Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Best Juneau Summer Ever. Literally.

So it turns out the summer of 2013 will go down in history as The Best Summer ever in Juneau. 

Since Memorial Day weekend, we've had warm, dry and sunny weather probably 80-90% of the time. It's usually the reverse of that. I'll see if I can find some scientific data to support that claim later. I'm sure we will be hearing lots more about The Best Summer as we go into the fall and winter months. 

When it first started back in late May/early June, we got big long stretches of nice weather. We would joke amongst ourselves that no ones laundry was getting done, our houses were in disarray, and we all had a crazed look in our eye from not getting enough sleep because we were spending so much time and energy outside. Not to mention the sunburns. Juneau folks had sunburns. Weird. 

We all felt like we had to cram in ALL the activity in those first few weeks. It HAD to end soon. There was no way our luck would continue into July (May and June are always better than July and August). However, the amazing weather continued. Before my parents arrived in June, I had prayed they would get ONE nice day. Well, out of the seven they were here, it was overcast and damp one. It just kept going and going, that sun. I spent a week camping on Admiralty Island in July, and we didn't see a single drop of rain (although it was overcast for the last 2 days).

So here we are in the waning days of August. By all rights it should be disgusting and horrible by now. This morning it was just above 40 degrees when I left my house. It warmed to the mid-70s by the afternoon in the bright sunshine. I was sitting on my deck tonight reading David Foster Wallace's "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" (a hysterical 100+ page essay about his experience aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean - a favorite read among Alaska cruise ship employees) when the sun dipped below the mountain tree line and the temperature immediately dropped 15 degrees.  The skies will be clear tonight and the temperatures will no doubt plummet again. August 29th and the signs of autumn are weak, but they are there. The gal on the radio this morning asked if this would be the last nice day of summer? She encouraged people to play hooky and go hiking. Well, tomorrow's forecast is partly sunny and 65. I'm playing hooky and going Coho fishing with my uncle and cousin. 

What I take away from all this is that it's all downhill from here. I'm partly kidding, but not really. This summer was (and still is) The Best Summer. All other summers from here on out shall be measured against it. I know that next year, when it's dumpy and 50 and shitty all summer, I can still put a smile on my face when I remember The Best Summer and that it I can be like this. It can be sunny for 10 days in a row. It can hit 85. We can spend a whole weekend camping without rain gear. Juneau can have an East Coast summer. Maybe I just brought it with me. 

Perhaps if David Foster Wallace was around he'd name it, "A Supposedly Rainy City Where It Didn't Rain All Summer". 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Few Good Mountains

I took advantage of the nice weather these last two weekends to climb two of the tougher yet more accessible mountains in Juneau: Mount Juneau and Thunder Mountain. Both mountains have big, strenuous climbs but payoff in huge, glorious views!

On top of Thunder Mountain

Mount Juneau Trail
Thunder Mountain/Heintzleman Ridge Trail

Mount Juneau from Downtown

Thunder Mountain from the Mendenhall Valley (back in April while there was still snow on it)

Looking towards Heintzleman Ridge

Lunch Spot

Friday, August 2, 2013

Brown Bears at Pack Creek

There are no brown bears in Juneau, but just a few miles away on Admiralty Island, you will find one of the densest populations of brown bears (grizzlies) in the world! Most of Admiralty Island is federally-designated wilderness. It is named the Kootznoowoo Wilderness; Tlingit for "Fortress of the Bear". At one site, Pack Creek, the brown bears have a lush source of salmon beginning in mid-July. People have been safely viewing the bears at this site for over 80 years - the bears are rather accustomed to the human presence. With oversight of the Forest Service and Fish & Game, Pack Creek is a safe and healthy environment for the grizzlies and humans: bears to be bears and people to quietly view. 

We finished up a Wilderness Volunteers trip on a different part of Admiralty Island a couple of weeks ago, and we had not seen any grizzlies- although they were definitely around.  Most everyone was from down south, and they were rather disappointed that we hadn't seen any bears. Once we got back to Juneau, we looked into chartering a plane and getting Forest Service permits to go to Pack Creek (they only give out 24 per day and are usually sold out most days in the high season). We were in luck! 6 permits were available so 6 of us charted a floatplane with Ward Air and away we went! 

We had excellent weather for most of the day (until the torrential downpour at 5pm). We saw at least 11 different grizzlies. We watched them frolic and fish for salmon all day. What a treat. 

More info on Pack Creek can be found here:

Our ride to Pack Creek... a chartered float plane!
Looking north towards the Mendenhall Glacier

Fish & Game staff on the radio

on the trail to "the tower"

Immature bald eagle and a brown bear