Copper River Record October 2017
By Robin Mayo
The classic question is “If you could eat only one food from now on, what would it be?” Most days I’d choose granola. It feels a little like junk food because of the sweet crunch, but it can be a wonderful complete food. A bag in your pocket is a perfect munch for hiking, or a bowlful with milk makes a meal.
Homemade granola is incredibly easy, delicious, and economical to make. Plus, your house will smell great. I find that storebought granola is too sweet and tastes stale when I’m used to homemade.
If you are a person who loves to follow exact recipes, this recipe is going to make you crazy. But there are so many variables, and so many tastes, I’m just going to give you the framework and let you design the perfect granola.
Grains, nuts, and Seeds: In a large bowl, assemble about 6 cups of rolled grains. Oats are classic, but many other grains can be found in a suitable form. When choosing oats, go for the old fashioned, not the quick. Now add approximately two cups of nuts and seeds of your choice. Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and coconut flakes can be put in whole, larger nuts such as walnuts or almonds should be coarsely chopped or slivered so they are similar in size to the rolled grains. Tiny seeds such as sesame, flax, and chia can also be added.
Drizzle: In a small saucepan, mix together ½ cup oil and ½ cup sweetener. Any healthy oil you prefer can be used, I prefer a mixture of coconut and olive oils. For the sweeter, honey is awesome, but you could also use maple syrup, rice syrup, agave, or brown sugar. Warm the mixture just enough that it gets very liquidy and completely mixed. You can also add cinnamon, vanilla, or other spices to the syrup. Adding a pinch of salt also seems to enhance the flavor.
Drizzle the warm mixture over the dry ingredients, mixing thoroughly. This proportion will make a slightly sweet granola that won’t stick together in clumps. If you want a sweeter, chunkier mixture use up to a cup of oil and a cup of sweetener.
Preheat the oven to 250o, spread the granola in a couple of shallow pans, and bake. Stir about every 15 minutes, and bake until it is perfectly brown, about 45 minutes to an hour.
Stir as it comes out of the oven so it won’t stick to the pans, and cool completely before storing in jars. If you want fruit, now is the time to mix in a cup or two of raisins, dried cranberries, chopped apricots, or whatever you choose. Some recipes add the fruit before baking, but it burns easily so I prefer to wait.
6 cups rolled grains
2 cups nuts or seeds
½ cup oil
½ cup sweetener
Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Melt together oil and sweetener, drizzle over dry ingredients and mix well. Spread in large pans and bake at 250o for about an hour, or until brown, stirring every 15 minutes.
Hope you picked lots of blueberries, they are the perfect topping for homemade granola! Marnie Graham Photo, 2011
Copper River Record October 2017
By Robin Mayo
Before hanging up our boots and backpacks for winter, we took one final hike last week. As WISE plans for the next season, we are always looking for new places to explore. We are also planning a major new program for next summer, Outdoor Wilderness Leadership Skills (OWLS) which will begin with a multi-day backpacking trip. With this is mind, we headed to the Nabesna Road to check out the Caribou Creek Public Use Cabin.
As we drove north, the light skiff of snow from the night before thickened to a good blanket, and we found about four inches of fresh snow on the Nabesna Road. We even stopped to get out and turn those old-fashioned manual hubs on the Truckling in case four-wheel drive was needed.
At this time of year choice of footgear is always a dilemma. I opted for my Extra-Tuffs, while Mikaela chose waterproof hiking boots and gaiters. Both choices worked well, although I compromised on traction, and she had to pick her way carefully at the stream crossings.
Parking for the trail is at Mile 18.5 Nabesna Road, and the trailhead is about a quarter mile further east. I was a little apprehensive about the approximately one thousand foot elevation gain shown on the map, but the first half of the trail was a gently but steady uphill on a very solid and wide trail, winding through the spruce forest. It is three miles to the cabin, a nice distance for slightly out-of-shape backpackers like yours truly.
