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COURSE TO STEER: NORTH TO NOME

After the 17 day passage across the North Pacific, we were warmly welcomed in Dutch Harbor on the 15th
of July. Thank you to Cory, Anna, Elijah, Sofia and Carlin for welcoming us into your home for a few days!

Since we knew we would have to keep heading north as soon as possible ships maintenance was our top priority.
Our autopilot had stopped working just as we approached the coast of the Aleutians. We managed to fix it before
leaving though.

Mia’s haemoglobin counts had been low towards the end of the passage so Sabine went to get her tested in the
local clinic. On Friday her levels were low and we thought we may have to come up with possible alternatives
to doing the North-West Passage. However, after the elders John and Ken kindly came on board on Monday morning
and prayed for her, her levels were perfect on Monday. A miracle. This means we can travel on without worrying.
A huge thank you to John and Ken.

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We got to do a lovely hike to two lakes just above Dutch Harbor, where we found two pieces of plastic, saw a family
of foxes and cooked delicious Salmon over the fire. The kids are happy to be back in Alaska: “We picked sooo many
blueberries and salmonberries!!!”

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Monday evening Dario did a presentation in the library. Then we stocked up on food and got ready to leave Tuesday
midday, while the tides and the weather were still in our favour.

The passage to Nome started off with a burst in wildlife around us. Noé reports: “And then we sailed away and we
saw maybe 15 humpback whales. No wait, for sure 15 humpbacks and around those whales there were thousands of birds.
Alegra and I also saw a sea otter.”

The seabirds continued to whizz around our boat the whole passage. We saw puffins, guillemots, fulmars, storm petrels and
many more we couldn’t identify.We had very good winds to start off with. Even with a drift anchor to slow the boat down we did 170nm the first day.

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The Bering Sea is a very shallow sea, which means the waves can build quite high after coming from
deeper areas. Luckily, they came from behind and we surfed down them. We are nearing the place people probably crossed
to the Americas thousands of years ago!

Our autopilot gave up again two days before we arrived, so we had someone at the helm constantly. Just before we
left Dutch Harbor all of us got some warm fishermen’s gloves, which we were very grateful for at this point.

We didn’t see any marine debris apart from a buoy floating 30nm offshore of Nome. It was a grey wet, morning but
the day ended with a glorious sunset half an hour before midnight.

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As we arrived in Nome we met EJ. EJ is a gold digger. He dives for gold just off the coast of Nome here even in
the winter! He showed us some gold digging rigs in the Bering Sea. They have big excavating arms to dig up the
material and clean out the sediments to get the gold.

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Today Salina, Andri, Noé and Alegra finally got to go fishing! They were very excited. We had seen so many salmon
jumping in the river here the night before. Andri caught at least six. Salina and Alegra gutted the fish. We look
forward to eating salmon they caught.

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We’re in Alaska Again!

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Late June we left Kauai. Terry followed us down the stunning Na’Pali coast.

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We saw two types of dolphins,
bottlenose and probably Hawaiian spinner. They played in the front of our boat.

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We anchored off of Nihau
to get a good night’s sleep. We could not go on shore but there was lots of plastic (black buoys) on the
beach.
Then we set off in the rising sun. At first there was no wind but then there were lots of big waves and we
were all seasick to death. We were joined by different types of albatrosses. Otherwise we didn’t see a lot.
One day we saw another sail boat but they didn’t respond to our radio calls. We had two ‘blind passengers’
on board, they were two fish we found on deck. One was a small Marlin and the other was a flying fish. It was
miniature.

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We haven’t seen a whale yet. On day 9 we got to open a present from our friends in Hanalei. It was full of so many delicious things! Thank you!!

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It was nice and warm but now it is getting cold. Meret is our English
teacher (yay) and Cornelia our regular teacher.
-Salina, over and out.

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Now, we are really near to the high. We have noo wind so we made an ice ladder. We were climbing it like
monkeys. We saw a big white buoy floating by from up there, Noe saw it first.

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One week later we see dolphins for the first time since we left Nihau. There were about 30. They didn’t
come to the boat and swam past quickly. Sometimes 7 or more jumped together. It was amazing.
Then, someone called Andri had this crazy idea to go swimming in the cold water. We put a yellow rope with
a red fender out the back of Pachamama. There was a lot of current so we held on tight. The jellyfish stung
us like mosquitoes!

