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NateKat · October 2011

October 2011

You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2011.

One week after returning from Alaska Katharine and I started school which usually means the adventures are put on hold or should be.  But for some reason this semester we are busier than ever, even though it’s our most challenging and last semester.

September 1st is opening dove season so I headed to Central California with Ken (co-worker) for a chance to knock down a few birds.  As with most bird hunting we were up and out in the field before sunrise.  Early morning dove hunting is similar to duck hunting where you sit and try to ambush the birds as they fly over head.  We positioned ourselves along a string of telephone poles in a harvested field, overlooking an orchard.  We waited patiently for the sun to rise and the birds to start flying.

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It was still a little dark when we heard the first shot from a group down the road.  Once the first shot is fired I have to smile a little bit since I know the next couple hours are going to be exciting.  I immediately started scanning the horizon just above the tree line.  My finger anxiously waiting on the safety.  Then like clockwork the sun hits the trees and the birds started flying.  I could see the fluttering silhouettes flying toward us, I flipped off the safety, gripped the gun, and waited for them to get closer.  I slowly raised the gun to my shoulder, stood up, put the bead in front of the bird, squeezed the trigger, BANG, the dove folded up and fell to the ground, I put the safety back on, got one!  I Lowered my gun, eject the shell and quickly load another, then walk out into the field and picked up my bird.  The suspense, thrill and camaraderie of hunting gets me every time.

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The last three years I’ve gone dove hunting with Ken and his dad and his two friends.  They are an entertaining group, which I wouldn’t expect anything less from a group of guys who have been hunting and fishing their whole lives.  The stories are endless and hilarious.  The highlight of the trip for me was hitting a true double, two birds with one shot, which has only happened to me while shooting clays not birds.

This was the first time I’ve actually tried to hunt and photograph at the same time.  It wasn’t as hard as I thought since the Cotton Carrier holds the camera close to my chest and out of the way when I’m mounting the gun to my shoulder.  It was a little challenging to switch and clean lenses in the field, but the hardest part was deciding when to put the gun down and shoot with the camera.  I didn’t get any action shots since when there were birds I was squeezing the trigger not the shutter.  Next time I need a better game plan, am I hunting or taking photos and when do I switch between the two?

It was a successful trip all of us getting our limit of 10 dove for the day.  I ended up making a dove marsala with mushrooms, onions, bacon, butter and wine.  The sauce tasted amazing but the dove was a little dry.  The recipe I was following called for an extremely long time to cook the dove, which I cut in half and still over cooked.  Maybe better luck next season.

We spent our last full day in Alaska back in Denali NP. Since we had gone so far down the park road the previous day (requiring lots of time on the bus) we decided to only go as far as the Eielson Visitor center so that we could have more time to hike. We didn’t see as much wildlife this time, but it was a great day for landscapes since the wind had blown the clouds and fog out of the valley.

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There was some impressive landscapes as the clouds passed over the Alaska Range

We shortly forgot about the mountain as Katharine pointed out a grizzly cub running along side the road from the bus.  It was definitely picking up a scent in the wind as it ran down the hill into the braided stream.

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We came around the bend and suddenly Denali came out in full view. It was windy out but well worth getting out of the bus to take a few photos in the cold.

Olympus E-PL2, ISO 200, 34mm, f/9.0, 1/200 sec

On our way back towards the park exit we got off the bus to hike some more in the open tundra. This time we didn’t see any bears though. We also took advantage of Nathan’s tripod and remote shutter.

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Again, berries were everywhere, blanketing the ground.

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Once we were back on the bus, the last animals we saw were a moose and her calf.

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Our last day in Alaska was a perfect end to an amazing trip full of wildlife sightings, amazing mountains, and some great hiking. We can’t wait to go back!!

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We spent day 10 driving almost 7 hours from Seward to our cabin outside of Denali National Park.

Rainbow spotted on the way to Denali

The next morning we had to wake up early for our bus tour which is the only way to travel in the park.

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Denali NP has a unique bus system where you ride on school buses on the only road through the park. At any point you can choose to get off and hike around, then just go back to the road and flag down a bus to get back on.  For our first day we booked tickets to Wonder Lake, nearly the entire length of the park road, which takes about 11 hours round trip if you stick with the same bus the whole day. Given how many hours you simply spend on the bus, we were glad to have long days so that we still had time to get off and explore on our own a bit.

While riding on the bus you are encouraged to point out wildlife (and to shout ‘STOP’ when you see something so that the driver can help show others), but it takes a few animal sightings for people to get the confidence to yell at the driver. Our first animal sighting was a grizzly bear grazing on berries.

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Since the bus system is the only way to get through the park, there are hardly any hiking trails, and back-country camping is strictly controlled, Denali is kept as a wilderness area and animals aren’t used to humans, so they are usually seen far away from the road (which is different than most National Parks where you might see moose grazing right by the side of the road).  After a while the driver also encourages people to yell stop for any good photo opportunities like this landscape.

