The subarctic afternoon twilight dims rapidly, as I glide along on Nordic skis, double-poling behind by my three harnessed huskies. Fresh tracks of moose, fox, lynx, marten, hare, squirrel, and ptarmigan cross fresh powder on the trail, turn the dogs’ noses, and reveal we aren’t alone in the silent boreal forest. The quarter moon casts shadows of stunted black spruce, as the sky silhouetting the Alaska Range summits dims from orange to violet. At 5˚ F (-15˚ C), I’m grateful for warm toes and fingers. My eager canine companions share my joy of the winter trail.
Hours spent outdoors in December offer time to reflect on magic experiences we hope to capture in the 49 Faces iBook project. Through stories of Alaskans who love to explore in all seasons, we seek to share unique perspectives about wild landscapes and the lives they shape. As seasons change, we reach out to participants who thrive on the opportunities that winter brings.
As winter solstice approaches, Alaskan adventurers experience unique environments. Mushers, cross-country skiers, ski-jorers, fat-tire cyclists, and snowshoers enjoy trails free of bugs, bears, and bogs. Mountaineers, ice climbers, snowboarders, and backcountry skiers keep their eyes on weather and snow conditions that open access to their mountain playgrounds or load slopes with potential avalanches. On the northern arctic coast, the sun set in late November. It won’t rise again until late January. In the interior, the sun creeps above the horizon for less than four hours and climbs to a zenith of only 2˚ for the next three weeks. December temperatures may range from over 40˚F (+4˚C) to 50˚F below zero (-45˚ C) or colder. Conditions may swing between these extremes within several days.
For dog mushers, December is prime training time. Runs of 50 to 100 miles at subzero temperatures are normal for top distance teams. Many crisp nights are spent on trails under northern lights or moonlight. Mushers trust their lead dogs, but they remain alert for the green glow signaling moose eyes reflected in headlamp beams. Preparation and efficiency of action are essential. Extreme weather, open water, overflow ice, and wildlife encounters become expectations rather than emergencies. Mistakes in judgement compound quickly as conditions become unforgiving. Yet, Alaskan mushers cherish the magic of riding the runners and love spending short, frigid days and long, winter nights with beloved canine athletes.
As we collaborate to create the 49 Faces of Alaskan Adventure iBook, we continue to meet individuals who fiercely love their Alaskan home. Like us, they love opportunities to explore wild country in all seasons. This winter, we’ll be taking our iBook project in new directions, introducing our followers to new faces, and gathering stories of particpants’ wilderness experiences. Of course, we’ll still shut our laptops, turn off our phones, and go outdoors to explore the magic of winter in Alaska.