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The next day we saw a yellow part of a boat floating in the water. I made a pizza for dinner. It was the first
one on Pachamama for years.

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A few days later, we were at dinner and then Salina spotted a whale. He was big.
-written by Andri

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It was so grey and rainy. Salina was the first to see land. Yaaay! Alaska is awesome. It was really really
good to see land and all the green grass again.

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So we saw really much puffins and we saw a seal and then we
saw lots of sea otters. And then we even saw a whale, it was a small humpback. Maybe it had just left its mum.
The water had a lot of kelp. There was a strong current and there were lots and lots of tornadoes (whirls) in
the water. We saw a big boat when we came around the corner, it was there last time too. Maybe it is anchored
because it hasn’t moved since last time. We think it gets fish from the little boats. There was much smoke coming
out the top of it.
We are in the Aleutians. We saw some solar panels for a little weather station. There was an eagle on the weather
station. We thought we saw a sheep too. It was like all the animals from Alaska came to say hello to us.
-dictated by Noé

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A huge thank you to Cory and Anna for making us the best arrival breakfast feast ever!

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To follow us while we are underway, click here.

The TOPtoTOP DVD is now online!!!

TOPtoTOP in Southern California
Here is a video by Gary Headrick.

Happy New Year!

Happy new year! Here’s a few of our favourite moments from 2014, thank you again for all the support over the past year, we very much look forward to all that the next 12 months will bring.

January – Baunwald Switzerland TOPtoTOP Climate Award Expedition
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March – Cycling to Denali
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April – Sea to TOP – Denali
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May – Summiting Denali

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June – July – August – Alaska
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September – San Francisco and Arc’teryx Vancouver
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October – Cycling, Yosemite
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November – Mount Whitney – Badwater Basin
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December
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We are currently still in Joshua Tree CA, but will be leaving to head south west towards San Diego this week.
Please do get in touch if you are in the area and would like us to visit to give a talk at your school, work place etc. dario@toptotop.org, or jenny@toptotop.org

