Camping in the Cold of Alaska~ Our Six Day Adventure

We had been dreaming of and working towards our first long winter adventure for about a year. It took time to collect the gear and clothing and a few short trips to figure some things out. Finally, in the middle of January, when the thermometer never ventures above negative temperatures for long, we were ready to push ourselves farther and deeper into the winter woods and excited to head out on a weeklong cross country ski trip.

We left from our cabin, skied past the lodge and down the driveway to the flat frozen surface of Lake Louise, our fully loaded ski pulks gliding behind us. At 11:15am the sun had been up for just over an hour, but we were unable to see anything in the thick white of the ice fog that lay dense on the lake. We didn't mind, we actually enjoyed the silent void surroundings that gave our journey an even more remote feeling. The snow was perfect for gliding across and we moved easily with our heavy loads making our way across the 6 miles to the north end of the lake. We crossed a small stretch of land that separated Lake Louise from Suisitna Lake and began our way around this next much longer and more narrow of the three lakes that we intended to encircle. As our white surroundings began to darken with the setting sun around 3:30pm we pulled over on the lake surface, packed down a large flat area in the snow and set up our tent for the night. On our past winter nights we struggled with heavy condensation in our tent, which froze and then "snowed" all over us, so this time we decided to sleep without the tent fly. We still set up the body of the tent as we didn't have another option for a ground cloth in order to forgo the tent completely and cowboy camp, but without the fly we still had some views, although we could see nothing but white fog, and we also had some great airflow, which meant it was colder but also meant no condensation. 

I woke in the dark of the very early morning and smiled when my first sight was of an ink black sky sparkling with stars. I enjoyed the shimmering show in the sky for awhile before my eyelids fell closed once more. When I woke again I rolled onto my belly and peered out of the tent door to see a previously hidden horizon beginning to glow with the warmth of the sun that was just about to pull back the covers of the night and rise for the day. Large peaks of the Chugach Mountains towered behind a low line of jagged topped spruce which bordered the lake where we slept. We enjoyed the views as we drank a cup of coffee and began to pack. By the time we clipped the last straps on our ski pulks closed and stepped into our skis our beautiful surroundings had again become engulfed in a dense white fog as we slid across the lake into the silence. It was 10am and we were looking forward to making the most of the short hours of light that we had to play in.

As we made our way towards the end of Suisitna Lake the shoreline began to narrow around us and we were able to enjoy views of the trees and dense forest that we were passing. We stopped for a late lunch using our pulks as insulated sit pads while we boiled noodles and snacked on frozen cheese and salami. After lunch we made our way through the narrows connecting Suisitna Lake with Tyone Lake and began to follow the largest wolf tracks we had ever seen. At first it appeared that there were two wolves, but soon we realized they had been following in each others foot steps and there were actually four wolves. We followed these tracks for the remainder of the afternoon, stopping to inspect areas where the wolves had napped in the snow or where they had circled prints of moose, caribou and other small critters. Occasionally one of the set of tracks veered off into the woods on the scent of their prey, but soon after they would rejoin the tracks of the rest of the pack. I constantly scanned the trees hoping to catch a glimpse of the canines, as the prints we were following were very fresh, but if they were nearby they were well hidden.

Just as the white sky began to darken to a steely gray with the setting sun at 4pm we packed down the soft powder on the lake near the shoreline and set up camp for the night. A small, old, dilapidated cabin sat in the trees near our camp which we wanted to explore before we crawled into our tent. We waded through the powder and peered into the leaning structure to find it near empty except for a rusty metal chair and a few scraps of garbage and broken tools, remnants from a time when this cabin served as a shelter for trappers and hunters many decades before. We returned to our own shelter and crawled into sleeping bags to make some hot drinks and dinner before we fell asleep. 

We woke to blue skies and good spirits, enjoyed a hot cup of coffee and got ready to leave the warmth of our sleeping bags. It was the time of morning which we refer to as the "cold hour", the hour just before the sunrise when the deepest cold hangs heavy in the air as if clinging to whatever it can as long as possible knowing that the sun is about to send the night chill away for the remainder of the day. It is the toughest hour to coax yourself out of your cozy cocoon, yet somehow it seems to often be the time we try to do exactly that. I save my sleeping bag for the last possible item to pack, stuffing all other belongings into my dry sacks and organizing all gear outside the tent door next to my pulk until there is nothing left to do other than reluctantly pull myself out of the warm feathers and shove them into their own stuff sack for the day. I then move with a quickness to take down the tent, pack my gear into the pulk and lastly put on my ski boots which I have tried to make more bearable by placing hot water bottles in each earlier in the morning. The water bottles don't warm the ski boots, but at least keep them from being frozen solid. By this time we are ready to get moving to warm ourselves up and we set off at a good pace to start the day.

