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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Near Island Photo Safari with Nora

This morning while Zoya and Stuey attended 'lil dribblers practice Nora, the dogs and I went on a photo safari to Near Island.  The light was gorgeous.  I have not yet downloaded Nora's pictures (you'll have to wait until tomorrow to see them), but here are the best ones that I took.

While on our walk I checked on an archaeological site.  I like to check on the condition of local archaeological sites - see if they are eroding or if people have been digging into them.  Anyway while checking on this particular site I noticed a really cool prehistoric tool just laying there on the beach.  The tool was a utilized blade (basically a knife) and it was made of red and yellow chert that is only found on the Alaska Peninsula.  'Blade' tools are only found in Kodiak's oldest sites - sites that are about 7000 years old or older.  Wow!  And it is actually the second utilized blade I have seen at the site.

After finding and taking a photo of the artifact I had to explain to Nora why we had to leave it there on the beach.  I explained that it belongs to the landowner, and that if we took it home we would be stealing it.

I have to admit this site has piqued my curiosity.  It looks like it might be a really OLD site and worth checking out with a formal archaeological excavation.


 Dorsal surface of a utilized blade made of red and yellow chert imported from the Alaska Peninsula

An Ode to Inflatable Kayaks and Canoes

I do a lot of rafting, kayaking and canoeing here on Kodiak, and I generally use inflatable boats.  Other options include 'hard shell' (i.e. the traditional sea kayak or canoe), heavy inflatable rafts, or even the super light-weight alpacka type inflatables.  So which is best? Is there small boat that does it all?  I'd answer the question with an emphatic 'NO'.

There are a wide variety of paddling opportunites here on Kodiak.  We have white water paddling, flat-water lakes and rivers, remote fly-out hunting trips, remote fly-out camping trips, there are trips where you combine hiking with paddling, and there is sea kayaking close to town.  There is not a boat that is perfect for everything.  But there are boats that are perfect for particular activities.

If you only do white water kayaking near town then get a hard shell 'creek boat'.  If you only sea kayak near town then get a hard shell sea kayak.  But if you want a boat that packs up easily and fits in a floatplane or packs away easily in a skiff then inflatable boats are a better option.  And if you really want to go lightweight and carry your boat on your back then the alpaca type raft is what you want.

Each particular type of boat has its downsides.  Hard shells are bulky and difficult to transport.  Inflatables are not as fast as hardshells, and do not track as well in the wind.  Alpacka type rafts are an extreme version of the inflatable type - they are super lightweight and packable, but are also very slow and the least 'water-worthy'.  Full on inflatable rafts are very heavy, draw more water, and pretty much only good for floating the bigger rivers or for use on flatwater with an engine mounted on the back.

I personally like mid range inflatables because they are very versatile.  I can pretty much do everything in them except go on long, extended hiking trips (the sole domain of the alpacka).  Furthermore my inflatables are very tough.  I can drag loaded boats down shallow rivers, and grind against barnacle covered rocks without fear of damaging the bottom.  Try that in a fiberglass or thin skinned boat!

Inflatables are also very easy to get in and out of and carry a LOT of gear.  My family much prefers the open cockpit of our inflatables to the closed holes of hard shell kayaks.  I have gone on extended archaeological surveys where we fit 4 people and all the gear into 2 inflatables - and, better yet, we also still fit into one floatplane.  Inflatables are also about 1/2 the cost of a comparable hardshell.

I do own different types of inflatable rafts (my choices are all made by Innova).  I have inflatable sea kayaks, canoes, and even a self-bailing river kayak.  I have found that each of these is a little better than the others at doing something.  The sea kayaks are better on flat water while the canoes do better in rivers.  However, I have also done everything with all of them.  I even did white water in the inflatable sea kayaks, and did an archaeological survey along the coast of North Afognak in the inflatable canoes.

So if you are looking for something versatile for exploring Kodiak - an inflatable is not a bad way to go (click here for an interesting site that compares different inflatable kayaks and canoes).  Patrick

Family sea kayaking on a day trip along the coast of South Afognak

Moving an archaeological field camp across a lake

Extended archaeological survey on a river

Extended archaeological survey by inflatable sea kayak

Whitewater fun near town

More whitewater fun

Float hunt trip - carrying the meat and gear downriver

Friday, October 30, 2015

Waiting on Snow

Hunting season is over, but we still do not have enough snow for ski season to begin.  It's 'waiting-on-snow' season.  In the old days it seemed that hunting season blended seamlessly into ski season without any break in between.  Not so for the last few years - these days I'm just praying that we will get a ski season eventually.

It has been very warm all fall, but today there was a cold west wind blowing and a dusting of new snow on the mountains.  For the first time in a while the daytime high temperature was not in the 50s - did not top 40 even!

In the meanwhile, I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hiking up hills to stay in shape.


Monday, October 26, 2015

Photo Safari in the trees

On Sunday with Zoya at her class the kids, dogs and I went on another hike.  We all brought cameras and it turned into a photo safari.  Stuey's normal camera had a dead battery so I lent him mine.  So instead I brought along a higher end, non waterproof camera (our Canon Powershot GX1).  I think it gave me an unfair advantage.  It was eye-opening how a camera with a larger sensor takes so much crisper and brighter pictures.

It was a misty, rainy sort of day so the theme of our walk was trying to capture the trees in the old growth spruce forest.

Back home I took the best pictures that each of us took and put them in this post - mine first.  Nora had some pictures on her camera from the day before and from the last couple of weeks - so she got a few extra photos.  Stuey's photos, like mine, are all from yesterday.

Nora's Photos

Nora has been doing a lot of close ups.  I really like her sense of composition.

