Cathedral Mountain and the Fairbanks-Coldfoot Drive

One of the things I’ve liked about Coldfoot is that it forces me into situations I’m not always comfortable with. Both of these events were apart of me getting out of my comfort zone that turned into something I really enjoyed. My hike up Cathedral Mountain was fun but very hard for me since I’m an obvious novice at trekking through the wilderness. It was painful at times but it really helped get my mind into a better place after my journey down the Dalton Highway from hibernation at the Deadhorse Camp. Everything was still fairly new when me and a group of people hiked up the mountain. It helped me connect with the area on a deeper level and to appreciate the place I’m living in. The other journey was my time in Fairbanks. The reason it was such a hard situation for me is that when an employee gets down to Fairbanks by plane in Coldfoot, they don’t have an ironclad way of getting back up for work, sometimes leaving the employee stranded. That’s what happened to me.

Cathedral Mountain is a medium sized mountain at about 3600 feet to climb. It’s located just south of Coldfoot and you trek into it by the Dalton Highway. Me and about 8 more experienced hikers went up it. The first hour was pretty fine but I fell behind quick. I didn’t care, really. I was just glad to be out in the mountains on my day off. My group would occasionally call out or stop so I didn’t get lost, which was appreciated but I really enjoyed the challenge. Towards the end, it got pretty steep so I fought for pretty much every step up the mountain. I have an incredibly limited background in hiking or trekking, especially considering my house in Utah is about 15 minutes from the mountains. My family never did any of that while I was growing up. I’ve done a lot of research on the subject since I’ve started coming up to Alaska a few years ago, so I was prepared with equipment. I was especially grateful for my water bladder and good hiking shoes I invested a good amount of money in.

This was more than half way up with a great view of the middle fork of the Koyukuk River. We just got out of the tree line and the rocks were covered in slick lichen, making it difficult at times. Beyond this, it got really steep and at some spots I had to almost crawl up the rocks.

When we reached the top, some of us didn’t feel confident enough to climb to the outcropping at the peak so we ate lunch just beneath it. I brought up the artisan bread I made the day before with some butter and some of us shared that.

At the bottom, we all took a picture of the mountain after climbing it. It’s always a good feeling after a hard hike to see the reference point of the mountain you just climbed. We also found a dead wolf just inside the tree line on the other side of the Dalton Highway. 
My next trip was to get supplies in Fairbanks a few weeks later. I got a ride with one of the planes that was going to Fairbanks with some guests that were going south. While I was there, I stayed at a really nice Hostel that a very pleasant Swedish man owned and operated. The sleeping quarters were 4-walled tents pretty similar to military tents but much nicer. They each had 5 beds in them. The middle of the camp had a giant tee-pee you could sleep in with a few other people and they also had private cabins for rent that were much more expensive. They had a main kitchen where you could cook yourself food and store anything you needed to in their fridges. The camp was about a mile and a half away from the stores so I got resupplied the night I got there and bought some lunch meat and bagels from Fred Meyers for dinner. I slept in one of the tents with my sleeping bag and the next morning I walked to the NATC main office, the sister company that helps with coworker travel. When I got there, they said all the flights were canceled, I’d have to stay another night in Fairbanks, and I’d have to come back at 5 in the morning to get a 9 hour van ride up with a tourist group up to Coldfoot. Although it was inconvenient, I was happy I’d get to stay another night because I ended up going to dinner with some old friends that I worked with in South East, Alaska that now live in Fairbanks. At 5 AM, we loaded up and traveled a couple hundreds miles up the Dalton Highway, stopping at a few pretty cool attractions along the way.

This is the geographical Arctic Circle, as close to what they can pinpoint for tourists. The Arctic Circle is the imaginary circular line that encapsulates anywhere you can see the sun at midnight on the Summer Solstice at sea level. You can actually see the sun a couple miles south from here if you’re on a hill since you’re higher than the curve of the earth at sea level. An hour past this point, our tour guide dug down in the Arctic ground and let us feel perma-frost, the permanent quicksand under all arctic tundras that’s always completely solid frozen.

Crossing over one of the only land bridges of the Yukon River. The Yukon is the fifth largest river system in the world in sheer volume, making it an interesting task of actually building any structure across it. A good friend of mine is working at the camp that the company I work for owns off the banks of the Yukon River. That whole area is really exciting and teeming with life compared to life in Deadhorse, Alaska during the winter.

This is half way between the Yukon Camp and Fairbanks. The mountains around this area are really more like hills and the farther north you go, the steeper and bigger the mountains become. The mountains where I’m staying in Coldfoot are pretty close to the size of the Wasatch Mountains in Utah but if you go about 15 miles north, they start becoming increasingly larger until you reach the continental divide. At that point, the mountains slope downwards towards the Arctic Ocean that is the barren desert of the North Slope. 

Wiseman, Alaska and Anaktuvak Pass

Through the company I’ve been blessed to work with, there are certain perks that I get while I’m here. Perks like not having to pay for food, freedom to cook whatever I want, and living in the beautiful Brooks Range. Also, I get to go on any tour I want for free. Tours that people spend a lot of money on, I’d assume. Two of the tours that I’ve been on were to Wiseman, an old gold mining town, and a plane ride through the Gates of the Arctic to Anaktuvak Pass, an extremely remote village that’s on the edge of the Arctic National Park.

Wiseman, Alaska is 63 miles north of the Arctic Cirlcle, as the crazy horned sign says to the left. Back in the early 1900’s, it was a booming gold mining town with upwards of 300 people living there. Since then, it’s dwindled to about 10 residents as the gold mining moved deeper into the mountains. They live as close to a subsistence lifestyle as anyone can. There’s also a lot more buildings than I thought there would’ve been, let alone an airstrip.

This is one of the gardens in Wiseman that me and some of the other coworkers planted lettuce in. It’s what I can only assume is the furthest north garden in the United States. The mosquitos were so bad, I had to wear a mosquito net over my head to be comfortable while tilling the garden.

The next tour was the Anaktuvak Pass flight. By far the most beautiful flight I’ve ever been on. You fly in a small bush plane right through valleys and between mountains in the south-eastern part of the Gates of the Arctic National Park. This national park is a wilderness park, meaning there’s no interference from humans throughout the park. They don’t have park rangers, absolutely no trails in the mountains, and the only way to get into the park is by a small bush plane or walking. It’s the northern most national park and the second largest.  In fact, it’s the largest contiguous wilderness in the United States. It’s also exactly like it has been for thousands of years and it’s fabulous. The picture to the left is the actual Gates of the Arctic, aptly named by the avid wilderness activist that trekked this area in the late 1920’s. To the left of this picture is another toppling mountain that, paired with the mountain in the upper right, makes up the imaginary gate separated by the north fork of the Koyukuk River.

Flying right through the Gates of the Arctic and bam! Rainbow. The New Zealanders I was with got a huge kick out of this. We were pretty lucky to be flying through there at that moment.

The Anaktuvak Valley on the other side of the Gates of the Arctic. Pretty jaw-dropping scenery. Looking north, this is the point where the Brooks Range starts to slope down into what is known as the Arctic Tundra, showing the full scale of the continental divide. The town was nice and we got to see the Anaktuvak Pass museum, although I’ve never seen more mosquitos in my life. The New Zealanders were getting eaten alive. The pilot and I thought that they must taste pretty sweet to the mosquitos compared to us.

***Update on me***
I’ve had a great time here in the Arctic so far but I can start seeing the starting line for Antarctica. The paperwork has been a nightmare, as usual, and every little deterrent to get qualified for the ice has happened so far but I’m almost 100% ready. Send good tidings my way for good karma that nothing else happens. Also, they’ve asked if I’d be interested in staying on the ice over the winter at the South Pole station. It would be between me and 2 other guys for the main position and the others becoming alternates for both stations over the winter so we’ll see how that turns out. Also, somebody should write me! I’ve had a few people write me so far but it’s nice to hear from others through the mail! My only real excitement throughout the day is when I get mail. So either I spend loads of money on stupid things to get sent up here or you can write me. My bank account will probably thank you later. 🙂
Here’s the address:
KC Loosemore
PO Box 9041
9000 Dalton HWY
Coldfoot AK 99709
Thanks everyone!

My Day in Barrow, Alaska and the Prudhoe Bay Arctic Tour

As my last few weeks in Prudhoe Bay were coming to a close, I got the opportunity to do some pretty awesome stuff. When June started rolling around, there was an incredible amount of tours to the Arctic Ocean through the Prudhoe Bay oil fields and regularly scheduled plane flights to Barrow, Alaska. I’m fortunate enough to be able to work for a company that lets their employees do these tours for free, which is an added job incentive that I took full advantage of. 

