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Sportsmen’s Alliance Opposes USFWS Plan To Limit Predator Hunting

Photo by Lisa Hupp/USFWS)

Photo by Lisa Hupp/USFWS)

The Sportsmen’s Alliance, a nonprofit organization that prides itself on defending the rights of hunters and anglers. issued a press release this week concerning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal that would restrict predator hunting – bears and wolves – on Alaska’s 16 national wildlife refuges.

Here’s The Guardian with more on the USFWS plan:

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has proposed an overhaul of hunting regulations for Alaska’s 16 national wildlife refuges, which span nearly 77m acres of wilderness in the state.

The new rules would effectively ban “non-subsistence” slaughter of predators within the refuges without a sound scientific reason. Practices to be outlawed include the killing of bear cubs or their mothers, the controversial practice of bear baiting and the targeting of wolves and coyotes during the spring and summer denning season.

Anyone hoping to take a plane or helicopter to shoot a bear will also be unable to do so. These changes have been backed by a group of 31 leading scientists who said the current hunting laws hurt some of the “most iconic yet persecuted species in North America: grizzly bears, black bears and wolves”.

In a letter sent for the USFWS’s public comment process, the biologists and ecologists from across the US point out that research shows that killing the predators of moose and caribou does very little to boost their numbers.

“Alaska’s many-decades program of statewide carnivore persecution has failed to yield more ungulates for human hunters,” the letter states. “Furthermore, the methods of predator persecution are seen as problematic by a clear majority of Alaska’s citizens.”\

And here is a portion of the Sportsmen’s Alliance rebuttal:

On April 7, the Sportsmen’s Alliance submitted comments opposing proposed rule changes concerning U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service management of game, in particular predator management and hunting, on National Wildlife Refuges and other public lands in Alaska. The proposed rule would effectively give USFWS primary control of nearly 77 million acres of public land and would grant the agency a massive expansion of power to indefinitely close the areas to hunting.

“We’re talking about an area larger than 45 of our 50 states,” said Evan Heusinkveld, president and CEO of Sportsmen’s Alliance. “There’s no justification for these new regulations and restrictions. This is just another example of this administration’s desire to circumvent congress and manage by executive whim – this is nothing more than a blatant power grab by the feds.” 

Heusinkveld added that local control is a far sounder practice: state fish and wildlife officials know their states’ particular needs, terrain and climate far better than bureaucrats in Washington. “A one-size-fits-all approach is simply bad policy,” he said.

The proposed changes fly in the face of congressional intent, as well as the precedential and statutory right of states to manage native wildlife on federal lands within their borders. More than any other state, Alaska has firmly spelled out in state and federal law that hunting plays a strong and important role in the state’s heritage and that the state should control season dates, methods of take and bag limits, excepting migratory species and those protected by threatened and endangered status in within the state.

These principles, followed for decades, are enshrined in the Alaska state constitution, in state law and regulation, and in several federal statutes – yet the administration is proposing regulations that turn these sound principles on their head.

You can read more about the USFWS proposal here.

 

Iditarod Musher Says She Was Groped On Course

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This has not been a good year for the Iditarod. While our former cover subject, Dallas Seavey, won his third consecutive “Last Great Race On Earth” in a thrilling duel with his dad, Mitch, the dog mushing world’s version of the Super Bowl was also marred by the attack on two mushers that left one dog dead. Now comes a report that an unnamed musher told Alaska State Troopers that she was groped on the race course.

From CBS News:

Alaska State Troopers were looking into the March 13 incident as harassment for now, James Lester said Monday. The 27-year-old rookie musher reported the groping at the checkpoint in the village of Nulato, almost 350 miles from the Nome finish line.

The incident happened a day after a man on a snowmobile intentionally drove into two top Iditarod teams, killing one dog and injuring others, authorities say.

Lester said he has been trying to contact the rookie musher and has not interviewed her yet. The woman, who went on to complete the 1,000-mile race, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment by The Associated Press on Monday.