At about the halfway point, the trail crosses Caribou Creek at a wide ford with a nice solid gravel bottom. I imagine that during spring runoff it could be deep enough to be worrisome, but we made our way across easily without getting wet feet. From there the trail got steeper and somewhat rougher as it climbed up into the v-shaped valley. With the snow covering the trail, we did a little slipping on roots and rocks, but the double-track trail was always easy to follow.
Right at timberline, and right when my legs were starting to drag and the shallow layer of snow feel like postholing, we arrived at the cabin. It is a welcoming sight perched on a relatively level spot above the creek.
The last user had left the cabin nicely stocked with dry spruce branches for kindling, and a couple of nice logs to get our fire started. We were also glad to find plenty of dry willow available nearby, and a good sized spruce log to cut up. The cabin has an axe and saw, but we were glad for the sharp saw we brought. My favorite camping saw is a small, inexpensive sharp-toothed carpenters saw, which performs much better than a bow saw.
The Caribou Creek Cabin is about 10 by 12, with two bunks, windows, a counter, and most importantly a good wood stove. The heavy stove with fire brick was slow to warm up, but very satisfactory once it got going. Bear shutters cover the windows, and we were careful to replace them when we were ready to leave.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park seems to make a tradition of situating outhouses with superlative views, and this privy did not disappoint. We hiked through layers of clouds on our way up, but in the morning were treated to views across the valley to the South, including the “backside” of Mt. Wrangell.
Hiking to a cabin makes camping so much more comfortable in the fall, it would have been a damp and chilly experience in a tent. We also enjoyed very light loads, just bringing pads, sleeping bags, a few extra layers, pots, and food.
For me one of the highlights of visiting a public use cabin is reading the logbook. Although the Caribou Creek book lacked the character development and highly developed plot of the Nugget Creek Logbook (See March 23 Copper River Record for highlights) it did have some gems, including a proposal made with a candy ring, bear encounters, and puzzle angst. Easy boys, it’s just a picture printed on bits of cardboard!
We hiked back out on a sunny day, squinting in the bright reflected sunlight, and felt ready to let go of fall and embrace winter.
Copper River Record October 2017
By Robin Mayo
You catch the fish. You clean the fish. You fillet the fish. You brine the fish. You smoke the fish. You pack the jars and run the pressure canner. You unload the canner and line up the jars on the counter, listening for that immensely satisfying “ploink” that means the jar has sealed. You remove the rings, clean the jars, and fill your pantry with bounty.
If you are wise and humble, you are now finished. But perhaps you succumb to the sin of pride and post some pictures on facebook. A cooler full of silvery fish. Fillets glistening ruby-orange. A dusky interior shot of the smokehouse. Lines of jars on the counter.
And the next thing you know you are inundated with requests from far-off family and friends, wanting a taste. You now have one more step: ship the fish.
The two greatest inventions ever for Alaskans who wish to keep in touch with the outside world without breaking the bank are the Alaska Airlines Companion Fare, and the USPS Flat Rate Box. I still remember how excited I was when I discovered that half a dozen pint jars of salmon fit perfectly in a medium flat rate box. It is elegant, efficient, and most importantly, affordable. For $13.60, you can ship anything that fits in the box, anywhere in the US. If it weighs more than two pounds, this is the best bargain around. The heaviest flat rate box I ever received was filled with cool old horseshoes, a lucky shipment for sure.
For most situations, I am a “good enough” kind of person. I don’t sweat the details, and strive for simplicity. But for packing jars of smoked salmon for mailing, my motto changes to “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing!” When in doubt, use more tape and bubble wrap. Double up on everything. Did I mention tape and bubble wrap?
This is a great way to recycle materials, including bubble wrap, padded envelopes, and anything else cushy. When sending care packages to my wayward daughters, I use fresh socks, purchased by the bundle at Costco. Make Matt Morse happy and use plastic grocery bags instead of sending them to the landfill. You can definitely use some of those Amazon Prime boxes which seem to multiply in the shed. Corrugated cardboard is amazing stuff, as it lends strength and cushioning. It is always good to add something absorbent, in case of disaster. For this I favor back issues of the Copper River Record, so the recipient gets some excellent reading material as well.