The first tour was the Prudhoe Bay Arctic Tour. This consisted of a two hour bus ride through the town of Deadhorse, the oil fields near the ocean, and a stopping point at the beach of the Arctic Ocean. The tour guide I went with, named Branden, was an employee of one of the oil companies during the winter and a bus driver for tours through the fields during the summer. The only way the oil companies let people come through their roads is if they’re escorted by an employee with security clearance across the check points that have submitted every tourist’s license ID number 24 hours in advance. The security around Prudhoe Bay is incredibly strict, for whatever reason. You can’t even take a picture of the guard posts, or I probably would have to show everyone. Haha. I did get a picture of me standing on the Arctic Ocean (Shown Left)

I ended up going with a really nice family from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, along with Branden the tour guide. The family was traveling through Alaska for the summer in a truck/RV combo, though the Arctic winds almost blew it over while they were sleeping in it the night before. The bus we went on was a regular tour bus with wide windows and copious amounts of heaters under the seats. As Branden drove us around Deadhorse and the oil fields, he explained everything he could about all the different animals, birds, machinery, and buildings we were looking at. The most interesting thing I learned about the oil fields was about the processes of refining the oil, shipping it thousands of miles through steel pipes, and how many safety features they have in place for just about anything that could go wrong. It’s a pretty impressive operation and the facilities that the employees live at are much better than I ever imagined.

The other tour I went on was a flight to Barrow, Alaska. Being the most northern point in America, I definitely couldn’t pass that opportunity up. Barrow is a small Native Inupiat village way up north on the edge of the Arctic Ocean. It’s roughly and hour to an hour and a half’s flight time from Deadhorse, Alaska, the town at the very end of the Dalton Highway. There are no roads in or out of Barrow and their only mode of transportation to the outside world is a small airport that taxis people back and forth from various airports in Alaska. My company allowed me and Kendra, another coworker of mine, to tag along on a flight that wasn’t full. There was a tour van waiting for the tourists. Kendra and I didn’t want to pay the exorbitant amount of money in a town that we could easily just walk around in. The sign to the left shows how far popular cities and countries are from Barrow.

The first thing we decided to do was find some kind of city office that would have maps or instructions on how to get across town. On our way there, we came across the middle school and high school. They had an excellent bowhead whale skull in front of the high school. (Shown Left) Apparently the high school’s mascot is the whalers, which my partner-in-crime thought was pretty funny. (Shown Above Right)
As we walked further into town, we found their city hall. We walked in to inquire about some sort of map. Interesting enough, the first person we met was a nice Mexican lady that had just gotten there. The second person we met was a very chipper Indian man that described how to get around town. 

The city is split into two provinces that are only connected by a bridge. One half seemed like they had most of the industrial areas and homes in it and the other half had all the grocery stores, cultural centers, and any other business you could imagine. Another bowhead skull outside the visitors center was on display while we walked around town (Shown Left). On the far side of town by the post office, we found their grocery store. Apparently orange juice is a valuable commodity in this town haha. (Shown Above Right)
After walking around an actual grocery store for the first time in 5 months, Kendra and I tried going to the cultural center but they were closed for an hour. I guess even Barrow villagers have to eat lunch, too. We decided to walk to the ocean and see the famous Whale Bone Arch and whaling boats on display (Shown Left). There was a recent whale hunt and a flagged whaling boat on the ice still (Shown Right).
When we got done with our lunch on the beach while staring off into the icy ocean, we walked back to the cultural center. They had opened back up and were starting a tour for some school children. We wanted to see the displays around the whaling museum but admittance was $10. Luckily for us, you get free admittance if you work on the North Slope. While we walked around, I found an interesting chart of the division of meat among the villagers after every kill (Shown Left). Something else I found interesting was the small boat made completely out of baleen, the ridged teeth from a whale that filters water from their food (Shown Right).

A beautiful mural of the legendary man, Eben Hopson, caught my eye, too. Eben Hopson was the single most influential person in the government of Alaskan Natives in the north. He helped enact several bills through the US Senate that have preserved his native ancestry and traditions throughout the years.

 The museum even had a native bird exhibit. I was excited to see this since they had detailed descriptions of several birds. My 2 favorites, as usual, were the snowy owl (Shown Right) and a Rough-Legged Hawk (Shown Left).

When we left Barrow, I was in awe of it’s beauty as we flew over the village. My experience there was extremely fulfilling and I got to do almost everything on my To-Do list. With that over, the following week was a blur. It was filled with somberly packing up my room, or Arctic Cave as we came to call it, saying goodbye to my fellow coworkers and crew workers that filled the camp, and traveling 260 miles down the Dalton Highway on rough dirt roads and snow-capped mountains through the Brooks Range. As I sit here writing this, I’m encircled by about a dozen coworkers of Coldfoot Camp in a room that resembles a college dorm lounge. Magazine clippings and pictures cover the walls, incredibly intriguing books stack shelves high, and sport wagering charts are tacked to cork boards. With this complete sensory overload in the amount of people at this camp compared to the 7 coworkers in Deadhorse Camp, these next 4 months will come with it’s own challenges and unique experiences. But for now, my time in Prudhoe Bay has come to a close.

***I’m sorry I haven’t posted in a while, people. Limited internet access and working upwards of 80 hours a week have limited my time on being able to carve out time to sit in the coworker lounge. I’ve resorted to writing a journal during the week and copying my writings when I do have internet. I’ll have plenty more to come, as I’m already working on 3 more posts from my journal. Feel free to write me a letter, if you want. 🙂 The address is:
KC Loosemore
P.O. Box 9041
9000 Dalton HWY
Coldfoot, Alaska, 99709

Thanks to all for the continued support!

Onwards, onto my 6th month in the Arctic.

As I notice that it’s the very start of June, I come close to my 5th month mark, onto my 6th month. A lot has changed for me in the last 5 months. I’m starting to realize that my passion in life is traveling to see all these beautiful places that all my friends from all over the world tell me about. Cooking isn’t my only marketable skill that I have to take me places anymore. But I’m also starting to realize that this life could be lonely if I let it. Meeting new people and becoming their friend just to leave a short time later can be rather disheartening, especially faced with the fact that some of them I’ll never see again. I have consistent people in my life that I’ll never lose contact with but they don’t have the luxury of abandoning their lives and jobs to go on these incredible journeys with me.

I’ve also tried to document some of my travels after realizing that these experiences aren’t just for me. With all my friends back home getting married and starting their own lives and my family going about their own lives, I feel like these adventures can help them see the world while still doing what they want to do. This helps me justify going to all these different places and not feeling bad about it. If I can help my family and friends see beauty through my experiences, I’m willing to spend the time to document it. It’s also interesting to think about how much change my life has had in the last 10 years. I bet my mother never thought her 13 year old nerdy, couch potato son from 10 years ago would have set foot in the Arctic or aspired to see beautiful, inspiring sights like I do now. Or I bet my grandma never thought that this bratty kid that refused to eat his ice cream unless he got to feed himself close to 18 years ago would be trying to open the world up to others. I hope to one day be able to take my mother to the places she only dreamed of seeing with her own eyes, such as Italy, as a thank you for always supporting me. I can only keep going forward right now. 🙂

My favorite part about this trip is that I’ve had a little bit of down time to really reflect on my life and work on my health. I’ve never been able to do that because ever since I was 14 I worked as much as possible to try and get ahead in life. Even in high school I’d work as late as 2 AM during the week and still wake up for school (mostly, haha). With the hotel being unexpectedly slower than previously believed this winter, I’ve earned enough money to keep myself satisfied that I’m not wasting my time but it’s been slow enough that I can really study how my body reacts to different things without any adverse effects on my job. With that said, the camp I’m at right now IS pretty slow right now. I’m excited to be able to travel down the Dalton Highway on Friday to reach my camp for the summer (Pictured Left). The other camp I’ll be working at will be significantly busier, from what I’ve heard. I’ll also have some help in cooking all the food. It’ll definitely be more up my alley for cooking with so much people passing through the camp every day.

The company I’ve been working for is a really good company and the management has been good to me so far. I don’t make a lot of requests for anything but if I do want a day off to take care of something or want to go on a tour through the Arctic, they’ve been great to set it all up for me. I recently visited a friend that I worked with during the winter that got another job somewhere else in town. He’s doing great and the hotel he’s working for is above and beyond nice for what you’d expect for the slope. It’s a consistent job that you could make a sizable career out of, with options of working 4 weeks on at the camp coupled with 2 weeks off to do whatever you want. I’d consider applying at other camps like this one if I hadn’t already set up Antarctica and had other plans. Maybe in the near future I’ll find a job like this in a place I’ve loved but for now, planning too far ahead could be detrimental.

