Category Archives: winter

No snow, no go — T200 canceled third year in a row

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. A sled dog team makes the most of scant snowcover for a training run in the Caribou Hills recently. The Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race Board of Directors decided Wednesday to cancel the 2016 race.

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. A sled dog team makes the most of scant snowcover for a training run in the Caribou Hills recently. The Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race Board of Directors decided Wednesday to cancel the 2016 race.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

The 30th anniversary will have to wait. The Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race, scheduled for Jan. 30, has been canceled.

“It’s the third year in a row that we don’t have the snow conditions to make the race happen,” said Tami Murray, race director.

The race route from Kasilof to Homer and back through the Caribou Hills is more ice than snow, crossing several large streams that aren’t frozen over. Murray said that the only way to find snow and avoid dangerous water crossings would be to move the race to the upper elevations of the hills, but that’s a federally designated wilderness area of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

The T200 Board of Directors requested an exception from the Wilderness Act stipulation that bans competitive races, in hope of being able to use a 30-mile section of trail on the refuge. But word came Wednesday that the request was denied.

“I don’t want people to be discouraged with the refuge because they did actually do what they could to try to help us but there’s only so many laws that can be bent and that definitely is not one of them,” Murray said.

The area is open to public use, and snowmachiners and mushers have been enjoying the powder up high, but T200 racers won’t be among them. Murray said that Refuge Manager Andy Loranger broke the news to her Wednesday afternoon.

“It was a valiant effort on everybody’s part and the refuge, as well. Andy did all he could, talked to every agency about it and just could not find a way, a loophole, to allow us in,” Murray said.

The board could have postponed the race a week, but the long-term forecast doesn’t promise much snow, nor cold-enough temperatures to count on the stream crossing freezing over.

“We definitely worked hard and looked at every option we could to put on a safe race but it’s virtually impossible in the conditions we have,” Murray said.

Canceling now gives the mushers who were signed up a chance to go train or race elsewhere.

“They can head up north where they have ample snow,” she said.

Murray said the T200 board will just have to start planning for next year’s race and hope the wimpy winter weather streak doesn’t continue for a fourth year.

“I don’t think we’ll have any problem with our sponsors, they understand that weather is a huge part of what we’re doing. And the volunteers will come no matter what. It’s disappointing to them because it’s a fun event and they like to be a part of it. And the community itself will be disappointed, I’m sure,” she said.

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Filed under outdoors, Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race, winter

Snow slow to go? State warns of winter road maintenance cutbacks

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is cautioning motorists to be prepared for winter driving conditions — especially this year, as maintenance will be reduced on state roads.

ADOT announced at the end of last week that it would be cutting back on winter maintenance in response to budget cuts.

Shannon McCarthy, ADOT spokesperson for the Central Region, said that the department took about a $35 million hit to its budget this year.

“For the most part we’re federally funded, with the exception of our maintenance and operations. That is all state funded,” McCarthy said.

The department oversees 249 airports, 11 ferries serving 35 communities, 5,619 miles of highway and 720 public facilities throughout the state of Alaska. To help absorb the budget hit, state road maintenance will reduce the response frequency on its routes based on its priority system. Roads will still be maintained, just not as often or as quickly as drivers might expect.

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Breaking up not always hard to do — Kenai River sees nice ice melt this year

Redoubt Reporter file photo. Breakup can be a nerve-wracking time of year for residents of low-lying areas along the Kenai River, when ice jams, like this one backed up to the Soldotna bridge in 2007, can cause flooding.

Redoubt Reporter file photos. Breakup can be a nerve-wracking time of year for residents of low-lying areas along the Kenai River, when ice jams, like this one backed up to the Soldotna bridge in 2007, can cause flooding.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Breaking up is hard to do. Nowhere is that more literally true than on Alaska’s major rivers in the springtime, when the ice cover cracks and fractures into car-sized chunks that scour their way downstream.

In a good year, riverbanks remain protected by a hardened shell of ice and those ice boulders just grind against themselves until they flush out into the sea. And the whole progression happens as smoothly as the movement of a massive jumble of watery rubble can be.

In a great year, breakup is even gentler, with ice warming and thinning in place, until it shatters like glass and is docilely swept downstream. The winter of 2015 might not have been good for skiers, snowmachiners and dog mushers, but it’s been a great one for breakup on the Kenai River.

“The edge of banks pretty much stayed frozen. Where there wasn’t running water that ice was pretty thick, and it was somewhat shaded, so we still had that protection on banks themselves, so that was a good thing,” said Tom Dearlove, director of the Donald E. Gilman River Center on Funny River Road.