The AP generally does not name people who may have been a victim of a sex crime.

Lester described the groping as offensive touching on the buttocks.

The Iditarod released a timeline of the incident Friday, saying two men had stopped next to the trail, and the musher thought they wanted to give her a high-five. Race marshal Mark Nordman said in the release that he immediately contacted authorities after a race judge notified him.

Discovery Channel Will Honor Gold Rush Patriarch John Schnabel

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I didn’t have much grandpa experience – my mom’s father passed away before I could ever meet him and my paternal grandfather died when I was not quite 6 (but I do have memories of him bouncing me on my knee and eating his homemade Greek fries).

But having watched multiple episodes of Discovery Channel’s hit show Gold Rush and in my chat with one of the show’s stars, Parker Schnabel, his grandfather, John Schnabel, meant the world to young Parker. John Schnabel passed away a couple weeks ago, and tributes have poured in for Parker and his family.

 

 

Sure enough, Discovery announced a special tribute to John Schnabel this Friday:

GOLD RUSH SPECIAL – Remembering John Schnabel
Premiering Friday, April 1 at 9 PM ET/PT on Discovery Channel
A special presentation of GOLD RUSH, honoring the life and legacy of Grandpa John Schnabel.

Born in 1920, John was the son of a Kansas wheat farmer. His father brewed bootleg alcohol during prohibition and the family had to leave the farm when the US Marshals came looking for him. At 19 years old, John packed up his possessions and took a steamer north to Haines, Alaska, where he joined his father, who had set up a sawmill.

The day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, John volunteered to join the US Navy, but was placed in the Air Corps. After the war he returned to Haines and in 1946, he bought Porcupine Mill, which, after he renovated it, could produce 10,000 feet of board wood per day. John went on to open a local hardware store and was later elected mayor of Haines.

At 68, John suffered heart problems and underwent a triple bypass. His doctor recommended that he keep active so John bought the Big Nugget mine and started gold mining. He taught his grandsons Payson and Parker how to prospect, pan and operate equipment and passed on to them his passion for gold mining.

On March 18, 2016, John passed away peacefully in his sleep at the age of 96. A statement from the Schnabel family: “We couldn’t have asked for a better father, grandfather and overall family man. He was a true legend and we appreciate all of your love and support as we celebrate his wonderful life.”

Here’s a a sneak preview:

 

 

 

 

Lawsuit Filed To Protest Genetic Salmon

 

Photo by Scott and Tiffany Haugen

Photo by Scott and Tiffany Haugen

 

Several plaintiffs have banded together to file a lawsuit protesting the Food and Drug Administration’s approva of a genetically engineered salmon product.

Here’s some info on the lawsuit:

A broad coalition of environmental, consumer, and commercial and recreational fishing organizations today sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approving the first-ever genetically engineered (GE) food animal, an Atlantic salmon engineered to grow quickly. The man-made salmon was created by AquaBounty Technologies, Inc. with DNA from three fish: Atlantic salmon, Pacific king salmon, and Arctic ocean eelpout. This marks the first time any government in the world has approved a GE animal for commercial sale and consumption.

The plaintiff coalition, jointly represented by legal counsel from Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice, includes Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Golden Gate Salmon Association, Kennebec Reborn, Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, Ecology Action Centre, Food & Water Watch, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Cascadia Wildlands, and Center for Food Safety.

In approving the GE salmon, FDA determined it would not require labeling of the GE fish to let consumers know what they are buying, which led Congress to call for labeling in the 2016 omnibus spending bill. FDA’s approval also ignored comments from nearly 2 million people opposed to the approval because the agency failed to analyze and prevent the risks to wild salmon and the environment, as well as fishing communities, including the risk that GE salmon could escape and threaten endangered wild salmon stocks. 

