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Cordova Alaska May - September 2019

If you don’t know the story - I went to Cordova in August of 2018 with a small team to do work for a program called Science & Memory at the University of Oregon. Cordova is a small town on the Eastern side of Prince William Sound, roughly 150 miles SE of Anchorage. With no roads in or out, only accessible by boat or plane, it is intentionally off the beaten path. We stayed at the end of the road, at Orca Adventure Lodge. My professors Deb & Dan Morrison are friends with the Ranney family who own the lodge, and started the Science & Memory program here in 2014. They are the reason I am here.

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Images from last year by Justin Hartney

You know before you visit Alaska that you will see wilderness unlike any other. “The Land of the Supurlative” someone once said to me. The biggest mountains, the greenest hills, the richest waters. I wasn’t prepared for the prodigious landscape when I arrived. Truly moved, I wrote to my parents on day three of my trip and told them I planned on moving here.

The moment I wrote that letter captured by Jessica Smith

After graduating from college my plan was to spend 5 weeks in South America, come back and get a job. I was still thinking about the effect Cordova had on me while traveling through Chile & Uruguay. Unable to get it out of my head, I knew that it was important for me to make time to spend in Cordova, before I got locked into a “real” job.

I was fortunate enough to be offered a position working for the Orca Team for the 2019 season. Here is where I will keep my thoughts, stories, and photos.

Flight 66 into Cordova, April 29th
A view of Eyak River slough during the decent.
Our 100+ year old crew house, all my gear, the view of Orca Cannery & Whales Tale coffee shop from my bedroom window and the orca theme continues... with my bed spread.
A hike up behind the lodge. Snow still on the ground and skunk cabbage buds in bloom. These blooms are some of what bears eat first when they come out of hibernation. 5.1 [60.577,-145.718]
Before pictures of the lodge’s green house in the old cannery building. [5.9] John (a fishing guide) gardens here on his free time.
It has become an evening activity to scare the local black bear away from the dumpster
Nightly entertainment from my bedroom window [5.10]
Cordova harbor & surrounding mountains on a clear day. Roughly 600 boats which is a pretty good number for a town this size

Today is Mother’s Day and although I wish I was in Portland curled up with my mom, I am reminded how lucky I am to have a mother like mine. This morning I was checking a guest out of the lodge and called her by her name. She was taken aback that I remembered her name given we had not interacted since she checked in two days prior. I told her about how good my mom is at remembering / using people’s names and that I am now really implementing that skill in my day to day life. Whether it’s a coworker, a waitress or a chance encounter, I have learned from my mom that using people’s names goes along way and rarely goes unnoticed. (sometimes even getting you a nice tip!) One of the many things I am grateful she instilled in me, noticed and appreciated on this day of celebrating her. [5.12]

Carl Ranney took me kayaking today after office work all morning. We went to a small island (less than a mile long) across from the lodge called Observation Island. It is said that there was once a lookout stationed at the top during the war, hence the name. He told me stories about how he and his Boy Scout group used to camp on the beach and explore the island as kids. What a way to grow up with this as your back yard!

We hiked or “followed a game trail” which is basically bushwhacking. It’s a gorgeous hike through a mossy forest and marsh lands to a fantastic view at the top. It was a dry, gray sky kind of day but awesome seeing the island through Carl’s eyes. [5.12]

First full day off and it was the best day yet. [the 13th, of course, my lucky day!] I kayaked out with two coworkers to Observation Island to show them what Carl had shown me the day before. We hiked to the top, spent hours laying in the sun and enjoying the view with a clear blue sky. We hiked down to our kayaks and spent a few more blissful hours scouring the beach for the perfect skipping stones. The tide carried us back home and we had halibut collars for dinner (the best fish I’ve ever eaten) and then split off and watched the sunset on our own. The sky didn’t disappoint after nearly a week of rain.

Little Orca Lodge from the top of Observation Island 5.13 [60.598,-145.738]
Sunset from the Ranney boys hammock and hidden fort.

