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Wickersham Dome

On Saturday, June 11, I hiked the Summit Trail to Wickersham Dome, a 3200 foot hill north of Fairbanks, on BLM land. It’s 3.5 miles from the parking lot to the top, for a round-trip total of 7 miles.

The trailhead is about 40 miles from town, on the Elliott Highway north of Fox. I knew I’d be in for an interesting hike when I got there: a thunderstorm was in progress. Incidentally, that’s the first one I’ve experienced all year (the Alaska Interior doesn’t get too many). I was a bit apprehensive, but I started hiking up anyway.

After a half-hour or so, the storm passed. The rest of the way up was pretty boring. Typical boreal forest at the lower elevations, grading into tundra as I climbed higher. Recent rains made for some wet spots, and I couldn’t keep my feet dry. The real attraction wasn’t the trail itself, but the views from it. The photos really don’t capture the sweeping vistas too well. I could easily see for 200 miles or more.

Up top, I was surprised to find that a) it was dead calm, and b) I had cell phone service! I made a call to a relative just as a gag. No more than 5 minutes on the phone, I noticed a cloud billowing over a sub-peak to the west, and it was growing fast. Before it reached me, I felt the cold wind carrying it; the wind chill factor went from nothing to nasty in 5 seconds flat. I got off the peak just before it got fogged in.

Naturally, it started raining, and the rest of the trip back to the car was cold, wet, and miserable. Enough rain fell to make the soggy trail a complete swamp. I slipped and fell several times, stepped calf-deep in mud that didn’t exist on the way up, and the mosquitoes came out in force once the wind died down.

By the time I got back to the car and ready to drive away, I had over 100 mosquitoes in the car with me. I dropped all the windows and tore off down the highway. Most got pulled out, but I was swatting them all the way home to Fairbanks.

But, it was all worth it.

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Table Top Mountain

On Friday, May 27, 2016, I hiked up Table Top Mountain, in the White Mountains northeast of Fairbanks. I tried this hike back in May 2012, not long after I moved here, but I had to abort because the trail was too muddy. Not this year!

This was a spur-of-the-moment thing, so I hiked it by myself. Going deep into the wilderness alone sounds like a bad idea, but if you’re prepared (which I was), it’s not a big deal. It was impossible to get lost; I could see my car parked at the trailhead for the entire hike. In addition to the usual trail accoutrements, I brought along bear protection and communications gear. Being Memorial Day weekend, there were of plenty of other noisy (read: bear-repelling) groups on the mountain that day, including whole families with young kids and dogs.

Table Top Mountain is a pair of mesas, deep in the White Mountains, about 70 road miles from Fairbanks. The trail itself is a three-mile loop, with a one-ish mile spur that goes to the top of the east mesa. I’m unsure who high the top is, but since a few stunted trees grow there, I’m guessing less than 3000 feet.

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UAF campus walk

Yesterday I picked up some new trail running shoes, and decided to break them in by walking (not running) some of the paths behind the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus, on UAF property. Obviously, I took the camera. The walk was about 10 miles total, and by the end my feet were soaked (Alaska is a swamp), and I was tired, hungry, and had a headache. And it was totally worth it.

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Getting back

On May 3, my employer approved my application to work remotely, allowing me to move just about anywhere that I can get high-speed internet. For me, there’s only one destination: back to Tucson.

August is looking like the most likely month to make the move. That gives me plenty of time to prepare.

I wasn’t “supposed” to be here this long. I moved here in 2012 to take a job as an entry-level meteorologist with the National Weather Service. The idea was to spend enough time on the job to be ready for the promotion to general forecaster, and then bid out to that open positions in other forecast offices. In other words, Fairbanks was a foot in the door. But, after a year, when it was clear that things weren’t working for me, I took the job I have now. That “reset the clock”, so to speak. This time around, things have worked out, enough for me to earn the privilege of becoming a permanent teleworker.

Fairbanks is a nice place, but four of its long and dark winters is enough. That said, I made the mistake of not fully taking advantage of my time here. I came up with the mentality that this was “temporary”, and didn’t spread my wings and have fun from the get-go, like I should have done. Lesson learned. Wherever I go from here (including Tucson), I won’t be making this mistake again.

I’ll be leaving behind some friends and connections, including Arctic Amateur Radio Club, Fairbanks VIP/CERT, Interior Alaska Gamers, and others. Of course, friends stay friends wherever we go, and Tucson will offer plenty of new opportunities to pursue those interests. In fact, I already have a few arrangements lined up!

Since I’ll be still employed at the University of Alaska, I have the perfect excuse to visit once in a while; I won’t even have to take time off work to do it!

 

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Parks Monument

Just a couple of pics from the Parks Monument outside Fairbanks, at about 20:30 local time.

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Seattle, Maryland, Washington DC

I took a bit of a vacation in January and Feburary 2016. The first leg of my trip took me to Seattle (for one day), then Maryland and Washington DC. I saw old friends, family, and had fun when I wasn’t stuck in airports or on planes.

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The Alaska Range

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Film photography class

From September through December 2015, I was in a film photography class at UAF. I learned quite a bit, and boosted my skills, but the workload was heavy. There were many weeks where I put in 20 hours in addition to my regular 40 at my job. I took hundreds of photos. Most of them sucked, frankly. There were many points where I just didn’t have time to fill a 36-frame film roll with 36 quality frames. But I got many good shots up to my usual standards.

As you can see below, I have a bit of a dust problem. Time to clean the scanner.

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Steese Highway trip

A family I know has a yearly house party where they serve food grown in their own garden, in Central, Alaska. That’s 130 miles from Fairbanks, and the road there is through some scenic wilderness. Unfortunately, my landscape photography still isn’t up to my own standards; only a few images came out with proper exposure. I really need to figure out bracketing on my “new” Canon. My still-lifes and close-ups came out much better. As already noted, this thing can capture some serious detail.

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The big camera

I recently picked up a used Canon 1Ds mark II, which is a decade-old digital camera. That’s prehistoric, but it’s one of Canon’s full-frame professional cameras. I can’t afford new ones, which cost $1000s. It’s a massive tank of a camera, and so not well suited to casual photography. I got it for the landscapes, still-lifes, and close-ups that I tend to do.

Equipped with a 50 mm f/1.4 prime lens, the photos it takes blow those of my trusty Nikon D40 out of the water. The images below aren’t of anything special, but look at the detail! Feel free to zoom in. I’m uploading them exactly as they came out of the camera, except for the conversion to JPEG.