The lawsuit challenges FDA’s claim that it has authority to approve and regulate GE animals as “animal drugs” under the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Those provisions were meant to ensure the safety of veterinary drugs administered to treat disease in livestock and were not intended to address entirely new GE animals that can pass along their altered genes to the next generation. The approval of the GE salmon opens the door to other genetically engineered fish and shellfish, as well as chickens, cows, sheep, goats, rabbits and pigs that are reportedly in development.

The lawsuit also highlights FDA’s failure to protect the environment and consult wildlife agencies in its review process, as required by federal law. U.S. Atlantic salmon, and many populations of Pacific salmon, are protected by the Endangered Species Act and in danger of extinction. Salmon is a keystone species and unique runs have been treasured by residents for thousands of years. Diverse salmon runs today sustain thousands of American fishing families, and are highly valued in domestic markets as a healthy, domestic, “green” food.

 

Here are a couple other statements from the plaintiff particulars  in this suit, courtesy of Golden Gate Salmon:

“FDA’s decision is as unlawful as it is irresponsible,” said George Kimbrell, senior attorney for Center for Food Safety and co-counsel for the plaintiffs. “This case is about protecting our fisheries and ocean ecosystems from the foreseeable harms of the first-ever GE fish, harms FDA refused to even consider, let alone prevent. But it’s also about the future of our food: FDA should not, and cannot, responsibly regulate this GE animal, nor any future GE animals, by treating them as drugs under a 1938 law.”

“FDA has not answered crucial questions about the environmental risks posed by these fish or what can happen when these fish escape,” said Earthjustice attorney Brettny Hardy and co-counsel for plaintiffs. “We need these answers now and the FDA must be held to a higher standard. We are talking about the mass production of a highly migratory GE fish that could threaten some of the last remaining wild salmon on the planet. This isn’t the time to skimp on analysis and simply hope for the best.”

 

“Once they escape, you can’t put these transgenic fish back in the bag. They’re manufactured to outgrow wild salmon, and if they cross-breed, it could have irreversible impacts on the natural world,” said Dune Lankard, a salmon fisherman and the Center for Biological Diversity’s Alaska representative. “This kind of dangerous tinkering could easily morph into a disaster for wild salmon that will be impossible to undo.”

“FDA’s action threatens and disrespects the wild salmon ecosystems, cultures and industries that are treasured here in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska,” said Gabriel Scott, Alaska legal director for Cascadia Wildlands. “These folks think a salmon is just a packet of protein, but we in Salmon Nation know better. From Alaska to California, Americans are intimately related with diverse runs of salmon and we’ve learned their unique attributes and incredible value. We’ve worked very hard to be good stewards of our natural heritage, and refuse to allow that to be undone by one company’s irresponsible experiment.”

 

 

 

Alaska Salmon Fishing Forecast A Decrease

Meyer king salmon 4

 

Alaska fishing industry writer Laine Welch’s recent report about the 2016 salmon forecast features a sharp drop in total catch.

Here’s Welch via the Capital City Weekly:

The preliminary numbers released by the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game call for a total catch of 161 million salmon this year; the 2015 harvest topped 268 million fish.

The shortfall stems from a projected big decrease for pink salmon. A humpie harvest forecast of 90 million would be a drop of 100 million fish from last summer.

Here’s the statewide catch breakdown for the other salmon species: for sockeye, the forecast calls for a catch just shy of 48 million, down by more than 7 million reds from last year.

A coho catch of 4.4 million would be a half million fish increase; likewise, for chum salmon, a catch of nearly 19 million would be a similar increase over last season.

For Chinook, a catch of 99,000 fish is projected for all areas except Southeast, where the harvest will be determined according to Pacific Treaty agreements with Canada. Last year’s statewide Chinook catch was 521,612.

It all adds up to fewer salmon being available to global buyers this year – and some hopeful market signs for Alaska salmon are starting to surface.

