Daily Archives: December 12, 2012

SHARE the love of Alaska adventure — Holden’s spirit honored through grants to help young explorers

Photo courtesy of ©HagePhoto. Seth Holden executes a heady climb of TJ Swan (WI5) in Eklutna Canyon north of Anchorage in March 2009.  Local climber Clint Helander belays Holden from below.  TJ Swan, named after the cheap 1970s wine, typically forms as a fat pillar of ice.

Photo courtesy of ©HagePhoto. Seth Holden executes a heady climb of TJ Swan (WI5) in Eklutna Canyon north of Anchorage in March 2009. Local climber Clint Helander belays Holden from below. TJ Swan, named after the cheap 1970s wine, typically forms as a fat pillar of ice.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

For an adventure to live up to the Seth Holden standard requires meeting some steep qualifications:

It has to be big — week-long winter ski traverses, remote mountain climbs, explorations of backcountry terrain so way out and wild that few even fly over it, much less navigate through.

It has to be human-powered — climbing, skiing, pack rafting, hiking, hunting; wherever man provides the means, the mettle and the locomotion.

It has to be unique — an unclimbed peak, an untried route or some other feat rarely, if ever, attempted, much less accomplished.

It has to be a challenge — to skill, strength, smarts, resourcefulness and determination (and intestinal continence of any lacking Holden’s nerve).

It has to be thoroughly enjoyed — in all the good weather, bad luck and ugly obstacles Alaska can generate.

It has to be so epic as to approach the mythological in becoming part of Alaska outdoorsmen’s lore, yet grounded by the fact that the quiet, introspective Holden not only never bragged about his exploits, but rarely spoke of them at all.

“I think for him it was just purely internal, for his own benefit, not to try and brag or anything. He did it because it was something important to him. He just had a deep love for being outside and pushing himself against the wilderness whenever he could,” said Clint Helander, Holden’s friend and climbing partner.

In his 29 years, Holden, who grew up in Soldonta, amassed an impressive array of backcountry adventures — climbing Denali, notching first ascents of peaks in the Revelation Mountains at the southwest end of the Alaska Range, scaling the South Face of the Moose’s Tooth, pack rafting the Aniakchak, doing solo Dall sheep hunts in the high country around Tustumena Lake. There’s no doubt that the next 29 years would have brought many more, as the only thing that could match Holden’s ability in the outdoors was his enthusiasm for being in it.

A plane crash Aug. 24, 2010, brought Holden’s adventure to an end, but his adventurous spirit and all-around “Mr. Alaska” reputation lives on to inspire others following in Holden’s very large, very far-ranging footsteps.

And now his legacy will help others on their own journeys, through the Seth Holden Alaska Remote Exploration Grant, established through memorial donations made by family, friends and supporters.

“We had a lot of overwhelming support from his friends and family, from, well, really, just from all over the country. We had people come up and say, ‘What can we do?’” Helander said.

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Rate debate — State school board adds student performance to teacher evaluations

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

A controversial move by the Alaska State Board of Education on Friday to incorporate student performance into teachers’ job evaluations has educators bristling at what feels to them to be an attempt to fit unstandardizable qualities into a standardized system of evaluation.

There are many influences on how a student performs that are out of a teacher’s control — home life, health, whether they got a good night’s sleep, whether they ate a good breakfast, etc. Evaluating a teacher’s performance in part based on how students perform on standardized testing is unfair, said Wayne Floyd, a 30-plus-year teacher at Nikiski North Star Elementary, and one of more than 900 people who submitted comments on the state school board proposal.

“The student population is a moving target that’s never the same from year to year. It’s not something that can be predicted, just based on the dynamics of each year’s class. One year you can have a huge overload of kids with learning issues and need for support shadows, or kids with abuse at home, and all that comes to school with them. And the problem is noneducators are treating the education system like it’s a factory where you put standardized products into the factory and out the other end pops a high-quality product,” he said.

“In teaching you only have them for six hours out of a 24-hour day. You’re supposed to be making the biggest impact on them, when actually the biggest impact is outside of your environment. Let’s say you’re a dentist and the amount of money you can collect from the dental process is based on the success of clients not having cavities. This is like grading a dentist on how much candy a kid eats and cavities they have,” Floyd said.

The new rule stipulates that by the 2015-16 school year, 20 percent of a teacher’s assessment will be based on student performance, increasing to 50 percent of the evaluation by 2018-19. Districts can use four ways to measure student performance in evaluating its teachers, but one must be a statewide standardized test.