The center houses multiple agencies tasked with monitoring and managing development on the river, including issuing permits for any work being done on or near its banks, like installing fishing stairways and docks. Dearlove said he hasn’t heard of anyone needing to replace structures from ice damage this year.

That tracks with what the Alaska-Pacific River Forecast Center has seen statewide. Crane Johnson, senior hydrologist with the forecast center, gave a prediction April for how Alaska’s annual breakup with winter might go this year.

So far, things are looking good. The annual Spring Breakup Outlook for Alaska, released April 10, notes warmer than usual temperatures, thinner than usual ice conditions and drier than usual snowpack for much of the state so far this April, particularly in Southcentral Alaska. That’s shaping up to cause river breakups that are thermal, rather than dynamic.

Dynamic breakup is the rowdy one, and ice jams are typical, where ice remains hard and only moves downstream when it’s shoved from upstream, either by other ice or by a surge of water, for instance, if a glacier-dammed lake happens to release. That was the cause of the two worst ice-jammed floods on the Kenai River, in 1969 and 2007.

As Crane explained, thermal breakup is a kinder affair.

“Ice becomes very rotten, is weak, and has less resistance to breaking up. Generally there’s no significant ice jams associated with thermal breakups,” he said.

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Caught in limbo — Dog owners regrouping after Board of Game turns down trapping restriction

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

After the Alaska Board of Game last month rejected proposals to limit trapping in recreational areas from Cooper Landing to Seward, Ken Green, of Cooper Landing, is feeling caught in a bit of a Catch 22 in his efforts to prevent dogs from being caught in game traps.

“The thing is we’re just going to have to live with it. That’s all there is. You have to live with what the Board of Game decrees, basically,” Green said.

Green, of the Committee for Safe Public Lands and Trails, submitted a proposal that would prohibit trapping within 250 feet of private land, public trails, trail heads, associated parking lots, roads and campgrounds, and in certain special areas, including frequently used beaches along Kenai Lake. A similar proposal was submitted for the Seward to Moose Pass area.

In doing so, Green thought he was following the appropriate procedure when one would like to see a regulatory change regarding hunting or trapping — take it to the authority on those regulations. Board members, however, in their March 18 unanimous denial of the trapping ban proposals, stated that the matter should have been resolved at the local level.

“The enforceability of this would be extremely difficult. It would be a full-time job, we’d need a Cooper Landing trooper just to check these places for trap lines because there’s a lot of tails down there, and this would encompass an awful lot of area,” said Board of Game Member Bob Mumford, of Anchorage.

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Cool catch — Anglers reel in ice-fishing success despite wild weather

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Kylie Copenhaver, of Soldotna, holds up a pike she caught for the Trustworthy Hardware and Fishing 18th annual Ice Fishing Derby. Despite being a minor, she competed in the open division with adults and won the pike category with her 4.23-pound fish. The derby concluded over the weekend at the end of February.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Kylie Copenhaver, of Soldotna, holds up a pike she caught for the Trustworthy Hardware and Fishing 18th annual Ice Fishing Derby. Despite being a minor, she competed in the open division with adults and won the pike category with her 4.23-pound fish. The derby concluded over the weekend at the end of February.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

While the sun had supposedly risen, it was engulfed by the gray, featureless sky. Only minimal light and no discernible warmth greeted Dana Johnstone as she huddled over a plate-sized hole in the lake ice, looking down into the dark water.

She was on Daniels Lake in Nikiski last month with several family members. They were spread out and silent, each lost in their own contemplation of similar openings cut into the ice and what, if anything, would come from their efforts via the water.

Johnstone held a fishing rod not much longer and even thinner than a drumstick, and jigged it up and down. Somewhere below a tiny pink shrimp bobbed in what Johnstone hoped was an enticing dance. Before long, success.

She reeled against the tension in the line, and after a brief battle a trout flopped up through the hole, silver as a newly minted dime, peppered with speckles and streaked with pink ribbons as vibrant as the petals of wild roses in summer.

“It’s exciting to get a fish,” she said.

Later that day, Johnstone hauled the fish into Soldotna to Trustworthy Hardware and Fishing to have it weighed as part of the store’s 18th annual Ice Fishing Derby, a monthlong competition which ended Saturday.

Johnstone’s rainbow trout weighed 1.84 pounds, which was good enough to hold second place for a few days, but eventually got bumped off the leader board by larger fish. She and her family kept fishing until the end of the competition. Her teenage daughter, Christina, caught her own rainbow trout on the final day, but it was slightly smaller than her mom’s.

“This is our first year in the derby,” Johnstone said. “I’ve fished my whole life and we fish as a family year-round, but we usually do catch and release.”

