, I imagine all the survivors were quite timid.

We were back in the car by 1PM and had a welcome hot shower, nap, and packed in the afternoon. That evening we had dinner at Umah Bhatt's and Dave's where they put on quite a feed of pasta and grilled salmon with plenty of beer and wine. The view from there deck was the best I had seen in Alaska this trip. The aspen still had golden leaves on them and they framed a great view of the Alaskan range as it developed shadows in the setting sun. Dave took us up the road a ¼ mile where we could see Denali through the haze.

While in Fairbanks I sought to replace the worn out baseball cap I bought in 1999. It had a very nice picture of a bald eagle in flight on it. I bought it at a restaurant/store along the China Hot Springs road called Tacks. Unfortunately, Tacks has since burnt down and is no longer there. So I looked in Fred Meyers, and then in numerous shops downtown, then Jerry took me out to the Princes Hotel and a shop across the street. I finally gave up and bought a cap with nice trees on it but no eagle. Guess what? On the airplane down to Seattle, I saw a guy with the very hat I was looking for. I asked him where he got it. He said in Fairbanks at the Safeway store which was right next to the hotel I was staying at. Go figure!