Alaska’s upland bird hunters enjoy an unlikely Ice Age leftover

By Ken Marsh

The setting seemed more Great Plains than Alaska: Rusting farm machinery backlit by a fiery sunset, barley fields rippling in long golden swaths, the horizon a living canvas of geese and sandhill cranes whirling in noisy flocks. Yet to the south a mountain range marched and the September breeze fresh off the Arctic Circle blew brittle and permafrost-cold. Those subarctic clues left no doubt. The loam beneath my feet was a long, long way from North Dakota, Kansas or, really, anyplace else.

Awash in a mix of…

©Ken Marsh

Alaska fly-fishers are a dedicated bunch, driven to keep on swinging until the cold, bitter end. No matter what.

By Ken Marsh

The morning had gotten off to a traumatic start, the kind that makes a guy want to step back and reexamine his priorities. No one had said anything, but I suspect that’s partly why the three of us chose to spread out for a while and fish separately. We all needed a little space. …

By Ken Marsh

“They rippled green with a wondrous sheen, they fluttered out like a fan;
They spread with a blaze of rose-pink rays never yet seen of man.”

— Robert Service
The Ballad of the Northern Lights

Photo by Thomas Lipke on Unsplash

I don’t recall my first aurora. When you’re raised in Alaska some icons — moose, mosquitoes, and northern lights among them — simply are. This season’s first appearance came early, though, and remains fresh. It caught me off guard, a welcome revelation, singling me out for a performance I’d gone long enough without.

It was a late-September night on Cook Inlet’s remote…

By Ken Marsh

“The winter! the brightness that blinds you, … The woods where the weird shadows slant;

The stillness, the moonlight, the mystery, I’ve bade ’em good-by– but I can’t.”

— Robert Service, Spell of the Yukon

Thirty years ago, living as a trapper in Alaska’s upper Susitna Valley, I traveled on snowshoes nearly every winter day. Against a tapestry of muskegs, spruce forests and ice-covered lakes and streams, I hiked uncounted miles, starting daily before dawn and continuing through the bright hours into dusk.

At my cabin late in the evenings, worn from the winds, drifts and adventures…

Fall in Alaska is magnificent, but short, which is why it pays to follow along and flail like hell to grasp every colorful moment.

By Ken Marsh

Alaska’s old-time prospectors had a saying that gold is where you find it. And where you find it may surprise you. …

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve — a true wilderness park — promises refuge and spiritual passage.

By Ken Marsh

Most striking were the mountains: Stacked high through the ages by tectonic forces, sculpted by Cambrian seas and the coming and going of Pleistocene ice, limestone crags shot up all around me, reaching through a fog for the sun, moon and stars.

The date, August 1, 1989, marked my first steps into the Brooks Range and the one time I might truly say I stood on top of the world. Dropped off by bush plane on a high…

Coaxing Alaska silver salmon to strike dry flies is sport of the highest order.

By Ken Marsh

I found the fish late that afternoon lurking in the frog water (angler’s slang for languid sloughs, stagnant creek mouths), a dozen or more cruising slowly, prowling. That’s typical of silver salmon. Determined as they are to reach sacred gravel they’re notorious dawdlers, drawn to shady backwaters where they loiter like truant punks in dark arcades.

I knelt on the bank across from them, stripping line from my reel, gauging the distance. Figured I could hit them after one false cast, maybe two, followed by a double-haul to extend my reach. My fly would plop onto the…

A cyclist pauses along the trail at Southcentral Alaska’s Lower Russian Lake.

In a land where urban intrigue and iconic wilderness are linked by a network of trails, why watch from a window? Hop on a bike and become a part of scene.

By Ken Marsh

I was mountain biking Southcentral Alaska’s Russian Lakes Trail after a day of fishing when I nearly crashed into the bear.

I knew they were around, drawn by area salmon runs that provide summer-long bruin buffets. …

For an angler, though, nothing defines Alaska more distinctly than grayling. ©Ken Marsh

Ancient, elegant and innocently gullible, the little fish with the big dorsal fins promise admission to a world of clean, wild waters and unspoiled vistas.

By Ken Marsh

I’d uttered my good-byes earlier that evening, not aloud, but inwardly, and without sadness. Of course, the grayling wouldn’t have heard me anyway, nor would they have cared. Hardly a fly rod’s length from the lakeshore, the little fish with the sail-like dorsal fins busied themselves sipping blackflies and mosquitoes off the surface. …

Wildlife viewing around Alaska’s biggest city gains fresh dimension once the snow flies.

Moose are common in Southcentral Alaska and can be seen year round from the mountains backing Anchorage to the city’s greenbelts, parks and neighborhoods. ©Ken Marsh

By Ken Marsh

Lit by morning stars and a bright gibbous moon, the first tracks leaped out within a few steps of the trailhead. A short-tailed weasel, or ermine as they’re called when their coats turn snow-white for winter, had bounced back and forth across the trail, hunting. Prospects seemed good for the tiny predator (a large ermine might weigh 7 ounces) as here and there the tracks of voles and shrews, the ermine’s prey, laced the snow in stitch-like patterns.

I’d arrived at the Glen Alps…

Ken Marsh

Anchorage-based writer specializing in Alaska’s awesome outdoors.

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