Saturday, April 20, 2013

Kite skiing and kite boarding on Portage Lake’s frozen, slushy surface.

Alaska is known as a land of opportunity for outdoor sporting types, make-up-your-own-sport, and adventure seekers. I live along the Turnagain Arm in Southcentral Alaska. The Turnagain Arm (part of Cook Inlet) is known for having the second highest tide change in North America. The tide differential can be up to 36 feet, although averages of 32 feet are more common. (This June, 2013, one of the 36 foot tide changes is predicted.) This tide differential combined with the knowledge that the water is quite cold since it is supplied by numerous snow melt sources, may be part of the thrill for the kite-surfers. 

Many times over the summer, drivers on the Seward Highway witness the kite-surfers in the Turnagain and stop to marvel and take photos. The surfers are usually seen toward what can be considered an Alaskan sunset in the summer, the sun far north creating a warm glow and a rich backlight to the colorful kites. If you happen to be driving the Seward when you see the surfers out, please lower your speed limit and watch for crazy people parking all over the road side to get out and watch. One thing the Seward Highway is in need of is more safe turnouts (which actually the DOT should be working on this summer.) If you are a kite surfer and plan to get out on the water this summer, I would like to ask that you please park in one of the larger pull-outs. In the summer of 2012, I passed the sporty crew many times in one of the small single wide car turnouts. I am just concerned for everyone’s safety on the highway.

Anyway, I digress, what I really want to showcase is the adaptability of the kite surfers to kite skiing and kite boarding on Portage Lake while the lake is still frozen. Feel free to oogle these photos as long as you like, they are rather spectacular. I have been driving to Portage often this late winter and imagine my surprise as I approached the Begich Boggs visitor center and saw these kites floating in the air against a bright blue sky. The vision of these kites in the sky over stark white mountain tops was magnificent. Seeing the kites also indicated there was a manageable breeze over the lake, not the gales for which Portage is known. 

After parking is the clearest spot available near the visitor center, I scrambled for my ever present camera and crept quietly toward the walled overlook. Once I stopped walking, I could hear them, the skis and snowboards cutting and racing over the crispy frost covered surface of snow. You have to understand how stark the sound of skis scouring over days old frost can be so distinct, because Portage and Bear Valley are very, very quiet. At this time of day, at this time of year, before the tour busses, before the cruise ships, before the school groups, it is extremely quiet in Portage. If you sit still by the moraine there are sounds to be heard, ravens of course, squirrels scurrying, occasional magpies, and redpolls. There can be coyotes, but we have not heard them yet this year. In the summer the sound most commonly heard is the lapping and splashing of the lake water on the shore, thrown around by the gale force wind. 

Today, no one is talking, no motors are running, no winds are howling. Today there is just energy of movement. The movement of a waxed six foot long, lacquered, pressed wood board bearing a 200 pound mass that is lifted by just enough wind held in a brilliantly colored silken tapestry. The waxed boards slicing back and forth, yawing and pitching over the frozen liquid that no one has told, is frozen. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

On Mirror Pond, or, reflections on Turnagain Arm Alaska

Occasionally there are days when the wind does not blow through Turnagain Arm. Hard to believe because most folks who drive the Seward Highway are not on it everyday. So odds are, the few times they are out and about, the wind is blowing somewhere. As evidenced by these photos, I am offering proof that on this one day, the wind was not blowing gales through the passes. 

These images are from the pit of the Turnagain Arm between Girdwood and Portage Valleys. The view is across the Arm toward the Kenai Mountains around Hope, Alaska. This was a really frosty morning, so once the car engine warmed up, it was a cozy calm drive on the Highway. 

I encourage everyone with a little spare time to take a nice road trip this week or next weekend (the 27th & 28th) before the Highway becomes too crowded. Remember, the Portage Glacier Daylodge is open on the weekend from 10a to 5pm with fresh baked goods and sandwiches. After the Portage stop, cross over the highway to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, the animals will appreciate your visit. Leave Anchorage or the Valley by 9a, it does not even have to be super early, and enjoy the mountains, the water, the eagles and all the other feathered migrants passing through south central Alaska. 

Thanks for reading and viewing! 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Girdwood and Portage, make it a two-fer!

Such a lovely blessing this high pressure continues to bring to south central Alaska. The bright blue skies, the blindingly white mountain tops, the clear air. Most of the air that is, with the exception of roadsides. Pedestrians are victim to the gravel dust being disturbed by everyone one out for a sunlit drive. 

If you need some encouragement for taking a scenic ride this weekend, the Portage Glacier Daylodge is open Fridays through Sundays in April until full time opening in May. Your lovely hosts are baking delicious treats such as cookies and cinnamon rolls and steaming up frothy lattes for your morning respite. If you are going to Alyeska for Slush Cup, just add an extra hour to your morning. The Portage Lodge opens at 10 am, you can have a quick late breakfast. Afterward, head back to Alyeska, the mountain does not open until 11 so nothing will be missed. The Portage Daylodge is only 15 miles from Girdwood, and a beautiful drive. Above is the view in Portage Valley with the Portage Daylodge to the right and the Begich-Boggs visitor center ahead. Below, Byron Glacier is still covered in snow as seen from the Portage Daylodge. 

While soaking in the views on your sunny jaunt through the mountains, be aware of the traffic. Our neighbors to the south are already streaming in for early season specials and all the adventure the great land has to offer. I have seen numerous small RV’s already camping out in Girdwood. On my drives along the Seward, there are countless boats being shuttled to water (mostly from the Valley I am guessing). Also be aware of late season snow machiners heading toward Turnagain Pass. The high pressure weather system has been holding the night temperatures down enough to keep the snow from melting rapidly. I imagine most of the snow is just evaporating under the dry air and sunny skies, oh, and the incredible winds.