Monday, January 31, 2011

Early Spring?

We have certainly had the full range of weather in January! After our early January rain, we went into the deep freeze that cost us running water and some power that we talked about in our last post. After that, it seemed like spring might be here--we had temps in the high 30's and even into the 40's along with another 7" of rain in a week. Today we're right about freezing and having our first snowfall in 10 days, but it's forecast to turn to rain and stay that way for the next week. It's way too early for winter to be over, but maybe.......

On to some photos since our last post. Although the weather's been mild and wet, that doesn't make for good photos, so these are really the exceptions to what we've been experiencing.

At the end of the deep freeze a few weeks ago, we had 27 inches of snow over four days.

The first day of snow was at about 20 degrees. That gave us a nice light dry snow that was a treat to work with compared to our normal wet, heavy, sticky snow. You can see how dry it was as the snowblower plume wouldn't even stay together.

Snowblowing down to the dock.

The bridge over Sadie Creek after 7" of sow overnight.

Feral went along with us the last time we cleared the snow over at the new floathouse.

Feral, as a formerly wild cat hates anything mechanical with a vengence. Cars, airplanes, and skiffs usually result in a lot of yowling and scratching. We discovered on this trip that she calmed down quite a bit when we let her drive.

She even got to the point where she was steering with one paw.

She left quite a wake on the way back to the lodge.

She did let me dock the skiff while she got the bowline ready.

After a week of rain, we had a few days of cold, clear weather that set the snow up, so we decided to hike over to Baranof Lake. We took the snowshoes, but the snow was so hard we didn't have to use them at all.

Of course, Feral wasn't about to be left behind--she does like to hike with us.

This is what we call the "Overview" up above Baranof Lake. The lake is frozen now with snow on it--you can see it down below us in the background. From the other direction, we can see Warm Springs Bay and Chatham Strait.

Reflections on Baranof Lake near the outlet.

This is the Baranof River at the Grotto, where the natural hotsprings form pools along the outflow from Baranof Lake.

It's a little hard to see, but if you look closely you can see where the spray from the river is freezing on this little alder tree.

When we got back to the lodge, Feral (and Jen) hung out next to the woodstove for quite a while!
This harbor seal pops up through the ice in front of the lodge.

This female Goldeneye is leaving a wake through the slush in the bay.

And the garden continues to grow--we have fresh basil, cilantro, and lettuce.
Life here is good--we have running water, one (of two) functioning snowblower, and full power!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

January Cold Snap

January has been a pretty interesting month in terms of our weather. We started off the New Year with a week of rain bringing us over 7" of rain. This did a nice job of packing down the 6 feet of snow we had in December.

Then the wind switched to the north and we had eight cold clear days. Southeast Alaska has a relatively moderate climate compared to the interior. Our lows were down around 10 degrees with highs in the upper teens or low 20's.

After a couple of cold days like this we start to get ice forming around the edges of the bay.

The sun has also come above the mountains to the south. We are getting about an hour of sun a day (on the clear days).

Feral likes her new ice skating rink. This is formed from an overflow line we open when the weather gets cold. The overflow keeps water moving in our domestic waterline to prevent it from freezing (in theory).

The water in the bay gets really clear in the winter. Here some Sun Flower Stars are visible in the crystal clear water framed between chunks of ice.

Did I mention that we keep water running through our overflow and also running in the faucets to keep the waterline from freezing? Well, even doing that and with the waterlines buried under many feet of snow, we have found that extended cold periods always end up with the waterline freezing.

Last Wednesday we were watching a movie after dinner. We had been using our cold-weather water procedures for several days (including keeping the water running in the toilet and through the faucets), but suddenly the volume of water running out of the faucets diminished and it became eerily quiet. I opened the front door--the overflow (normally very noisy as the water sprays out of the nozzle) was quiet. I went under the deck to check and found no water running.

Back inside, the water in the kitchen and bathroom sinks was down to a steady drip even with the faucets wide open. We put a 5-gallon bucket in the kitchen sink to start collecting water, but within 10 minutes the flow was completely dead and we had only collected a couple gallons of water in the bucket. We enjoyed a nice silent night with no obnoxious sounds of water running from within, and gushing from without.

The next morning we woke up not only to no running water, but to find the power a little low. This is the next stage in our cold weather battle--maintaining our hydro power. It took about 15 minutes before we ran out of things to turn off, so it was time to head up to the hydro intake to check for ice blocking the grate. I must note that this is the first winter we have ever lost power in the light of breaking dawn. We are usually awakend by the alarm for low power in the pitch black middle of the night. This was a treat to head out in daylight. I threw my snowshoes into a pack in case I might need them, grabbed the ice axe, and headed up the trail. This is another anomaly. Usually there is so much snow that the only way to hike up to the intake is in snowshoes. But with the latest rain and then cold weather, the snow was hard and crusty and easier to negotiate without snowshoes. I was able to clear the intake of ice and we got enough power to run lights and electronics, but not our baseboard heaters.
Jen came up with me the next day to check the grate, since our power was waning again. I'm standing on top of the pool that feeds the hydro line. There was lots of water behind the dam, but ice had formed again on the grate., which I cleared with the ice axe.

