Been a Longggg Time

May 13, 2008
So sorry for not keeping up on the Blog since i've been back. Life has been busy and my priorities have been Christine and the Denali Education Center. This coming Sunday we open our doors for the 2008 summer season welcoming 30 Elderhostel guests from all over the country who will stay on our Denali riverside campus for six nights and seven days.

This past Saturday my nephews Jamie and Joel Lichosik accompanied me as we drove to the Toklat in a borrowed truck to retrieve the rest of my gear and food left in a storage shed there (thanks Holly!). We had a fantastic day with big blue skies, moose, Dall sheep, and an inquisitive 4 year old grizzly bear who enjoyed scratching his back on the corner of the outhouses at the Toklat rest stop.

i am hoping to update the blog weekly filling in trip details and now that i have my research journals in my possesion, some of the findings from the trip. Thank you for your patience and happy spring!

Up the trail, finally




Journal entry, January 21, 2008, 34 degrees
Christine and i drive up to the trailhead and start packing the gear into the sled. Who should pull up but Todd Shorey, what a guy! i used to live with Todd for 3 years, my bed was his couch and my closet was a spare bath tub he had in the living room... The sleds loaded, skis are on, i give it a pull, nothing. Again, doesn't move an inch. i pull with all my might, uh oh. i need my snowshoes... i pull out my wax scraper that i use for my skis and take off a layer of ice that formed when i put the warm plastic sled on the relatively warm snow. As soon as the ice layer was off it pulled like a dream, whew...
...it seemed like the Park was ours. Up we traveled and the further we got, the harder it was. Truth be told i thought i was in good shape, a little round, but i had planned that... My guess is that i had about 150 pounds in the sled and another 50 or so in my backpack...

By mile 9 it started getting windy. By mile 10 it was blowing hard but luckily it was at our backs. It still stung though and was whipping through us. Eventually we found a large culvert under the road and we dropped our packs and sled and sought some refuge there for a short break...

Finally the snow patches were gone and the ice on the pavement nonexistent. I could barely pull the sled on my own so Christine helped and that was the only way we could move it forward. Even with the two of us pulling we had a hard time...

That night the wind blew so hard that it kicked the front open and the outside shutters broke free smashed the window frame so hard it was fortunate the glass didn't break. i went outside in the middle of the night and latched everything in tight, immediately blackening the inside of the cabin. Too bad because the moon was full and filled the cloudless night sky...

Sled thoughts, Brett Favre & Christine


Journal entry, January 20, 2008
Time to make final decisions about gear and supplies. i wanted to pack the sled and see how it worked and what it looked like , i'm impressed. It's easy to pack and the load cinches tight. i think it's going to pull pretty easy but until i do it who knows. My assumptions have been wrong so many time before that i should probably assume the opposite.

I'm listening to the Packers on the computer, it doesn't sound good. i so want them to go to the Super Bowl but it's a tough league and different teams peak at different times. Overtime, Pack loses 23-20, their miracle season comes to a close. It would have been great for Favre, but hey, there's always next year.

i knew i was in love with her from the moment i first saw her... i had never met or seem anyone like her before... So now i'm leaving her, what the hell am i thinking? This is the hardest decision of my life.

Some Answers to Questions about the Trip, April 2, 2008

Greetings, i've been asked if i was going to update the blog and now that i am settling into my life again here on the fringe of Denali i am ready to go.

A couple of general answers to questions:

My first meal when i got out was a ham and cheese sandwich. It's funny but i didn't crave any foods while i was away but during my last week i started thinking ham and cheese, ham and cheese, when i arrived home Christine must have read my mind cuz there it was. Later that night after the longest shower of my life (i had what you might describe as a very distinct, wilderness scent) i ate every last crumb of scrumptious fish and chips from 229 Parks Restaurant, amazing food and impeccable service.

Yes i lost weight, i started at 196.5 and came back 176.5. i've already put about 5 lbs back on because everything just seems to taste great and i'm not getting out all day long like i did when i was out, who knew.

Biggest moment? They were all big, i loved each day.

Happy to be home? Ecstatic, it is so good to be back with Christine and to see all my friends.

Happy to be at work? Working for the Denali Education Center is not a job it is an opportunity to educate and help people understand Denali. i work with wonderful people each day and see great potential for making more of a difference than ever before, so yes i am happy.

Would you do it again? Yes, but only if Christine were with me. i got married for a reason.

March 30, 2008 Thanks to All!

Greetings Everyone Willie here, It feels great to be back! I must admit that it is a bit strange to be typing away at the computer after the experience i was so fortunate to have had. There is so much to share and i plan on doing just that.

First of all however i need to thank everyone who is associated with the Denali Education Center. The Trustees and Staff supported this trip from the get go and i am humbled by their belief in the value of the trip and their hard work each and every day to connect people to Denali.

Thank You to the Staff of the National Park Service here in Denali who supported this trip in countless ways, i am thankful to you all and proud to be a Park Partner. Thank you to Karen and her amazing staff of Dog Mushers, Carmen, Sarah and Krusty for your companionship, hard work and the kindness you displayed to those wonderful dogs.

Thank you to all, family, friends and new friends who visited the blog, kept me in your thoughts and threw your energy my way, i needed it.

Most of all thank you to Christine for your upkeep of the blog, steadfast support and most of all your unconditional love...i am a lucky soul in endless ways, i love you soooo much.

The photo above is from when i first arrived and Christine and i saw each other for the first time, March 21, 2008. Taken at Christines workplace, 229 Parks Restaurant, the home of Fantastic Service and Unbelievable Food! That night i ate the best fish and chips ever at 229 (thanks Jillll) and visited with lots of friends, so good to be home again.

Saturday March 22, 2008 - WILLIE IS HOME!!!!!!

Hello Everyone! Willie made it to the Sanctuary Cabin yesterday at about 1:15 pm. He could hear the Park Service road crew up ahead. We chatted on the satellite phone and I told him, "hitch a ride & come on HOME! I called Tim at the Park Service & made sure it was okay for Willie to ride out with the road crew. Tim gave the okay and that was that... THANK YOU TIM & BRAD for all your help with Park road information! Willie took the ride out of the Park and showed up at my work at about 5:30 pm. I knew he was going to take the ride, but I didn't expect to see him until later. He surprised me outside by the back door, I could not believe he was standing there. It was great to see his face again! YEAH! He has long unruly hair, and a beard & mustache that have taken over his face. He is SKINNY TOO! He is 20 pounds lighter! He has a weather-worn look happening (like someone who just spent 61 days out in the backcountry of Denali!). His backpack had to weigh at least 55 pounds that he had been hauling out with him. It is great to see him! Anyway, I just want to THANK YOU for following along with me. And now, I am going to sign-out and turn this blog back over to Willie. He will soon be writing his own story here...so stay tuned! I look forward to his stories too! Cheers, Christine

PS. last night when Willie & I left my work the full moon was shining down in a clear night sky. It was the same moon & kind of clear sky that we had 2 months ago (3 lunar cycles) on January 21, when we skiied out to Savage together to start this adventure...very cool timing to have him home!

Thursday March 20, 2008 - Day 60

HAPPY 1st DAY OF SPRING!
This morning it was 4 below zero here, not feeling like spring to me... But, as the day continued it was as warm as 33 above zero, a bright and clear day. Beautiful!

Willie called today. He decided to spend another day out at Igloo to give his body a chance to recover from Tuesday & Wednesday's trek. At some point last night/early this morning, he woke up to a shrew in his hair! "Dude, not cool" is what he had to say to his little friend. Turns out he had gotten into Willie's bag of rice & then decided to snuggle up with him...I talked to Willie this morning- so I'm not sure how his day went out there. He is planning on calling me later tonight. His plan was to head out from Igloo tomorrow/Friday morning and snowshoe/walk to the Sanctuary area (about 12 miles). The park service road crew has started work on clearing the road, and they should get out to the Sanctuary area tomorrow too. Willie will be seeing those folks at some point it would seem tomorrow or the next day. This is all I know for now...

