Thursday, December 20, 2012

December in AK: Deep Winter

The are 5 seasons in Alaska, and we are currently in Deep Winter which is oft confused with Regular Winter, but they are quite different. Deep Winter is eeriely similar to beyond the wall in the "Game of Thrones". Deep Winter has a unique mood and feel that makes one long for the salad days of Regular Winter. Deep Winter grabs hold in mid-November and hangs on until the merciful release into Regular Winter in late January. 

Tommorow marks the celestial mid-point of Deep Winter. The sun will rise at 10:14 AM and set at 3:41 PM for about 5.5 hours of daylight, but this is misleading.  The real kicker is that the sun only gets 23° above the horizon. When the sun is up, it is low in the sky and produces similar intensity as you'd expect just after dawn. Sure, it's nice, but it does not warm. During the brief daylight hours, the city is covered in perpetual long shadows cast by buildings. Entire neighborhoods and some towns (Girdwood) receive no direct light for months.

Our pathetic Northern star leaves the streets covered in ice and packed snow; there just isn't the oomph to kick start any melting. Overnight frosts stay on parked cars day after day, just getting thicker and thicker. Deep Winter brings the coldest temperatures of the year. This week's low at my place was -17°F.  This morning's temp was +14°F for my ride into work and I swear I could feel the warmth in the air, that is until the wind kicked up. 

Hunk of Junk Pathetic Excuse for a Star

It is truly a relief when Deep Winter finally yields to Regular Winter.  The sun regains its ability to warm. Icicles begin to form on trees. Snow begins to melt off of parked cars and the glazed roads slowly give way to pavement. February brings those pleasant winter days that I loved so much growing up in New England and bumming at Alta.  Full days of skiing in the sun, a sun that will warm your face as sit down and actually relax on a ridge.  The sun that warms the late afternoon air and makes for a pleasent transition into driving clothes after a day in the backcountry. In just a few short months I will be able to leisurely sip a beer at the trailhead with the car doors open and the radio blasting while my ski boots effortlessly slip off.

This winter has been tougher than most.  Long stretches of below zero weather coupled with a serious lack of snow have made motivation a rare commodity. The weather pattern so far has been the perfect advertisement for Fat Bikes. Cold temps and scarce snow have at least doubled the moutain bike terrain around Anchorage. Swamps and lakes are now set up perfectly for this method of travel. Muddy trails are frozen solid and the bears are asleep.

The Noodler on the Middle Fork Loop
(photo by Eric)

On the Sunny Side of Campbell Creek Canyon
(photo by Eric)
There is more snow at Turnagain and Hatcher Pass but the long stretches of cold and clear have made for uninspiring alpine skiing. It is always fun to get out and tour around, but it currently leaves much to be desired. The highlight for recent outings is finding a nice aerie in the sun and basking in the sun's faded glory.

Snow Beach
Home runs back to the car are always after sunset. The vehicle is frozen solid and it fights the starter. You wrestle your frozen, stiff boots off your cold sweaty feet and quickly take shelter in the car.  The heater blasts an icy wind. You put on your "car-puffy" and shiver and as you choke down your almost-frozen "celebratory" beer and relive the day's highlights.

Sorry, Taco, but we're driving now despite your cold oil and stiff clutch.

So far its been the winter for ice climbers, fat-bikers, and skaters. Although these activities are super fun diversions, they are just that: diversions.  Diversions until a weather change can facilitate my passion. The weather change will come, sooner or later and until then I will find distractions wherever I can.

 - U.K.