2011-Return to Nome, Alaska, in Winter

Logs ( 15 )

2011-Return to Nome, Alaska, in Winter

Is it a bird? Is it a fish?

Fascinating experience flying into Alaska. As you board the plane, you enter a different country – Anchorage was just for openers. Here in Nome it's another world. But crisp, clear sunshine (unusual…) and a frozen sea. Yesterday I walked where we parked Berrimilla in 2008 around the end of the inner harbour wall and into the outer harbour whence we set off into the very much unknown towards the arctic circle, that amazing sunset in the Bering Strait and the ice at Barrow. Ah, nostalgia. Lots more to come.

We flew up here in a composite 737 – freight in the front of the fuselage and about 20 rows of seats at the rear. It was flying the round trip to Nome and Kotzebue – one of the many many places we passed by in Berri…

2011-Return to Nome, Alaska, in Winter

Nome - again...

The inner harbour sea wall…

Here’s a link to some more photos. https://picasaweb.google.com/alex1whit/Alaska2011#

This computer still thinks it is in Australia so the dates and times will remain constant in Australian EST – nearly a day ahead of astronomical time here.

2011-Return to Nome, Alaska, in Winter

Running on ice

Or why I’ve always wanted YakTrax but was afraid to ask. They are weird to run on and energy sapping but very effective on packed snow. Not so good on smooth ice. And I’m learning about the different noises snow makes and even a bit about what it means – language, grammar and syntax, just like in a boat. Especially necessary to learn this language out on the sea ice. There’s a sort of hollow empty-bottle nasal graunch that means things are not necessarily all they seem to be and you’re on the point of going through the surface crust. Safe enough most of the time and you only go in up to the knee – but there are places out there where the snow has covered big cracks and you get no warning. Soft cruush and you’re in. So I’m trying to find surface signs as well. Those of my friends who go out to play on Everest and who might be reading this may sigh at this naive foolishness but one has to learn sometime.

Today was so still that sound carried for miles – and, as I was wearing a balaclava the Yakkie crunch climbed all the way up my spine and rattled my empty and echoing skull. Out on the ice later, I could see a bulldozer at the base of Anvil Mountain so at least 4 miles away and maybe 5 but it sounded as if it was out there with me.

More photos in the Alaska2011/2 and Sledge albums and a new one playing with skip and mirage. https://picasaweb.google.com/alex1whit/SkipAndMirageOverTheSeaIce#

2011-Return to Nome, Alaska, in Winter

Some questions

i wonder why it's so lumpy, how far you can walk out on it, what happens to the tides, how thick is the ice there, are there waves crashing against sea ice somewhere out on the edge of it, how far away the island is, how tall is that pressure ridge…?

It's lumpy because of the tidal effect and the movement caused by recent strong winds.

Sledge Island is about 21 nautical miles from the camera and about 4 miles out from the shore to the west of Nome. If you google earth Nome, AK and zoom out you can see it all, but in summer dress. I was messing around about 200 metres beyond the outer harbour mouth and the big pressure ridge surrounds the end of the western causeway.

You can walk out as far as it seems safe to do so – if it's moving or there are big cracks, beware. Snow shoes or skis are safer than just the boots I had, and I did not have a pole as a probe so I was very cautious. The ice is at least 4 feet thick, from the evidence of the big slabs in the pressure ridges but the thickness is not constant. I'll know more tomorrow when I go out to visit the gold diver. There are certainly waves out there somewhere – how far out depends on the season and the extent of the ice. We saw them in the distance in 2008 up near Wainwright.

This ice chart of the west Bering Sea shows roughly how far it goes at the moment. http://www.natice.noaa.gov/pub/weekly/arctic/2011/charts/bering_sea_west/berwcurrentcolor.pdf

Difficult to interpret but Nome is under the lower right corner of the box containing the number 89 top right of the chart. So the ice extends 340 miles SW of Nome, out past the Pribilof Islands. You can look at it in conjunction with google earth.

The big pressure ridge is about 25 ft tall at a guess – very difficult to judge.

Hoping to see the aurora tonight…

2011-Return to Nome, Alaska, in Winter

Diving for gold


The gold diggers’ hut with Sledge Island in the background.

Kevin and Cliff and David in the photos – the crew out on the ice. Kevin and David dive under 5 feet of ice and Cliff looks after the gizmology on the surface. Awesome operation – low tech but very impressive. Two big problems to manage – temperature and pressure – from which flow a lot of others. All driven by various engines and pumps and a compressor.

