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Kings are restricted, but fishing opportunities abound in the Northern Valley

Friday, June 23, 2017
Northern pike can be found in various parts of the Susitna drainage. Photo: Katie Writer - KTNA

Northern pike can be found in various parts of the Susitna drainage. Photo: Katie Writer – KTNA

by:  Katie Writer – KTNA

Fishing in the summertime is not only a way to put fresh fish on the table, but is also a wonderful way to enjoy the outdoors.

Although there are recent emergency orders on king fishing this weekend, there are many options for fishing in the Upper Susitna Valley.

KTNA’s Katie Writer spoke with Mat-Su Area Fish Management Biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Sam Ivey about recent emergency orders as well as where the fishing is hot.

Fish and Game places additional restrictions on Valley king fishing

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has placed restrictions on harvesting king salmon in the Deshka and Little Susitna rivers.

According to a statement accompanying the order, Fish and Game estimates the number of kings who will survive to reach their spawning grounds in the Deshka River at just under 14,000. The goal range for fish that reach their spawning ground, also known as escapement, is between 13,000 and 28,000.

Fish and Game says declining escapement and uncertainty of the timing of this year’s run prompted the additional restriction. Disallowing bait makes it more likely that additional kings will survive to lay and fertilize eggs.

As of Thursday, the number of kings counted by a fish weir on the Deshka is less than half the number counted by this time in 2016 and 2015, and just over half the number from 2014.

Numbers on the Little Susitna River are also lagging behind what they have been for the last three years. Beginning Saturday, Fish and Game is halting all king salmon fishing on the river with the exception of July 1st through 3rd and July 8th through 10th.   According to Fish and Game, the king run is holding in the lower section of the Little Susitna, and is susceptible to harvest. The weir for counting fish on the Little Su is upriver of where the fish are holding, meaning that the state doesn’t yet have a clear picture of run strength. The halt on king fishing is meant to allow time for biologists to make a better count of this year’s run before allowing further harvest.

More information on fishing regulations is available from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Borough Assembly approves funding for Port Mac repairs

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

On Tuesday, the Mat-Su Borough Assembly approved the transfer of over half-a-million dollars from existing funds to pay for repairs to the Port Mackenzie barge dock, although some expressed reservations about the port’s continuing costs. KTNA’s Phillip Manning has more.

 

With its vote on Tuesday, the Mat-Su Borough assembly took money from funds dedicated to Port Mackenzie and the MV Susitna to pay for repairs to the port’s barge dock. The vote comes as the insurance claim for another repair of nearly $2 million to the port is under review. Borough Manager John Moosey says a payout from the insurance company for that repair is not a certainty.

“It’s not a sure thing that we’re going to get reimbursement on this claim. We are working towards it, but I think we have an uphill baddle, and I’d say that reimbursement from the insurance company is in doubt.”

Assembly Member Dan Mayfield, whose district includes Port Mackenzie, says he supports funding the repairs to protect the port as an asset to the borough. (more…)

A trip to Devil’s Canyon

Tuesday, June 20, 2017
"The Devil's Horn," a section of Class-6 rapids in Devil's Canyon on the Susitna River. Photo: Phillip Manning - KTNA

“The Devil’s Horn,” a section of Class-6 rapids in Devil’s Canyon on the Susitna River. Photo: Phillip Manning – KTNA

For more than forty years, Steve Mahay has operated commercial jet boats in the Talkeetna area. He is also the first person to navigate a powered boat through the notorious Devil’s Canyon section of the Susitna River. KTNA’s Phillip Manning recently took a tour with Mahay’s Jetboat Adventures to Devil’s Canyon, and has this story:

On a cool morning last week, I boarded the Talkeetna Queen, a jet boat more than forty feet long, and with more than a thousand horsepower. I and about twenty-five other passengers were about to embark on a trip upriver to Devil’s Canyon.

The "Talkeetna Queen." Photo: Phillip Manning - KTNA

The “Talkeetna Queen.” Photo: Phillip Manning – KTNA

Once we got underway, the Susitna River and surrounding landscape offered up amazing views, and some wildlife. Denali even peeked through the clouds at one point, much to the delight of the visitors from Outside.