Start with two medium sized flat rate boxes, available for free at any post office. Fold the bottom of one and tape it well. Line the box with a large plastic bag, such as a kitchen-sized garbage bag. Fold but do not tape the bottom of the second box, and slide it inside the first box, so you now have a double-thick box with a layer of plastic in between. Cut a rectangle of cardboard to fit inside the bottom of the box.
This trick works best with wide mouth, straight sided pint mason jars. Narrow mouth pints are a little taller and leave less room for padding, but I sometimes send them anyways because I like to get rid of them. If you use wide-mouth half pints, you can stack them in pairs and send a whole dozen.
Make sure each jar has a metal ring, well tightened. First, wrap only the exposed glass sides in small-gauge bubble wrap, or other similar cushy padding. Add another layer which covers the metal ring as well, and folds over to pad the top and bottom of the jar. Secure the whole bundle with plenty of tape.
When all the jars are individually wrapped, it’s time to pack the box. Cut strips of corrugated cardboard and put them between the jars, around the edges, and anywhere else they will fit. The jars should be packed snugly, but not too tight, and there should not be any movement if you shake it. Try closing the box before deciding if you need another layer of cardboard on top of the jars.
Fold the flaps and tape up the inside box, trim and seal the plastic bag, then tape up the outside box. I’ve never had a flat rate box rejected because it bulges a little, but it will be the strongest if the flaps meet. Address the box, and finish it off with plenty of strong tape around every axis. Save another fifty cents by printing your own shipping label at USPS Click and Ship.
I’ve never had a failure when shipping salmon this way. But sometimes you don’t want to ship so many jars, you just need a bombproof way of shipping a jar or two. For this purpose, I make each jar into a padded and leak-proof bundle. Several layers of bubble wrap, covered by a full edition of the Copper River Record, folded and taped so all sides are covered. This is packed in a gallon ziplock bag, then put into a larger carton along with whatever else you are shipping. Make sure the jar can’t shift in the larger box. I like to roll the jars up in sheets of corrugated cardboard which are cut to fit the dimensions of the box. Once again, a redundant layer or two is much preferred over a mess of fish oil and broken glass. One box I am presently packing includes jars of smoked salmon and a laptop computer, so you could say the stakes are high.
Is all this hassle worth it? Your relatives will love you, and attempt to reciprocate by sending you ripe peaches, or some other local treat. This will probably be somewhat less successful than your salmon mailing escapade. Your friends will want to visit. Ask them to schedule the trip for fishing season next year, so they can help tend the smokehouse, and listen for the “ploink.”
Each jar is individually wrapped
Copper River Record October 2017
By Robin Mayo
Armchair hikers, are you ready for another season? Until the snow flies the hiking is still great, but after a busy summer I’m ready to relax a little, explore some maps and dream about next summer.
For sheer challenge and drama, you just can’t beat a hike up Willow Mountain. The trail is steep but easy to find and follow, and the views from the top are unsurpassed. With the base at about 1500 feet elevation and the summit at 3300 feet, the approximately 2 ½ mile trail is wide, smooth, and solid. Folks in great shape can get to the top in 2 hours or less, and descend in about an hour, but for the rest of us plan on a full day of hiking, with lots of breaks to catch your breath and enjoy the breathtaking vistas.
Willow Mountain is located near Mile 88 Richardson Highway, the pullout at Willow Lake is a good place to park and access the trail. The land is owned by Ahtna, Inc. who welcomes people using the resource with the purchase of a land use permit. One day or season-long use permits can be obtained by contacting the office in Glennallen at 822-3476.
Hikers should carry extra water, food, and warm, windproof layers. Even on a hot day, the summit can be quite chilly and windy, and you will want to linger. Sturdy footwear is recommended, as the trail is steep enough to have the gravel rolling under your feet, and turn your legs to jelly. I’ve heard some locals refer to Willow Mountain as “Bear Mountain,” and we often see bear sign, so plenty of noise and protection are recommended.