I leave Coldfoot Camp sometime near the end of September. I’ll have been up here for a total of 8 1/2 months minus the 7 days that I spent in Utah getting my physical qualifications done. I’ll be in Utah another 2 weeks before I leave for New Zealand and, eventually, Antarctica. I found out where I’ll be cooking in the southern-most continent, also. It’s a landing zone for planes maintained by the US Air National Guard called Williams Field Airport (Pictured Upper Left). It supports 2 landing strips for planes equipped with skis and a small community known as “Willy Town”. It’s mostly ski equipped trailers that have been stationed there for the maintenance and daily functions of the air strip. I’ll be in the only small restaurant on the field, feeding around 120 on any given day. I would live in McMurdo and take a shuttle every day to work (The bus that shuttles people, Pictured Upper Right). It should be a great experience that’ll boost my resume even more.

This past week has been fantastic. I went on a tour of the oil fields and to the Arctic Ocean at the start of the week. I went with a really nice family from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that was traveling Alaska. The guide that drove us around was incredibly detailed in the descriptions of the oil field and ocean that we saw. I was surprised at how much I actually learned from the trip. Just a couple days ago, I got the opportunity to take a plane into Barrow, Alaska. There was an empty seat on one of the charter planes that was taking our guests into town for the day so I got asked if I wanted to go. Barrow, Alaska is the 2nd most populated city above the Arctic Circle and one of the northernmost cities in the world (Famous whale arches of Barrow, Pictured Left). I’ll probably do a separate blog post about these two adventures so keep an eye out. 🙂 As for now, I’ll start getting ready for my day and start packing for my next adventure into the unknown! Have a great day everyone!

The most useful Macbook apps.

Since my other laptop that I had for almost 5 years died recently, I opted to find a new one. I did weeks of research to find the one that suited me best while I’m traveling for the next couple of years. It ended up being an Apple Macbook Pro Mid 2013 edition. With getting a Mac and a completely different IOS system that I’m used to, I ended up studying everything about it for the 3 weeks it was being processed, built, and shipped. In doing so, I learned about some of the most useful apps on the market right now. This is the list of the top 10 most useful ones that I’ve found.

Mint QuickView is an amazing website that pulls all of your bank/financial accounts into one place. You can set budgets for yourself, keep track of your spending, set financial goals, and categorize how important certain saving aspects are to you. The Mint QuickView app is directly linked to the website, feeding you unlimited information about your accounts and tracks your transactions so you’re up to date where your money is going. Also, the app helps you keep track of any fraudulent charge that could possibly be on your account. The best part about all of this? It’s free.

Keeper Security
The Keeper app is a handy tool to put all your passwords for all the different accounts you have across the internet. You do have to pay 10 dollars for the app but it’s extremely secure, making it my go to app to counteract how forgetful I can be. It can also generate incredibly secure passwords for any situation and save it to each individual account you have added. It’s controlled by a master password and security question that links into your account while all your information is listed categorically. Get this app if you have dozens of websites with several different passwords and login information. There’s also an iPhone app for security across all platforms.

Daisy Disk
The Daisy Disk app is an incredible disk space analyzer that breaks down your memo
ry usage into an amazingly easy interface to read. You can analyze your computer’s built in memory or plug an external hard drive in to scan that as well. It’s a great way to look at everything you have and clean up what you don’t need on your computer if it’s starting to lag a little bit or you just need a little more space.  It’s the best disk analyzer I’ve found so far. It does cost 10 dollars but it goes on sale for half off intermittently throughout the year.

Memory Diag
Memory Diag is an incredibly useful app that handles your RAM memory, giving you a diagnostics report through a small icon by the volume and wifi icon on your computer. RAM memory deals with how fast your computer can handle multiple projects or pages at once, saving a small chunk of memory from everything you do in between you shutting down your computer. When you press the icon, a larger report shows up, giving you information on how much RAM your computer is using. It splits it up into File Cache memory, Wired memory, Compressed memory, and App memory. You can optimize your RAM, deleting any unnecessary memory usage mainly in your File Cache. Eventually you have to shut down your computer to get it back to optimal efficiency because your File Cache builds up over time with information your computer finds vital. This effectively wipes that away but this app is a good indicator when you should do that, too. It also gives you a great detailed map of your RAM drives and what’s being used. It also costs nothing. Free ninety free.

Caffeine is another free, useful app that appears as an icon next to your wifi indicator. It shows up as a coffee cup and to turn it on, you press the icon, filling it with steaming coffee. It basically turns your computer’s standby mode off so it’s always on. It’s great for downloading large files such as software updates or updates on instruments in Logic Pro X, which are notoriously large files. I use it when I’m downloading a YouTube movie. Since I’m in the boonies of Alaska, it takes FOREVER to download anything, forcing me to leave my computer on overnight just to download smaller file types. With this app, I can do that without fear of it going to sleep or just shutting down. Just dim your screen lights and you’re golden.

MPlayerX is a free alternative media player to the very limited default player on macs, Quicktime Player. It plays just about any file type, too. It’s basically the only media player I ever use anymore for movies and has all the features you would expect on a media player. It’s also not nearly as glitch prone as the default player.  More features that it uses is it lets you skip through a movie or TV show by using the arrow keys, lets you control the volume by swiping up or down, and lets you zoom in and out by using the zooming tool on the keypad. It’s an ideal choice if you’re not a very big fan of Quicktime.

UTorrent is a small BitTorrent client. BitTorrents are protocols that practice peer-to-peer file sharing to distribute large amounts of information throughout the internet. Basically, everybody shares a small chunk of a file that you’re downloading until you stop the client from sharing it anymore. So for anyone that wants to download a file, they don’t have to worry about some file being stored on a specific server, which in turn means slowing down that specific server. This saves incredible amounts of space for developers getting their products out to people. UTorrent is a program that handles all of that for you. Now, let me be clear. Some people think downloading torrents is illegal but it’s not. Downloading copyrighted material through any website or distributing this material is illegal. Use your judgement which programs or files are copyrighted.

This free, handy device is used to convert any file type into one that’s useable on a Nook, iPhone, iPod, Android, iPad, and any other handheld device you can think of. All you do is open the program, choose the file you need transferred, and choose what device you want to use with it. It even has selections for PS3, Xbox 360, PSP and USB Smart TV’s. I’ve used it on several occasions to put movies on my Nook so I can watch them on a plane without having to haul my computer out of my bag. Quite convenient.

The Unarchiver
This is a no-brainer app that’s pretty essential since it unzips files for you to view. None-the-less, here it is. It’s amazing how many files I use that are formatted in a bundle (Zipped) that need to be separated with a special program. Macs do have a built-in app for this but the Unarchiver is a much more capable tool to use in most cases.

And there you have it. The 10 apps that I’ve found most useful and relevant to my needs and hopefully you do to. Please comment below if you think you have another app you’ve found just as useful. I’m always looking for more ways to make my life more organized or colorful (As represented in the picture by Marshall in one of my favorite scenes of HIMYM), so any suggestions?

***An update on me: I met a really nice couple that lived back in Utah back in the 70’s. I turned out that they lived a mere 10 miles from where my mother lives in Utah. They live in Michigan now and traveled the roads of Alaska to reach the arctic. They loved to here from someone from their old stomping grounds and I’m always astounded at how small this world can be sometimes. I also met a very nice couple that drove all the way from Georgia to see the Arctic Ocean. They were pretty surprised to find a pretty remarkable Arctic blow going on with winds up to 40 miles an hour and parts of the Dalton Highway flooded over upon arrival. They were very nice and seemed to thoroughly enjoy my cooking. We’re starting to get busier, with more Arctic tours happening every day. I’ve also been informed that I will start my 9 hour journey in a van down to Coldfoot Camp in the Brooks Range next Thursday or Friday. I’m really hoping I get to go on the Arctic tour before then and I’ve lined up an excursion to fly out to Barrow, Alaska. It’s the northern-most settlement in the United States and a major piece to the natives in the Arctic. I plan to see the whale arches of Birnirk Culture and Cape Smythe, both considered to be important links to the ancient Inupiat Natives. If anyone wants an address to send me letters or mail when I leave for my summer camp, let me know. It’s different than the one I’ve had so far. Thanks for reading!

Base Layers for All Weathers

I’ve spent countless hours scouring forums and reviews for all the different types of base layers that are out there these days. A base layer is essentially a next-to-skin layer of clothing that regulates your body temperature while in hot or cold weather. It’s an essential part of working outside in the arctic and living in a desert back home. I’ve always had to use under shirts and base layers all the way back to when I was a little kid but never put too much thought into it. within the last couple years, I’ve gotten into researching all the different brands and types since I started coming up to Alaska. This is because I needed to find something that will wick moisture and can dry quickly since I work in a 90F degree kitchen and outside was consistently below -60F degrees. If I walked outside with a damp undershirt on in the wind, it would almost freeze to my chest.  I’m reviewing the 5 best brands I’ve actually used in the past and their different products, listed in descending preferred order. Included is Under Armour, Icebreaker, Outdoor Research, Patagonia, and Ibex.

