Hooligan

Since I was a teenager, I have been enthralled by the far north. Epic stories of high adventure on Alaska’s queen Denali filled my young mind in the readings of early accounts of her ascent. To me, the very notion of Alaska was something of a mysterious and rare prize that few had conjured the gumption to explore for themselves’s. Of course this was far from the truth… Alaska’s history has unfolded in countless ways, spanning multiple races and generations. From the crossing of the Bering Straights untold thousands years back, to the gold rush bonanzas and oil field exploitations of modern memory, the Alaska frontier has always bee a place of not only fascination, but one of an inexplicable location for far fetched dreams and far fetched exploration. And when I first came here in 2011, having ridden my  bicycle from the “outside” into her glorious womb, I then felt, as I do now, that Alaska and the untold prevailing of the Yukon and Northern B.C., were to beheld as nothing short of treasures. The first time crossing into the Alaskan frontier, I felt I had somehow stumbled across some great and archaic secret: something that the rest of white society had either forgotten, ignored, or simply knew nothing about. To me, it was a sensation of unfounded beauty and treasure. One that I still do not take lightly or for granted to this day.

Alaska is a place of mystery to most; and understandably. The ways of life here are not of the ordinary… even by un-ordinary standards. There exists a faction that demands one’s attention to detail regarding everyday life, to the omnipotent realization that nature is not only your absolute friend, but your foe at times as well. This balance is what defines this place; a place where you must have a kinship with surroundings and be capable of a transformative resolution on a daily basis. In a nutshell, the ebb and flow of the natural world is always at hand, and one must be not only willing, but ecstatic about it’s rapture and grace.

Every year, in the spring, the salt water inlets of Southeast Alaska are coming alive with life. The seasonal shift from a potentially long and harsh winter begin to unfold into something greater. The river’s break up, the ice floats to the sea, and life in the form of all animals and plants begin to explode in a monstrous display of grandeur.

One of the earliest signs of this magnificent occurrence comes in the form of the early spring smelt runs… At first it is the Herring, then a short time passes and the massive swarms of the Hooligan, also known as eulachon or candlefish, called so due to their high oil content, and once dried, can be lit on fire, begin to run into the omnipotent rivers of the upper Lynn Canal: The Chilkoot and the Chilkat. These precious Hooligan fish have been a staple of nutrition, culture, and economics for the native Tlingit nation for untold hundreds of generations. The fish are small, perhaps six inches long or so, and contain within them, essential fatty oils that are not only prized for there taste and nutritional value, but for their ancient economic value among the historic peoples of the Alaska panhandle and the ability to trade these wonderful gifts from nature to the southern Tutchone and Tagish peoples of the southern Yukon. Hence, the trade routes between the Chilkat Valley in modern day Alaska and the broad valleys and lake districts of the southern Yukon and northern B.C. have become known as the historic “Grease Trails” where the Tlingit natives of the coastal valleys of the Lynn Canal traded with northern interior peoples for such commodities as furs and other goods. These fish are regarded as gold by many, and not only signifies the coming of the summer ahead, but also the fact that the life giving runs of Salmon are not far behind. This is a time of celebration and thanks the the Earth that another time has passed and another will ensue.

I begin to hear the birds at first; the ocean Gulls swarming and squawking, then the Eagles, chirping in their usual ways, but at this time of year, it is somehow greater, as if something is about to explode. I hear these sounds early in the spring Alaska mornings as the light from the rising sun shines itself upon the northern landscape and gracing the land with light at about 3:30 am… something is happening. The North is coming alive; the Bears are awakening, and the fish are beginning to run the rivers on their yearly migration to spawn and dye as they have been born to do for untold eons.

This day opens and I head out to the Chilkoot river, the first of this year’s Hooligan run to inspect. Upon pulling into the narrow river valley, I spy hoards of Gulls and Eagles: A sure sign that the run has started. I peer to the river and notice immediately that is is black with fish. Untold thousands of these Hooligans have entered the river from the Sea and are finishing their life cycle in the form of spawning and dying. There are Brown Bear prints about and the entire river corridor is coming alive.

The next day, this time I return with a bucket, one I have drilled holes in to let the water escape as I scoop the Hooligan. The common method for capturing a harvest of these fantastic creatures is by means of a long handled dip net, but I do not possess one. Instead, my bucket will do… I have not a desire for more than I need, and my needs are small. I dip the bucket into the blackened mass of a million fish, but they scatter as  the motion of the bucket rifles the water. Each scoop manages a few scant Hooligan, but after an hour or so, I have what I need. I thank the Earth for this treasure and I return home with my earnings. After inspection of the harvest, it is revealed that I have taken exactly what I need: enough to fill my little smoker and just a tad bit more for the evening’s supper.