 

 

Deadliest Catch Returns On Tuesday

Photo by Discovery Channel

Photo by Discovery Channel

We just finished up an interview with 23-year-old Sean Dwyer, who just finished his rookie year captaining a crab fishing vessel chronicled on the new season of Discovery Channel’s hit show, Deadliest Catch. Look for our story on him for our May isssue, but tune in tonmorow for the Season 12 premiere.

Here’s the Discovery release along with some clips:

For the past 11 years, the veteran captains of the Bering Sea have carved their living in one of the world’s most dangerous fisheries – risking it all including their lives. But this year, a new generation is stepping up and claiming their seat at the table. But do they have the drive and guts that it takes to become a legend? From Original Productions, the 16-time Emmy Award-winning series DEADLIEST CATCH returns for its 12th season on Tuesday, March 29 at 9 PM ET/PT on the Discovery Channel.
“When I look around at the new guys, there is a lot of opportunity but not a lot of promise,” said Sig Hansen, captain of the F/V Northwestern. “I don’t see as much fear as I would have hoped to see. They don’t seem fearful because in their mind, there is nothing to fear. At sea, you find out what a guy is made out of. Not everyone makes the cut.”
What the young guys lack in experience, they make up for in drive and eagerness. This season, DEADLIEST CATCH welcomes a new skipper to town. Just 23-years-old, Sean Dwyer of the Brenna A is the youngest captain ever in the history of DEADLIEST CATCH. Following in the footsteps of his recently-departed father, the young rookie has fished all his life but never as a captain on the Bering Sea. Now he embarks upon the Holy Grail of commercial fishing in a vessel that hasn’t fished crab in eight years and manned by an all-rookie crew. Added pressure comes from the fact that his 290,000 lb. quota comes from Sig.
Sean isn’t the only one feeling the heat. Breaking free of Sig’s mentoring grip is Jake Anderson who takes his first full season at the helm of the Saga. Last season, Jake fought to prove his worth as a fisherman, father and captain. Now that he’s been given a shot, he needs to prove his worth as a leader. But can he command a crew he also sees as his friends?
Meanwhile on the Cornelia Marie, young skipper Josh Harris steps out of the shadows to claim his birthright on the legendary vessel once commanded by his father, the late Captain Phil Harris. The boat has finally gotten an overhaul – complete with new electronics and engine room. But making the boat like new comes with a steep price. To pay for the overhaul, Josh had to sell a majority of the boat to investors meaning if they can’t find crab, the investors will find someone else who can.
Over on the Cape Caution, a new year brings a new crew for long-time Captain Wild Bill Wichrowski. This season, Wild Bill turns to his son Zach Larson to find and train the boat’s crew. But the teaching process hasn’t been quite so easy for the teacher or the students. Can Zach prove he’s up to the challenge to finally take over the wheel house?
Captain Keith Colburn of The Wizard is struggling with life both on and off the deck. Keith hopes for a fresh start this season after recently breaking up with his wife of 25 years and accepting that his kids are all grown up. Millions of dollars-worth of crab on the line, and Keith’s crew is ready to go on day one. But before they can leave, they need their captain… who is nowhere to be found.
On the Time Bandit, Jonathan Hillstrand and his brother Andy, find themselves in a dicey situation that could not only cost them a quarter million dollars but that could potentially cost them their fishing license. Will Jonathan make the right decision? Or will this force them to call it quits before the season even started? And finally on the Northwestern, salty Captain Sig Hansen makes a bold decision to search for crab on grounds that he hasn’t been to in over a decade. Was it the right choice? Or was there good reason why he’s avoided it this long?
While experience battles youth this season, Mother Nature wages war. The warm waters of El Niño push the crab deeper, making the catch even more elusive. Each boat will have to fight even harder for every crab that comes over the rail. Injuries, breakdowns and chaotic weather plague the fleet, proving once and for all that in the Bering Sea legends can be built… But they also can be broken.
The 2-hour season premiere of DEADLIEST CATCH airs Tuesday, March 29 at 9 PM ET/PT on the Discovery Channel.