5. Under Armour
Under Armour is one of the premier performance apparel brands. It’s also one of the first to try and provide fitness apparel that wicks moisture, compresses your muscles so they stay warm enough not to strain or fatigue, and keeps you cool during a workout or practice. The company was started by a former college football player and coach that wanted a better material for himself while at games. He started it in his grandma’s basement and sold shirts out of his trunk for the first year. This led to the most branded performance apparel in the sports world, being the major sponsor of several events and superstar athletes. Under Armour has always been the most popular choice in the desert I grew up in for working out or hiking in extremely hot conditions. I’ve always saw several ads a day about them and dozens of people with their products on. This was probably due to the fact that the Utah Utes, Utah’s main nationally recognized college, was actually sponsored by them.

They have 3 main different types of base layer shirts you can choose from. The first one is the HeatGear shirts that they provide. It’s the lightest base layer I’ve worn that I’ve actually liked because the synthetic material it’s made out of really does compress your muscles. You’re not quite as sore the next day, making it an extremely valuable shirt to athletes. The second one is the ColdGear shirts. They’re the cold weather option for Under Armour. I prefer merino wool in cold conditions over this shirt but if you want a cheaper option, it’s still a great choice. The fabric it’s made of is a dual layered material with a hexagonal patterned thermo-conductive coating that acts as a heat generator that traps hot air while the fibers wick the moisture away. It’s a really interesting innovation and is completely safe. The last line of clothes is the all-season one. It’s the best of both lines mixed into one. A happy medium between the two makes it an ideal shirt. The wicking properties of the shirts are really good, being one of the more impressive materials in this category. The antimicrobial properties of Under Armour don’t really exist in this material, in my opinion. They say they have anti-odor systems built in but I’ve always smelled bad after a day or two of working out. If you’re training for sports or just using it to work out, this shouldn’t be a problem for you. You might want to think twice about this brand if you’re going on a week long hiking trip, though. The price is excellent compared to the other shirts. Expect to pay around $40-$60 for a good short sleeved shirt.

4. Icebreaker
This is a New Zealand company that has as strict standards to it’s processing of wool and treatment of animals as Ibex. They sell high-grade base layers for all types of weather and have different thicknesses of fibers that make each one a different weight for every situation. They have 4 different thicknesses in the base layer alone, 2 more than the base layers of Ibex. They’re also Zque Certified through New Zealand’s strict business regulations. The Icebreaker company has made international headlines with their innovative tracking system of materials called Baacode. They track each sheep’s wool from sheering all the way to the sale of the wool. They put a tracking number on each piece that corresponds to each and every sheep and what area that sheep came from. It shows that the company is dedicated to conserving the identity of the wool while keeping incredibly high standards of excellence for their farmers in New Zealand.

The price of the clothes through this company is on the higher end of all the other companies, with a short sleeve base layer going for $80. The outdoor department site usually has really good prices on this brand with prices as low as 35 percent off, making a good shirt around $50. Icebreaker is a company you should buy from if really high quality materials and mindful economical or business practices are important to you. I have a friend that swears by this company, making up a large majority of his closet and I don’t blame him. I own a pair of Icebreaker base layer bottoms and they’re just as good as any Ibex items I own. This company would’ve been my top choice if they weren’t slightly more expensive with regular prices than the rest of these companies, which is why it’s rated fourth. Either way, you’ll love anything you get from this place.

3. Outdoor Research
Outdoor Research is an American company that is deeply rooted in the innovation of mountaineering for the last 30 years. They’re the first ones to figure out a way to keep water thawed out on cold expeditions by developing an insulated parka canister for water bottles. They were also the first company that developed soft shell gloves in North America. The man that started it all, Ron Gregg, died in early 2003 testing new products for his company on a mountain side by an avalanche. The company is still on the cutting edge of the industry. Their Torque shirt line is the best synthetic I’ve used. The material and technology are from Polartec Power Dry fabrics. These fabrics are used in a lot of high grade synthetic brands and are made up of 2 layers. The layer closest to the skin are made up of thicker fibers that pull moisture away from the skin and the much thinner fibers on the outside spread the water over a larger surface area. This makes the moisture evaporate twice as fast.

It really does work just as well as wool and is actually a better choice in really wet conditions. While wool absorbs 35 percent of it’s weight in heat and water, this fabric disperses and sheds the water without retaining hardly any of it. Though the wicking properties do slightly exceed merino wool, the odor retention is much, much higher. I’ve found that these shirts can last a day or two camping or running without being washed before people start thinking you’re an unkept pig. Compare that to any merino wool that really just needs to be put in the sun. This effectively gets rid of any odor through it’s antimicrobial properties. You basically have to decide when going on your week long hiking trip if you wanna carry 4 of these shirts with the assurance that you’ll be dry quicker or 2 merino wool shirts with the assurance you won’t make yourself nauseated by your own stench. Synthetic material isn’t quite as nice of a feeling on your skin as merino wool is but with the Torque shirt line through Outdoor Research, they take great care with making the shirt feel as seem-less as possible so you don’t have too much irritation. You can pick up one of these shirts for $30 to $40 on sale.

2. Patagonia Capilene:
Patagonia is by far the most widely distributed and popular brands among the outdoor sports communities. Most everyone I know that rock climbs, alpine climbs, skis, or treks through Utah wears Patagonia equipment in the winter months. It’s also one of the most avid conservationist companies I know of. It’s unbelievable how much care they take in making sure certain aspects of the environment are looked after, even with them being a much larger business. The company was started by Tvon Chouinard, an American born in Maine that grew up in the Yosemite mountains of California. He’s been the leading expert in alpine climbing and mountain climbing for the last 40 years, revolutionizing the industry several times. He also started Black Diamond Equipment (formerly Chouinard Equipment, Ltd.), a company that manufactures skiing, climbing, and mountain sport equipment. He’s no longer involved with the company after bankruptcy in 1989. His employees bought up the assets and moved everything to Salt Lake City, Utah, making it the premier equipment manufacturer.

The dedication of Patagonia to quality has always astounded me. It’s no surprise its’ base layers are just as incredible. They have 2 main categories of base layers, the merino wool line and the Capilene line. The merino wool line is a blend of high quality merino wool from the grasslands of Patagonia and their patented blend of polyester called Capilene. With 3 different thickness variations, the wool content varies from 65% to 80%. They feel that by mixing the wool with their Capilene fibers, it helps bring both material’s best foot forward. It keeps odors at bay while wicking moisture and evaporating it before the wool can absorb too much. I’ve never actually used this shirt but it’s probably going to be the next line of shirts I end up buying for my trip to Antarctica. The shirts I have used from Patagonia’s base layer line is the full synthetic Capilene brand. It’s made from recycled polyester fabrics and blended into an incredible fabric that will shed sweat and keep you dry. The higher numbered Capilene shirts take advantage of 100% Polartec Power Dry material and Polartec Power Dry High Efficiency material to help with wicking. I have seen reviews of the thinnest shirt feeling clammy on your skin when completely drenched in sweat when in a humid environment but I haven’t had that issue, as I’m usually in drier climates. The odor control on this shirt is a lot better than most other synthetic shirts out there and the thinnest Capilene shirt gives you an incredible 50+UPF rating to block out the UV rays from the sun. The merino wool shirt prices are comparable to Ibex and Icebreaker shirts, running around $80-$100 retail and $60 on sale. The Capilene shirts will give you a much different price range, from $35-$120 depending on the thickness you’re looking for. You can get a really good deal on most of the Capilene categories on sale at around $40-$60.

1. Ibex Woolies
My aunt recently told me about a fantastic store in Ogden, Utah on 30th street. It’s called Alpine Sports and they carry these base layers along with knowledgeable staff that really do their homework on the gear they carry. When I was searching for higher-grade gloves to buy that could hold up for a couple years, I was also trying to keep an eye out for some really good base layers that would last more than a year. The lady that helped me raved about the Ibex brand and it’s natural wicking properties. Wicking moisture is a phenomenon where materials actually push water through their fibers away from your skin, keeping you dry. With wool, it’s technically not wicking the moisture away. It absorbs a large amount of it (up to 35 percent of it’s weight) and evaporates it. This helps with heat retention. Ibex is made from merino wool shorn from sheep in New Zealand, as is most high-grade merino wool products. The reason New Zealand merino wool is so prized is because the sheep in New Zealand encounter incredible extremes of weather all year round. This naturally conditions the wool to have antimicrobial properties (it doesn’t retain smells and kills bacteria), naturally wicks moisture away from your body by absorbing water and evaporating it, and the fibers are so thin that it doesn’t irritate your skin, giving it an incredibly soft feel on your skin. It also has natural sun protection abilities that are equivalent to 30SPF.