The standardized test piece is particularly worrisome, given debate over the accuracy of gauging student performance through that approach.

“Research has shown that written tests only measure a certain percentage. Maybe about 40 percent of the student population can be measured accurately that way. There are other things that need to come into play addressing the other areas of learning. Now you’re running into huge variability and opinions. That’s the problem with humanities  — they’ve tried to make it scientific for years and there’s always that human element that throws science out of the window at times,” Floyd said.

Floyd is not opposed to the idea of holding teachers accountable for the achievement of their students, but wants to see it done in a way that is reasonable and takes into account the reality that student performance hinges on more than just teacher effectiveness.

“It’s fine that we’re pushing for improvements but it needs to be fair. I think the biggest problem we have here is people on both sides agree that student achievement needs to be included, but there’s a disagreement on how to handle it. If it’s going to be a fair system it needs to be based on factors that are predictable and measurable, and in most cases that’s not going to happen year after year,” Floyd said.

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Ease uphill battle of downhill ski skills

Photos courtesy of Clark Fair. Figure 7: Use a longer arm extension on flat ground. Here, Logan Hemphill, of Skyview High School, skis in the 2011-12 Region III meet held Feb. 17 and 18, 2012, at Tsalteshi Trails in Soldotna.

Photos courtesy of Clark Fair. Figure 7: Use a longer arm extension on flat ground. Here, Logan Hemphill, of Skyview High School, skis in the 2011-12 Region III meet held Feb. 17 and 18, 2012, at Tsalteshi Trails in Soldotna.

Editor’s note: This is part two of a series of columns explaining the techniques of cross-country skiing.  

Last week, we began with the Seven Magic Movements of Cross-Country Skiing — No. 1, athletic posture; No. 2, forward lean; No. 3, the kick; No. 4, the glide and No. 5, compression. This week, we pick up where we left off in classic skiing:

  • No. 6: Pole plant. Arms should be bent at a 60-degree angle or less. If viewed from the side, poles should be planted with a forward angle. If viewed from the front, poles should be vertical or angled slightly to your centerline. The shoulders should be parallel, not hunched on the pole arm. Common problems: If you find your arms are too straight, try bending an arm as you bring it forward to plant the pole. If the pole shoulder is hunched, try keeping shoulders relaxed, and don’t overswing your arms too high when diagonal poling.

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Not so elementary, Watson — Murder investigation full of twists, turns

By Clark Fair

Redoubt Reporter

When Victor Frolich announced in the spring of 1962 that he was having a contest to rename his recently purchased Soldotna motel, he was doing more than merely stamping his own identity on the place. He was masking a stain from its past.

On Dec. 18, 1961, Arthur Vernon Watson had shot and killed Marion T. Grissom, a former employee who had been assisting in the construction of the Watson Motel.

Watson, 53, never denied shooting Grissom. In fact, he was the one who had called the authorities after Grissom dropped dead on Watson’s kitchen floor. But Watson claimed that he had pulled the trigger in self-defense, and the facts of the case were muddled enough to generate doubt.

One problem was a lack of witnesses. Grissom, after all, was dead. Watson’s 65-year-old wife, Elizabeth, had been on the premises when the killing occurred, but she claimed to remember nothing. Watson himself provided the only firsthand testimony.

For members of the public — and for attorneys at the 1962 trial — the decision concerning whom and what to believe seemed to boil down to a matter of character.

Marion Grissom, by all accounts, was a poorly educated, hard-working man who liked to drink. The accounts were more mixed when it came to his behavior while intoxicated. Defense attorney Peter B. Walton described an intoxicated Grissom as a “savage beast,” and said that Watson’s fear of this beast played a part in the shooting.

On the other hand, Warren Wright, a former employee at Watson’s motel, testified that Grissom was “playful” when drinking, and his depiction was echoed by Frank Mullen, owner of a local laundromat, who added that Grissom was “boisterous” when intoxicated. Bar owner Maxine Bear testified that Grissom was “a working man … a happy-go-lucky type of guy … very friendly.” Bear said that she’d never seen Grissom display his anger when intoxicated.

But Elizabeth Watson, who was originally from San Francisco and had married Watson in Las Vegas in 1959, offered a contrary and more damning view. She testified that Grissom was a strong man who, “Couldn’t think for himself,” and, “Always had a bottle hid around on the job.” She also recalled an incident from the previous October during which Grissom had brutally mistreated the Watson family dog. Another time, she said, Grissom, “Started grabbing me and pushing me around.”