From the north end of the Willow Lake Pullout, cross the Richardson Highway and get on the Alyeska Pipeline Right-of-Way. Alyeska allows use of the ROW for short stretches, but asks that large groups give them a heads up so they know what is going on. Turn left to head south on the pipeline, and follow the right-of-way for about a mile. Shortly after a yellow and black sign that says 7-11, start looking to the right for a 4-wheeler trail heading up into the woods. It will go around a gate and onto the powerline, follow the powerline for a while, then head up the mountain. There are no other major trails in the area, so it should be easy to find your way.
This first section of the trail goes through an unusual forest for the Copper Basin. The dominant trees are large paper birch, which only grow in a few small patches elsewhere in the Southern Valley. I’ve often wondered what conditions led to this isolated but very robust birch grove.
After several very steep stretches going up the eastern face of the mountain, the trail curves around the shoulder, and completes the climb up the southern side of the mountain. Steep sections alternate with not-quite-so-steep stretches, and great vistas abound. Right before the summit there is a level saddle with a nice alpine meadow, then the trail leads up to the communications towers at the summit. The hum of the equipment is a bit of a distraction, but the convenience of the well-built and maintained double track trail is worth putting up with a little civilization.
As well as the Wrangell Mountains and surrounding lakes and rivers, great views of the Alaska Range, Chugach, and beyond can be seen from the summit. On the long gentle slope north of Mount Drum, look for the distinctive bumps of the Klawasi Mud Volcanoes. This is also a great place to ponder the fact that a huge lake called Lake Ahtna used to fill the Copper River Valley. Glaciers blocked the gap where Woods Canyon now lets the Copper River flow through the Chugach Mountains, and the top of Willow Mountain was an island!
Once I thought I got a glimpse of Russia, but was quickly corrected, as I was looking east. So I reckon it must have been Greenland.
Copper River Stewardship Program students and staff celebrate a climb up Willow Mountain in 2015. CRSP Photo
By Mikaela Dalton
Do you know a high school student who loves to be outside? Who wants to master their outdoors skills, and learn what it means to be a leader?
WISE is excited to announce a new program for high school students in the Copper River Valley; meet the Outdoors and Wilderness Leadership Skills program, OWLS! We are in the process of designing the OWLS program and curriculum for teens who want to learn technical, interpersonal, and leadership skills that will prepare them for a future in a variety of outdoors jobs and as future leaders.
Students will master technical skills such as orienteering, knot tying, backcountry cooking and nutrition, interpersonal skills like conflict resolution, group management, and risk management, and develop their own leadership style among many more skills.
The OWLS will program start early in the summer with a multi-day backpacking trip. Students will get to know one another and the WISE staff while getting their hands on equipment and learning critical backcountry skills. We’ll continue regular meetings throughout the summer, each one with a new skill to learn and practice those we learned before.
Towards the middle of the summer, students will join WISE community programs as assistants and step into leadership roles at each stage; from packing and preparing gear and food, to managing groups on trail, to caring for and evaluating the condition of gear and supplies after the programs to give them an insight into what it takes to lead wilderness adventures.
The program will culminate with another multi-day expedition completely designed, prepared, and run by the OWLS students. They will choose what type of adventure they want to do, prepare all the gear, create a menu and portion out the food, and create and follow their own itinerary. WISE staff will be participants on the final expedition, there only to assist if need be. By the end of the summer, our students will be well prepared to handle leading on their own, creating a powerful team of local teen leaders.
OWLS will be separate from the Copper River Stewardship program, which will also happen this summer as usual. Where Stewardship program focuses on science and academics while being outdoors, OWLS will focus on surviving and thriving in the wilderness and learning what it takes to be a leader in a backcountry setting. The leadership practices learned outdoors can be used in any situation, not just the backcountry. For those ambitious high school students who are interested, we will allow qualified and driven students to participate in both programs.
This program is still in the preliminary stages of planning and obtaining funding, but this spring we will start looking for interested teens. We are working currently with the Copper River School District so that students could earn a half-credit for participating and completely the necessary work. We look forward to exploring with you!
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.