The bushes and tundra were just starting to turn colors for the fall which made for amazing photos.

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View from Eielson Visitor Center of the Alaska Range

After we passed the Eielson Visitor Center we got off the bus for a hike through the tundra and blueberry patches.  Katharine spent most of the time picking and enjoying the unlimited supply of ripe berries while Nathan kept a paranoid watch for grizzly bears.

After a while of walking through the thick tundra, we headed down to the stream bed for some easier terrain.

Nathan’s fears quickly turned from grizzly bears to spooking moose in the willows.  As we walked we could see moose tracks all around us and the willows (moose food) became thicker and thicker so that we could often only see 100 feet ahead of us.  At one point we could see the park road ahead about half a mile away and a bus was stopped.  A stopped bus could only mean one thing…ANIMALS! The bus was up against a steep hill so we knew they were looking our way.  We paused trying to figure out what they could be looking at then suddenly a fox or a small wolf ran past us just on the other side of the stream bed.  Now our minds were racing trying to remember all the animal safety rules…grizzly bear you stand your ground…moose you run away…pack of wolves…they never said anything about stumbling on wolves! Luckily the wolf/fox had run by quickly and was soon far away. But multiple buses were still stopped – meaning they were looking at something else. We decided to climb out of the willows to higher ground to get a better view.  We reached the hill opposing the buses with a wide valley between us and sure enough we spotted grizzly bears!

They were still quite far away, probably about a quarter of a mile, but a mother and her full grown cubs weren’t something we wanted to take a chance with. We sat and ate berries as we watched them casually walk into the hills, and then we headed down into the valley towards the road.  Denali has few to no official hiking trails because by allowing everyone to hike in random areas they preserve the overall terrain.  Sometimes it’s fun to explore the wilderness on your own but other times you wish you had a nice trail.

Thick willows that sometimes are above your head

Starting in the afternoon, “The Mountain”, Mt. McKinley aka Denali, began to show through the clouds barely.  It is actually uncommon to see the mountain and extremely rare to see it from top to bottom without any cloud cover. As we headed back to the road after our hike, we looked back and could see the clouds had fully cleared around The Mountain. Sadly we were already headed back and past the best view points, but we still got a couple nice shots.

By the end of the day we had spent about 14 hours in the park and couldn’t wait to go back the next day, which would also be our last “fun” day in Alaska.  We saw caribou, 5 grizzly bears, moose, arctic ground squirrels, pika, dall sheep, wolves, possibly a fox, and The Mountain. Only in Denali!

On our 9th day we slept in after many early morning flights and boat trips.  We decided to hike along Exit Glacier to the Harding Icefield in Kenai Fjords National Park.  The hike begins at the valley floor and climbs 3,500 feet along side the glacier for about 4 miles.  It’s not every day you get to see a glacier and it certainly isn’t every day that you can hike the length of one all the way to the ice field that is feeding it.

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For the first mile the trail was very lush and green, almost like hiking through a jungle.  Then we started to emerge out of the dense trees and were greeted by a steep slope of colorful flowers.

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The open meadows and about 1,500 feet of gain gave way to some incredible views overlooking the mountains and the valley below where we started.

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As we started up a steep incline with lush grasses on each side of the trail I spotted a marmot sticking his head up out of the tall grass.

I tried to get as close as possible…

He calmly ate grass while I was able to get a few photos.  After we left you could hear their high pitch whistling signal as noisy hikers approached.

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The vegetation began to disappear and the landscape became a rocky moon-like surface.  We could look across the glacier and see the icefield and knew we were getting close.

At the top is a emergency shelter which is a small one room log cabin.  This photo was taken at the shelter and you can see the valley down below and the snow patches we had to hike through.  It was pretty surreal but an amazing accomplishment when you look down at the valley 3,500 feet below.

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The Harding Icefield is 300 square miles and receives over 400 inches of snow a year!  It is one of only only four Icefields in the United States.

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It is also the largest Icefield that is entirely located in the US feeding 40 different glaciers.

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We also saw 10 or 15 mountain goats on the mountain side enjoying the view.  There are a couple photos in the gallery at the end of the post.  The sun started to get “lower” in the sky and less people were coming up so we decided it was time to head back down.  As we left the moonscape and headed to the meadows we could see hikers ahead of us stopped and pointing.  When we caught up to them we could see a black bear grazing in the meadow.

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We took to some high ground above the bear and waited for him to pass.

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After 15 minutes the bear had passed and we headed back down the trail.  Within 10 minutes we looked up and saw the bear on the ridge 100 feet above us, we shouted at him making our presence known and he glanced at us and then walked over the ridge.

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We made it back finishing the 7.5 mile hike and 3,500 feet of elevation gain before the sun fully set.  This hike reaffirmed that we were made for each other.. who hikes 7.5 miles up a mountain on their honeymoon and has a smile at the end?!

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