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Dream distilled — Entrepreneurs embrace business spirits

Drinking on the Last Frontier, by Bill Howell, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell. Jeannie Brewer, left, and Felicia Keith-Jones, right, of High Mark Distillery, in Sterling.

Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell. Jeannie Brewer, left, and Felicia Keith-Jones, right, of High Mark Distillery, in Sterling.

As someone who lives there, it certainly would not surprise me to learn that there was a whiskey still somewhere in Sterling. After all, there’s a reason we all chose to live out there, right? However, I was surprised to learn earlier this year that Sterling would be home to a legitimate (as opposed to illicit) distillery.

High Mark Distillery is part of the 10-acre High Mark Ranch, located on Thomas Street, off Scout Lake Road. It is owned by Felicia Keith-Jones, and takes its name from her late husband’s favorite pastime. Other distillery personnel include her executive assistant Jeannie Brewer, her brother and master distiller Ray Keith, and distiller Roger Phillips. The distillery is housed in a 5,000-square-foot building and consists of a 450-liter copper pot still and 23-foot-tall copper column still, both manufactured in Germany specifically for High Mark.

Keith-Jones has an extensive background in the making of spirits, having studied distillation and fermentation at the Dry Fly Distillery in Spokane, Wash., and then spending several months working at a distillery in the town of Ardara in County Donegal, Ireland. She is originally from Alaska and also has a degree from the University of Alaska Anchorage.

She told me that her vision for High Mark was to fuse “old recipes and traditional techniques with modern technology.”

To that end, she’s purchased state-of-the-art equipment, like her pot and column stills, but will be using them to make spirits in traditional ways.

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In tune with community — Musician melds music career with humanitarian motivation

By Jenny Neyman

Photo courtesy of Karissa LaRen. Alaska-born singer-songwriter Karissa LaRen returns to Alaska on tour to promote her debut album, “We Are the Sounds.”

Photo courtesy of Karissa LaRen. Alaska-born singer-songwriter Karissa LaRen returns to Alaska on tour to promote her debut album, “We Are the Sounds.”

Redoubt Reporter

With a bright voice and rich lyrics, Karissa LaRen’s music can evoke a sparkle of summer even in the darkest period of Alaska’s winter.

While she’s shining through a tour of Anchorage and the central Kenai Peninsula this week, opening for singer-songwriter Ernie Halter, back in her new home of Baltimore her music is nourishing in a whole different realm. She’s helping a green spaces initiative flourish, establishing gardens for schools so that students grow strong and healthy.

“The idea of wanting to be involved in my community and that giving back sort of humanitarian work was what I had always been into and what I was raised with. So when I started playing music and putting this record together I had my radar up for something that I could connect with and support through music,” LaRen said.

In recording her debut album, “We Are the Sounds,” releasing on iTunes on Dec. 12, she embarked on a fan-funded campaign to cover the costs of the album, so that sales of the record can go to the Parks and People organization in Baltimore, to create gardens at city schools so that kids have fresh produce to eat.

“I think probably having grown up in Alaska and growing up around lots of nature and what not, the draw to green spaces in the city is a big one for me. But more so it’s just sad — some of the elementary schools I visited, it’s not uncommon to see what once was a grocery store, or I hear constant stories about kids just living off of the corner store,” she said.

Friends who work with kids would tell her what a difference it would make if city kids just had some fresh, healthy food to eat. The mission of Parks and People is to do just that, and LaRen decided to support the gardens in schools project through sales of her album.

“It was a natural fit for me,” LaRen said.

Contributing to her fellow citizens, whether in her immediate community or beyond, is the larger natural fit for LaRen. She’s volunteered to help Hurricane Katrina victims of New Orleans, serve the HIV community in Baltimore, work with orphans of Liberia, and other endeavors. While attending the University of Alaska Anchorage, her focus had been on humanitarian aid, for which she made several service trips across the country. But it wasn’t until she found her niche in music that she discovered the way she could really bring her natural talents and interests into harmony.

She’s always had a musical inclination — “Mom said I was dancing in my diapers and that sort of thing, but (music) wasn’t something I did much,” she said.

She played in her church youth band, starting off on drums. She picked up the guitar as she started writing songs. But it was pursued as more of a hobby than a possible vocation. Then LaRen visited friends in Baltimore about two and a half years ago, and they proposed to have her share her songs with a music producer.