When we neared Devil’s Canyon, our captain, Eli Hoffman, told the story of the kayakers and jet boat captains who have tried and failed to navigate the canyon, and of the handful who have succeeded. He says the first person to drive a boat through all twelve miles of the canyon was Steve Mahay, owner and operator of Mahay’s Jetboat Adventures.

“He ran a 27-foot, single engine boat all the way up the canyon. He actually boarded up the front windows…and then he strapped foam board in the back of his boat, filling his entire boat, thinking that if he actually capsized his boat, he might be able to salvage it as it came out the bottom end of the canyon.”

Mahay’s boat didn’t capsize, however, and he made it through Devil’s Canyon. Once I saw the raw

Captain Eli Hoffman navigates the Susitna River by sight. Photo:  Phillip Manning - KTNA

Captain Eli Hoffman navigates the Susitna River by sight. Photo: Phillip Manning – KTNA

power of the river in the canyon, I realized I had to talk to Mahay himself about the trip.

Steve Mahay’s trip through Devil’s Canyon took place in 1985. While he was the first to succeed in navigating the canyon in a powered vessel, he was not the first to try.

“The Army had a group of special-forces type people, and they tried to navigate it. They sunk their boat, and there was a big rescue…but they all lived. It was attempted by a number of other jetboaters, and they sunk.”

As someone who spent virtually every day on the Susitna River, Steve Mahay thought he might be able to succeed where others had failed.

“I always would tell people that you don’t drive a jetboat; you have to wear the jetboat. You have to have a total awareness of everything around you and the capability of the boat at all times. When you live on the river every day, you get to that point. I didn’t know if I could to make it or not, but I said I could give it a try.”

Even armed with years of experience on the river and the ability to “wear” his jet boat, Mahay took precautions before setting off.

“I had a dry suit on and a helmet, and of course a life vest, too. I had a helicopter overhead with whitewater rescue people on board who could be lowered down to me if I needed help. I went in with the idea that I was either going to make it, or I was going to sink the boat, and thank God, fortunately, I did make it through there without sinking the boat.”

Making it through involved navigating three different spots classified as extremely dangerous and potentially un-navigable. Mahay says going upstream in a powered vessel meant being able to take time to pick the path he took. Ultimately, after a slow crawl up the final, nearly vertical class-6 rapids, Mahay made it through.

Taking visitors to the lower reaches of Devil’s Canyon, just downstream of the first class-6 rapids,

Area near "The Devil's Horn" Photo: Phillip Manning - KTNA

Area near “The Devil’s Horn” Photo: Phillip Manning – KTNA

didn’t occur to Mahay until years later, when mechanical issues forced him to use a larger boat than normal for a tour. Instead of going through the Talkeetna Canyon, Steve Mahay decided to show his guests the Devil’s Horn, an area of rapids surrounding a boulder the size of a small house.

“So I took it out…and brought the people back, and they were ecstatic. They said, ‘Whoa! We don’t believe we just did what we did.’ Then we said, ‘Wow, we might have something here that would be very interesting for the public, the tourists.’ We take a lot of Alaskans on that…because you can’t see or do something like that any place else that I know of in Alaska.”

The raw power of the river on display in Devil’s Canyon is impressive to say the least. In recent years, however, a proposed megaproject, the Susitna-Watana Dam, threatened the potential of future tours to the canyon. Steve Mahay says his boats only make the trip when the river is flowing at more than 13,000 cubic feet per second (CFS), and Susitna-Watana would have cut that number significantly.

“It averages out to about 8,000 CFS. Well, 8,000 CFS is not enough water for us to go—not even close. So we wouldn’t be able to do that.”

For now, the Susitna-Watana Project has stopped. State funding dried up, and Governor Bill Walker pulled the plug on the proposed hydroelectric dam last year. For Steve Mahay and his staff, that means continuing to be able to bring people to a unique and beautiful locale in the Susitna Valley.

Climber who died descending Denali identified

Monday, June 19, 2017

The climber who died on Denali last Friday has been identified.

The National Park Service says 28-year-old Sanjay Pandit of Nepal was descending the mountain with two teammates when he succumbed to an unidentified illness.

Pandit collapsed at 17,500 feet on the West Buttress Route. The West Buttress is the path that the majority of climbers attempting Denali use.

Rangers responded to the scene and attempted to revive Pandit, but were unsuccessful. He was declared deceased at the scene, and his remains were taken to High Camp at 17,200 feet. His remains have not been flown off of Denali yet due to inclement weather.

