Thursday, May 19, 2011

Alaska - Day 2 - Not Talkeetna Leisure Day 5/19/2011

The primary agricultural region in Alaska is the Matanuska Valley near Anchorage, responsible for 67% of farm production. There is a 105 day growing season, allowing for the growth of 19 pound carrots and 65 pound cantaloupes.

The 100,000 glaciers cover 5% of Alaskan soil, or 29,000 square miles.

McKinley Princess Lodge

One of the treats today was that as we sat in the Lodge we recognized David Canary as one of our tour group members; I recalled him (as Candy Canady) from Bonanza; Claire remembered him as Adam and Stuart Chandler on All My Children. He and his wife, Maureen Maloney, were only moderately successful in maintaining a "low profile." He retired in 2010; they were taking their first vacation in 5 years. He is distantly related to Calamity Jane.

We decided to blow off the excursions to Talkeetna--too expensive and we wanted to relax and to see the slide shows at the Theater in the Lodge--besides, I am too old to run down a zip line. Our first presentation was Aurora: The Crown of Light, which showed the Northern Lights off to great advantage, with a classical music soundtrack. Since the Lights require darkness to be visible to us and the sun rose at 4:32am and did not set until 11:12pm, there was not a lot of blackout. We were lucky to have Alaska's photographer laureate, LeRoy Zimmerman, present to introduce the show and answer questions afterwards; normally, he is in Fairbanks in his other role as Ranger. He was also the photographer/director/producer of this photosymphony show. We loved the music so much we asked for a list of the music.

Chuck at Play in the Snow at the Lodge

LeRoy also had a photosymphony show on Denali comprised of his own photography to another classical musical accompaniment. This show was, for us, less successful as he tried to be overly "artsy" and often transitioned too quickly from photo to photo: Just as you were beginning to enjoy one, it dissolved into the next.

We next enjoyed a slide show on the history of climbing Mount McKinley, Denali--Into The Dream. It is the 115th tallest mountain in the world. Weather conditions can make it a very tough climb. In 1967, winter climbers estimated the weather, with chill factor, at -148 degrees Fahrenheit. Winds often reach 70-150 miles per hour. Climbers plan for a 3 week climb, because of the unpredictable weather. Also, because of the 63 degree latitude and the altitude, the oxygen is thin. The speed record for an ascent is a mere 18 hours!

McKinley is also famous for several unsuccessful climbs. Frederick A. Cook claimed to have reached it; but, the claim is generally disallowed. He also claimed to have reached the North Pole before Perry and Henson; that is also not given credence. The Sourdough expedition of 1910, may have reached the peak; but, it was the wrong peak--they could not tell from their angle of approach, that they were on the ascent to the North Peak, which is lower. One famous casualty was the Japanese solo climber, Naomi Uemura; he reached the peak but died on the way back down.

Approximately 1,000 people try this ascent each year. Weight loss may average 35 pounds. It was the Hudson Stuck party that finally reached the top, in 1913. Over the years there have been 109 fatalities--two occurred the week before we arrived. The oldest person to reach the top was 76; the youngest was 11; one person was blind, and one was a single amputee.

Chuck Resting during arduous hike--not. There were only 2.5 miles of trails around the Lodge, a disappointment to us.

The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the largest land claims settlement in United States history, was signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon on December 23, 1971. ANCSA was intended to resolve the long-standing issues surrounding aboriginal land claims in Alaska, as well as to stimulate economic development throughout Alaska. The settlement extinguished Alaska Native claims to the land by transferring titles to twelve Alaska Native regional corporations and over 200 local village corporations. A thirteenth regional corporation was later created for Alaska Natives who no longer resided in Alaska. Cynics see it as a bribe to get the 6 indigenous groups to withdraw their objections to the oil pipeline, which would cut across traditional hunting grounds.

Many things are costly because they are imported into Alaska--twice! For example, vegetables have to be freighted into Anchorage and then re-shipped to a final destination. Lumber for housing is the same; despite vast forests, the trunks are too small for building materials.

Alaska adopted the flag for official state use in 1959. The blue field represents the sky, the sea, and mountain lakes, as well as Alaska's wildflowers. Emblazoned on the flag are eight gold stars: seven from the constellation Ursa Major, or the Big Dipper. The eighth being the North Star, representing the northernmost state. Alaska's flag was designed in 1926 by a 13-year-old Native American boy, Bennie Benson, from the village of Chignik. Bennie received a 1,000-dollar scholarship and a watch for his winning entry in the flag design contest.

Alaska State Flag

Claire as Foreground to a Disappearing Mount McKinley

Breakfast, $30: oatmeal, fruit, pancakes. Lunch, $26: soup, sandwich and salad; plus $11.25 for a brownie and two lattes in the coffee shop. Dinner, $40: salmon wrap, burger and two beers.

Walter [Harper, in 1913], who had been in the lead all day, was the first to scramble up; a native Alaskan, he is the first human being to set foot upon the top of Alaska's great mountain, and he had well earned the lifelong distinction. ~ Hudson Stuck