Shortest day of the year is long on adventure

by • December 18, 2014 • 61 NorthComments (0)217

Outsiders say, “What is winter like in Alaska with no light?” We actually have plenty of light. Anchorage is more than 300 miles south of the Arctic Circle, where there is truly no sunlight on winter solstice, the shortest day of the year on Dec. 21. On solstice in Anchorage the sun is above the horizon for five and half hours. The time between morning and evening civil twilight, when it’s light enough to see, is seven and a half hours. Outdoorsy Alaskans know that plenty of fun is possible in seven and half hours. They also know to keep a headlamp handy. bike.chfront.stock-113
Backcountry skiing
Even in the dead of winter, a big day of backcountry skiing is possible. The key is being at the trailhead, with your skis on, by 9 a.m. This kind of early midwinter start is blatantly un-Alaskan. Sleeping in is a favorite activity in winter. While the others are sleeping, you can be skinning toward south-facing slopes to ski powder painted gold all day long by the low-angle sun.

Henry Munter spotted by Brad Cosgrove skiing at Turnagain Pass Joe Stock

Henry Munter spotted by Brad Cosgrove skiing at Turnagain Pass Joe Stock

Ice climbing
Frozen waterfalls lie in damp and shady gullies. The low-angle mid-winter light doesn’t change things much. And ice climbing isn’t about comfort anyway. It’s more about bushwhacking to obscure creeks, bashing your way up the icicles, and fighting the screaming barfies (climber-speak for thawing hands). A headlamp start isn’t a big deal.

Tucker Chenoweth ice climbing in the Western Chugach Mountains near Butte. Joe Stock

Tucker Chenoweth ice climbing in the Western Chugach Mountains near Butte. Joe Stock

Fat biking Middle Fork
Middle Fork is a 12-mile single-track loop starting from the Prospect Heights Trailhead in Anchorage. The trail is ideal for three hours of lung-ripping uphill and flying down the narrow trail on the descent. The loop is fun clockwise or counterclockwise. Just make sure to get the winding South Fork Rim option on the Powerline side of Campbell Creek.

Cabin on a full moon
Cabins give me cabin fever. They’re dark and fumy. And I’m still traumatized by spending my entire childhood chopping and hauling firewood. But a full moon solves all those problems: I can escape the cabin! A full moon gives the midwinter mountains an otherworldly feel. Painting the land with moonlight for target shooting, taking photos, riding the snowmachines around the lake, making moonlight ski runs and yelling for echoes off the surrounding mountains.

Nordic ice skate
Cold and no snow means Nordic ice skating. My favorite skating is the tree-lined lakes and canoe trails at Nancy Lakes near Wasilla. Friends and I follow each other at high speed around each lake’s margin, zooming past stumps and grass, encircling every island, and yelping when the ice moans and pops.

Cathy Flanagan nordic ice skating at Nancy Lakes. Joe Stock

Cathy Flanagan nordic ice skating at Nancy Lakes. Joe Stock

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