Aleutians Volcano Erupts

Mount Pavlov, an 8000-foot-plus volcano in the Aleutians, has erupted. (USFWS)

Mount Pavlov, an 8000-foot-plus volcano in the Aleutians,  erupted on Sunday. (USFWS)

Living anywhere along the West Coast means two potential geological hazards: earthquakes and volcanoes.

Anyone who lives in southern Washington experienced the power and fury of Mother Nature during the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980.

On the isolated Aleutian Islands off the Alaskan coast, an 8000-foot volcano cleared its throat on Sunday.

Here’s the Associated Press with more:

The Pavlof Volcano, which is about 600 miles southwest of Anchorage, erupted at 4:18 p.m. local time. The agency says the eruption also led to tremors on the ground.

The USGS raised the volcano alert level to “Warning” and the aviation warning to “Red.”

The agency says the volcano, which is about 4.4 miles in diameter, has had 40 known eruptions and “is one of the most consistently active volcanoes in the Aleutian arc.”

 

 

RIP To Parker Schnabel’s Grandfather

Mine 3 Big Nugget. Parker and John Schnabel.

Mine 3 Big Nugget. Parker and John Schnabel.

Sad news today, as Gold Rush star Parker Schnabel’s beloved grandfather, John, has passed away. 

From People:

“We couldn’t have asked for a better father, grandfather and overall family man,” the Schnabel family tells PEOPLE in an exclusive statement. “He was a true legend and we appreciate all of your love and support as we celebrate his wonderful life.”

Condolences to the Schnabel family.

Click here for our previous interview with Parker, who spoke fondly of his grandpa.

 

Dallas Seavey Wins Fourth Iditarod Title

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Congrats to Dallas Seavey, who we featured in a 2015 cover story, who early this morning won his fourth Iditarod title.

The Alaska Dispatch News has some details:

Seavey reached the finish line at 2:20 a.m., smashing the race record for the second time in three years. And he’s only 29.

“It’s just another day of mushing, man. It’s what we do,” he said underneath the burled arch marking the finish line.

His six sled dogs ate a frozen snack as his wife, Jen, passed black dog booties to bundled-up spectators in the zero-degree cold. 

Seavey finished the Iditarod in 8 days, 11 hours, 20 minutes and 16 seconds. That topped the record he already held, trimming his 2014 time by a little more than an hour and 44 minutes. 

“I like that time,” he said.

He gave a thumbs up to the cheering spectators, many of whom who held up cell phones to take photographs.

Seavey’s father Mitch finished runnerup to his son for the second straight year. Mitch won the Iditarod in 2014, the only time in the last five years “The Last Great Race On Earth” wasn’t won by the younger Seavey.

The 2016 Iditarod race itself was overshadowed by an alleged attack  on mushers Aliy Zirkle and Jeff King, leaving one dog dead and others injured.

 

 

 

When It All Goes To Hell

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The following appears in the March issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:

BY KRYSTIN AND BIXLER MCCLURE

Be prepared. Those are the best two words of advice we can offer anyone planning a trip in Alaska.

Most of the time, our fishing and hunting adventures in the wilds of Alaska run smoothly, making us wonder why we cart around so many extra supplies. Then we have one of those adventures, the type with compounding problems where we make it out safely due to our preparations and a bit of Alaskan ingenuity.

Our trip to Tolovana Hot Springs was one of those adventures. The area is a remote wilderness resort some 105 road miles north of Fairbanks and 10 miles down a difficult up-and-down trail. There are three cabins to rent and three tubs fed by natural hot springs in the area. The setting is extremely remote and the trailhead is simply a turnout at Milepost 93 of the Elliot Highway. Surprisingly, though the hot springs are popular, we managed to squeeze in a midweek reservation in early February. And the die was cast.