Wednesday March 19, 2008 - Day 59

Willie left Toklat yesterday- Tuesday, March 18, 2008. He traveled (snowshoeing) the 9 & 1/2 to 10 miles from Toklat up over Polychrome Pass to the Murie Cabin. He took the dog mushers trail out. Today he continued on (about 10 miles) up over Sable Pass and is now at Igloo. He got to the top of Sable Pass in about 3 hours. He then took his time on the way down. He stopped to film, and take photos. He said it was a perfect day out there. No wind, except at the very top of Sable Pass. He saw another dead Dall sheep in the snow. This one appeared to be a 10 year old ram. Willie saw over 70 snowshoe hares today, "the hare's were everywhere." Out at Igloo, there are wolf tracks "all over, the biggest tracks that I've seen are here. It must be the alpha male tracks." There are also quite a few wolverine tracks around too. While we were talking on the phone a owl started to hoot...lot's of activity out at Igloo! Next up for Willie is the snowshoe/walk from Igloo to Sanctuary area, this is about 12 miles. I will keep you posted as I hear from him. The temperatures have been from zero to about 7 above.

Sunday March 16, 2006 - Day 56

Willie called to check in. He went camping the past few nights out at Stoney Hill/Highway Pass area, out on the west branch. I missed his call, but he said he is back at the Pearson Cabin today. He is going to finish the process of getting ready to leave the Toklat area, and start to head back out of the park. If he gets it all together he will be leaving Tuesday, March 18th. Since I missed his call I do not have better details. I will be heading to Fairbanks today returning to Denali on Wednesday March 19th. I will not be updating the blog until I return. I will give new information on Willie's progress out of the park at that time. Thanks again for reading...

Also, the mushers Krusty, Carmen, and Sarah are out at the Wonder Lake area of the park. Wonder Lake is mile 85 on the west end of the park road. I also have a report that the area out at Toklat now has snow again. I'm not sure, but this might change Willie's route out of the park, he might go along the dog mushers trail or he might stay on the park road???

Journal Entries For March 5, 7, & 10th

Willie gave me a few journal entries when we last talked.
March 5, 2008
Last night in the northern sky, a black round cloud, like I have never seen, darken the night sky. It was perfectly round with stars all around it. This morning the wind continues. The whole area is overcast with a thick roll of clouds. Concealing, hazy it divides the mountains- in and out they appear slowly. Yet snow does not come. The wind beats this area hard and continues this pattern today. Time to walk and see what I see...

March 7, 2008
Yesterdays walk with Chris was one I will never forget. A beautiful, picture perfect day, clear bright blue sky lighting up Highway Pass. Found a porcupine feeding on miniscule flora between the rocks. Looking like a cactus, head sitting in the middle of the exposed gravel of the pass. It didn't move for the longest time. But the sun backlit it's quills and you could see slight movement. I moved to the side of it and it immediately ran across the pass into the safety of the willows. It's surprising how fast they can move. I imagine it saw us for awhile and assumed the walk position, as we came closer, it waited for it's best chance to exit around us and took it...

March 10, 2008
I hear a wolf howl at the base of my trail. I get my camera and hurry to the bottom and they are gone. Finding their tracks, it was two wolves. The smaller one came close to the trailhead and howled three times. The larger never stopped, and stayed on the dog mushers trail heading south over Highway Pass. It was curious that the wolves decided to announce their presence rather then just walk on by. I would suppose that this was their indication to me that they knew I was up at the cabin. Smart, those wolves are...

Map Of Wolf Activity


Wolf Update From Tom At NPS - March 13, 2008

Date: Tue, 11 Mar 2008 15:57:36 -0800> > > Hi Christine, Here's an up-to-date map of the travels of the East Fork wolf since we put the GPS collar on him at the end of November. We captured 11 wolves with a helicopter last week. Five of them were wolves that we'd collared before but either their collars had failed or we expected them to fail soon. One wolf we caught was a gray female from the East Fork Pack whose collar failed recently. We try to keep two collars in each pack so we can find them again if one wolf dies or leaves or its collar fails. But right now we're missing four packs, two on the east end and two out west. We had more collared wolves than usual get killed this winter, some by people and some by wolves. We picked up the collars from five wolves killed by wolves, and all five had been completely eaten up. That's unusual. Usually wolves kill other wolves for territorial aggression, not for food. We've never known a wolf in Denali to be killed by their own pack, always by neighboring packs. When you look at the map of the East Fork wolf's travels, those locations out by the Toklat, and the ones in the east end of the park, represent places where the pack is ovelapping with other wolf packs (the Grant Creek Pack to the west and the Mount Margaret Pack to the east). That overlap is the main reason why these packs encounter one another and kill off their neighbors. Over half of the wolves in Denali end up being killed by neighboring wolf packs. Over the next few weeks I'm going to make this year's map of wolf packs and wolf population estimate, so I'll send you a copy when I do. We have four big packs in the park now, the East Fork and McKinley Slough packs, both with more than 15 wolves. The others are all under 10 wolves. (See attached file: EF wolf Mar 11.jpg) Tom Meier Wildlife Biologist Denali National Park and Preserve

March 11, 2008

Toklat temperatures since midnight:
Max, 26 degrees F
Min, 18 F
Max in last 24 hours: 31 degrees F
Denali Education Center temperatures at 3:00 pm: 25 F

I had a cool night here at the cabin after Willie called last night. I could hear an owl hooting inside the cabin. I knew it had to be right outside my door for it to be heard inside the cabin. I opened the door & it took off flying above and out across the Nenana River. It was dark, but it's wings were HUGE and I could actually here the sound of it's wings flapping through the air. It was a perfectly clear night sky with tons of stars. And to top it off the northern lights were rocking across the sky. NOT A BAD NIGHT AT ALL HERE LAST NIGHT!!!!!!

A quick recap of Willie's week March 2 through today. He went camping out at Bear Draw area for 3 nights. Headed back to the cabin on the 5th. Had dinner with more PEOPLE! Jeff, Laurie, their kids & Chris(local people of the area) had dog mushed out as part of their concession with the park for hauling gear out for climbers that are going to climb Denali. They had dinner with Willie, which Willie said was GREAT!!! The next day Chris & Willie took about a 6 mile hike together. Chris, Jeff, Laurie & the kids then headed farther out into the park. Willie then spent a few days at the Clear Water Divide trying to get another 100 year later photo. More camping out at the Cabin Woods area on March 7 through the 9th. Yesterday, March 10th he was back at the Pearson Cabin to restock supplies. Today, March 11 Willie was off early this morning to head out to get another 100 year later photo in the East Branch Range area. He plans on having a very long day today because he has to travel quite a distance to get to the point where the picture needs to be taken. I plan on hearing from him tomorrow March 12 with an update on his day. Next up on his list is to plan a camping trip out to the Stoney Hill area and have Denali in view to end his trip on... Willie will be starting the process of packing up his gear, cleaning up, storing his gear for his return trip out. He plans on walking out of the park starting on March 20th. Which is only 9 days from today! He is planning on giving himself 10 days to walk it, give or take as weather & travel permits. I did just pass on the news to him that the plows/road crew are starting to open up the park road starting yesterday, March 10th. So it looks like Willie will be encountering the road crew on his walk out. I laughed & told him to jump a ride out, so I can see him faster. He has to wrap his mind around this new information. So I am not sure yet if he will somehow have a change of plans...

Alaska Studies Class, Willie was happy to get your new questions. He will give me the answers to them the next time we talk, which should be tomorrow, March 12th.

Tuesday March 11, 2008 - Day 51 - Journal Entry

Willie and I finally had a good phone connection last night. This is a journal entry from March 3 that he wanted to share:

March 3, 2008- When I reach the southern end of Cabin Woods the ice is still covered with snow making the walking easy. I see that the area where the wolves had bedded down from when I first tryed to set up the arctic oven in January is still being actively used. There are several trails heading into the area and several trails going through the woods. The wolves have recently been here and their sign is fresh. This makes me really happy with my decision to not stay here. I would have displaced the wolves and put both wolf and me in an unnecessary position of risk. I'm glad I trusted my instinct as setting up a permanent camp, given the wolf signs, just seemed like the wrong thing to do. Now that I am learning more about their habits and individual movements through the area I made the right choice.

It feels so good to be walking in the exact area where Sheldon & Karstens lived. I can definitely feel the historic energy. I think it is telling that a wolverine track heads straight through what had been their cabin, and wolves are bedding down regularly in Cabin Woods. Sheldon and Karstens were living the life of research and basic survival, nothing in their minds, I would think, out of the ordinary for them. However, that winter of 1907-08 and the previous summer of 1906, laid the foundation of one of the worlds most magnificent National Parks and had preserved a legacy of wilderness enjoyment for literally millions of people. The effect on the Denali sub-arctic ecosystem and all it's inhabitants has been equally, if not more so, profound.