SHERIDAN GLACIER

My playground! Sheridan Glacier is where I’ll be taking groups for day trips this season. A hike in and kayak tour once down on the glacier. We don’t expect guests to lug their own kayaks down the rocky hike so today we trekked three heavy double kayaks. Carrying them one at a time down the mile long windy path to the glacier to lock up for later use. Of course when we finished all our hard work we went out to paddle on the water. We were on the water less than 10 minutes when thundering cracks echoed and we sat with our mouths open as huge faces of the glacier broke off and began to flip. Where there was white, huge bright blue shapes rose out, cracking and pushing ice at a drastic rate. This was all happening far enough away that we were protected from the wake of the movement.

Checking out the newly surfaced ice... how long do you think this has been frozen?
Quick break between kayaks in this group hammock overlooking the glaciers from above.
John (carrying back his chunk of glacier for drinks) & Carl

What’s special about this trip is that every time it’s different. It’s both beautiful and sad to know that every ice formation, and the ways in which they melt, are unique and will never look the same again. What a day! After hours of moving kayaks, the glaciers waited until we had a front row seat on the water and weren’t too close. The timing was pretty perfect.

1:15 and 2:28 [5.14]
Condiments and de-icer share deck space in this outdoor kitchen

Turned out to be a Prince William Sound cookout for dinner tonight. Steamed tanner crab, homemade beer batter halibut/cod fish & chips, jumbo spot shrimp and oysters straight off the grill. All locally sourced from the PWS. We thought our jumbo spot shrimp were just particularly jumbo, but we were excited to find fresh roe! Don’t know if I’ll be able to top this meal! [5.18]

Ken’s local seafood truck, spot shrimp, no cracking tools means really working for your meal, & blue skies
I love some good cloud action!

So I’ve got these roommates, about 8/10 swallows. They have built their nests above my window. I enjoy watching them catch bugs at dusk and I have become complaisant with their early morning wake up calls. Now I compare their chirps to R2D2 speak. Every time I open my window they all fly out of their nests and buzz me in the window. [5.19]

‘Hole in the wall’ at North Island

Another amazing day off. [5.20] I’m getting so lucky with the weather! Tony and I paddled twice the distance, past Observation Island to North Island to this piece of heaven! A rope swing (that I can’t imagine anyone using... the water is too cold!) hangs over the calm hideout. We found lots of trash that we cleaned up and took back with us. We didn’t plan our trip so we went against the current / wind both directions. Made it hard on ourselves but had a good time and a good workout.

[60.620,-145.730]
A bald eagle friend out on the glacier today [5.22] Three thousand bald eagles reside in Prince William Sound alone, a number equivalent to the total bald eagle population in the lower 48.
Would you believe me if I told you this was one hike? Sheridan Mountain Trail [5.22]
Salmon berry blossoms are booming this spring. A major bounce back from last year. Last spring was so wet that it affected the bees pollinating the flowers, making less berries and hungry bears.
Steve took me up for a birds eye view today [5.25]

It was a big help to see Sheridan Glacier from above. Getting to see where the actual glacier ends/icebergs begin, how large the lake is, and islands/points of interest to take clients. Steve pointed out the hillside where bears & mountain goats can be seen.

We pass the moraine on the hike to go kayaking. Slowly over the last few years the ice has been thinning. Steve said it is entirely possible that the waterway between our current drop point and the moraine could open up by the end of the season.
You don’t quite get a sense of the magnitude when you’re down kayaking on the water.

After flying over Sheridan a couple of times Steve flew down Eyak River looking for bear cubs. No cubs, just a few small black bears. We then flew to Egg Island (home to one of the largest populations of Glaucous-winged Gulls on earth) to see if bears were snacking on a dead whale Steve had seen days previous. No sight of the whale, he asked if it was alright to land and look at the nests on the island. “Sure!” No idea where he was going to land.

So he brought the plane down on the beach. Grass covered sand to the left and the Gulf of Alaska to my right.
The view was pretty spectacular
We walked around for a bit, collecting trash and looking for clutches (3 eggs average). We found a few! Steve says he had taken students out here to run nest surveys last year and they found no successful nests. Sea birds are some of the first species to be affected by changing ocean temperatures.

