Searching for Snow

Location and depth of snow dictate our future field plans.  As our May field season included moving gear out to field sites along the rivers and headwaters of three watersheds via snow machine, this years lack of snow proves problematic.  The Alaska Department of Natural Resources (AKDNR) closed the North Slope to off road vehicles due to degraded snow conditions, but Cam and I have noticed that conditions are quite patchy and some locations, including one of our headwater sites, actually retain decent snow coverage.  After communicating with folks at the AKDNR, we’ve learned we’ll need to apply for a one-day exception to the snow travel closure by taking snow depth measurements along our proposed travel route.  If our snow depth data prove sufficient for snow machine travel, they might grant us a one-day travel exception.  Perhaps we might at least stage one of our remote headwater camp sites via snow machine, then hike out later to start tagging Arctic grayling as they migrate from overwintering sites to spawning locations.  So with snow shoes ready, meter stick in hand and fingers crossed, we head out to the Imnaviat ridge and Oksrukuyik Creek watershed to collect some snow depth measurements.

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The view from the Imnaviat ridge shows the currently snow covered landscape of the Oksrukuyik headwaters, which will hopefully provide support for our one-day exception to the off-road travel closure.

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The other side of the ridge, however, tells a different story.  Here the snow-free Kuparuk watershed reveals the reasons behind the travel ban.

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Cam dons snow shoes in preparation for taking snow depth measurements along our proposed travel route.

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Cam’s moose-like snow shoe prints, sunken deep into the snow, juxtaposed against my ermine-like snow shoe prints, floating upon the surface, provide good feedback.  If there’s enough snow for a moose to post-hole in snow shoes, there’s probably enough snow for a snow machine.

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Depth of snow along our route measured between 53 and 91 cm, with an average of about 62 cm.  Will it be enough for the AKDNR?

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With some excellent data and thumbs up for good luck, let’s go write a proposal for our one-day exception!

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This calls for a snowman.  : )

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