The difference with Ibex clothing is that they only buy Zque Certified wool, which ensures that every single piece that they sell is sustainable in every aspect of the environment and is 100 percent biodegradable, fire-retardant, and naturally regulates the temperature on your body. It does this by retaining heat and discharging it with water vapor if it’s hot or converting it back to your body. It’s one of the only natural fibers on earth that stays warm even if it’s wet. Because the wool is as sustainable as this, it takes quite a while to make after the wool is shorn from the animal. On average, it takes 9-12 months to make a garment from start to finish. With that being said, Ibex is also one of the more expensive brands you can get for your money. You can usually get them for 30-40 percent off if you’re willing to wait for them to go on sale with the new year’s stock coming in. I buy my undershirts from them at this time for pretty cheap, comparatively speaking. The full price of a base layer short sleeve shirt is usually around $75-$85 but I usually wait until they drop below $55 to even consider it. I own some glove liners that are Ibex, as well. These are nice when you’re driving or need an extra layer on when you have to take your gloves off for something.

In closing:
5. Buy Under Armour if you’re looking for some really solid work out clothes or some cheaper base layers. Remember, they won’t hold up to stench very well but you get what you pay for, I guess.
4. Buy Icebreaker if you want high-grade merino wool products and you don’t mind the price. If you can find a good sale price on them, it’s a definite steal.
3. Buy the Outdoor Research base layers if you want a good balance of synthetic fibers to keep you dry in wet conditions for a reasonable price. Probably the best bargain for your buck and an amazing synthetic shirt.
2. Buy Patagonia’s Capilene brand if you are looking for a high quality synthetic layer that will last longer than most other synthetics. They give you the most variety of thicknesses and fabrics to choose from. Not my absolute favorite synthetic shirt but the variety and design of the shirt makes it a better choice for most.
1. Buy Ibex if you want one of the best merino wool products on the market. The attention to detail with the seams for backpacking is fantastic. Also, it feels much more natural on your skin than any synthetic product. The price is as competitive as the other companies mentioned and if you can get it on sale, it’s my top choice for any base layer you’re looking for.

If you want me to review a type of gear you think I know a lot about, post in the comments below. I’ll be in the Brooks Range in a few weeks, which I’m excited about. I’ll be hiking a lot if I can find people to go with so I’ll be having plenty of fun trying out new gear. I hope this helped in your search!

Smoking. The good kind.

I’ve had a lot of questions about smoking lately. As in smoking meats and fish. What a lot of people don’t think about is that you can actually smoke different vegetables, fruits, and even liquids. It’s by far one of my favorite ways to cook foods. From the more traditional meats, such as a pork butt (shoulder) and ribs, to more…untraditional meats, such as smoked bear roast or a beef chuck shoulder, all are great recipients of smoking. I’ve even smoked steaks a couple times before grilling them.

There are several different variations and techniques you can use but to make it more simple, I’ll categorize them into Hot smoking and Cold smoking. (RIBSSSSS to the left!) Hot smoking is a much shorter cooking time and is usually used for food that you intend to eat without much more preparation done to it, such as Canadian bacon or salami for sandwiches. Hot smoking can usually last anywhere from an hour to 12 hours, depending on the meat. Cold smokes are generally used for meats that you want a deep smoke flavor to it but don’t want to lose any fats or juices in the meat before you cook it. For instance, if you cold smoke pork belly (bacon), fat starts rendering off the meat at about 90 degrees so you don’t want the temperature up too much higher than that. Many books will define cold smoking at a temperature below 90-100 degrees but if you keep the temperature below 110, it wouldn’t hurt the food too much. I try and maintain 100 degrees if I don’t have time to wait around for a couple days or I go as low as 55 degrees for 2 or 3 days if I do have the time. The time table for cold smoking is significantly higher, as I mentioned. If you were to smoke pork belly with the hot method, it would probably take about 3 hours but with a cold smoke you’re looking at closer to 8 or 9 hours. Just remember that with cold smoking, you still have to cook your meats.

Hot smoking has several different methods to it. (I typed hot smoking into google and this is what it came up with. James Franco smoking. You’re welcome) Anyway, when you’re dealing with fish or meats, you usually want to do a brine first. This is a step that is pretty crucial to most meats but really is quite easy. All you do is soak your meat in some kind of liquid flavored with salt, sugar, and your choice of herbs or spices for anywhere between 4 hours to 24 hours. Brining meats helps keep your meat juicy while cooking through a process called osmosis, meaning anything placed into a hypotonic, saline solution gains water by switching liquids inside the meat without any salt with liquids outside the meat with a bunch of salt until the liquids are equal. These water molecules that are carrying the salt get trapped in between muscle fibers along with the sugar and whatever other spices you put in there. If you keep your meat in a brine for too long, it’ll actually lose moisture, though. Meats such as fish are usually good in a brine for 4-8 hours but big, bone-in turkeys need to stay in a brine overnight, up to 24 hours. No longer than that, though. Your turkey will actually be way too salty if you do it for too long. When you’re brining big meats, I like to use buckets filled with brine and ice. Also, try to use kosher or pickling salt instead of regular table salt. Table salt has iodine in it which can lend a funky taste. You can stick it in a cool garage or somewhere else in your house that’s out of the way but not too hot since your fridge probably won’t fit a giant 5 gallon bucket.

The next step you need to do is to wash off your meat out of the brine, pat dry, let it sit on the counter to come up closer to room temperature, and rub the meat with a spice mix of your choice. If you’re dealing with salmon, try brown sugar, salt, and pepper. It’s delicious. Also, you need to choose a wood to smoke with and you need to decide if you’re using wood chips, chunks, or a small log. Using a small log in your smoker will actually give you a small, but noticeable, difference in taste since it burns different than smaller chunks or wood chips. Look for golf ball sized chunks of wood when smoking since it won’t degrade too fast if you’re using an actual smoker. If you use wood chips, they burn up pretty fast. This forces you to open your smoker to check if you need to add more, lowering the internal temperature inside. It’s not a bad choice, just less convenient. If you’re using a sizable chunk of wood, you might want to soak it in water for a half hour before, also. Put the wood in the compartment above the heating element and wait for it to come up to temperature, around 225 degrees. When choosing wood, any type will do but keep in mind how strong of a smokey flavor you want on your meat. Woods like hickory and mesquite lend a very strong flavor to meats, which is very suitable to beef chuck roasts but not so much to mild fish like halibut. More mild woods are plum, cherry, or apple. My favorite mild wood is cherry and my favorite stronger flavored wood is alder wood, which is indigenous to South East Alaska where I’ve smoked huge amounts of salmon. It’s not as strong as mesquite but it’s a nice happy medium.

Now add your meat straight onto the rack. If you’re smoking delicate meats, make a tray that will fit your meat out of aluminum foil and poke small holes in the bottom for the juices to drain. Cook until your meat reaches the desired cooking temperatures. Pork should be cooked to at least 145 degrees, as should salmon, but going higher is definitely going to happen if you’re going to smoke for hours. If you’re cooking ribs or anything that’s not too delicate, make sure your wrap your meat in aluminum foil and seal it tightly a couple hours before it’s done. This will help break down any other fibers in the meat. A half hour before it’s done, pull it out of the foil and baste it with BBQ sauce. Put it back on the heat to finish cooking. If you’re cooking bear at a slow pace, cook it to at least 155 F, if not more. Some people do it to 170 but I think that dries it out way too much. Also, if your meat you’re using is really oily from being gamey (i.e. bear meat(Pictured Left), elk, deer, different pheasants), turn on your smoker and let it get to the temperature you want. Don’t add your wood until you think enough juice has come out. This will ensure your end product doesn’t have an enormously unpleasant taste to it. Some people cook it for hours before they add the smoke or if you’re doing strip jerky, cook a whole roast a couple hours in the smoker before cutting it up and drying it out.

If you want a really nice crust on your food, such as Smoked Prime Rib Roast, smoke it until it comes to a temperature about 30 degrees below the final temperature you’re shooting for and crank up your oven to 400-425 degrees. When you put your food in, turn the oven off and just let it sit in there. Between 10-15 minutes is usually good. Now let your meat rest on the counter top for about 15 minutes to a half hour. This is important for the meat to stop rising in temperature and for the juices to evenly distribute again (Pictured Left, this is what it should look like). 125 degrees is considered rare, 135-145 is about medium and anything above that, just cut it into rib-eye steaks to cook on the grill or pick another meat to cook like this. Also, while you’re doing all of this, you can add onions, carrots, potatoes, or any other starchy vegetable you’d like to accompany your meal. You can even add onions straight to the wood while smoking. The blackened onions have a pretty distinguishable taste to it.