I seem to be spending a lot of time in the dark. Laying in my sleeping bag with the headlight on, my little beam of light for reading my book or journal. This is what I anxiously look forward to at night, finding comfort in the pages. This is my self made company which grounds me as I write and opens my mind as I read. When I am back in my normal life this is missing, as my free time is occupied with a multitude of choices. A side of me comes out that I need wilderness which is hidden and only emerges when I am in the throws of it's rhythm. Now that I have spent so much time here, it will be interesting to see where my new balance point lands. Wherever it is, I'm better for it. When we know our choices it is easy to see how we can find happiness...

Monday March 10, 2008 - Day 50

Today is 50 days that Willie has been out there...We both are experiencing spring fever! With all the daylight and warm temperatures we both have been getting out. This has caused a lack of blogging on my part. So please forgive me! Willie has been camping out in his arctic oven tent in the Cabin Woods area. There has been lots of wolf activity out there. The area where Willie was going to set up his tent back in the end of January, is still active with the wolves bedding down, and being around. Willie is glad that he never "moved" into that area, he feels that camping is a bit less intrusive. Willie is amazed at the weather this month. It is melting out there! There are flys outside and the Pussy Willows are already blooming. It is weather that is a good month ahead of time. This might sound good, but the warmth is causing other challenges for Willie. One is that with no snow he can not haul his sled around, which is what he uses for hauling his gear around. So he is having to haul things without the help of his sled. This has made for longer days & harder work. It has also made it clear that he will be walking out of the Toklat area, as there is no snow to snowshoe out on. Again, his sled will be useless. He will have to pack what he needs in his backpack and travel lighter. Conditions could change, but at this point it does not look like they will. Willie has also been busy taking 100 year later photos of the same spots Charles Sheldon took photos. Tomorrow Willie is planning on heading out to an area called Ice Cream Gulch. It is about 2 & 1/2 miles to this area, then about 1 & 1/2 miles to the base of the ridge line he wants to climb, and photograph. Our last 2 satellite phone calls have been terrible. We get a few words in and then the phone goes dead. He calls me back just to have this process repeated. We are going to try again later tonight. If we get a good connection he has journal entries to share on the blog. I will add these as soon I can hear them. Today he also told me he could hear the wolves howling near by. He was off to try to film them...Hopefully, I will have more to share later tonight.

Thursday March 6, 2008 - Day 46

Willie called last night to check in. He is doing well. We had satellite phone issues and could not really catch up. We will try again today. As soon as I hear from him, and have an update of this past week, I will post it. Thank you for reading!

I did have news to tell Willie. I told him to sit down and brace himself...BRETT FAVRE RETIRED...a sad day out there for Willie I am sure...

Sunday March 2, 2008 - Day 42



Toklat temperatures since midnight:

Max, 28 degrees F

Min, -14 F (although Willie said his temps were -20 below last night?)

Wind Speed: 12 mph from ESE

Wind gust: 19 mph

Sunrise: 7:55 am

Sunset: 6:14 pm

Total daylight: 10 hours, 19 minutes

Gain: 6 minutes, 46 seconds

Willie is camping out again in the arctic oven tent. He will be exploring the Bear Draw area for the next few days. I should hear from him by Wednesday, March 5.

Below is an email response to the wolf clawing Willie's trail from Tom.

Hello Tom! Happy March to you! It is my favorite month with all the daylight being back! It also means warmer weather will eventually arrive. Hey, I have a question to ask you. Willie told me about this encounter he had with a wolf that I thought was interesting. Willie was out hiking when he heard a wolf howl. He went to find where it was. They were on the Toklat bridge. There were 6 wolves total. 2 went into the park service area , and one, the biggest of them went 30 feet up Willie's trail at the Pearson cabin, and CLAWED MARKS into the trail, and then ran off as fast as it could! Willie watched the whole thing and at one point they got to within 100 yards of him. Willie never felt threated by them, but I was wondering what you think about this wolf, the biggest, clawing into Willie's trail & then running off??? Interesting behavior if nothing else... Anyway, they have been in the area. Willie had seen their tracks about 5 days ago, before this encounter with them. Do you have any new GPS updates? Thank you again for you time Tom. I really apprieciate it! Cheers & Happy March to you, Christine

Date: Sun, 2 Mar 2008 09:21:02 -0900> > Hi Christine, Dominant wolves often scratch with their rear feet after scent marking. Was it the hind feet he was scratching with? It is interesting behavior. Had to be related to Willie's presence some way. The EF wolves were in that area, according to the GPS data, a few days ago and now are apparently back on the Sanctuary. One time, over a week ago, they were way out by Otto Lake. We're going out to catch wolves today, so Willie may see us pass by with a small white helicopter, two supercubs. Tom Meier Wildlife Biologist Denali National Park and Preserve

Journal Entry From March 1, 2008 - Day 41

From Willie's journal writing March 1, 2008:
"I see a little piece of white hair and kick it with my snowshoe. Surprisingly, a much larger and bigger chunk of hair is exposed. Assuming a Snowshoe hare, I uncover more and then realize that the frozen blood is everywhere, great chunks of thick coarse hair is spread out over 20 feet. Droppings frozen in a pile, revealed that this was a Dall sheep, completely consumed. Further investigation revealed large frozen balls, almost like mini-footballs, of feces and/or regurgitated meat. Massive piles of it which must have been continually pushed out as more of the sheep was consumed. Tracks found, WOLVERINE!"
Willie found this yesterday March 1. He spent about an hour uncovering it. He figures the wolverine either killed the Dall sheep, stole it, or found it dead. It must have been dragged to the area where Willie found it as the ridge area was up about a 1/2 mile back. He took photos of it as well.

March 1, 2008 - Day 41

This photo was taken the end of January out at Toklat. These are the last people to have seen Willie 32 days ago & then again last night. These are "The Mushers"- Sarah is next to Willie, Carmen, and last to the right is Krusty. May safe travels continue for you four!

Dall Sheep, Wolves and Mushers

Willie hauled his arctic oven tent and wood over to the Charles Sheldon area on February 25 . He set up his camp behind the Cabin Woods area in an area called Cabin Peak. He camps out in the arctic oven tent for a few days at a time (3-4 days) then heads back to the Pearson cabin (about 3 & 1/2 miles or so away) to restock his food & supplies. His days have been filled with snowshoeing & hiking the ridge lines in the area. He has finished up the dunnage volunteer project. But is still doing his daily projects of: bird observations & recording, temperature recording, photo comparison/shots from 100 years later, satellite monitoring at 11 pm each night, snow depth recording, sound scape monitoring, and wildlife tracking & recording. Plus, there are the daily chores of getting fresh water to drink, melting snow, solar charging the batteries, his personal journal writing, and just plain old staying warm out there and dealing with the elements. He said his days are long, and with all this new daylight, he feels a sense of urgency to do as much as possible everyday. The wind had been a huge presence out at Toklat for much of his time out there. Willie said the wind started to feel like a personality, a character, it has had such presence blowing through the open Toklat area. Sometimes a harsh character... The wind has died down recently out there & the weather has been beautiful.

Willie had a great week of sightings. Dall sheep and more wolves. I am curious about that "biggest" wolf that scratched his claws into Willie's trail at the cabin...Willie never felt threatened by them, but I find this to be interesting behavior none the less...

Last night, Friday February 29, Willie saw PEOPLE for the first time since January 28. (32 days ago) Carmen, Krusty & Sarah made it back out to Toklat. Willie had dinner with them last night. The mushers are on their way out to Wonder Lake & Kantishna. (The end of the park road) This is their "BIG" March trip all the way out to the end of the park road. I'll keep you updated on them as I hear news about their travels. Thank you PLOW for your care package for Willie! The mushers got it out to him for you. And I'm sure he is enjoying it's contents.

Journal Entry From February 28, 2008



Thursday February 28, 2008 - a journal entry from Willie.

"The late hour setting sun lights up the canyon entrance in a orange glow. Making the sheep look vibrant and distinctive. Again I feel rewarded of my journey of the day. Just than, I hear a low, slow, inquisitive howl... wolves are about. Thinking the howl is from the north I leave the canyon and peer about. Unfortunately, the howl was bouncing off the canyon wall. The wolves are south. And I've exposed my position. One sits watching me, and the others quickly run away. The curious one continues with a slow quiet howl. Almost mournful intone. It finally departs and I head in their direction. By the time I get to their location their about a quarter mile or more away, heading do south on the bar. I see 2 of them coming from the Toklat Ranger cabin. And the largest of them all, coming from the road running extremely fast from the exact direction of my trail to the cabin. I'm watching them gather all together- 6 in all- as they continue south. Denali immaculate above them in a white halo surrounding its entire outline. Never will I forget the beauty of this sight. And a feeling of exhilaration brought over me.