This winter has been a trying one for outdoors enthusiasts. Skiing, snowmachining and dog mushing have all been challenging on the Kenai Peninsula due to a lack of snow and frequent periods of warm weather. Johnstone said that ice fishing has been challenging, too, but more do-able than many other activities.

“We just didn’t go when it got too slushy out there,” she said.

Dawn Nushart, the Trustworthy employee overseeing the competition, said the unseasonably warm weather had her and the other organizers worried about how this year’s event would go.

“It’s been an adventure, but people have still been able to get out and do it and we’ve seen some big fish come. We have around 700-plus people entered this year, which is pretty significant. In the past we’ve had as many as 1,000-plus sign up,” she said.

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Common Ground: Crazy for ice fishing — Causation or correlation? No matter, as long as you catch vindication

Photos courtesy of Christine Cunningham. Christine Cunningham, left, and Ruth Cusack pose with the morning’s ice-fishing catch.

Photos courtesy of Christine Cunningham. Christine Cunningham, left, and Ruth Cusack pose with the morning’s ice-fishing catch.

By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter

A light appeared in the darkness behind us. It was someone wearing a headlamp. My pace quickened.

“We’ve got company,” I said.

My fishing partner and I had arrived hours before daylight to get our spot and were taking two friends who had never been to the lake before. I had forgone precious sleep and a latte to get up before coffee shops opened to claim my spot on the lake. I was hauling a sled that weighed 70 pounds and was two miles into a three-mile hike. The thought of not having my sleep or coffee and still not getting my fishing hole flashed before my eyes. Panic set in.

“Is there a problem?” my friend asked.

“That headlamp has been gaining on us,” I said. “We better pick up our pace.”

I tried to pick up my pace, but it was as effective as trying to pick up a Volkswagen. My cc ice fishing 2heart rate quickened, my lean gained a few degrees, but my pace did not change. Maybe the sled weighed 80 pounds, I thought. I’d have to weigh it when I got home.

“If we get passed, we won’t get our spot,” I said.

“Is there only one spot?” my friend asked. In my mind, there was only one spot, but I hadn’t really thought it through. I hadn’t rationalized it.

“Yes,” I said, without any authority. Even as I said it, I wondered if it was really true. I’d fished that same spot for years, but how did I get to the idea it was the only spot? And how did I get to the assumption that the headlight behind us was worn by another ice fisherman who was heading to the exact same spot?

“Are people really this serious about ice fishing?” she asked. At the moment, I was leaned almost perpendicular to the ground trying to haul my sled over a log. I didn’t have time to stop being crazy to explain why I was crazy. We had to get to the spot first and ask questions later. She offered to run ahead with my fishing partner. But the headlamp walked by us leisurely.

“Good morning,” it said.

“Good morning,” I grumbled.

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Skilak hike good for wildlife sight — Great outdoors proves out in relieving midwinter doldrums

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Aagje Buzink, visiting from the United Kingdom, and Colleen and Lynx (in backpack) Robertia walk across frozen Skilak Lake recently, enjoying a winter day in a portion of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Aagje Buzink, visiting from the United Kingdom, and Colleen and Lynx (in backpack) Robertia walk across frozen Skilak Lake recently, enjoying a winter day in a portion of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Taking our first steps on the Hidden Creek Trail, spruce-scented air filled our noses, and the thin canopy of fir branches along the narrow path sheltered us from the soft snow that was sifting like powdered sugar from low clouds overhead.

We quickly wound our way through the old burn of 1996, where the world seemed monochromatic from the thin skiff of snow that crunched underfoot and dusted the scores of old charred tree trunks that lined the ground in every conceivable angle.

We weren’t eager to get to Skilak Lake, but were moving steadily, likely the result of our lively conversations and the positive energy that comes from receiving winter visitors. My wife, Colleen, and I, along with our 2-year-old daughter, Lynx, were hosting some British friends, a husband and wife, the former of which just returned from several months work in the pressure cooker known as Afghanistan.

We wanted to treat them to something completely different than the hustle and bustle of the busy London metropolis, and even more stressful Kabul, where our friend only knew travel by wearing a bulletproof vest and riding in an armor-plated vehicle.

What could be more tranquil, more peaceful, more rejuvenating to the soul than a winter day spent in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge? A 1.92 million-acre wilderness that, for us, serves to be as therapeutic to our mental state as it is recreational, during long winters where sunshine is often weak, if present at all, for months at a time.

When we arrived at the shore of the 15-mile-long, 4-mile-wide Skilak Lake, we knew we had made the right choice for our hike.

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