Inaugural Pride event to be held in Talkeetna

Friday, June 16, 2017
A large Pride flag at Pride Fest in Anchorage.  Photo courtesy of Lillian Rust

A large Pride flag at Pride Fest in Anchorage. Photo courtesy of Lillian Rust

June is Pride month, a time when LGBTQ+ community members and their allies hold events around the country. This year, some local youth plan to hold a Pride parade in Talkeetna for the first time. KTNA’s Phillip Manning spoke with one of the organizers and has this story.

 

In a short period of time, what began as an idea between friends has turned into plans for Talkeetna’s first Pride parade. Lillian Rust is one of the organizers. She says the parade and gathering on June 25th is something she’s wanted to do for a while.

“I’ve been wanting to do something really big for Talkeetna to bring awareness to the LGBTQ+ community, and we’ve never had anything like this before. I think that having something to recognize these really unique and sometimes not represented niches of society, I think it’s really important.” (more…)

Climber dies of illness on Denali

Friday, June 16, 2017

This story is developing, and will be updated as more information becomes available.

A climber has died on Denali as the result of an unknown illness, according to the National Park Service.

Maureen Gualtieri, spokeswoman for Denali National Park, says a ranger patrol was contacted around 1:00 am on Friday after a climber collapsed at an elevation of 17,500 feet. When rangers arrived, the climber was unresponsive. Rangers attempted emergency care, but the climber did not regain consciousness, and was declared deceased.

The climber’s family has not yet been notified, and the climber’s name has not been released.

Denali Report for June 16th, 2017: Warm weather and low summit rate

Friday, June 16, 2017
Denali in spring of 2017.  Photo:  Phillip Manning - KTNA

Denali in spring of 2017. Photo: Phillip Manning – KTNA

As of Thursday, 1,169 people are registered to attempt Denali this year. Of those, 399 are on the mountain, and 650 climbs have been completed. Of those 185 people have reached the top of Denali, making the summit rate twenty-eight percent.

Fourteen climbers are registered to attempt Mt. Foraker. Two are on the mountain, and twelve climbs have been completed. No one has made it to the top of Mt. Foraker thus far in 2017.

If the last climber were to come off the mountain today, the summit rate of twenty-eight percent on Denali would be the lowest in more than fifty years. Last year’s climbing season also saw a slow start, with a spike in summits in June. Ultimately, last year’s summit rate ended up at sixty percent. According to the National Park Service, around 120 climbers were at “High Camp” at 17,200 feet as of Wednesday. That could mean a substantial bump in summit numbers if a weather window opens. In order to reach last year’s above-average summit rate, nearly every climber remaining to attempt Denali would have to make it to the top.

Weather is always a major player in Denali’s climbing season. In the last week, areas low on the mountain, including Base Camp, saw temperatures well above freezing, and even some rain. Last Friday, a report from base camp included waist-deep slush, and a glacier “riddled with crevasses.” At the same time, climbers high on the mountain retreated to Fourteen Camp due to sustained winds. Climbers looking to descend from Fourteen were advised to stay put and wait for colder weather.

That colder weather did eventually arrive. Wednesday’s weather report showed base camp below freezing once again, and the ground has begun to firm up once more. No crevasse falls were reported during the warm spell.

Talkeetna sewer and water customers will see rate hike in July

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Starting next month, customers of the Talkeetna Sewer and Water system will see higher bills.

The rate changes happened as part of the budget process, but are not technically part of the budget itself.

Both residential and commercial users will see a rate increase of close to twenty percent beginning in July. Residential water and sewer bills will now total $138 per month. Commercial users’ base bill will be just over $200. In addition, the fee for commercial users who go over a set amount of usage will see their fees for additional water increase by one-fourth.

An accompanying explanation says that the Talkeetna sewer and water system continues to operate at a deficit, and that a rate increase is needed to help close the gap.

This year marks the third in a row with increased sewer and water rates. In October, voters residing inside the sewer and water district will choose whether or not to levy a sales tax in the district to pay for the system. In past interviews, Mat-Su Borough Assembly Member Randall Kowalke (kuh-WALL-kee) has said that his hope is that the proposed tax could eventually bring in enough money to bring rates back down.