Took the hypothermia kit I made (a laminated step by step instruction list, sleeping bag, tent, tarp, towel, garbage bags, space blanket, sugary drink mix, hand/body warmers, fleece gloves/hat, & wool socks) to hide near the glacier today with a coworker. Took them out on the lake as a thanks for helping trek it out there. It was pouring down rain and I got soaked but we had fun exploring fresh blue ice [5.30]

Glacial silt will rest in pockets of ice below the surface and get trapped when the icebergs roll. Eventually melting out of the ice.
I try to get clients to think of the ice differently. I sometimes tell them the lake is like a museum and each ice formation is a sculpture. There is a new unique exhibit everyday.
Crater Lake [60.574, -145.700]

Hiked up to Crater Lake today. [6.5] A 2.4 mile uphill hike to a lake nestled between two mountains above the lodge. Worth the huffing and puffing. It was overcast but on a clear day you can see the lodge down below. The last of the winter snow still holding on. Looking forward to hiking this later in July and seeing the changes!

Alaskan Moss Heather. Learning a lot about native plants to discuss on guided hikes!
Lichen paintings everywhere!
A view of Power Creek draining into Eyak Lake from the Crater Lake trail.

Today was a perfect day with blue skies and warm air. [6.6] Went up Power Creek with John and caught some char and poked around looking for bears. On our drive back to the lodge there was a dense fog rolling in off the sound. Not coming to shore, but filling up from the center out. It was so thick we could not see Observation Island across the inlet.

Beautiful day out at Hartney Bay [6.8]

ICEWORMS

Had the pleasure of taking Erin & Will to Sheridan today [6.8] to look for ice worms. Wildlife photographers really do make the best guests.

My recent favorite activity when taking clients to the glacier is looking for iceworms. Most people don’t believe they are real, even local Cordovans. Iceworms are related to earthworms and leeches. Thin and less than an inch long, they look like small pieces of black thread. The worms use bristles on the outside of their body to grip and pull themselves between ice crystals. At first they can be hard to spot but once you know what you’re looking for it’s easy. They’re quite fast.

Iceworms can only survive at temperatures around freezing. If it’s sunny out they will burrow in the ice. If their body temp gets up to 40°F they will die, colder than 22°F they will die. In the winter, they journey deeper into the glacier (where it’s actually warmer due to insulation) and eat nutrients trapped in older layers. Iceworms eat bacteria, various snow algae and pollen that grows and falls on the surface. Birds flying over the glacier will pluck ice worms and other insects off the ice.

Not very well known but interesting creatures none the less. The city of Cordova has an annual Iceworm festival celebrated in February. NASA has done research on the worms’ cold tolerance for insight into possible life on icy planets. Ice worms are shrinking along with the glaciers they inhabit.

Kris, John, Carl, my giant lingcod and I fishing out in the gulf today [6.9] The lingcod was thrown back.
Boone & Buck
Another outdoor kitchen moment. (we’re painting the bunkhouse) [6.13]
making friends all over town
A sign from the universe. Whenever I see hummingbirds around the lodge I think of my dad. Got a big hummingbird in the sky for Father’s Day! [6.16]
Orca Adventure Lodge is at the end of the road. The airport is at mile 13. This is the other end, out at mile 36. A view of Goodwin Glacier to the left. [60.517,-144.860] 6.17
Tony (breakfast chef and adventure buddy until he moves to remote camp in August) does glasswork in his free time and I love spending time watching him do his work. [6.18]
Best day paddling out at the glacier yet! [6.19] Blue skies and clouds, reflections smooth as glass and a little sunburn.
Some large formations like this can be caused by a large rock trapped in the ice that retains heat and eventually sinks to the bottom of the lake
Lunch at the glacier today [6.20]
Buck keeping me company or am I keeping him company. I think it’s a trade off.
Hidden treehouse at Hippie Cove
Day off today! And it was a beautiful one. Hiked up to the reservoir with Darian and Emi. Darian has grown up in Cordova and works at the coffee shop at the lodge. She took us to a secret trail that we would have never found without her! [6.21]
The cabin where I spent the evening of the summer solstice with good food and better people [60.552,-145.747]

“You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. Exactly when you’re supposed to be there.” A new mantra.