After, I look out over the Chilkat Inlet, the scene of the next Hooligan run in a week or so, and revel at how blessed I am to live in such a world.

 

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The Chilkoot Bears

It had been some weeks since I had been out Chilkoot way… The summer hoards of tourists hoping to catch glimpses of the beautiful Chilkoot Bears has kept me away. Now, in September, the weir has been taken down, and the masses are at bay. I decide to head that way in hopes of seeing Speedy, Brownie, and ‘Lil Dickens on their home turf. Lucky for me, they are all there frolicking and catching the last of the year’s Chilkoot Salmon run. Here’s the footage from today…

Game On

Heading out to Chilkoot today, I spy Sea Lion’s feasting on the influx of early season Herring. Then at Chilkoot lake, Eagles are gathering in numbers…. It’s game on in Alaska; spring is here! Rumor has it, a Humpback was patrolling the entrance to the Haines Harbor yesterday. Soon the Hooligan run will start, and then the big fish. Chinooks then the Sockeye. It’s gonna be another great year, I can feel it! Here’s a Chilkoot Baldy from today…

Chilkoot Baldy

Chilkoot Eagles

The 59th Parallel

As winter marches forward, I am finally beginning to have a little more time to shoot and edit video. The shots in the following film were taken entirely in the Haines area of Alaska, which is where I live. Ninety percent of the shots were taken with the Sony PXW-X70 with a handful of shots from my old Canon 60D DSLR since they were on hand for the content I needed. Plus maybe one shot from the Sony FS-700. The purpose of this short is both as an artistic expression, and to show the stock video clips I sell in action.

The 59th Parallel (2015)

The Need For Speed

Last week while my Mom was visiting Haines, we decided to head out to Chilkoot and check in on Speedy the Bear and her new cubs. Angela joined us and we were treated with a nice viewing of one of Haines’ most beloved and well known Bears. Last winter she birthed 2 new cubs and seeing them for the first time frolicking in the river and eating Salmon was really something to see. Here’s a short video of what we saw…

Reflections of Haines

At 23 degrees farenheight, and winds at a steady 15 knots, the temperature at the vicinity of my roadside camp next to the Chilkoot Inlet is roughly 0. The seas are big this afternoon, with swells of around 5 feet, sending waves crashing into the granite boulders of the beach head surf. Every once in a while, a really big one will wreck into shore and a great splash of water explodes into the crisp winter air, highlighted by the dreamy peaks to the north. If a careful eye is surveyed across the channel, one may witness an Orca breaching or a Grey Whale spouting, ever reminding that this is there home too. The water here, always a vivid turquoise, commands respect. Even from the most seasoned vessel bound seafarer, as the water temperature, regardless of time of year, remains a nearconstant 45 degrees. In spring and fall, Brown Bears can often be seen scouring the western shorelines of the Chilkat Inlet or the mouth of the Chilkoot river. A mere 20 miles upstream from town, hundreds of Bald Eagles can be witnessed in the fall. Salmon runs are frequent here, with runs of all 5 species of the best food on the planet occuring at intervals spread throughout the non winter season. Winter here is 7 months and summer 3, with a month each for transitional periods in between. The climate is of the maritime variety with the ecology being regarded as that of a temperate rainforest. A short, steep, and beautiful hike up the Mt Riplinsky Trail exposes all. Giant Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock grace the slopes and valleys, and a walk among them will reveal great ferns and seas of moss covering the forest floor. A scan of the peaks on the other side of the Inlet exposes glaciers and icefalls; the hallmark of high latitude coastal mountains. The people here are as friendly as anyone could ask for and a genuine sense of community prevails. A walk down Main Street will be greeted with smiles and greetings. In Haines, even the cops wave to say hello.

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The Panhandle

That morning,  leaving Fairbanks, in the dark, I had to concentrate enormously on the snowy, icy road. Two weeks prior I had an apiphany: I had to leave and go to Haines to make a life for myself and Angela. My job here, caring for and training 30 dogs was a mixed bag for me. I loved the dogs and I loved the forest and Sven’s beautiful cabin, and the quite and the solitude. But it was a seven days a week gig with little pay, and it was not Haines, which is where I wanted to be. Leaving, unfortunately, has damaged my friendship with Sven, a man whom I respect a great deal. So on the road I am, once again. Excitment now fills my heart as I pull away from Fairbanks, headed south, bound for Alaska’s northern panhandle.