Inside Passage

2014-08-12_usa_alaska_ip_juneau-group-yacht-club.JPGOn the 6th of August we arrived in the capital of Alaska. We stayed with Bill and Marjorie in their beautiful house. Their hospitality was outstanding and we had time to recover and plan our next steps. Our friends Fred and Cinda joined us rock-climbing and fishing. The kids were excited to catch huge salmons at the creek close to Bill and Marjorie’s home. We had also the opportunity to make friends with Jamie and Adrienne’s family.
In the main newspaper we were on the front page. Before we left we did a public presentation at the yacht club where we got a computer donated to replace our damaged course computer.
On the 14th of August, after repacking, we were sent off by the Schwoerer’s very kind host, Marjorie and Bill, with a bag of bagels from the Silverbow Bakery (the oldest in Juneau).
2014-08-15_usa_alaska_ip_south-sawyer-glacier_calving.jpgWe decided to make the most of the clear weather and head north and then inland along the Tracy Arm (a fjord carved by the Sawyer and South Sawyer Glaciers). The valley walls narrowed, icebergs dotted the water and as is so common in Alaska, waterfalls fed by melting ice cascade down to the sea. These are wild places where it is quite possible that no-one has ever walked.
Having passed one massive cruise ship that seemed to take up the whole channel we turned the last corner and saw the South Sawyer Glacier face. The water was covered with icebergs of all size and we had to move slowly and carefully to make our way forward, as if in a moving maze. Every so often, we’d hear the solid clunk of ice hitting the aluminium shell and worried glances were exchanged. If the ice is sharp, it can cut the hull like a can opener.
Pictures don’t reflect the size of the glacier. We must have been over 300m away because by the time we heared the irregular thunder of a sheet of ice shearing off into the water, the ice had already hit the water. The power and size of these moving jagged carpets is daunting. We watched from a distance, nervous of the moving icebergs and the risk of a wave caused by the falling ice- it would make us as vulnerable as an ant in a shaken glass of iced-water.
We turned with the tide to go back down the arm. With that the weather closed in and the rain and fog returned. We’d been just in time to witness the Arm and the Glacier in reasonable sunshine. We returned to our anchorage of the previous evening and took the opportunity of a short break in the weather to take a walk on the nearby rocky beach before returning to the boat to have a birthday dinner of spaghetti for Noe.
2014-08-16_usa_alaska_ip_frederick-sound_whale-calf.jpgOn our way through the Inside Passage we spotted whales several times. Once, a mother and its calf swam with us for about half an hour. The calf’s playfulness was the cause of much amusement.
The next place we moored was Petersburg, a small town founded by the Norwegians, where we spent a night before making our way to Ketchikan. After getting fuel and water, we set off again to a nearby bay to anchor for the night. We had to be very careful as we shared the channel not only with other boats but also landing seaplanes.
On August 20, we entered Canadian waters and cleared-in in Prince Rupert. After being inspected by two very nice officers we were granted access. Yupeee, we’re in Canada! We’ll see how long for…
Leaving Prince Rupert in the morning fog on the 21st, we initially set sail for the Inside Passage towards Vancouver but as the day progressed and the wind picked up, we set sail west for the Queen Charlotte Islands. After an overnight passage, we arrived at Hot Spring Island, where we expected to relax in the waters of the natural spring.
2014-08-22_canada_hotspring_island_clean_up.JPGUnfortunately, two years ago a 7.8-scale earthquake blocked the springs and all that were left were two small puddles. So much for our relaxation. Instead, we passed a pleasant few hours walking around and across the island through the improbably high treed-forest. We did a small clean up of plastic and glass we found along the shore but left this with the Watchman because Environment Canada (who manage the southern Queen Charlotte Islands as a large park) ask that you remove nothing, including what may pass as litter from the islands.
That afternoon, we weighed anchor and set sail again for the inside passage. By nightfall we had made the northern tip of Vancouver Island and sailed between the busy channel between Hope Island and the main island. Thousands of gulls circled around the boat in the dark, calling eerily in the gloom. As day broke, we turned south east and headed for Cormorant Island, where we’d heard of an excellent museum on First Nations history.
2014-08-24_canada_johnson-strait_orca-male-female.JPGWe anchored in Alert Bay south of the island and rowed ashore. After a couple of hours admiring the exhibit and looking at the impressive totem poles, we headed south again. We were called over the radio by a boat we met in Alert Bay earlier. They told us that Orcas had been spotted 5 miles behind us. As the conditions were against us, we decided to continue. Not five minutes later, we were fortunate to spot a pod all to ourselves. The kids were beside themselves as the Orca pod turned and next surfaced right next to Pachamama, a special birthday present for Noe, before heading for land.
The wind picked up the in the afternoon and we were forced to take shelter in a small cove. The anchorage was not perfect and we took turns to get up in the night and check on the security of our arrangement.
The next morning, the children put on an impromptu recorder concert for Dario&Sabine’s wedding day, championed by Salina and Andri joined by Noe with his own new birthday reorder. We then took advantage of the northernly winds for some good saling. As evening approached we sailed for Attwood Bay. We passed through three sets of rapids which bucked and twisted Pachamana as all the crew kept watch for rocks and eddies. We were relieved to make it through unscathed. We passed through an imposing channel which looked like a mountain had been sliced in two to make a pass for us and into the still of Attwood Bay, a pretty anchorage beneath. The water was clear and warm (or warmer than we had been used to) and we dived in for the first evening swim since Alaska.
2014-08-26_canada_attwood_bay-family-and-crew-walk4.JPGThe dawn of the 26th was warm and still and we took off walking up a logging road to retrace Dario’s steps of 18 years earlier (1996). He wanted to show the family the place of an encounter he’d had with a Grizzly Bear. It had been one of the most frightening experiences of his life and he wanted to see the place in the light of day again.
Unfortunately, although the walk and views were fine, we were not able to reach the place in time. It was good to stretch our legs again but the winds and tides called and we were back on board heading south towards Desolation Sound by 11:00. The mountains rose from the still morning waters, opening up as the day progressed. As evening settled we took shelter in a small cove… along with many mosquitoes. It was an uncomfortable night and we were happy to sail for Comox in the morning, rounding Hornby Island and heading north up the channel for the Comox Valley. We needed to drop Meret so that she could connect with a flight for Switzerland to start school again. Unfortunately the buses and ferries were not in our favour and we had to make for Vancouver at nightfall.
2014-08-27_canada_comox_cliff.JPGBut not before catching up with Cliff Umpleby, one of the first Top-to-Top expedition participants on Mont Blanc in 2000. He is now settled and married with children in Comox. Dario and him managed a few hours swapping stories and news before we were off.
2014-08-28_canada_vancouver (1).JPGAn overnight sail saw us arriving in Vancouver Bay around dawn. We inched through tanker and container ships towards our anchorage in the heart of Vancouver city. What a change for the quiet and privacy of our anchorages over the last few months. Now the view was of skyscrapers, water taxis and promenades. It would be our opportunity to restock and replan before the winds were again favorable on Sunday.