Stuey's Photos

Stuey's pictures really captured the 'mood' of the day


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Old Gun Mounts on Cliff Tops

Stuey and Nora stand beside one of the old gun mounts

Yesterday while Zoya was taking her class on outdoor first aid I took the kids and dogs exploring behind Boy Scout Lake.  We explored here a few weeks ago (click here for post) and found some remarkably un desecrated elephant bunkers.  But after talking to a co-worker I discovered that we had missed the gun mounts associated with the bunker complex.  So yesterday we returned to find the gun mounts.

And find them we did - a mere 30 feet or some from where we had wandered by a few weeks ago.   The gun mounts were part of Kodiak's harbor defense during WWII and had huge, turret-mounted guns on top of them.  They were designed to fire a couple of miles and protect the harbor against enemy battleships.  I gather that even when they were installed the guns were already obsolete WWI 'retreads', and after Pearl Harbor nobody really expected to defend Kodiak against battleships anyway.  But they still built them.

Today the gun mounts are rapidly disappearing into the forest.  The guns themselves were removed in the distant past.  Still it is pretty cool to look around and imagine what it was like over 70 years ago when the bunker complex was a happening place on the cliff top.  Patrick

Sunrise through the trees

Stuey contemplates a collapsed quonset hut where enlisted men once slept and lived

Another gun mount - the mount turned on the outer circle using the cogs seen in the foreground

Cliff plant close up - some sort of Sedum?

Nora on photo safari

Beach waves

Friday, October 23, 2015

Elk Video and Hunt Meal

Not much to add about the elk hunt except Philip did create an awesome video

2015 Afognak Elk from Philip Tschersich on Vimeo.

And we did have a pretty good feast after we finished cutting up all the meat.  I used my 'Red Neck Sous Vide' recipe and it worked quite well despite the large size of the elk roast.  I was impressed with how quickly it warmed up.  I took the roast out of the fridge at 6 AM and put it in the oven at Noon and it was up to 120 degrees by 4 PM.  We ate at 6 PM.

A most successful hunt.

Ray's limerick just about sums it up:

There once was a fellow named Doug
Without straps a large rifle he lugged
To the Icebox he walked
Two bull elk he did stalk
And in one he delivered a slug!

Warm Fall

Here on Kodiak it's been a VERY warm fall.  Last weekend I hiked up Pyramid with Stuey and the dogs and he wore shorts and a short-sleaved shirt.  Before we left - thinking that in late October it should be cold - I tried to convince him otherwise, but looking back I think he knew better than me what to expect.  The hillsides are all brown with no snow anywhere to be seen.  In my garden I still have flowering nasturtiums, and the grass is getting so long I may need to mow the lawn - again.  Patrick

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Some final elk hunt moments

Ray glasses another bowl for elk

Right now here on Mill Bay the wind is battering the outside windows and it is pouring rain.  We are in the middle of another brutal North Pacific storm.  Earlier today I looked out the bay towards Spruce Cape and thought about how just 5 days ago on Thursday at 6 AM in the morning we were trying to round that very cape and get home to Kodiak harbor before the storm got much worse.  I look out there today and I am very glad that I am not trying to round Spruce Cape.  It is a maelstrom.

The 2015 elk hunt is over and beginning to fade into the past.  The meat is all packaged and in the freezer, and photos are becoming my memories of the hunt.  The hunt is over, and for me it also marks the end of the hunting season.  My family has all the meat it needs for the coming year, and from now on the deer just taste worse and worse as we get closer to November and the Rut.  It is time to put the rifle in the gun safe for the winter.

Here are a few final moments from the 2015 elk hunt.

Philip contemplates one of the biggest beaver houses I have ever seen

Getting ready to go on shore before sunrise

Eating Ray's chili on the boat

First elk

After getting shut out in the cows only permit area we moved on to another area where we could shoot bulls.  And we found some.  The funny thing is that we never saw a single cow elk on the entire trip - just bulls. This is unusual because bulls generally make up only about 15% of the whole herd.   Patrick

Some pixilated bulls we did not shoot

Second elk

Brooks with a hindquarter to cut up

Monday, October 19, 2015

Chasing the herd as part of a pack

Pick up a hunting magazine and you will see that Americans tend to emphasize the individualistic aspects of hunting.  It is all about who shot what and how big was the what.  So on your generic group hunt you tend to get a bunch of guys who are all focused on shooting something for themselves.  It's hard to put together a team to chase just one animal - say a mountain goat or elk - because nobody wants to be a packer just a shooter.

That's why our elk boat is somewhat unique.  The deal has always been that everyone comes along every year whether they get a permit to hunt or not.  You lose your spot on the boat if you don't come.  This guarantees that there are both porters and shooters on every hunt.  The goal of the hunt is to bring back elk meat and all meat is shared equally amongst all participants.

Another unique aspect of our boat is that we focus on elk.  Porters are not 'promised' deer to shoot if they come along to help carry elk.  In 14 years of elk hunts we have brought back just one deer (as opposed to 19 elk).  This guarantees that the focus is always on getting elk.

Elk are big animals who live in rough country, and it is a lot of work to find them, and bring the meat back to the boat.  The act of stalking and shooting an elk is just one small task among the many necessary for a successful hunt.  Things like glassing for and spotting the elk, gathering and splitting firewood for the stove, cooking for the group, driving the boat or skiff, and, of course the most important, humping out meat to the boat on your back.  The only truly essential and unique task is driving and skippering the boat - THANK YOU JIM!

It takes a team to get all the meat back to the boat and not lose any of it to the bears or improper care.

As an anthropologist I can't help but equate our elk crew to a band of hunter gatherers traipsing across the veldt in search of game.  It is hunting at its most primal - a communal rather than individual enterprise.  Patrick

The bull elk in the distance seem to know that we only have permits for cows