 

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BIXLER AND I brainstormed potential problems we might have while loading up our truck. Our new-to-us snowmachines were Polaris RMKs, circa 2000, that were running great. Bixler grabbed extra coolant, two-stroke oil and tools, just in case. I checked the weather.

Fairbanks and the area north was forecast to be about 0 degrees F or slightly below, so we packed warm clothes and grabbed a generator for the block heater on our old diesel truck.

We grabbed our satellite phone and GPS. We packed guns and snowshoes and a shovel. Bixler checked over our snowmachines and trailer. Everything looked good and soon we found ourselves on the 10-hour drive north to Fairbanks to stay with friends before heading to the hot springs.

Somewhere on the highway near Cantwell, the windshield on my snowmachine broke off. Not a big deal since I have a full face helmet, so we simply ripped it off the snowmachine. After a night in Fairbanks, we headed north to the trailhead through the remote and lonely wilderness of the Steese and Elliot Highways. The Elliot Highway was rough, but the trailhead was easy to find since the turnout contained the only other cars on the entire road.

Bixler unloaded the snowmachines while I prepared the trailer. Because of the cold, much of our food that I did not want to freeze went into a cooler inside the truck, along with our water and other clothing. For some unknown reason, while I was packing the sled I felt nervous, as if I was having a premonition of things to come. Bixler felt the same, especially when he warmed up his snowmachine and realized it was idling high.

“We are going anyway,” Bixler said as he packed snow on the rails of the snowmachine to help with the cooling, and then hitched up the sled.

As we hooked up our gear, another couple who had been to the hot springs before came up and said, “Good luck.” Bixler and I looked at each other, wondering what they meant.

I felt better as we zipped down the trail, well-packed and easy to follow. We stopped a few times to repack snow on the cooling system since Bixler’s high-revving snowmachine was overheating. Our last stop was when we climbed to the top of the dome towering above the hot springs.

We were greeted by sweeping views of the Interior – the powerful sight of Denali shining on the horizon. A few other hot springs users were enjoying the view, but gave us the odd comment of, “You came all the way from Seward for this?”

The comment churned in our heads for the duration of the trip. Was it a premonition or a curse?

Snowmachine fiasco 3

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AS WE HEADED downhill, the brake on Bixler’s snowmachine overheated and started seeping brake fluid since the idle was so high. We stopped on a downhill slope to rest the snowmachine while the fluid returned to Bixler’s brake lines.

He was frustrated by the high idle. Since we were less than a mile from the cabin, we decided to push onwards. Bixler used the choke switch to control speed and stopped when his brake was acting up again. Thankfully, we made it safely to the cabin. Bixler inspected his snowmachine and realized the throttle cable was caked with ice, causing the cable to not release all the way. A quick removal of the ice and the snowmachine was back to idling properly.

The cabin was a one-room wonder, well-stocked and comfortable. We spent four days leisurely following a regimen of eat, sleep, soak, read, view the northern lights and snowmachine. The weather was bitterly cold and made worse due to fierce winds, so we dressed warmly in our Arctic coveralls (used by oil workers on the North Slope) and brought our satellite phone everywhere when venturing far from the cabin.

Ever since El Niño arrived in Seward, our snow has been dwindling, so we took advantage of the many snowmachine trails in the area. We followed a trail and Bixler shot a sharptailed grouse, the first of that species for us. We followed the trail onward to a frozen riverbed and stopped to look for more birds.

When we returned to our snowmachines, I found that mine would not start. No amount of pulling the pull-start would get it to budge. We carry numerous spark plugs and a toolset in the seat of our snowmachines, so we started pulling spark plugs.

Eventually, we got the thing started, but then I got it stuck again and it stalled. We repeated the changing of the spark plugs and the clearing of the excess fuel and I sped back to the cabin.

Bixler did some light maintenance and found some ice caked around the kill switch. My snowmachine fired right up the next day with no problems. Bixler took his up to the top of the dome to look for birds and returned, noting a coolant leak in his snowmachine.