The cabin trail, one large wolf has gone 30 feet up and scratched 8 piercing claw marks throughout the trail. My hand the size of his extended claws. Back at the cabin, taking off my snowshoes, the hollowing began. First one, then a chorus filled throughout the bar of the Toklat. They sang together in slight different pitches. The harmony was natural and their presence was known. Another day out on the Toklat. Mother nature comes to me..."

Journal Entry From February 26, 2008

Tuesday February 28, 2008
This is from Willie's journal:
"I scan the mountains for sheep, seeing none, I wonder how many see me? As I gain elevation, I see the tracks of the 10 sheep from the other day. They have crossed over the steep bowl and headed straight up. A canyon on the south side of the draw heading over to Polychrome mountain. I sit down for lunch. A power bar and water. Before making the push onward to obtain the ridge. It is steep and there is a light snow covering. I decide to keep my snowshoes on which works well for the first three quarters of the ridge. But the last area is so steep, and so little snow, that I literally have to crawl up. As I am on my hands and knees struggling for the summit, a smile comes to my face, thinking of Dall sheep watching me and wondering who or what is this clumsy thing trying to climb up into our home. Just than I look and see a solitary head staring right at me. As I reach the summit ridge, the sheep is on the next peak over the higher of the two. This is the one I have been shooting for. But I wasn't going to disturb the sheep anymore than I had already. Three sets of eyes are now suddenly gazing at me. Seemingly unconcerned as they start to graze, pawing away the snow to find whatever vegetation they can. I pull out my Sheldon photos and even though I am not 100 yards over on the next summit, I can easily see this is the head of Bear Draw. It feels great to confirm this and I take photos to reproduce his. And continue in a 360 degree arc. It is so appropriate that 3 Dall sheep are watching me, and Denali is booming magnificent as always. I stay on the crest for about an hour. Studying the landscape below and watching the sheep, the sunlight warm on my face. And a down parka perfect in the still air..."

40 Days In The Wilderness! - February 29, 2008

Today marks 40 days that Willie has been out in the wilderness. 40 days has had special meaning of life transforming journeys in other people... I'm sure Willie has changed somewhat during these past 40 days too. The lessons of the wilderness surrounding you each and every moment would have to have that effect on a person.

Last Saturday, February 23 marked the 1/2 way point of his journey. I had my own personal celebration, as this means we are 1/2 way closer to seeing each other again... Last night we had more Northern Lights across the night sky. I wonder if Willie saw them too?

Willie told me a couple weeks ago that, "I'm transforming into this guy who walks around in this vast wilderness by himself, alone, all day long... It has made me a stronger person..."

I read the journal entry from February 29, 1908 - 100 years ago- in Charles Sheldon's book. "They had seen plenty of sheep and the fresh track of a WOLF, THE FIRST THAT HAD COME INTO THE UPPER COUNTRY SINCE I HAD BEEN THERE." Meanwhile, 100 years later, Willie has seen tons of wolf tracks, and FINALLY saw his first Dall Sheep just this past week! Things have changed...

Toklat Temperatures For February 29, 2008 - Day 40

February 29, 2008, Friday
Toklat temperatures since midnight:
Max, -2 degrees F
Min, -17 F
Wind speed: 9 mph from NNW
Wind Gust: 13 mph
Denali Education Center temperatures at 6:30 pm: 0 F (and windy!) Our local forecast is calling for -40 F with the wind chill tonight. Winds at: SW 25 mph, Gusts 46 mph (I'm not sure why Tolkat reads so differently, but it sounds better out there!)
Sunrise: 8:02 am
Sunset: 6:08 pm
Total daylight: 10 hours, 5 minutes (10 hours!!!!!!)

Video - Day 1 - January 21, 2008

video

Video From 1st Day- January 21, 2008

video

Thursday, February 28, 2008 - Day 39

Toklat temperatures since midnight:
Max, 15 degrees F
Min, 1 F
Denali Education Center temperature at 4:00 pm: 19 F
Wind speed: 3 mph from WNW
Wind gust: 6 mph
Sunrise: 8:09 am
Sunset: 6:09 pm
Total daylight: 9 hours, 58 minutes

Willie called to let me know the camping went very well. We had a brief conversation as he was heading back out. He is taking advantage of this "beautiful and perfect weather".

The mushers Carmen, Krusty and Sarah headed back out yesterday, February 27, 2008. They are heading all the way out to the end of the park road. This is their "big trip" out to Wonder Lake. When they get to the Toklat area they will check on Willie. It has been 31 days since Willie has seen another human being. And that was when the mushers left him at Toklat on January 28.

Last night Wednesday, February 27th, the Northern Lights were rockin' across the sky. When I spoke to Willie today he saw them too. I think it is cool that we are seeing the same northern lights, stars, and moon at night...

This is all for now...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008 Toklat Temperatures

Toklat temperatures since midnight:
Max, 0 degrees F
Min, -21 F
Wind speed: 2 mph from WNW
Wind gusts: 4 mph

Dall Sheep

When I spoke to Willie on Sunday, February 24th he share these entries with me about a big day he had:

Climbing a steep tundra bench I slowly peer over

And 10 sets of eyes are keenly staring at my every move.

Laughing to myself

I know that here in the ridge land

a Dall Sheep's survival is through its keen since of eyesight and hearing.

They seem unafraid and continue browsing the mountain side

looking up occasionally and then back to their foraging

My mind moves in a state of elation

FINALLY sheep,

6 ewes and 4 lambs all look healthy

The lambs were exceptionally fat

like a big round snowball with a thick winter coat.

I have not been present but 10 minutes

and the ewe rose an the mountain side

looked down the divide

and immediately got up and ran vertically up the mountain.

All the other sheep followed with surprising speed

at least 200 yards higher from my perch.

From the divide below I could see nothing.

Still though, the reaction was obviously that something other than me caused their alarm.

Finally I was too cold to remain.

And the cloud bank was not going to lift significantly

Descending the tundra bench

I am shocked and amazed

Directly below me are two sets of fresh wolf tracks crossing my path.

And proceeding over the divide between the butte and the ridge where the sheep were feeding.

This is what caused their alarm and their nervous retreat up the face of the mountain.

I found the two wolf tracks and they stick to the edge of the river and the embankment.

Then they head out into the middle of the frozen Toklat.

Hoping they found an ice bridge off the main open channel

which will hold my weight. I proceed.

They indeed found a bridge but it was broken and they jumped the 3 feet of open water between the sides.

Not me, imagine a turtle jumping- same thing

"Kr-plump"!

Moments Alone

Journal entry from Willie...in February- I missed the date...satellite phones...
My time out here is the most wonderful opportunity I could ever ask for
in getting to know what it is like to live in wilderness.
I am getting to know a different culture
one without people.
But living on the edge of our impact.
It is a profound lesson for me
in acceptance, adaptability, survival, and simplicity.
Each day is a lesson that teaches me how to be a better person.
And how to not only respect who I am in the present,
but in moments and in the future as well...

Glorious Denali



The above photo was taken by Willie on his trip out to Toklat the end of January.

A journal entry from Willie on February 9, 2008:

I can see Denali is out perfectly

and hoping to catch a better look

I continue up the ridges

And I sit basking in the sunlight

watching a single raven acknowledge my invasion into the ridge land

I feel revived and spirited

surrounded by majestic splendor

Alone in the glory of Denali.

3 Lunar Cycles

Willie planned his trip around 3 lunar cycles. He did this because he wanted to travel with the most light possible. The full moon, when it is a cloudless night, is amazingly bright. When he started out on his trip on January 21, it was the first full moon of his trip. The nights were lit up for traveling. Gradually getting darker...until the 2nd cycle. The next full moon, with a lunar eclipse, (that we all missed because of clouds here in the Denali area) was on February 20th. The third cycle will be March 21st. This is the date that Willie plans on starting his journey back out. He plans to start to travel on March 21st with the full moon. He figures it will take about 10 days to walk/snowshoe back out of the park (give or take a few days). He will be traveling out solo. No musher support this time. He wants to be back here on March 31st.