It is 22 degrees,  snowing lightly and the traffic thin. It is November 1st, 2013. I drive south, through Delta Junction, the scene of an earlier disaster back in June, whene I had lost an envelope containing my life savings; a sum of nearly 4000 dollars. I had a crazy idea or two that I might actually find the missing envelope in one of perhaps three places I could think of: A road side pullout, with views of the omnipotent Alaska Range, where a picture was taken on that day, a creek where a bath had been taken, a campspot in the woods near Tok, where I had spent two nights regrouping. Searching these places for my goods felt both empowering and futile at the same time. I was looking for a needle in the gigantic haystack of Alaska. I pull into Tok and proceed to walk to my usual camp there, located adjecent to the school in the woods near the edge of town. It is a nice spot and it feels somewhat like home to me. However, the envelope was not recovered, and on I went.

On the way from Delta to Tok, one becomes the Alaska Range. Mountains and streams appear, high counrty unfolds. It feels good to be in the highlands once again, and out of the beautiful but routine forest of the Fairbanks area. Being in the area of Tok, I am reminded how much I love this part of Alaska; it truly is one of my favorite places. The white spruce forests here are remarkable, the creeks and streams clear, the rivers deep, and the Alaska Range towering. It is a deeply beautiful and spiritual place to me. Earlier in the summer, I had stopped the bicycle to gaze upon a lone moose fiording the mighty Tanana River, keeping her head high and swimming madly. Southward I continue. Stopping for a walk along the icy banks of the Chisana River, I am gifted the sight of wolf tracks; mother and cub, traveling the river corridor, hunting and living the life they were born to live. The morning is crisp and cold and the Chisana is forming a skin of ice that looks as though could be walked upon but cannot. A breeze picks up a bit and it is getting colder still. I bushwack back to the truck and point it southeast, towards the Yukon border. After crossing, I see the sights of the mightiest Black Spruce Taiga forests I have ever seen. I remeber these from riding this part of the Alaska Highway back in 2011. Tha taiga goes on everlasting and my heart soars at it’s perseverance.

Eventually, I pull of the highway and drive up a small dirt road to a high point with a view. It is exactly what I had hoped for. From this vatage point, I can see all of the major peaks of the Icefield region of the Northern St Elias Range: Mt Luciana 17,147′, Mt Steele 16,644′ Mt Wood 17,000+, and several other unamed 15,000-16,000 footers. This section of mountains, the St Elias, and physically connected to the Wrangel Mountains in Southeast Alaska, is the largest chain of mountains in North America. The Alaska Range, though sporting the Queen Denali, and nearly 600 miles long, is still smaller than the Wrangel/St Elias. These Mountains are the real deal: Big, bad, remote and heavilly glaciated. In fact, the St Elias, the area surrounding Mt Logan in particular, contains the western hemispheres largest non polar glaciers.

I arrive, a bit later, at the hamlet of Haines Junction. With friendly folks, views of the tremendoulsy striking Kluane Range, and one of the best loved bakeries in North America, Haines Junction is a place I always look forward to visiting. However, upon entering town, I see first off that the great little grocey store there, the only one in town, has burned to the ground. Even worse, there is a “Closed” and “For Sale” sign on the bakery. Dissapointed, I buy 10 dollars worth of gas and head for glaciers of the Coast Range and the Chilkoot Valley, home of Haines, Alaska.

I cross the border, back into the USSR, and roll down valley, along the Chilkoot River, with forests of magnificent Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock, Cedar and Cottonwood. I camp in a pullout, excited to see Haines in the daylight. Morning time, I pass through the Bald Eagle Preserve there, and see more Eagles within my field of view than I had ever seen in all the years of my life previously. 60? 70? 120? Who knows… There are many. It is the  last bit of the Chum Salmon run as well, and the Eagles are feeding well upon them. One brute of a fish, pink and black and bruised to hell, swims towards the shore and is nearly 4 feet long. I see no bears however; they have all crawled off to their winter nap and won’t be seen again till spring.

Haines is a great little town of about 2500 people, located along the inlets of the Chilkoot and the Chilkat, at the head of the Lynn Canal, North America’s longest Fiord. There are glaciers visible from town and is surrounded by the incredibly jagged peaks of the Chilkat Range to the east, and the Coast Range of the Glacier Bay region to the west. There are a ton of Brown (Grizzly) Bears here as well. It is truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

The first week of being in Haines was rough on me, however. Cold nights, crammed into the back of my truck, looking for a job and a place to live, and not knowing anyone  in town, was challenging to say the least. Self doubt began to creep into my heart. Had I made the right choice to leave Fairbanks and come to Haines? Should I just go back to Utah, which I had left more than 30 months ago? Should I just stick it out?  A conversation with Angela on the telephone cheered me up and convinced me that I had made the correct decision. After a week or so, I had scored a free slide in camper for the truck, and a full time building job with some folks whom I enjoy being around. Each night I camp in a different, beautiful spot along the coastal waters of the inlets of the Lynn Canal, surrounded by the most beatuful mountains one can imagine, and dream of a long life here.

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