Saturday, April 11, 2009

Alaska 2009 - Monitoring Plans and the Arctic-to-Indian Ski Tour

I just got back to Portland from another trip to Alaska. I went up for three days to attend the Open Water Meetings held by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The stated purpose of the meetings is to peer review monitoring plans for offshore oil and gas operations in the Arctic for the upcoming open water season, which is usually from July/August through Oct/Nov. Incredibly enough, in three days of meetings we didn't receive a single written monitoring plan to review. Mostly we listened to the results of past monitoring as the oil industry tried to convince us all that operations have no impacts on marine mammals despite the fact that their mitigation measures are unproven and we lack baseline data on critical issues like population densities and marine mammal sensitivity to noise. Still, I found the meetings fascinating and came away with a much better understanding of the landscape and stakeholders surrounding these issues.

I was hoping to be able to do some skiing for the last three days, but it didn't work out as well as I had hoped. A nasty rain crust from January had resulted in sketchy avy conditions at Turnagin Pass, and the snow conditions were crappy anyway. On Thursday, Brian and I got a late start but knocked out the 22 mile Arctic to Indian ski tour in the Chugach State Park, which basically traverses the back (east) side of the Chugach mountains visible from downtown Anchorage.

The tour starts in the Alpine Valley to the North of Anchorage and then pretty much runs about 22 miles to the south. You cross over Indian Pass at about 16 miles and then descend 6 miles down towards the Turnagin Arm, where we had arranged a car pick-up.

I hadn't been on regular touring skis since I was a kid, and I hadn't ever walked in my tele boots, so it was a challenge to say the least. The snow was crusty and cut up, as well as covered by a layer of volcanic ash from Mt. Redoubt, so the skiing conditions were tough as hell. The descent on skinny touring skis with tele boots and awful snow conditions really tested me at the end of a long day. Still, I had a great time and got in an excellent work out. We saw lots and lots of signs of an active wolf pack in the valley - elk bones, scat and very large prints. Pretty cool. And the mountains were beautiful. Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures due to the constant suffering. Brian got a couple, so hopefully I'll be able link to his in a day or so. (Update - Brian comes through with some shots of the suffering - look fun huh? This was probably from about mile 12-13 in less than ideal conditions.)

All in all, it was a great trip up North. I've got oral argument in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle on Tuesday and then another 10 days or so of hard work here in Portland. After that, we're off to New Orleans for Jazz Fest, which will be the capper to a long spring of work, climbing, travel and play!!

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