Below is a link to the moon cycles:
http://www.tutiempo.net/en/moon/phases_1_2008.htm

Tuesday, February 26, 2008- Day 37

Willie called on Sunday night February 24. He let me know that he FINALLY saw Dall Sheep!!!!! He went camping with his regular tent, sleeping bag, warm gear, and food. He climbed the ridge line behind Sheldon's cabin site, first going up the Draw to the south. This is where he saw 10 Dall Sheep, 6 ewes and 4 lambs. He sat and watched them for quite awhile. Then all of a sudden, one sheep looked down the ridge alarmed, took off running up and over the ridge and then all the rest followed. Willie had been watching them for quite sometime and wondered what scared them. When he was heading back down the ridge there were fresh wolf tracks in the snow. So this must have been what scared the Dall Sheep. Willie had a cold night sleep that night, as he had gotten sweaty from the climb and could not warm up. He headed back to the Pearson cabin late the next day to restock his camping gear. He decided to leave his regular tent behind, and pulled the arctic oven tent out (with the wood burning stove). He was planning to pull it with the sled and set it up in the same Draw. This way he will have a heat source to warm him up after his climbing. He plans on being gone for 3 days. I should hear from him by Thursday. I will add more photos and past journal entries in the next few days.

Saturday, February 23, 2008- Day 34

Toklat temperatures since midnight:
Max, 23 degrees F
Min, 19 F
Denali Education Center temperatures at 2:00 pm: 28 F
Wind speed at Toklat: 3 mph from SE
Wind gusts: 4 mph
Sunrise: 8:24 am
Sunset: 5:48 pm
Total daylight: 9 hours, 25 minutes (Over 9 hours!!!!!!)

Willie is off to explore the area. He has his regular tent, -30 below sleeping bag, extra warm gear, cook stove, and food. He was heading out on Friday, 2/22- for a 3 to 4 day camping trip. He will be in the Cabin Peak area. Which is about 3 miles north of the Toklat bridge, on the right side of the river. Cabin Woods was the area where Charles Sheldon's cabin was. Cabin Peak is the area behind that. Willie plans on gradually making his way up the ridge line and camping out. I should hear from him again on his return to the Pearson Cabin on Monday. I will let you know as soon as I hear from him...

Journal Entry From January 26, 2008

Knowing that this is the last pass to go over before the Toklat- re-invigorates me in a brisk morning air. I feel so alive, fresh, and privileged. Just then, the sun peaks over the southern range and lights up the entire Polychrome Pass, as if someone turns the switch and darkness comes to light. I stop to bask in the January sunshine. And yes, I feel a fleeting moment of solar gain-- warmth. A familar sound comes from the north, then the east, then west... I count 22 Willow Ptarmigan. All grouped together feeding in the bushy willows and flying from clump to clump. They seem oblivious of me and so I stare and realize that their call is much more extensive. I count 40 then 60 spread throughout approximately 200 yards. Time to ski-- as my sweat runs cold...

Above is a journal entry from Willie-- January 26, 2008. The video below is taken from the same moment that he later wrote this entry about. This was when Willie was traveling to get to the Toklat, and was in the Polychrome Pass area.

Video Of Willie From January 26, 2008

video

Thursday, February 21, 2008- Day 32





This past week Willie has been focusing on finishing up one of his volunteer projects. (see the above photos of the dunnage at Toklat) Dunnage- is the word for his week. He has been moving these dunnage piles (of old wood & poles) left out at the Toklat. These heaps of HEAVY scrap wood have been a bit all consuming. Willie has been cutting the dunnage into smaller easier to handle pieces. He then loads them onto his sled and hauls the sled with his snowshoes to the woodpile near the Toklat bridge. The process has been very labor intensive. But, Willie has enjoyed the process of seeing the area cleaned up. Just yesterday, he found 3 more piles further up (North) the Toklat... more work ahead!

Willie was watching for the lunar eclipse last night, but like us here on this side of Denali, it was a cloud covered night. No moon to be seen. We missed out on it.

Signs Of Wolves Left In The Snow-Toklat-Photos By Willie



The Latest GPS Collar Data On The Wolves

Date: Wed, 20 Feb 2008 12:30:39 -0900> Hi Christine, I just processed the latest GPS collar data. On the 17th and 18th the wolves (or at least the alpha male) were back out on the Toklat, six and two miles north of the bridge, respectively. But yesterday they were back east, on the Teklanika. In answer to the questions-- The area covered by the East Fork wolves this winter covers about 40 miles by 15 miles, maybe 500 square miles, and centers on the part of the park that visitors are most familiar with, the lower mountains along the Denali Park Road. A lot of these wolves' locations are in the major river valleys, and they also like to travel on the park road at times, so it's not surprising that they (and the neighboring pack to the west) have turned up by the Toklat bridge, where valleys and roads come together. We've also found the East Fork wolves up on the mountains sometimes, because they hunt Dall sheep there. In the last few days, the East Fork wolves moved from the Toklat to the Teklanika from one morning to another (we get one location at 8AM every day)-- a straight line distance of almost 20 miles. Tom Meier, Wildlife Biologist, Denali National Park and Preserve

Journal Entry From February 1, 2008














This is a new photo from Willie. He shared a journal entry with me from February 1, 2008...
An unexpected thing occured today
as I walked among the mountains
following impressively gigantic wolf tracks.
It struck me,
I never thought I would know what it felt like to be a king,
I was wrong...
Being in the wilderness with a different set of rules and social order is humbling.
This is a kingdom not of power but of balance and peace.
Great lessons for the rest of us-
simple, caring, life
our history is our future
the only thing missing is my queen...


Total Lunar Eclispe Tonight!- Wednesday, February 20, 2008

http://sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/LEmono/TLE2008Feb21/TLE2008Feb21.html

Click on the above link for more infomation. It is the NASA link to the eclipse. The moon will become completely immersed in the Earth's shadow Wednesday night, resulting in a total lunar eclipse. "Alaskans will also see the moon rise during the eclipse; infact, much of western Alaska will see the moon rise while completely immersed in Earth's shadow." (MSNBC news)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008- Day 30


Toklat temperatures since midnight:
Max, 42 degrees F
Min, 26 F
Denali Education Center tempertures at 5:30 pm: 40 F
Sunrise: 8:38 am
Sunset: 5:35 pm
Total daylight: 8 hours, 57 minutes
Gain: 6 minutes, 48 seconds

The wind has been blowning out at Toklat, so I decided to add the wind speed & gusts from the Toklat weather station.
Wind speed: 16 mph from SE
Wind gust: 20 mph
This is a new photo of Willie. I now have the photos of Willie's trip out with the mushers. I will be posting these new photos as often as possible, mixed in with new news that I receive from him. I am waiting to hear from him tonight. I will add an update tomorrow 2/20.




The Pearson Cabin - The Cabin Willie Is Staying In


This is a picture of the late Charlie Ott, associated with the park for 50 years, in front of the Pearson cabin on the Toklat River. On a memorable January 30, 1926, Grant H. Pearson accepted a temporary ranger position which soon turned full-time.. Pearson, born in Litchfield, Minnesota, spent his youth in Michigan where the writings of Robert Service, Rex Beach and Jack London sparked his interest in Alaska. He aspired to a life described by Ernest Gruening, "In Alaska a man or a woman is judged not by family, means or previous stateside condition, but by what he is and can do in Alaska." He served as acting park superintendent from 1943-1947, and Superintendt from 1949-1956. In 1932 he summited Mt. McKinley as part of the Lindley-Liek Expedition. For more see his book, My Life of High Adventure. (The above photo and text is courtesy of Tom Walker. Thank you for your time and generosity Tom!)
This cabin is one of Denali National Park & Preserve's valuable Cultural Resources that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a representative of historic patrol cabins in the park. It is also listed on the national List of Classified Structures. The NPS has rehabilitated the cabin by replacing rotten sill logs and other parts. The cache is decaying and has been stabilized to prevent its demise until it can be properly restored to its historic condition. (This text was emailed to me by Jane Bryant, Cultural Anthropologist, Cultural Resource & Subsistence Division, Denali National Park & Preserve. Along with a 112 page Historic Furnishings Report for the 'Pearson Cabin'. Thank you Jane for your time and your generosity.)

The Wolves Of Denali




This is the cover of The Wolves of Denali book, 1998. Published by the University of Minnesota Press. The cover photo was taken by Leo Keeler, 1998. The books authors are L. David Mech, Layne G. Adams, Thomas J. Meier, John W. Burch, and Bruce W. Dale. Tom Meier has been extremely generous with current wolf information pertaining to Willie's trip. He best answers the questions that the Alaska Studies Class asked about the wolves. I will include his email infomation to this entry...