“And I said, ‘No, no, no, guys. I don’t want to do this.’ But I think, really, the second I stepped into the studio I just felt it to be a creative zone and I knew I wanted to be in there all the time making music. So that was the beginning of working on recording, and since then my dreams have very much been orientated around playing music, and that’s what I’m doing full time now,” LaRen said.

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Art Seen: Sip up the sights — Coffee shops brew up rich art offerings

art HOPE client work

Work by clients of Hope Community Resources is on display in the conference room of Kaladi Brothers on the Sterling Highway in Soldotna.

By Zirrus VanDevere, for the Redoubt Reporter

The coffee shops around Soldotna have an interesting variety of art offerings, ranging from the very traditional Alaskana paintings of Jenny Johnson and John Winters to fiber and metal work from Jan Wallace, and all the way to delightful masks and collages created during an art residency by Patti Mitchell with clients of Hope Community Resources. Mugz Coffee Lounge was closed when I stopped by, but I understand they have some nice watercolors

on display.

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Night Lights: December brings merry stargazing

By Andy Veh, for the Redoubt Reporter

Rising in the east and gaining altitude throughout the next two months are the great winter constellations Orion with seven bright stars, among them red Betelgeuse and blue Rigel, and the Orion nebula stellar nursery.

Also visible are Taurus with red Aldebaran and its prominent star cluster, the Pleiades; Auriga with yellow Capella; Gemini with the twin stars Castor and Pollux; the head of Canis Major with the brightest star (aside from the sun) that we can see from Earth, Sirius; Procyon in tiny Canis Minor; and, very late in the evening, Regulus in Leo.

Because this region of the sky hosts seven of the 20 brightest stars as seen from Earth, and because it contains quite a few easily recognizable constellations, it is my favorite region of the sky.

High in the south is the Great Square of Pegasus in the shape of a diamond. Above it, close to the zenith, is Cassiopeia. Getting close to the western horizon, but never completely setting in Alaska, are the three stars that make up the summer triangle, Deneb in Cygnus, Vega in Lyra, and Altair in Aquila (that one actually does set — just barely for a few hours).

In the north are Ursa Major’s Big Dipper and Ursa Minor’s Little Dipper, the latter always really close to 60 degrees, our latitude on the Kenai. Continue reading

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Small town outlet for big city shopping — Kasilof boasts 1st outlet store

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

When it comes to shopping opportunities, big cities are usually assumed to be where the action is.

But in Kasilof, a town known more for its outdoor activities than retail opportunities, one store is attempting to buck that trend. This summer, the Kasilof Mercantile became an outlet store for the Alaskan Hardgear clothing line, making it the first outlet store on the Kenai Peninsula.

“We’re trying to stay competitive with New York, Paris and Milan,” joked Rocky Laster, co-owner of the Kasilof Mercantile.

Not to be confused with dollar stores or big box stores that offer discounted items, outlet stores are retailers of factory-direct, name-brand items. They sell this merchandise — typically overstocked items — for less than it would cost in a main store.

“None of this stuff has any kind of factory defect. It’s all perfect condition. It’s just models, sizes or colors they had an excess of, so it’s basically great-quality gear for half the price of what you’d pay retail,” Laster said.
There are few, if any, outlet stores in Alaska. Even in Anchorage, the first outlet mall — the 150,000 square foot “Outlets of Alaska” planned within the Dimond Center — isn’t due to be completed until fall 2013. Locally, the Mercantile is the first true outlet store, according to Laster, although it is tough to say for certain.

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Plugged In: High-end cameras on your list? Check it twice

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Take your blood pressure medication and call your cardiologist, for it’s the time of year when we recommend best buys among those more expensive photo gifts.

Rather surprisingly, many of last year’s top-end camera models continue to linger on retail shelves, and many retailers are selling them at excellent prices. Perhaps it’s a post-recession reaction. Usually, new cameras and lenses highlight the Christmas season in all their list-price glory. It would be indelicate to state that only fanboys buy a brand new, typically buggy, camera at list price as soon as it appears on the market, but it’s the truth.

You’ll find most post-recessionary bargains on the Internet, particularly at reputable vendors like http://www.amazon.com, http://www.adorama.com, http://www.cametacamera.com, and http://www.bhphotovideo.com.

The discounted cameras that I suggest below are typically near the end of their product life. They’re being replaced by marginally upgraded models, which, in many instances, are virtually indistinguishable from the discounted cameras that we’re recommending as best buys.

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