You can also regulate your temperature in your smoker if your using a direct heating element like charcoal to heat your wood using water. Put a small pan of water on the tray over the wood. This helps keep hot spots distributed and keeps the temperature of the smoker more consistent. You really have to make sure the temperature isn’t way overboard, though. The water can make it too moist, lessening the caramelization on the surface of your meat, otherwise known as your bark (Pictured Left). Bark is the mahogany, almost blackened color of meats that have been smoked a really long time. If you’re using a regulated smoker and you’re confident it’s actually at the temperature it says, this isn’t necessary. I keep an oven thermometer in any smoker I’m using. A good way to keep your meat from drying out is to spray it down with some kind of liquid when you’re checking the wood. The liquid you cold smoke is a perfect liquid to use, which I explain later. It can be vinegar, beer, wine, or just plain water. Some people say to spray your meat every hour to make sure it doesn’t burn but remember that every time you open the door to the smoker, you lose heat. I do it every three to four hours when I’m checking the wood unless it’s delicate meat that isn’t cooking that long.

Cold smoking is basically the same exact process except for checking when it’s done or not. You still have to cook the meat you’ve smoked in this process some way. It’s basically where you let wood chips smolder to produce smoke without any kind of central heating element to keep temperatures up in your smoker. A good way to keep the temperature down is to put a small pan of ice in the smoker. It’ll help maintain a cooler temperature. This process also lends itself to smoking BBQ sauces and other liquids. I’ve smoked beer and used that liquid to baste other meats before. Since the temperature isn’t actually at boiling or steaming point, your water won’t evaporate and the residues from the smoke will actually end up in the water or sauces. I’ve had people ask me why I don’t just use liquid smoke since it’s essentially the same thing. I find it way too strong and the taste isn’t very pleasant to me (plus there was an incident with a broken bottle of liquid smoke and the recurring headache I had for a couple days afterwards). A good friend of mine explained how to cold smoke sockeye salmon in Hoonah, Alaska once with a tasting of the results. He smoked his at 70 degrees for 2 days and actually cured his salmon for 24 hours before smoking the fish with alder wood. Curing is just salts, sugars, and different nitrates covered onto a meat to preserve it. You’d want to rub the cure on and refrigerate it for up to 36 hours. I go less than that since I think it gets too salty at that point. The chemical in curing makes most meats incredibly red or pink (my friend’s salmon looked exactly like the salmon to the left), which is what corned beef is but is also linked to a couple of pretty distinguishable diseases if you eat too much of it. You can buy curing salts in most grocery stores. After you cure the meat, you have to dry it out for another 12 to 24 hours until sticky and dry feeling in a fridge. You can also cold smoke cheeses, nuts, deli meats, and anything in between.

When you’re looking to buy a smoker, check the prices and decide what you need. The cheapest end will run you 30 bucks but are tiny and won’t last long. The nicer ones with gauges and ball valves for control over how much smoke escapes will probably run you 600 bucks. There are even nicer ones that run upwards of a couple thousand. If you’re a handy man, you can always build your own. This is what I’ve done in the past for people and plan to do again. All you need are 5 different components to start with. You need some kind of enclosure, which can be anything from an old steel cabinet to a 55 gallon drum. You can use pretty much anything as long as it’s food-safe and can hold up to higher temperatures. I’ve even seen someone make one out of a beer keg. You also need some food grade racks to hold your food with some kind of drip tray to catch all the liquid that comes off your meat. These can be simple stainless steel racks or pan grates with a stainless steel pan beneath them. You need an oven thermometer. This can be a cheap one that you just put on a rack next to the meat but it’s nice to have a nicer gauge thermometer that drills into the barrel side. The last thing you need is something that holds your coals and wood. I just use a cast-iron pan that I already had but you could definitely make a metal box for this. The other thing you probably need but isn’t necessarily needed is an electric heating element. This will keep the temperature in the smoker at a consistent heat without having to fuss with your wood and coals so much. This could be a simple electric hot plate (the kind poor college students use in their dorms) or it could be a little more advanced with a heating rod right below your wood box. Both are incredibly cheap. You could probably get all of it made nicely for cheaper than 100 bucks. The manufactured ones are incredibly nice to work with, though. If you have the money to blow on a nice smoker, it’s definitely a nice thing to have. These usually have nifty vents that help you control how hot the smoker is. You can also use your grill you already have as a makeshift smoker by wrapping your wood in foil and poking a bunch of holes in it. Light one or two of the burners and put the wood close to the fire but not close enough to catch it on fire. Put a pan of water above the flame on the grids and put your meat on. Through the cooking process, keep an eye on the water and have a back up package of wood. Either way, pretty simple.

There is an entire science I’m convinced among Pit Master communities that is dedicated to this craft. I could probably write several books on this subject. If you dive deeper into smoking, you’ll get into chemical burning of woods and what spices make better barks for certain meats but I won’t confuse you with that right now. I suggest that you start out simple. Try smoking in your grill you already have at home. Follow the directions I’ve set and if you feel comfortable with that, move up to more advanced meats and techniques. If someone has a different specific question, feel free to ask in the comments below. Happy smoking! (meats that is). By the way, the picture to the left is just down the road from where I’m at in the arctic. Most of the snow is gone now and is replaced by lakes and rivers.

The Knife Post

There are probably only 2 things I actually collect, knives and cookbooks. Anybody that knows me is very aware that I’m a knife fanatic, first and foremost.This post can be used as a buying guide, an instructional/maintenance guide, or just advice from what I’ve found works best for me in working with knives. I’ve recently started buying up knives through scouring the internet in my down time in the Arctic so here’s an inclusive look at knives, how to handle them, and anything else you’d like to know.

To start, here’s an introduction on a knife. First, there’s the butt, the handle, and the rivets or pins. The butt is the end of the handle and can have a metal strapping holding the handle material in place or can be the same material as the handle. The handle is actually the most important part of the knife when you’re considering buying a knife. It can make or break a knife when considered into longevity, feel, bacteria resistance, etc. Most prominent chefs will tell you that metal is general about the same in nice knives but the handles are all different makes, shapes and material.

Inside the handle is the tang. This is the metal part of the blade that extends into the handle, efficiently holding it in place. There are several different kinds of tang consisting of a full tang, 3/4 tang, attached blade (non-existent tang), hidden tangs, etc. Most chefs would never spend a decent amount of money on anything less than 3/4 tang and a lot of people prefer hidden tangs encased in it’s handle.(Pictured left) It makes for a stable blade and assures the owner that rust or corrosion won’t splinter the rivets from the handle material. Also, the tang could narrow towards the butt, giving a more balanced knife or be full tang throughout. The tang and the handle are held in place by rivets or pins going directly through the metal and handle material. Generally, pins or bolts are a much higher quality than just a plain cutler rivet. They usually have a female and male part. One goes the length of the handle and the other screws in or is squeezed in securely. The material is usually brass, nickel silver, or stainless but other material is also used.

There’s the bolster, mainly to provide weight and balance. It’s the thick metal between the handle material and the actual blade. It’s also there to provide slippage and blisters but most cooks I know hold a knife past the bolster on the spine, effectively developing a thick callous on the first knuckle of the pointer finger. A knifes bolster is also a sign of if the knife was forged or stamped. Stamped is relatively inferior to forged (though not always) since it’s “stamped” from a giant sheet of metal. A handle is thrown on after it’s stamped out and is made for the masses in a factory. A forged knife is a solid, thick piece of metal ground down and tempered.(Pictured above, notice the full tang, the 3 rivets, and the thick metal bolster above the pakkawood handle.) The bolster shows you the general thickness that the metal started at. Though a bolster can also be made out of different woods and shaped metals in higher-grade material that’s not practical to shave from a metal block. They’re then attached to the handle and blade. These are also good, too. There’s 4 types of handle materials in a chef knife. Wood is where most knife enthusiasts lean towards because it protects against bacteria and can be softer on the hands. It’s definitely not the most long lasting handle, though. It’ll give you a decade or two. The other three are composite, stag, and metal. Stag is the least effective in the kitchen but is beautiful. Composite and metal will definitely outlive wood, is much more durable, and is resistant to corrosion but can be tough if you hold your knife for long periods at a time. The handle can be made out of different kinds of woods and plastics. Make sure it’s a waterproof handle that can resist varying temperatures. Just do your research on what handle type fits your hand the best.