A 5-gallon bucket with the bottom cut out let's me see the grate. Here the grate is just about clear. Yes, that is an old milk crate that makes a great grate!

It was another sunny day--clear, cold and windy.

We have a rope to help us up and down the steepest part of the trail. In heavy snow years the rope is long gone, buried deep in the snow. This is the toughest part of the steep hill to negotiate without the aid of the rope.

Of course Feral went along with us to check things out--she likes to go hiking with us.

She's trying to sweet talk me into letting her play with the ice axe.

Once the waterline freezes, we have to carry water in 5-gallon buckets down to the lodge. We had to knock the ice that formed around the hydro exhaust off so we could fill the buckets.

Normally one 5-gallon would last Jen and me about 5 weeks. But the load controller on our hydro electric system diverts current into a couple water heaters to regulate the frequency of our electricity. This ends up boiling away the water inside the water heaters, so we have to manually add water, keeping the elements from going dry and burning up. I add 5 to 10 gallons of water to the system 3 or 4 times a day. This photo shows our neat and orderly system of wiring and plumbing that keeps the water heaters full.

The cold temperatures came up to around freezing a few days ago. Since then, we've had about 2 feet of snow. The days we worry about are when they forecast an inch of snow--that usually gives us 6 to 8". Conversely, we did have a winter storm warning two days ago--we ended up with 4" after a forecast of a foot!

Sadie Creek is completely covered with snow and ice.

Today (Wednesday, Jan. 19th) we have another one of those days calling for an inch of snow. It's been snowing all morning with no end in sight. We are warm and dry in the house with full power and running water. During the cold spell, the woodstove kept the temperature in the house in the low 50's. Jen was parked next to the woodstove with her scarf, jacket, and a blanket wrapped around her. I even wore two sets of long johns in the house and was finally able to wear my new slippers, which had been too hot for me to wear.
Life is good!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Survival of the Fittest!

The other day Jen noticed a commotion out on the water in front of the deck. She grabbed her camera and ran out the door--calling, "The river otters are attacking an eagle in the water!"

We watched the eagle thrashing the water with his wings and pulling slowly closer to shore.

A river otter popped up right behind the eagle.

And disappeared again.

It popped up again.

This time we could see the otter had part of a fish in its mouth, and the eagle had clearly snatched the fish away from the otter.

Guess who won? (The answer may surprise you--this isn't over!)

The fish was a Great Sculpin, a large bottom fish that the river otter evidently dove down after, grabbed, and brought up to the surface. Eagles perch in trees next to the water watching for schools of fish, inattentive seagulls, or anything else in distress. This eagle (we call him the "Commuter" because we always see him flying up the bay in the morning and out the bay in the afternoon) was able to pull the sculpin away from the otter and drag it up on the rocks to eat.

Jen was able to get within a few yards of the eagle while it was enjoying its lunch. When I snuck out to take a few photos of Jen taking photos of the eagle, Feral Bueller, the formally wild cat snuck out behind me and made a beeline for the fish with her collar bells merrily jingling away.

The eagle stopped eating long enough to check out the cat working her way along the rocks.

Jen freaked out (as she continued clicking away) as Feral ignored her shouts of "NO, Feral, NO!" and ordered me to save the cat from becoming Dessert Tartar. As we chased after the cat, the eagle flapped his mighty wings and attempted to take the fish and fly away, but it was too heavy. The eagle took one last bite of the fish before taking off for the trees as Feral checked out her freshly commandeered booty.
The sculpin was too big for Feral to drag off, so she gave it a sniff and headed back up the beach. We're not really sure if she was after the fish or the eagle. Jen calmed down, Feral headed back to the house, and all worked out well, especially for the idiot who let the cat out in the first place.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

More Photos from December

Here are some random photos from the lodge.

Just a shot looking to the head of the bay from the skiff. We are in front of the lodge and you can see Baranof falls emptying into Warm Springs Bay. If you look really close, you can see some cabins along the boardwalk.

Jen and I out in the skiff to pull our halibut longline. It was a great evening--calm and dry.

Getting close to sunset....around 3 PM.

We are allowed to set a subsistence longline with 30 hooks for halibut. We set this in about 400 feet of water in a spot where we have caught halibut in other years, but this trip all we got was a sculpin.

We lucked out and were able to run in the skiff to Hidden Falls Hatchery on a calm day to pick up flea bombs and medication for Feral. Harris Air dropped our mail and supplies off on the weekly floatplane to the hatchery. It was the only calm day in several weeks out in Chatham Strait.
Jen on our way in to Hidden Falls to pick up our mail and flea meds.

Pushing through the slush in Schooner Cove so Jen and I can shovel the snow off the new floathouse which will be incorporated into the dock at the lodge next spring.

As the solstice approaches, this is as close as the sun comes to rising above the mountains to the south of us.

Coming back to the lodge one afternoon.

Out in the skiff after a snowstorm.

Jen caught this weirdo hanging around the shop when some friends came over from Sitka to do a little deer hunting (they got some!). All work and no play makes Rick a dull boy.