Date: Tue, 5 Feb 2008 14:58:24 -0900> > Hi Christine, I processed the data from a GPS collar that we have on one of the East Fork wolves (the alpha male, probably the wolf with the huge feet that Willie noticed). Over the last month, they've moved back and forth between Riley Creek and Stony Creek (see the attached map). On the days when Willie heard and saw wolves and wolf sign, sure enough, the East Fork wolves (or at least the alpha male) were out around Toklat. But since then they have moved east to the Sanctuary. The last location I have is February 4, and I should get another update from the satellite link on February 10. If Willie decides to move up to the camping site, it might be a good idea to store food in Action Packer boxes, which should be sufficient to keep wolves out unless they have time to gnaw on them for quite a while. The East Fork Pack is currently the biggest pack in the park, with 17 wolves, so they must make an impressive amount of sign when they pass through an area. With that many wolves, it also seems likely that they'll keep moving around, in order to find food for all of them. There are some nice photos of the East Fork wolves on Gordon Haber's website (February 3 blog entry). He refers to them as the Toklat pack. Here's the link: http://alaskawolves.org/. Attached is the map of satellite locations for the pack, from January 7 to February 4. ***(SEE ABOVE MAP FOR SATELLITE LOCATIONS OF THE WOLVES. If you click on the map it will enlarge the map.)





Date: Thu, 7 Feb 2008 16:48:41 -0900 Hi Christine, I got two more GPS locations uploaded, from the 5th and 6th, and the wolves are still in the same area in the Sanctuary, which is where we saw a lot of hares last winter so they might be chasing hares, or have a big kill there, but they haven't moved much.




Date: Thu, 14 Feb 2008 11:06:07 -0900 Hi Christine, I checked another batch of GPS collar data and the East Fork wolves are still in the Sanctuary area, so they've been there for 10 days or so now. The map I sent shows that they've travelled pretty widely, but they do seem to have settled into the Sanctuary area for quite a while. The did the same last year, and it seemed to be because there were really a lot of hares in the Sanctuary vallely, and the wolves were hunting them. There are probably quite a few moose in the area too. Most packs in the winter travel widely, looking for vulnerable moose, caribou or sheep. Some packs move out of their territories entirely, if there isn't enough to eat. Several packs in Denali have shown a pattern of moving northeast into the Stampede Road area in winter, because that's where the caribou often are. That's probably not happening this winter because most of the caribou are wintering in the Kantishna Hills. There are several wolf dens in or near the Toklat valley, so there have been many summers when there was a lot of wolf activity there. Wolves generally don't visit dens in the winter, and move around their territories without any real home except for kill sites that they might spend a few days around. So while we worry about people disturbing wolves around their dens in early summer, or rendezvous sites in late summer, we don't usually worry about wolf disturbance in winter because the wolves can simply move on if they're bothered by human activity.


Date: Thu, 14 Feb 2008 12:00:23 -0900 Christine, The 3 wolves sound like the Grant Creek Pack (the wolves who denned a mile> or two SW of the Pearson Cabin in 2005 and 2006). For a while this winter they were actually east of the East Fork pack, though their territories are basically the other way around. There are only 3 wolves left in the Grant Creek Pack, as far as we know.
*(The top photo is from The Wolves Of Denali book, page 34/figure 2.4, photo by L. David Mech)


February 13 & 14 - Days 24 & 25

February 14, 2008
Thursday
Toklat temperatures since midnight:
Max, 35 degrees F
Min, 29 F
Denali Education Center temperatures at 12:15 am: ( i guess it is really Friday, 2/15 now) 30 F

Sunrise: 8:55 am
Sunset: 5:18 pm
Total daylight: 8 hours, 23 minutes (8 HOURS!!!!)

"TODAY WAS ALL WIND" this is what Willie had to say about the past 2 days...
February 13, 2008
Today I climbed a ridge of an area where Sheldon had taken a photo 100 years ago. A great day!
Today was ALL wind. I took photos. The landscape is totally different from yesterday. Where the road was- it was a big snow road. Now there is no snow on the road. It is totally changed. It makes me appreciate (what I think?) the relationship that Dall Sheep have with wind. Because as wind blows off all the snow, the plants and vegetation are exposed that the Dall Sheep eat. Dall Sheep like the wind-- my guess. Conversely, the problem is that the slopes are all bare and this will expose them, making it easier to be hunted by wolves, and other predators...

February 14, 2008
"TODAY WAS GUSTS OF WIND"
The last two days the wind has been blowing non-stop. It has totally transformed the landscape. The snow is totally off the mountains. They are bare. Also, the Toklat is a glaze of BLUE ICE. In front of Divide Mountain, where all the rivers are and the low pass area is, it is almost all gravel and ice now. It has totally been transformed in the last 2 days. The wind gusts were REALLY HEAVY. I don't know how hard they were, but I guess 45-50 mph. A few times walking I was almost knocked over by it. There were great cyclones of snow. I'd look across the Toklat and I could not see the other side- one big mass of snow blowing to the south then to the north. I am covering alot of ground- seeing all kinds of new country. But I have NOT seen ANY Dall Sheep! You read Sheldon's book and he saw huge bands of them. I look everyday, ALL DAY, and I have not seen any! I think it is going to snow again. It feels like it. Today my "buddies" were Ravens, Magpies, Boreal Chickadees, and RedPolls. Plus a Red Squirrel that chatters at me everytime I go to the outhouse. He was shy before, but now he is all about letting me know he is there...

Willie's Journal Entry for 2/3 - 2/12

Willie shared his journal entry with me to sum up his week:

"It's been a great week! I've continued to explore my surroundings-- climbing, snowshoeing and for awhile, skiing. The tip on my right ski cracked making it un-useable. It's okay though, because this trip is about adaptation. I feel more and more comfortable and less a stranger here everyday. I wish everyone could feel what I am experiencing. It seems like I learn something new with each step I take. Each day I walk out the door and have a little adventure. Our lives are the accumulation of all of our little adventures. And I'm realizing this more than ever before. Today Tuesday, February 12th I went for a walk in a heavy flake snowstorm. I was rewarded with seeing three wolves. One totally black, and two gray and white. I was able to film them at a distance. They had been sitting watching me for sometime. We are playing a game of hide and seek, and I am definitely the loser. I've been looking forward to fresh snow as I am more aware of tracking individual animals and watching their habits. My best times are when I walk out the door".

Willie told me that on February 10th he saw two fresh wolf tracks so big that the indentation they left in the hard packed trail was like what crampons would leave from a persons boots. They also "marked" the area where Willie had urinated outside. They walked up the trail to the cabin about 20 feet and circled around and then headed back down the trail.

On February 11th he heard a lone wolf howling before daylight. The 12th is when he saw and filmed the 3 wolves.

For The Tri-Valley Alaska Studies Class

February 14, 2008
Willie called tonight and we caught up on the last 12 days. I asked Willie your questions and here is what he had to say:

"Thanks so much for the questions. You are absolutely correct. The arctic oven is more heat efficient. However, I believe I have enough wood and I am learning how to regulate how much of it I use. I'm actually not using that much. It's nice to be in the cabin. Though the arctic oven is a whole different experience that I would like to experience as well. And I may in the future".

Willie also told me that he decided not to stoke the fire in the cabin all night long as he had been doing. He cranked the fire box to it's max-- about +50 degrees F. By morning it was about +18 degrees F in the cabin. That was fine for him as he has his Marmot -30 below sleeping bag. It did take about 1 hour to get the cabin temperture up to +32 degrees F. Anything below zero outside and the cabin just cannot hold much heat. His days are "lightning fast". "A constant battle with the cold, staying warm, chores and exploring". The coldest temperature Willie had during our cold spell was -30 below zero. That was when Healy had the -60 below reported.

To answer the wolf questions Willie asked me to email Tom Meier who is the Wildlife Biologist at Denali National Park and Preserve. Tom was very generous with his information on the wolves at Toklat. I will post his answers to your questions asap. I just want to catch-up on Willie's week first. Thank you for your patience in the update of Willie's week.

The Week of -55 Below Zero!


WILLIE IS FINE!!!!! During the cold spell Willie called to check in. It seems that he is sitting in the "banana belt" of Denali. His lowest temperature was only -30 below zero. He did not even realize that it was so much colder everywhere else in the area. He felt VERY lucky that he did not get the -50 below & the (-60 below that Healy got!)