“I left the coolant in the truck,” he said with a big sigh. His coolant was low, but the leak abated. We contemplated how to get my excess coolant out of my snowmachine into his and headed back inside when we were too cold and windblown to continue.

Sitting inside the cabin, I noticed a bottle of Windex sitting on the shelf. I grabbed the bottle and removed the squirting part of it, cleaning out the excess Windex. We dipped the tube into my coolant and squirted it into a cup. Bixler fashioned a funnel out of a paper plate and evened out the coolant between the two snowmachines.

The problem seemed to be solved, but both of us still woke up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat (for once, not caused by overloading the wood stove), and worrying about the ride out.

 

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WE DID ONE last check over the snowmachines and hooked up the sled. Everything appeared to be working as we headed back up the steep hill to the top of the dome. Bixler and I sped up the trail with little problems, though I swore my snowmachine was struggling in places. Bixler got ahead of me and stopped on the trail to wait. I came up behind him and threw on the brake.

My snowmachine died.

Bixler continued ahead and got stuck in a snowdrift and realized I was not behind him. He walked down the trail to try to help me restart my snowmachine. No luck. I walked up with him and got his snowmachine unstuck. After digging out his mode of transport and dragging the sled uphill by hand, we started to devise a worst-case plan. Bixler would drive our gear back to the truck while I tried to restart my snowmachine. If I could not get it started, I would walk back towards the truck and meet him on the trail when he came back.

I grabbed water, food, ice cleats and something warm for my head – hiking in a helmet is impossible – and gave Bixler one last push uphill.

I walked back to my snowmachine and managed to get it restarted. It struggled for power and died again in the same snowdrift. It would not restart. I took off my helmet, put on ice cleats for traction and a hat and facemask to combat the weather and started the walk out.

When I reached the top of the dome I again ran into Bixler, who had dropped off our sled and topped off his coolant. He planned to try to unstick my snowmachine and ride it up to me so I could ride it out.

He sped downhill and I followed on foot. Bixler unstuck my snowmachine from the drift, but it died again. He restarted it and sped uphill, screaming at me to run after it. My trek to the top of the dome wore me out and I ran as fast my legs could push me. As soon as I reached my snowmachine, it sputtered and shut off.

As a last resort, we tried to use our tow straps to tow it out, but Bixler’s snowmachine could not pull it up the steep icy hill. We made the executive decision to abandon it in place with a note stuck in the brake handle, still 9 miles from the trailhead.

We rode two-up on Bixler’s snowmachine back to the truck. During the trek, we ran into a family from North Pole on snowmachines and explained the situation. They offered to try to get mine out since we had to return to Fairbanks.

“Oh yeah, we’ll help. We’re all Alaskans, right?” he joked as he explained that their touring snowmachines had enough power to tow just about anything.

We returned to the truck and loaded the one snowmachine into the trailer. Bixler went to start the truck, which was sluggish.

“Will anything go right today?” he yelled through the fierce winds at the trailhead as we wrestled the generator out of the truck. We plugged the generator into the block heater and 20 minutes after warming the oil we had the truck started. It was that kind of a day.

 

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DRIVING BACK TO Fairbanks, we contemplated what to do about the abandoned snowmachine. Bixler decided to call our friend Neil, a student at University of Alaska Fairbanks and a snowmachiner, to see if any of his friends wanted to rescue a cheap and abandoned snowmachine in the wilderness. Neil jumped at the idea, and while we nursed beers at Silver Gulch brewery, Neil organized a lightning-strike rescue operation with some fellow friends from UAF.

The next morning, we loaded up Neil’s new Polaris RMK on our trailer and headed back to the trailhead with Neil and his friend, Adam. The four of us drove up to the trailhead, laughing at an abandoned trailer parked in the middle of the Elliot Highway with a broken axle.

