With temperatures finally coming up above zero after an incredibly cold January (14th coldest January on record, the warmest day just 4 degrees Fahrenheit!), we were really looking forward to our ski trip in the White Mountains National Recreation Area. Unfortunately it turned out that the warmer temperatures (10-20F) were not going to stick around. In fact, the next cold air mass was coming just as we headed out of town. Aside from needing to pack more/warmer clothes and feeling a bit anxious about keeping fingers and toes warm, there were other things to keep in mind with the temperature dropping.
Our cabin is heated solely by a wood stove, which is fantastic for numerous reasons, but when you are leaving it unoccupied for days at a time you have 2 choices: 1) Find a warm place to move everything that can’t freeze (electronics, instruments, plants, and any food that is not a dried good) and let the cabin freeze; or 2) Find someone to build a fire and keep it above freezing. We had been planning on choice 2, figuring that with the warmer temperatures we could probably get away with just 1 or 2 fires over 5 days. Thank goodness we have wonderful, kind friends and neighbors who agreed to step in! With temperatures dropping to -30F each night, it turned out the cabin needed a fire every 24 hours to keep it above freezing. One of the many reasons we love living here in Alaska—when it comes to dealing with cold weather issues, everyone is willing to help each other out!
Another obstacle was parking the car at the trailhead for 5 days at those frigid temperatures. For those of you who have been to Fairbanks, you’ve seen the funny plugs sticking out of the front of our cars like tongues. Cars in interior Alaska have been winterized to operate here (block engine heater, oil pan heater, and battery blanket), and get plugged in if parked for more than a couple hours at temperatures below zero. Some vehicles are amazingly trustworthy and fire up, even at 40 below—sadly our car is not quite that trustworthy! So on top of the gear needed for the trip, and extra emergency warm clothing left in the car, we also packed a couple options to try to warm up the engine, including a weed burner, stove pipe, and charcoal.
For this trip to the White Mountains, our plan was to ski 70 miles over 5 days with Evan, Cooper, and I, plus our friends Gina and Megan and her dog Uva. Cooper is just shy of 11 (77 doggy years!) so we were a little worried about how he’d do. He and I did a couple 12 mile skis beforehand and he kept pace no problem, but was always pretty stiff and sore that evening. We decided to pull a sled along just in case he couldn’t do the miles; but as always, Cooper showed us he is an Alaskan adventure dog! It’s my favorite thing in the world to be out hiking or skiing in wilderness areas with that fur ball- his spirit and joy at being out experiencing freedom is contagious. On top of that, Cooper was able to have a 4-legged friend along. This is a really big deal for Cooper, who came to us as a rescue three and a half years ago with major dog reactivity. He has a really hard time being around other dogs, acting out with fear-based aggression. We’ve worked hard to help him become more comfortable with dogs, but it takes a LOT of time and patience, not only from us, but from friends willing to bring their dogs out to do Behavior Adjustment Training, or BAT. We are so grateful to Megan and Uva for being patient and accepting of Cooper as he worked through his nervousness. It made our hearts smile to see him racing around with his new friend (although now worried about the extra energy and miles he was doing chasing her around!).
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our epic 2020 adventure in the White Mountains National Recreation Area!
Hi! I'm Shannon, the owner and operator of Leaf Out Nature Guides in Fairbanks, Alaska. Trained in biology and ethnobotany, I work, live, and play in the forests and tundras of Alaska. At Leaf Out we provide snowshoe tours and nature hikes in the Fairbanks area for adventurers of all ages and ability levels!