Hello Everyone! I am so SORRY for the delay in a new update on Willie. I APOLOGIZE for any un-do stress and/or worry that I may have caused. Especially to Sonja Schmidt's Tri-Valley High School class in Healy. As you know, I was off to Fairbanks to pick up friends visiting from Florida. The temperatures kept dropping. Our mercury thermometer at our cabin showed a daily low of -55 Below Zero with highs only to -40 below zero. I was to return to Denali with my friends and update the blog, but I felt unsafe to drive the 130 miles down to Denali. We were Fairbanks "stranded" in the ICE FOG-- computer-less. I left the laptop in Denali. The temperatures did improve on Sunday night. But at this point, I had to stay in Fairbanks to get my friends to the airport and I had previous scheduled appointments on Monday & Tuesday. So I just got back to Denali. I wanted to write this as soon as possible to let you know what had happened and I hope you can understand. AGAIN I AM SO SORRY! Please, allow me to digest all the new blog comments & news from Willie. I will write back asap.

To the Tri-Valley class- as soon as Willie calls, I will ask him your questions & will post his answers on the blog.

PS. Annamarie & Cory- you 2 are TROOPERS! To handle -55 below zero from 81 degrees above! That's "only" a 136 degree difference! Thank you both for making the trip!


Sunday, February 3, 2008 - Day 14

I haven't heard back from Willie yet. So no new news. But I wanted to let the folks reading this blog know that the next entry will not be until around Feb. 8th. I have friends visiting from South Florida--Brave Souls! No one has ever visited me in Alaska in the winter! We are off to Fairbanks, Chena Hot Springs & basically I'm staying away from the computer for a few days. Thank you for reading. And I will be back the end of the week with an update from Willie, and lots of stories I'm sure...

Have a wonderful week! Cheers, Christine

Saturday, February 2, 2008- Day 13

Toklat temperatures since midnight:
Max, -3 degrees F
Min, -15 degrees F
Denali Education Center temperature at 8:30 pm:
-9 F

Sunrise: 9:35 am
Sunset: 4:37 pm
Total daylight: 7 hours, 2 minutes (we are up to 7 hours now!)
Gain: 6 minutes, 43 seconds

I spoke to Willie and he gave me an update on the past few days out there.

Wednesday, January 30, Willie was hauling wood from the Toklat river to the cabin. He noticed wolf tracks that went from the wood pile to the cabin and then down to the outhouse trail. The tracks made a full circle from the Toklat wood pile to his cabin. Obviously they seem to be curious about Willie's presence at both places.

Thursday, January 31, Willie went for a ski. He left his skis outside and walked up the trail to the cabin. He got busy with errands. A few hours later he went back to grab his skis. It seems that the wolves were checking out his skis. Willie could distinguish 8 different sets of tracks, and one set in particular were "HUGE"! The wolves also left their "mark" by urinating all over the area, but not directly on the skis. Willie says, "How exciting to be right in the heart of wolf activity like this". This shows how truly special Denali is. That it is supporting these amazing animals. Willie says he feels safe sharing the space with the wolves. They are keeping away from him, yet checking him out at the same time. Ultimately this is a great story about the wolves, and a great educational tool to get people interested in Denali in the winter time. "This is a very powerful spot to be in".

Friday, February 1- "A beautiful day, clear, not a cloud in the sky". -5 below zero and dropping. He has a new buddy hanging around, a Gray Jay that watches him every morning outside the cabin. Ravens have been flying about too. He is getting into the groove. The sun is coming up higher. It is lighting up the Alaska Range.

I am able to get updates from Willie on the satellite phone. I love that I can hear his voice & know that he is fine, but the satellite phone is not easy to communicate on. There are these long pauses, and a delay. We sometimes end up talking over each other. There are also dead spots & you can't hear what he is saying. So, that is why I'm not exactly sure when this next thing happened. But I think it was Friday. He said, "This morning there was fresh snow. The whole place, by the cabin, was full of snowshoe hare tracks. When the wolves were around here the past few days there was not a single snowshoe hare track to be seen. Today, no wolf tracks but snowshoe hare tracks are everywhere. So everyday it is a little bit different out here".

Today, Saturday, February 2- Willie said that he is going to start to explore the area now that all his daily living systems are in place. He will head out with his snowshoes today. He will go up the drainage area toward Highway Pass. (see the map link from day 6 below to see where Highway Pass is)

Wood/Water/Food/Batteries

The latest from Willie:
He has been working on getting his "systems" down for everyday living out at Toklat. His daily chores revolve around WOOD, WATER, FOOD, and BATTERIES.

WOOD- He has to haul the wood that was dropped the end of September from the Toklat bridge area to the Pearson cabin. He now has enough wood hauled & split to get him through a few weeks. He has been sleeping a little bit longer than usual because he has to get up about every 2 hours to stoke the fire to keep it going. He has got into a rhythm with the fire and says he can now hear it when it is getting low & needs more wood added to it. He is tuned into the wood stove now. He gets it going really hot at night then just keeps adding to it. The cabin stays at about 48 to 50 degrees F.

WATER- Everyday he goes down to the Toklat River which is mostly frozen, but does have open leads. He gets his drinking water from these open leads. He has 3 Nalgene bottles for drinking water everyday. (He can get more water if needed) Willie washed his clothes & body for the first time since his travels began. On Wednesday he got the wood stove as hot as it would go. He melted snow for washing. The water is in a 3 gallon bucket and he has a metal tub to get into. He hung over the tub & washed his hair & face 1st. Then he sat in the tub & washed his body "sort of" bathtub style. He was set up right next to the wood stove. He used another bucket for rinsing off with. Then he washed all his dirty clothes in the same process. Willie said, "Everyone should not shower & get massively dirty, just to feel how wonderful something as basic as a shower is". To dry his clothes overnight he had to keep the cabin as warm as possible. That night he had to stoke the fire every 1 & 1/2 hours. By morning his clothes were dry.

FOOD- His mornings start with the same thing everyday. Instant coffee, oatmeal with powered milk. Lunch is trail mix, power bars, nuts & cheese. Dinner SAUSAGES!!!! He does recommend "easy is best".

BATTERIES- He is getting the systems down for recharging the batteries needed for the satellite phone. The SOLAR PANELS are working!He has been able to use the solar panels to charge the satellite phone battery.

Now that he has the systems down- he has enough wood hauled & chopped- water & food are in place. He will start to do some exploring now. While he is away he will have the solar panels charging batteries inside the cabin.

Musher Update- Saturday, February 2, 2008

The mushers spent another day out at the Sanctuary cabin yesterday. They should be heading out today from Sanctuary back to the park kennels. They should be back home by tonight. They will have photos & video for me of their time spent with Willie traveling the 55 miles out to Toklat. I will update the blog with these photos & video as soon as I get them.

FOCUS THE NATION (1-31-2008)

Focus the Nation

This is a nationwide event that is happening tomorrow Thursday, January 31, 2008. Different organizations and institutions are holding educational presentations promoting change & solutions to increase climate change awareness in the United States. If you would like more information check out the link below:

http://www.focusthenation.org/

Willie and the Denali Education Center were asked to support this message because this expedition supports the message of Focus The Nation by showing that it is possible to live simply and happily out in the heart of true wilderness with simple comforts.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008 - Day10

Toklat temperatures since midnight:
Max, 8 degrees F
Min, 5 F
Temperatures at the Denali Education Center at 11:00 am:
-3 F

Sunrise: 9:45 am
Sunset: 4:26 pm
Total daylight: 6 hours, 42 minutes
Gain: 6 minutes, 39 seconds

This morning Willie went out to the outhouse and there were wolf tracks down the trail to the outhouse. Willie took a look around and their tracks were all around the cabin- "there was tracks everywhere". The wolves must be checking out their new visitor. Willie's day will be spent hauling wood from his wood pile that we dropped the end of September right on the Toklat. Then tonight he will split the wood. The temperature is mild out there right now (9 degrees F) so he is preparing the wood for the next blast of cold. The cabin is about 10x12 it has a 2 burner Coleman lantern, 1 propane light, and an old time small wood stove about 5inches x 5inches x 2 feet. He can cook on it. The wood stove does have a small firebox so he has to stoke the fire about every 2&1/2 to 3 hours to keep it going. It seems to be able to crank the heat in the cabin to about 50 degrees inside. Willie is spending today getting his "systems" down for everyday living out there.

I have an update on the mushers. They left Toklat yesterday and went all the way back to the Sanctuary Cabin. They are not traveling today. They will be staying at the cabin again tonight.