We parked back at the trailhead and went to pull the snowmachines off of our trailer. Bixler stepped out of the truck and spewed a string of expletives. Our axle had cracked on both sides of the trailer, causing the tires to lean inward. At this point all we could do was laugh because everything could go wrong did go wrong in a classic case of Murphy’s Law taunting us.

I stayed behind at the truck, restarting it every hour for about 15 minutes to circulate the oil. Bixler, Adam and Neil started down the trail. A few hours later, the family from North Pole arrived and updated me on the situation. They had ridden my snowmachine up and over the dome and the guys had taken over from there. Bixler arrived first on my snowmachine, which made it back to the trailhead after a combination of towing using Neil’s new Polaris RMK, and the fact that it started for the final uphill trek to the trailhead.

Adam followed on Bixler’s snowmachine, which had broken a ski strut and was held together with a piece of rope that we also carry with us during these adventures. Neil came out last and inspected his snowmachine, which had a slight crack because he had run into a tree.

“This trip is cursed,” I said when the three arrived back at the truck, which was warming up.

Contemplating what to do with the two snowmachines, we decided to load them onto the broken trailer since our trailer was insured. Bixler used our satellite phone and called his mother, Sue, who went to our house to check over our trailer policy. Roadside assistance was covered.

Before loading Neil’s snowmachine into the bed of our truck, we had to get the trailer hitch off the ball. I suggested we lock it up for safety and we struggled with the frozen lock. The antifreeze did not do the trick, so out came the trusty generator. We used the exhaust to thaw out the lock and dropped the trailer in its final resting place.

Bixler talked with the insurance company and arranged for the $500 tow to a trailer repair shop in Fairbanks (the tow truck driver spent 10 hours towing our broken combination back to Fairbanks thanks to a rough road, so he wasn’t spared either). We organized a shuttling mission with Neil and Adam to shuttle our broken snowmachines to Adam’s house, where they would be put on sale on Craigslist.

We loaded up our truck with the remaining gear and had a flawless drive back to Seward. We all came out of the ordeal unscathed – less a trailer and two snowmachines, of course – because of proper planning and anticipation of what could go wrong.

In Alaska, be prepared for anything. It helps to have some great friends, too. ASJ

PREPARING FOR THE WORST 

Alaska can be a harsh place, and it’s hard to anticipate what can go wrong in a cold and remote wilderness. We got out of our situation because we were well-prepared for a variety of scenarios. If you are planning an adventure in Alaska, consider some of these preparation tips, especially if you’re adventuring in the winter or going remote:

TAKE IT FOR A TEST RIDE

Before we left Seward, we tested our truck and snowmachines and checked essential fluids in both. Oftentimes, a problem will present itself with a simple test ride.

REDUNDANCY

We had two snowmachines similar in size, two tow hitches, two tow straps and eight spark plugs for a reason. Redundancy allows for a safe return from the wilderness, because if one thing goes wrong, you have a backup to work with. If you are a snowmachiner and want to go remote, bring a friend with one or be prepared for a long walk out.

BRING TOOLS, FLUIDS AND ROPE 

A basic set of tools, a few feet of rope and essential fluids can save a snowmachine trip. Most snowmachines have a small storage place for these items. If not, throw these into a backpack. You never know when you might need them.

CONTEMPLATE THE COLD

Cold makes everything infinitely more difficult, especially with a broken snowmachine or sluggish truck. Check the weather before you go and dress accordingly. Bring clothes for all parts of your body, including your face. If you are carrying water, consider an insulated container or zipping up your water bottle in your jacket. If you are worried about your car starting, a generator and extension cord can do wonders (it also unlocks locks, too!).

INVEST IN A SATELLITE PHONE 

Alaska does not have statewide cell service like most places. Satellite phones can be rented or you can purchase one with an Alaskan-specific plan to cut down on costs for minutes.

BECOME AN ALASKAN MACGYVER

Use your brain and the supplies you have. You’d be surprised what you can fix with rope, a Leatherman and the weirdest of items, like a Windex bottle and a paper plate! –KM