Temperature – how to keep the diver warm. There’s a 120 ft coiled copper tube acting as a heat exchange – water flows through it and is heated by a substantial gas flame inside the coil. The water flows down an insulated tube to the diver’s suit and is directed to his sternum and gloves. They are working on regulating this under water – at the moment it is controlled by Cliff adjusting the water flow. If the control fails and the diver starts to burn – well, one of the suits allows the diver to disconnect, the other doesn’t  – yet.

Pressure – if I understood it correctly – how to prevent the heat loss from the expansion of compressed gas freezing the moisture in the breathing regulator valves and other vital components of the divers’ survival equipment. Way more tricky and they have several systems to help with this – basically trying to keep the pressure difference as small as possible and heating the compressed breathing air by keeping the supply line close to the hot water supply.

Then there’s the problem of light under 5 feet of ice – there is a set of sealed beam car headlights that sits under the ice base and can be anchored with weights and they cut away the surface ice to get a smooth glassy window to let sunlight in as well. – not too difficult,

And there’s safety if things go wrong. Kevin uses a ‘bail bottle’ of compressed air that allows him to disconnect from the compressor line and float free. However – there’s always a however in risky ventures – he then has a whole new pressure differential freezing problem in his regulator.

And the sluice box…And moving the shed…

Lots of related stuff – absolutely fascinating – and yes, they find enough gold to make it worthwhile.

I’ll check all of this with Kevin when I can catch up with him and correct as necessary. We came in off the ice because of the tsunami warning.

Have a look at the photos – I’ll get them on to picasa as soon as I can and post a link. Probably tomorrow.

2011-Return to Nome, Alaska, in Winter

A few more photos

Yesterday afternoon I dug the snow machine from its winter bed. Non-trivial exercise as the snow was packed and hard – took a couple of hours of serious work. Today, the Golovin Snow Machine race (google it) – 200 miles in under 2 hours. The conditions make for a very fast race – photos later. Tomorrow, the Mukluk 5k run – I'll be there, maybe just for the T shirt.

More photos on picasa, here https://picasaweb.google.com/alex1whit/DivingForGold# and additions in some of the other albums. Captions and editing to follow.

2011-Return to Nome, Alaska, in Winter

Mad racers

The Nome-Golovin snow machine race – low flying over the snow. About 200 miles to Golovin and back, and at least one refuelling stop. Serious machinery and some dedicated racers, male and female. Spectacular crashes – one on the start line when someone drove across the course with brain in neutral and caused massive wipeout with two machines mangled but no serious injury. Fast course yesterday and the winner came home in under 2 hours.

Today, the celebrations wind up a gear with the Mini Mukluk Marathon – 5k in sub zero temperatures. I'm in it for the T shirt! The problem, I think, will be to avoid freezing my face but not overheating the rest of me. Interesting – cobbling together various bits of arctic Berri gear and running shoes.

The party starts – first planeload of people arriving at the house. Gotta go!

Race photos on picasa https://picasaweb.google.com/alex1whit/GolovinSnowMachineRace#

2011-Return to Nome, Alaska, in Winter

Mini Mukluk

Wow. Wonderful, loosely organised event, started with a real shotgun. I earned my T shirt. There were perhaps 30 runners for the 5 miler (not measured but it felt about right). Lots of them kids and guys running with their dogs. I finished 8th, I think – in about 33 minutes, behind some 11 year olds and the dog walkers. Cold – several layers over most of me but not the face – really difficult to manage the face without a mask – I used a hoodie with a thin wool balaclava under it and wrap around sunnies (essential or you get snow blind).  The Balaclava sends sweaty breath up under the sunnies so fog-out most of the time and if I hoicked the chin bit down, my tongue and nose started to freeze. Interesting. Very hard to run on ice, packed snow and gritty road too.

The Iditarod party is just starting in the house – two days before the first musher is due. There will be about 30 people in the house, sleeping wherever they fall from Monday onwards for about a week. Bedlam – you ain't tryin'. I like Alaska. The cooking plan is just going up on the fridge…

No pics today. We're just south of the best aurora viewing belt –  saw it as a faded glow a couple of nights ago.