Wolves! - Day 9

Willie is still adjusting to the transition of traveling the 55 miles to Toklat via snowshoe, skis and mushers, and is now starting to settling in. The mushers left Toklat today. They plan on going all the way back to Sanctuary or at least to Igloo by tonight. Now Willie's alone time at Toklat beings. But it seems he's not really alone...He saw 2 wolves today. And he says, "they definitely saw me too".

Monday, January 28, 2008 - Day 8

A change of plans. The campsite has heavy signs of wolf activity.

Willie & the mushers went farther out & north to look for a new campsite that would be free from the wolf activity. But, the whole valley had signs of HEAVY wolf activity.
In Willie's words:

I thought to myself, if I camp there I'm invading their territory. I'm going to be upsetting & altering their behavior, and ultimately it causes a safety risk to the wolves. If they break into my camp and start to get acclimated to humans, that would be a bad thing. I checked out other spots to camp, but that whole valley is very "wolf centric". I came to the conclusion that it just didn't feel right. I have to trust that. At this point I am staying at the Pearson Cabin. {The cabin is just west of the Toklat bridge about 2&1/2 miles from the area Willie was going to set up his camp. (See photo of the cabin in past entry on this blog towards the end of the page)}
Ultimately it was a decision based on 1) my presence is an invasion of their territory 2) that by being there it affects/alters their behavior 3) This is a journey about celebrating Sheldon, and it is also about the respect of the resource.

When I started skiing into the valley Sunday there was a wolf howling. I saw signs everywhere. The places they were bedding down, remains of snowshoe hares. I think this is a great thing as far as observations go & such. But as far as living there, I'd be upsetting their balance- their behavior. This is not a journey just about me. It's respecting the resource and respecting the wolves. I have to be able to adjust to being a visitor here and not to take up residence. I know it is the right decision- it's just hard. It changes things a lot. It changes the entire journey- in some ways. Living in an arctic oven tent is one thing and living in a small rustic cabin is another. You know, it occurred to me- Sheldon moved out and the wolves moved in. I do not want it to be, that when Karidis moved in the wolves moved out.

So here I am at the cabin...

Sunday, January 27, 2008 - Day 7

January 29, 2008
Tuesday
Toklat temperatures since midnight:
Max, 17 degrees F
Min, 9 F
Denali Education Center temperatures at 8:30 pm:
0 F

Sunrise: 9:51 am
Sunset: 4:19 pm
Total daylight: 6 hours, 28 minutes
Gain: 6 minutes, 35 seconds

Willie and Sarah stomped out a campsite with snowshoes for the arctic oven tent. The spot was about 2 & 1/2 miles north of the Toklat bridge. Near the site that Charles Sheldon spent the winter of 1907-08. That night Willie couldn't sleep because after much thought (around 3:30 am) he realized he would not be able to camp in this spot....

They Made It To The Toklat- Day 6

January 26, 2008

Denali Education Center temperatures at 11:58 pm:
-30 below zero F

I called Bonnie back at about 4:30 pm today. She told me that Willie & the mushers made it to TOKLAT! They got in at 3:07 pm today. It was only -17 below zero there and clear. This is all I know for now. They are at TOKLAT! OH YEAH!!!!!

On The Way To TOKLAT!- Day 6

January 26, 2008
Saturday- Day 6

Sunrise- 9:57 am
Sunset-4:12pm
Total Day Light- 6 hours, 15 minutes
Gain of daylight- 6 minutes, 30 seconds

I just called Bonnie back and she let me know that they left the East Fork Cabin today around 11:30 am. They are headed to TOKLAT. They should get there today. Bonnie said, "It should be a BEAUTIFUL DAY for mushing."

Link- Weather & Daylight Hours

http://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/weather.htm

Link Below- Map Of The Area They Are Traveling

http://alaska.org/maps/denali-national-park-map.htm

They Are Over Sable Pass- Day 6

Today is January 26, 2008
Toklat temperatures since midnight:
Max, -18 degrees F
Min, -22 F
Temperature at the Denali Education Center 9:00 am:
-28 below F

When I spoke to Willie on Thursday he told me he would not call during the next few days. That I could find out their progress from the Park Service. The mushers have to check in everyday. I called this morning and Bonnie let me know that they made it up over Sable Pass last night. They are at the East Fork Cabin. I have no other details right now about their plans, or the weather, temps, etc.... out there...but will post it when I do.

The Plan-- Day 5 & 6

Today is January 25, Friday- Day 5
Igloo Cabin, over Sable Pass, to the East Fork Cabin

The Plan is to go up and over Sable Pass today. If all goes well they will get to the East Fork Cabin tonight. If the snow, willows and winds are not good (weather dependant) they will do another night at Igloo-- and it will take 2 days (Saturday night) to get to the East Fork Cabin, over Sable Pass....Willie wants to snowshoe or ski up and over Sable- it's about 8 miles to the East Fork Cabin.

Waiting to hear....

Willie Called Last Night- Day 3&4

Today is January 25, 2008
Toklat temperatures since midnight:
Max, 16 degrees F
Min, 9 F
Temperature at the Denali Education Center at 9:00 am: 3 F

Sorry for the delay in details of what Willie said, but the internet went down in Denali today & I couldn't finish the post. Here is what Willie said in his words:

January 22, Tuesday- Day 2
Savage Cabin to the Sanctuary Cabin
What happened was after we left each other, which was extremely hard & very sad. I started to pull the sled. Not feeling good about the whole decision. About 10 seconds out on the trail a flock of Redpolls surrounded me. Then not 10 feet farther a snowshoe hare came right up at my feet & ran in front of me down the trail. I took this to be a good sign & continued on. I got to the Savage River & it was icy. I got across the river and it was blowing so hard. I got around a little hillside and had to hunker down to get my bearings. For a little while I stayed in that spot, took a break, ate food & drank water. Then I went about 20 feet farther & thought I was walking on solid ice, but it gave through. I sunk into it with the sled & fell through the overflow. Feet & sled (it tipped over) all wet. THAT'S HOW IT STARTED!

I didn't hear from the mushers 'till I had hauled all the way below Primrose-- about 4 miles, 1/2 way to Sanctuary. The mushers showed up and Carmen took my sled & hooked it on and ran it up to Sanctuary. Sarah showed up next and said, Hey, ya want me to take your pack?" So, I snowshoed the rest of the way without the sled & pack. Just before I got to the cabin it was dark out & I heard a Great Horned Owl hooting. I hooted back & then the owl responded back. We hooted at each other for about 10 minutes before I went on to the cabin. I cooked the Jersey Jones recipe of shrimp & pineapple wrapped in bacon. Turns out that Krusty loves everything pineapple! We has a great night. Everyone felt really good.

January 23, Wednesday- Day 3
Sanctuary Cabin to Igloo Cabin
-25 Below F
I left early and skied up & over the ridge that goes from Sanctuary to the Teklanika River. The Tek was REALLY cold and REALLY windy again. Putting on my gear I needed my "skins" (skins go over your skis to stop you from sliding back. The skins will grip so you don't slide.) But they were in the sled with the mushers. So, I learned a lesson: I should have had my gear with me for travelin'... I was out on the Tek when Sarah showed up & said, "Hey, you want to get on." I threw my skis into the sled & got on one of the runners. I was on one side & Sarah was on the other. Not a minute later there was a dog fight that lasted about 2 seconds. But Orca, a really sweet dog was left with a bad gash on the nose & was bleeding, dripping big piles of blood. Sarah let Orca run free, and Orca ran for awhile right next to the sled. Then Orca took off into the woods. We had to track her. We had radio contact & it turns out that Orca was headed back towards Sanctuary. So we had to go ALL the way back to Sanctuary last night & sure enough Orca was back at the cabin. So another night at Sanctuary.

January 24, Thursday- Day 4
Sanctuary Cabin to Igloo-- AGAIN!
-32 Below F
It was -32 below this morning. Heard a lone wolf howling & saw an amazing sunrise. I skied back over the ridge again- a big ski day- to about 2/3rds the way in & Sarah caught up & gave me a ride to the Tek Bridge area. I then walked most of the remaining 3 miles to the Igloo Cabin...

When I spoke to Willie on Thursday night they were all at the Igloo Cabin. He said he is getting "trail hard". The hardest day was the 1st day. The last 2 have been "easy". Everything is going really good. He's feeling really strong. He's feeling really good to be out there and it is AMAZING!