Hardened weather-monitoring- visiting Camp 17 with Jamie Pierce

Have you ever thought how the wind might influence glaciers?
In Juneau we had the pleasure of meeting mountain guide and environmental researcher, Jamie Pierce. He saw Pachamama sailing past his house and e-mailed Dario to introduce himself. He has studied weather, snow and ice in the US, Antarctica and Europe, as it pertains to snow and avalanche research, guiding and education. Jamie’s interest in this field, like Dario’s, was spurred by his concern at how quickly the glaciers he knew were retreating. He invited us to participate in a data retrieval and maintenance mission near Juneau. With a difference: we would be helicoptering in to his station at Camp 17 above Juneau.
We met at the Era Helicopters helibase. Era aids in support of his research project by offering Jamie transport in between a very busy tourist schedule. After a safety briefing, we were on board with pilot Jiri Hanis climbing the 4500 ft in five minutes to a Juneau Icefield Research Program Camp 17 between the Cairn and Vesper Peaks on the Lemon Creek Glacier. This is the site of one of a long-term Mass Balance Glacier study. In the 61 years of study, the ice thickness has decreased 30 m (about 90 ft.) – similar to other glaciers studied in the US.
Jamie is interested in how the snow and ice grains form and the potential for avalanches. He measures how the wind force influences the buried snow thus affecting shape and density of snow grains and the potential for weakening at or near buried layer interfaces. This in turn might create conditions for avalanches- so critical in Juneau particularly because the capital of the State of Alaska lies at the foot of the valley below.
He was also interested in retrieving dataloggers that were measuring the pressure pulses at the base of Lake Linda. The lake, which ultimately drains through supraglacial channels into Lemon Creek at the base of the glacier. The old monitoring equipment was presumed lost under the ice but Jamie suspected that enough snow might have melted this season to expose the old station and allow retrieval of the critical data.
Measuring wind in these conditions is not easy. He has already lost sensors to the ice and… to high winds. His last sensor was rated at 150 mph…and broke. His new ones are rated to 200 mph and contain special materials to limit the impact of ice. All his information is stored at the station and simultaneously transmitted via satellite to his base. All power is provided by a solar panel.
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Jamie and Dario realign the weather station arm


We helped Jamie rearrange his equipment and then Dario and him headed off across the glacier towards the remains of Lake Linda to see whether they could find the old weather station. An hour later they returned triumphant: they’d managed to collect two data loggers, one still collecting data. As they climbed the hill, Jiri returned to collect us. Perfect timing. And none too soon for Jamie who was anxious to access this data to see what secrets it might hold. For him, it was better than treasure; a view of the world beneath the ice that influences so much of what happens above and beyond it.
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Jamie and Dario cut lonely figures on their hike across the Lemon Creek Glacier towards the now-drained Lake Linda.
The pink tinge to the snow is caused by an algae that grows in the warmer summer weather


Back at base we discussed glacier formations and how these might be changing. We talked about the particularly worrying phenomenon of Jökulhlaup– an Icelandic name for a glacial dam burst. With warmer temperatures, the rate of water accumulation within sub-surface dams in the glacier is increasing. When there’s too much water, this dam can erupt, causing a rapid release of water. On the Mendenhall Glacier above Juneau, for instance, the normal water discharge into Mendenhall River averages 2’400 cubic feet per second (cfs). During a Jökulhlaup, this rate can increase nearly ten times to 20’000 cfps, a tidal wave of sorts for those below. This type event is happening annually since 2011, far too regularly for the likes of Jamie and Dario. We hope that the unusual Top-to-Top mission to the Lemon Creek Glacier helps a little in improving our understanding of these events.
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Our thanks go to Jamie Pierce of the University of Alaska South East and Era Helicopters for making this mission possible and for our opportunity to learn more about these fascinating phenomena.
More pictures here!

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