2011-Return to Nome, Alaska, in Winter

Outside in the freezer – and crabbing

On the verandah – lasagne and blueberry delight measured by the acre. Noice. The Amber in the fridge in the bottle shop feels warm – and given the outside air temperature, it is warm.. I now have a small stash out on the verandah as well.
Today we went out about a mile and a half offshore and set two crabpots under the ice. First, Pat had to renew his permit, then we restrung netting on one of the pots, loaded a couple of sleds with tools and set off on four snow machines. Photos and captions here. https://picasaweb.google.com/alex1whit/CrabPotsAndOtherStuff#

It's 0115 and I think I'm the only one awake…The mushers will start to come in today – we will have three staying here with their friends and relations plus at least one dog team. The teams don't stay long – they are shipped out by air with their handlers as soon as space is available on an aircraft. The mushers stay for the banquet.

Someone is asleep on a mattress a few feet from where I'm writing this – can't make coffee without waking whoever it is…0215 – back to bed – where there are 2 more people on the floor.

2011-Return to Nome, Alaska, in Winter

Just to show I haven't forgotten

Takes a bit of space and tranquility to write this stuff – not a lot of either in the house at the moment – seldom less than about 20 people in various stages of celebration and usually 50 or so blow through every evening. DeeDee Jonrowe got in a couple of days ago, Martin Buser  a day later (both Iditarod legends) and Magnus running his first, with Martin's younger dogs. at 0330 this morning so all our resident mushers are home safe. I'm gradually uploading photos and adding captions as I get a chance – here's one of the albums   https://picasaweb.google.com/alex1whit/DeeDeeMartinAndMagnusAllHomeSafe#

The weather has been sparkling – but gales and snow forecast for Sunday. Sunday is also the day of the Iditarod Banquet. I have a ticket and will try to report.

2011-Return to Nome, Alaska, in Winter

Everyone home safe

Ellen Halverson lit the red lantern for the second year running. And everyone home in time for the Mushers' banquet this evening. Should be fun. Photos of Ellen and other stuff on picasa:

https://picasaweb.google.com/alex1whit/GolfOnTheBeringSea# and other albums.

The house is emptying. As long as the weather allows, everyone will have left by Tuesday lunchtime including me.A fascinating bunch of people.

There's even a post banquet flight taking a crowd of diners back to Anchorage tonight after the banquet. Should be an interesting flight…to say nothing of Monday morning back at work.

2011-Return to Nome, Alaska, in Winter

Vernal equinox

6 minutes and 38 seconds more daylight in Nome today – through the snow showers and the 25kt southerly. The powder snow blasts into your eyes and makes drifts behind all the obstructions.

A 7 hour banquet yesterday for the Iditarod presentations. It was held on the basketball court with the stands removed and about half the population of Nome seemed to be there, I have a complete set of photos of all the finishers which I will upload today. What an interesting and varied bunch of people!

The house almost empty again, with most of the inmates departing on the banquet flight last night. My last day today – Anchorage, Seattle and London tomorrow if Alaskan is flying.

2011-Return to Nome, Alaska, in Winter

A couple of days ago

Blueberry DEEElight for breakfast – yeehaaa. But I earned it with an early run out in the snow. Loose, drifting powder snow – crunchy over the ice but easy to run in. The problem still is getting the clothing combination right so that the decrepit old body stays at a reasonable temperature. And the nose doesn't get frostbitten.

My thousand or so friends are out playing golf on the ice – cheating essential – and the course is just behind the Breakers Bar – one could Consult,out on the verandah at the back and wave and encourage them all with loud cries.One just might get around to it.  And the Nome forest is flourishing – all the christmas trees get planted on the ice in Iditarod week.

Some local trepidation about what might be happening at Fukushima – too many people listening to and believing CNN.

Photos slowly getting to picasa – captions as and when I can get there.

Sled dogs – wonderful animals! DeeDee Jonrowe is also a marathon runner, like her dogs. A formidable team. There are still 5 teams out on the trail – the weather is changing and it's looking like a white out at the mo. Musher signing this afternoon – they all sit in a big hall under their names and sign shirts and hats and posters.

2011-Return to Nome, Alaska, in Winter

The Legends

All 47 finishers, more or less in order, last to first


And you can read about them all here – click on the name link for the bio – some amazing people


2011-Return to Nome, Alaska, in Winter


Wonderful green curtain across the sky over Hudson's Bay from the 747 – then the moon came up. The aurora too difficult to photograph through the window but here's the moon and Greenland. We crossed the Greenland coast from Davis Strait 48 miles north of Nuuk where we stopped in 2008 – eerie crossing Berri's track up there in the semi gloom before sunrise, with the sea ice in huge sheets. Couldn't see any bears but there was a ship (I think) out in the strait.