Next, the blade is made out of the heel, the edge, the tip, and the point. The heel is for chopping hard items, the edge is used for the majority of chopping and slicing, the tip is for soft herbs or onions, and the point is for piercing and should be used sparingly since it’s the most delicate part of the knife. The blade can be made out of several different metals with their faults and weaknesses. Blades made from carbon steel (meaning less than 1% of carbon content in the metal) can retain an extremely sharp edge but rusts much easier if not sufficiently cared for, generally making it a much higher maintenance knife. Some of the higher grade carbon knives can even be stamped out of old lumber band saws but is a labor intensive process. You also have to develop a nice patina (reaction of carbon between acids and proteins alike, a natural protection from corrosion, Pictured left) in a carbon steel knife before it’s protected from corrosion and rust. The patina is only useful on a carbon or high carbon, as high carbon stainless steel doesn’t need protection from corrosion or the added color. A different metal they can use is stainless steel but is brittle. Not ideal for a kitchen and incredibly cheap. High carbon stainless steel is ideal for most cooks. High carbon just means that there’s more than 1% carbon in the steel, making the metal much more stable. This will run at a higher cost, depending on the producer. I suggest this metal for the beginner. There’s also metals that are more exotic, such as a powdered metallurgy. They combine very high carbon counts along with other elements that would never mix naturally. They can be extremely expensive, upwards in the thousands. You can probably find a good knife for 200-300 bucks in a powdered metal, though. The last one I’ll talk about is ceramic. It’s a process that combines advanced ceramic techniques with the best features of cutlery. Some purists use these knives for the fact that metals can oxidize on certain foods, leaving a very faint metallic taste and because it’s one of the hardest edges in the world, right below diamonds. The problem with them is that they can chip off into food if not used properly and if the knife chips, there’s no saving it. Just stick to metal.

There are also different ways to form the knife. Two of them I’ve already mentioned, stamping and forging. They both have there merits and faults. There’s also damascus, which is a pretty high grade process (Pictured above). The original process has actually been lost and attempts to reverse engineer middle-eastern damascus swords haven’t been achieved yet. It’s generally classified as a very hard base metal core wrapped with several other layers of softer metals, giving it pliability. It’s generally said that the higher the damascus layer count, the better the give on the metal. It’s been described as super forgiving yet incredibly hard. The look of a damascus knife is gorgeous, though the layered look is purely aesthetic. You could technically buff the layers out so it looked like a solid metal but there’s definitely a market for pretty knives so win-win for most companies. Many companies also claim damascus in their knives even though it’s only double layered steel so just stick to a reputable seller so you don’t get screwed. Stamped knives also have there upsides and can be higher quality. In fact, some Globals are stamped, but still ground down quite a bit. This helps with how light they can be. It’s very nice to have a knife that’s not going to fatigue your hand while chopping vegetables for hours at work.

The pricing on a good quality knife can definitely vary, depending on where you buy it and who made it. For instance, a good no-name hand-crafted knife can probably run you around $150 and be just as good as one of the top of the line Shun’s or Wusthof’s. I’d say if you’re a beginner, go out to a name brand distributor like Sur La Table to check all the different types of knifes out. These stores usually have large varieties of case model knives that you can try out on softer vegetables right there in the store. It’s a great way to get a feel for what you really want in a knife. Do you want a heavier knife that’ll do most of the cutting for you but can easily wear your wrist out? Or would you prefer a light, nimble knife that fits in your hand but takes more pressure to cut things with? I’m not going to say specific brands that I prefer because generally, they all do the job. What knife brand works best for me may not be best for somebody else. Check out the usual factory knifes, such as Global, Mac, Tojiro, Shun (Picture left), Miyabi, Wusthof, Henckel, or Mercer. Then when you get comfortable with them, you’ll know what works best for you. Maybe you could venture into hand made knives later on.

Now, there’s probably only about 3 to 4 knives you’ll probably ever use. That usually consists of a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a serrated/bread knife. If you do a lot of raw meat butchering, a smaller 4”-5” utility knife would also be ideal for more precise cuts. The knives I use the most are the Mercer 9” chef’s knife, 5 1/2” Global utility knife, and my Victorinox 10” meat slicer. The last one is because I cut up so much carved meats so it would probably be my Kai 9” scalloped edge serrated knife after that. Go for just the chef’s knife if you are on a budget at first, though. That’s the “go to” knife for pretty much anything you need in the kitchen. Starter knife kits are usually a good deal and they come with the 3 most popular knives that are used in a kitchen. The picture on the left is of the Global 3-piece starter kit. It was the first knives I bought and they’ve definitely faired well for me. It’ll run about $180, well worth the money.

Knife accessories can be a good thing, too. Buying a knife bag if you plan on traveling with your set it probably smart. I wouldn’t spend more than $50-$60 bucks on them, though. Get a steel or honing rod so you can quickly get the sharp edge you want on your knife back. The brand of honing rod doesn’t necessarily matter, it’s your preference, but don’t look for diamond rods or oval shaped rods. Diamond rods are studded with industrial shaved diamond that strips metal from your knife every single time you use it, just like a stone. An oval shaped rod makes it hard for a lot of people to get the angle they need to hone their knife. I enjoy the 10 1/2” MAC black ceramic honing rod that costs $55 but I use it excessively so it’s a good investment for me. You can pick one up for around $30 bucks and feel confident it’ll last you years and years. Sheaths or covers I think are valuable while storing them. These protect your blade from getting dinged up when in a bag or a cupboard. It’ll run you 3 or 4 bucks a piece so they’re not expensive. Granted a lot of people just wrap their knives in clean kitchen rags to save money.

A sharpening stone is also essential. When you can’t quite get the sharpness back to your knife from honing it, you need to put it to a sharpening stone. I use strictly water to lube my sharpening stones instead of mineral or oil bases. They need to be soaked in water a few minutes before use. The only difference between these bases is what you first use on the stone, water or oil. It’s not a good idea to switch between water and oil on a stone because oil stays in the stone permanently and you can never use it for water again. There are also different grits to a stone. Grits are how fine of material the stone is made out of and drastically change. A 150 grit stone is for getting really dull knives their edge back. A 1000 grit stone is about medium, making the edge on the knife much more smooth and consistent. Grits upwards of 4000-6000 are basically polishing your edge even more, not necessarily needed in a kitchen. Buy a combination stone which has 2 different grits. I use a 300-1000 grit stone for pretty dulled knives and primarily use a 1000-3000 grit stone for quick touch-ups on my better knives that keep an edge. About 1000-1500 grit is perfect for general kitchen use unless you make A LOT of sushi or delicate work like that. I sharpen my most used knives once or twice every 2 months but that’s constant, everyday use. Most people should only stone their knives 2-3 times a years so it can be hard to spend money on something you’re not using that often. Another option is to get it professionally sharpened at a knife shop or in a major restaurant supply chain. It’s a good option, running one or two bucks an inch once a year is considerably cheaper than buying a $40-$80 stone, which is what it’ll cost for a decent one. In Salt Lake City, Sur La Table does a yearly sale for half off their sharpening service so it’s nice to wait for that.

This link is a fantastic tutorial on how to hone or stone a knife. It’s done by the legendary knife maker Bob Kramer, which is really cool that he took the time to make tutorial videos. Listen to what Bob has to say 🙂

I have a few knives for sale so feel free to ask if you’re looking for one. Also, if you need advice or just want a really good knife that could last a long time, let me know and I’ll tell you what other things I can share. If you want help shopping for a knife, I’d love to tag along, too. I love any kind of kitchen shopping as much as girls love shoe shopping so feel free to ask!

Update on me: I’m coming home in a week! It’ll be an adventure getting home since I’m traveling throughout the night. I’m hoping I get into Seattle with an ample enough layover to eat at Anthony’s Fish Bar. I haven’t had the chance to eat there in the last couple times I’ve been through SeaTac so we’ll see. Also, I’m very excited to start work at my summer job in the mountains of Alaska. I’ll be working a lot of hours but my boss is letting me take 2-3 day sabbaticals so I can see the Arctic Ocean and fish on the Yukon River. My friends from working in Prudhoe Bay will be around the same areas during the summer, too. It’ll be fun to see them again. I’ve also found possible employment for the 2015 summer season already, right by Mount Mckinley or on the Yukon River in Alaska. I could also take my Executive Chef exam and take my butcher course when I get back from Antarctica in February if I can find a good job. Options, options. We shall see!

Human Planet BBC Film Crew/Arctic Fox

A couple weeks back there was a film crew from BBC shooting a documentary about the seasons of Alaska. They were 3 of the nicest and most passionate people I’ve ever met. The two producers were Tuppence and Toby and they had help from their driver and equipment tech guy. They came to our hotel to film arctic foxes, which is unbelievably awesome to me. I love foxes and hope to own one as a pet some day. A lot of people think I’m crazy considering they’re nocturnal but I stay up considerably late anyway. They’re actually a relative of the dog family.

