Published: January 10th 2010January 3rd 2010
The winter in Alaska can be brutal, but that does not stop the outdoor lovers from seeking adventure. While Caitlin visited for the winter holiday we decided to do a short overnight backpacking trip out to a Mongolian Yurt in the Eagle River Nature Center.
We started our adventure on skis. This was short lived as it had not snowed in over 2 weeks and the ground was practically ice. We figured that this may be a little too much for Caitlin’s second time on a pair of skis as she admitted to almost falling 3 times in 5 seconds with a 30lb pack in 10 degree weather. I am not the best on classic skis and almost bit it on the first icy hill myself. After about 5 minutes of this, we turned around and grabbed our snow boots.
It was about 4:00pm when we started our hike and the sun had already set. The trail fell along the old Iditarod Trail, which is more commonly known as Crow Pass. It weaves between two mountain ranges. Behind the Chugach Mountains to the west we could see the bright pink lights of Anchorage dancing in the overcast like a
No big deal.
sunset. The white snow reflected enough light that we didn’t need to use our headlamps. We walked briskly to keep the cold off. We passed one group of people heading back to the Nature Center and after that didn’t see a single person.
For those who do not know Caitlin, she has a serious avert to cold weather. By cold, I mean she wears a sweater in 75-degree Tennessee falls. It took a lot of convincing to get her to visit me for the winter break that I was surprised at her genuine interest in this trip. She was a real trooper.
We arrived at our yurt to find it situated on a bluff that overlooked a valley between the two mountain ranges. Even in the night’s darkness it was stunning. We went in and started the woodstove. The yurt was much larger than I expected with a table, chairs and two wooden bunks. We had plenty of room to drop our gear and spread our bags on the floor near the stove. Unfortunately the woodstove was more of an illusion of heat in the 10-degree air. We made a warm dinner of mac and cheese, followed by
wild game of frozen-hand Bananagrams and a round of reading tarot cards. We warmed up by the open stove until the room got to smoky to leave the door open and then decided to crawl in our bags to warm up. Caitlin kept her snow pants, jacket and layers on. I put my pink onesie on over my thermals and crawled into my sleeping bag. It was extremely cold, and I was pretty sure that Caitlin wanted to kill me but was way too cold to put the effort into it. We spent some time talking and then dozed off.
At about midnight I had too pee. I got up and with my contacts in their case and headlamp on, I ventured into the cold to find the outhouse that supposedly existed in the woods. After I found a woodshed, a fire pit, and a trail that went in a circle while managing to take a hard fall on an icy hill in my onsie, I decided to find a local tree. By the time I got back to the yurt it was freezing. I put another log in the stove and hovered over the open door till my
hands defrosted. I took off my snow-covered onsie and relayered with camo under armour. After about 30 minutes I was so cold I could not sleep. I couldn’t bear the thought of how cold Caitlin felt. She had stopped snoring and I had an immediate fleeting fear that she had frozen. I shook her and she did not move or respond. I continued to shake her till she did respond. She was very cold. I crawled into her sleeping bag to share body heat and put my bag over both of us. It was not very comfortable on the hard floor, especially on the side of my leg where I took the fall, but at least we were warmer. In the morning she told me she did not respond because subconsciously she thought I was a bear.
We woke up every few hours to restart the fire, even though it didn’t make much of a difference. Once Caitlin checked her watch and joyfully announced that it was said 10:30am. However, looking outside the sun had not yet risen. She checked again and was disheartened to find that it was 10:30am on the east coast, and only 6:30am in our
yurt. We crawled back into the bag.
We finally got up around the actual 10:30am and made some scrambled eggs with Morning Star sausages and had some green tea. We spent some time exploring around the yurt and simply staring over the snow dusted bluff. After we packed up we headed back out. In the daylight it was like exploring a new trail altogether. The day was clear and the walk was awakening and refreshing. Despite the cold, the trip was spiritually renewing as we took in the intense mountains hovering on all sides, the snow draping the trees, and the icicle covered limbs.
“Guess what?” I’d say.
“What?” She’d ask.
“I live here… No big deal.”
There are more photos below