A short beautiful hike to the cabin, black bear nachos/tacos and our view!
I’ve seen this pattern in many icebergs. The term foliation describes layering in glacier ice that has distinctive crystal sizes and/or bubbles. Foliation is usually caused by stress and deformation that a glacier experiences as it flows over complex terrain. Most foliation is formed in zones close to the margins where is parallel to the valley walls, eventually breaking off and floating out into the lake.
A beam of light for sunset tonight at Hartney Bay [6.26]
Took 5 geologists to the glacier today and learned a lot about the landscape in which I work! A man named Cal showing me intrusion veins on a rock. They told me that most of the rocks are close to a billion years old in and around Sheridan lake. [6.27]
Cirrus clouds look like they are coming out of Sheridan Mountain
Once they pointed out glacial striations (scratches or gouges on rocks from the glacier dragging them against each other) you start to notice them everywhere. Even up by the parking lot where the glacier used to be.
Loading stuff up in the treehouse for a night of camping! [6.29]
Not one but two eagle nests could be seen from our high perch!
The foggiest morning at the glacier today [7.1]
The only term to describe what we experienced today is otherworldly.

Such thick fog we couldn’t see 20 feet in front of us. We couldn’t continue into the fog (safety reasons) so we sat and waited as surrounding mountains, icebergs and sun slowly revealed themselves. It was like paddling at the end of the earth - floating in the clouds. Video below...

Took some guests on a guided hike to one of my favorites (Haystack trail). With big views, beautiful lichen & discolored lady ferns [7.2] Learned a lot from one of the guests who teaches teens how to go on long backpacking trips.
A framiliar iceberg in a new location today [7.3]
Just a few small fireworks with coworkers behind the cannery for the 4th

David Rosenthal is a local artist I met through an acquaintance of mine that works at Copper River Watershed. We all went paddling to Shepard’s Point a few weeks ago on a day off. David is an Alaskan Landscape Artist that specializes in ice and glacier paintings with an emphasis on visual documentation of our world and climate change. Of course I had to put him in contact with the Science & Memory team and today we visited his home studio.

David’s location notebooks over the years made me drool..

David is a wealth of knowledge and it has been incredible talking with him about the changes he has seen. I hope to take him out on the glacier in the coming weeks to see more of it through his eyes. It is important to notice changes in the environment and even more important to document them in a way that will move people and live on. To check out David’s work click below.

After seeing David’s studio I got to show Science & Memory team 1 Sheridan Glacier [7.5]
Largest cave on the lake so far! The sun has been great but it’s getting harder and harder out on the glacier getting burned from 3 different angels. [7.6]
Picking salmon berries in the sun! (this is my ideal summer activity) [7.7]
Thick fog is becoming the norm due to fires and the heat. Everyone is patiently waiting for some rain. This is a temperate rainforest after all! [7.7]
Power Creek Trail. A sunset/sunrise hike from 10:30 PM - 4:30 AM [60.577,-145.725] 7.8
I find new things to fall in love with everyday out at the glacier. [7.11]
This iceberg flipped 90° last night. Making it easy to show guests exactly how much of the ice is hidden under the water. The rule is 10% is above the surface and 90% is hiding beneath. As you can tell by this picture the ratio is slightly off but you get the idea.
Alaskan Cotton out at the Alaganik Slough today [60.435,-145.293] 7.12
The reason I am here - and she’s sitting in the front of my kayak!
Science & Memory team 2 Sheridan Glacier [7.13]
The people I take on trips - they come across my path for a reason. To test my patience, to teach me something and sometimes to be my friend. Sally is driving her new winnebago around Alaska for 3 months. Truly an inspiration, she told me she would sell it to me in 10 years when she’s ready for it to go to a good home. [7.14]
My worst day at work today. Fitting that the low point was on the halfway mark of living here! [7.15] It can only go up from today! This iceberg cheered me up though - “fuck climate change”

I have started to see these column like lines (in the video below). They form when an iceberg sits in one position for a period of time and then slowly rises out of the water as it’s buoyancy shifts. The marble like pattern is the previously mentioned term foliation.

It’s getting hard to find the time to post on this as regularly as I’d like. The crew has arrived and we have a steady stream of guests. Working hard, a new adventure every second of free time, sleep, eat and repeat. No complaints here!

I will continue to add to this page as the weeks go on! Best way to reach me is email (anna.rath03@gmail.com) or snail mail (Orca Adventure Lodge c/o Anna Rath P.O. Box 2105 Cordova, AK 99574) I will write you back!

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