When the film crew first got to camp, they posted flyers all over the hotel detailing their stay at the lodge and if anyone knew any information about where they could find an arctic fox. The first couple days were uneventful as they scoured Deadhorse and the surrounding area for information. They were thoroughly impressed with our food, though. Every single meal they continuously raved about how good they thought our food was. It really helped everyone step up their game and provide the best customer service. The staff and I even ended up watching Human Planet, which the producers that were filming the fox were directly responsible for. They even won an Emmy for their role in it.

4 days after they got here and still no sign of a fox, the night dishwasher had an interesting encounter with one. While the BBC Crew was out searching, our dishwasher, Dave, went to take out the garbage. As he did so, an arctic fox wandered up to him and just sat right in front of the dumpster. The fox just sniffed the air and completely ignored Dave. As Dave moved closer to it so he could dump his garbage, the fox was completely unfazed. We both speculated that the foxes around here are probably used to human beings, most likely associating them with food or as no threat at all. Even though you shouldn’t try to pet them because of the high chance of rabies, it’s still nice to know that the arctic foxes around here aren’t threatened by humans.

The climate in the Arctic is so severe that the physiology of this particular fox has adapted so much that it’s body anatomy is one of the best suited for this climate. It can withstand -58 Fahrenheit in relative comfort without using any metabolic warmth. The feet are covered in fur and are stout. The ears are rounded and closer to the head than other foxes. The muzzle is relatively short as to lessen the amount of heat loss on the body. It’s tail is used for balance and is used for warmth, mostly like a blanket. The tail is actually about 35 percent of the foxes entire length, making it an extremely important part of the animal.

It’s a scavenger that feeds off the remains of polar bear and wolf kills, an avid hunter that kills hares and birds, and also eats vegetables when they can be found. It can even hide food in it’s den to store for winter. The fur on an arctic fox is a thick, oily white coat that beads off water and sheds to a variety of different colors during the warmer months. As for offspring, they have the largest litter recorded by a mammal. Averaging 11 baby foxes in one litter, the fox can give birth every spring around May through April. The mother and father both stay with the pups until fall, feeding them until they can be self-sufficient. Now, in Alaska you can’t own any type of fox as a pet. It’s completely illegal. But in my home state of Utah, you can own any variety of Vulpes Vulpes (Red Fox) which the arctic fox is a part of. You have to make sure they can stay cool, though. From all the research I’ve done on them, they are basically similar to a house cat in mannerisms but completely different from any animal mentalities. as long as you have a large enough pen for them, they have plenty of hiding places, and you make sure they have a lot of things to do, they’re great pets.

Now that you know about the fox, it’s a pretty monumental task that the BBC crew set out for considering the fox is always on the move and tends to hide a lot. Every single day someone would ask them if they found the elusive fox but the answer was always no. They got video of a red fox about a week and half in but every other day was wasted traveling up and down the highway looking for leads on sightings of the arctic fox. This went all the way to the very last day of their trip. They finally ended up with the footage they came for, going all the way to the very last hours of possible filming time to catch these beautiful animals on film. They were greeted by our staff with triumphant praise, which I felt that it showed how enthralled into their project we all were.

The amount of energy it took them to try and get hours of film for a supposed 3 to 4 minute clip in their documentary was astounding to me. It gave me an incredible respect for the people that do this. I grew up watching documentaries with my 2 brothers all the time on the History Channel or Discovery Channel. In fact, those kind of documentaries were the reason I decided to travel the world in search of these amazing places. You can imagine how engrossed the staff and I got when watching one of these films taking place. If you ever get a chance, watch the Human Planet documentary mini-series. Specifically, the desert and grasslands episode since those are the ones these incredible people I got the privilege to meet were involved with. You can thank me later for showing you an amazing film. 🙂

**An update on me, I come home in about 2 weeks. Even though it’s only for a week, I’m still excited 🙂 It’s official that I’ll be spending the 4 months of my summer near the Brooks Range in Alaska at the Coldfoot Camp. I’ve heard it’s beautiful and I’m hoping I can find some lakes or river to fly fish out of. I’m also going to have the opportunity to visit the other camp in the company I’m working with right now right on the Yukon river. It’ll be an amazing adventure since the Brooks Range along the Dalton Highway is one of the least inhabited places by humans on earth. The only thing I’m a little hesitant about is that I’ll be sleeping in a large canvased tin building (it’s a glorified tent, basically) but the pictures that I’ve seen of them show that they’re quite large so that’s good. I’ll be out of phone range which isn’t that big of a deal to me. They have wired phones I can call out on. I’ll also have access to internet so I can keep everyone updated on life in the arctic still. Mount Sukapak is a beautiful mountain just north of where I’ll be that I hope to visit while I’m there. That’s all for now 🙂 Leave a comment below if you have a question or suggestion on what I should write about next!

Week 10 in the Arctic

This is my 10th week up in Prudhoe Bay just outside of Deadhorse. It’s a thrilling, yet somber time as well. As I approach my 3 month mark, I know I’ll be back home for a week at the start of May. It seems I just got here. The night was pitch black with howling winds upwards of 30 miles an hour and temperatures below -70 at times. Piles of snow inside my door from fierce gusts blasting my door all night long. Meeting new people who I was to work with, then seeing those people leave the Arctic back to their lives elsewhere after just a few short weeks of getting to know them. Seeing new, starry-eyed people come to Alaska to work with me, one by one, until our winter team was fully assembled. Making friends with these new people and being amazed at how well we worked together.

I’ve also made friends with the work crews that come up. All of them have been nice and receptive of my food, which I appreciate. I’ve connected with them all and know most by their first name. If you know me at all, you’d know how great of a feat that is. I’m always sad to see some of them leave on their 3 week rotation but their permanent replacements end up showing their faces a few days later, which is nice. I’ve also become familiar with the area, making me excited for the summer. Even though my fate is uncertain if I’m staying at this particular camp or down in Cold Foot for the summer, it’s still nice to know my surroundings and the history of the area.

A light of uncertainty comes with me going home in a few weeks, too. As I miss my family very much, especially my mom and dad, I feel my time in Alaska has been too short to just reappear back into everybody’s lives. I don’t have a girlfriend that needs me and all my closest friends that I care about have girlfriends, wives, or kids that have always kept them busy. It’s strange to me that I can just show up for just a few days with just enough time for everyone I know to say hi and be on my way again. Albeit it’s rather important I go home for this small, diluted time for physical examinations or other tests they want to run on me for Antarctica, I’d just as much rather stay here where I can focus on making myself better, even healthier for my family back home.

With that said, it’ll be good to see my parents, siblings, and friends again. It’ll be nice to see my grandpa’s grave that passed away while I was up here. To see my grandma and give her my sympathies and apologies for not being able to make it back home for the funeral. Maybe I can convince some friends to take some time out of their busy lives to venture into the mountains or walk around Salt Lake City, reveling in humanity’s grasp on civilization in the valley around my home town one last time for the next 5 months that I’ll be in Alaska. We shall see.

For the last month of winter, my focus while I’m working up here will be squarely on making exceptional food while improving my techniques through repetition, intuitiveness, and studies. I’ll also be looking to lose some weight. I’m tired of being fatigued at the end of the night when I get off work with not much more energy for anything else. I’d like to be able to do physical labor without too much strain on my body and I can’t do that when I’m overweight. My goal is to lose 25 pounds by the time I go home, which is in about 5 weeks. 4 pounds a week is a reasonable goal considering I’ve lost 7 pounds since I started taking my health seriously. I think that’ll be attainable if I stay focused and keep changing my diet for the better. Wish me luck in that aspect 🙂

I’m hoping my new coworkers down in the middle of no-where at Coldfoot are as nice as the ones I’ve met so far up here. I also hope I’ll adjust to sleeping in a giant tent with a room mate in the middle of Alaska all summer long. I’ll be the lead dinner cook, from my understanding. Whatever that means. Cooking for 150 to 200 people is a far cry from what I’ve been doing in Prudhoe Bay so that’ll be nice. If there’s one thing I’ve learned the past 4 years working up north, there’s plenty of hours and money to be made in Alaska. You just have to look hard enough. If I do end up going down the Dalton Highway a few hundred miles, I won’t have phone service but I will have limited internet. I’m glad I’d at least have some way with connecting to the outside world.

But as for now, I sit in my chair in my room writing this blog and thinking about life. I’ve always been good at imagining where I want my life to take me, though it hardly ends up where I expected it to. As I stare into the night sky every night on my way to my room, I always wish those moments never pass. Even though they do, they’re always replaced by just as beautiful and memorable memories as before. Live life how you see it around you, not how the world sees you and you’ll always find yourself in the place you were always meant to be. Even if you didn’t necessarily know where it was going to lead. 🙂