We continued to follow the wolf tracks, now shimmering with day old ice indicating their probable distance from our current location. The long narrow shape of Tyone Lake gave us great views of both shorelines as well as two moose that were traveling along the edge of the frozen lake. We stopped to watch their gracefully lumbering bodies as they walked through the deep snow up into the trees and out of our sight. As we continued down this more remote lake we saw more signs of critters than we did of humans. As the feeling of really being deep in the wild set in we heard a rumble of an engine and two snow machines came up from behind us. They stopped to say hello and asked if we were the couple who worked at the lodge. We confirmed that we were, and one of the riders said he had heard we might be out skiing in the area. We had a mutual friend, an old trapper who had been living in the area for almost 70 years. Our mutual friend was currently at one of his remote trapper cabins just a mile from where we were skiing, so we got directions for where to find him and we followed the snow machine tracks to where the river met the lake and headed into the trees to say, "hello".

We came to a small structure and squeezed inside, the first and probably only time this small cabin had ever had five people in it. Just as we stepped in however, the other two stepped out making the gathering space much more comfortable. There was a strong pungent odor in the air, which I assumed was from the freshly stretched foxes on the drying boards against the wall and the cabin was warm from the small wood stove. We stripped off our many layers and settled into the two chairs in the room while we were handed cups of hot cocoa and slices of pudding cake which the visitors whom had just left had brought with them. I took this opportunity to remove my ski boots and tend to blisters on both heels that I had gotten on our first day. We stayed and visited for about an hour and then bundled back up to return to our skis.

We made this our turn around point, having reached the end of the 3rd lake, and we retraced our ski path in the late afternoon sun. We reached our camp spot from the previous night just as the sun was setting and set up our tent in the familiar location. We settled in for dinner, some blackberry brandy and late night conversation before drifting off to sleep.

When we woke in the dark early morning hours to the sound of our alarm it only took two words, "sleep longer?" and a reply of "mmmmm hmmmm" for me to reset our wake up call for an hour later. When the second song woke us from our comfortable slumber our early morning motivation was already gone and I turned off the alarm all together. The sun had brightened our tent and surroundings when we finally pulled ourselves into a sitting position and wrapped our hands around steaming mugs of hot coffee, hoping the caffeine would give us the energy to finally get going. Despite the long night sleep and relaxing morning I had woke in a foul mood for unknown reasons and could not seem to shake it. We packed up camp in the late late morning and slid our silent separate ways across the frozen lake.

I spent the next couple of hours trying to shake my negative emotions. I focussed on my beautiful surroundings, chanted silent mantras and cleared my mind in moving meditation. Finally my insides began to lighten and I again felt the gratitude for the moments that I was enjoying and the life that I was living.

It was at about this time we reached an intersection and consulted a hand drawn map on the back of a paper plate. We had hoped to visit another friend this afternoon and this seemed to be the point where we needed to cut off the lake up a narrow inlet to find his cabin. As we rounded the corner we saw a large structure and our friend at his front door hollering a greeting our direction. We returned the wave, unstrapped our skis and hiked up the hill to greet him.

This cabin was the compete opposite of the tiny trappers cabin we had visited the day prior. As our buddy led us through the front room into the large kitchen he described the other areas of the grounds beyond our view and gave us some of the history of the place where he had been living and care taking for the past eight years. There was another visitor seated at the kitchen table and as we removed our many warm layers we were introduced. We strung out our wet gloves and clothing around the wood stove and shared a bottle of moonshine as we talked until the sun set. Our buddy continued to encourage us to stay for the night, but we were set on our plan to camp outdoors. We did however borrow his propane stove to make a chicken curry dinner before we finally packed up, layered on our warm clothes and donned our headlamps for the dark night. 

We realized quickly that we didn't need our headlamps as the glow of the moon and it's illumination of our snow covered surroundings made it easy to see without them. As we silently slid through the night, in the dark, I had the feeling of being like all of the other critters roaming through the wilderness, it was a familiar comfort. We found a spot in the trees at the top of a small hill to set up camp for the night. I might have been in foul mood when I woke, but I felt wonderful by the time we fell asleep.

The morning was cold, colder than I had expected given that we were sleeping above lake level. We packed camp quickly and began to move as fast as possible to get the blood flowing into our frozen toes. Despite the cold I stopped several times to photograph the pink, red and orange painted sky of the morning. As we continued across the center of the narrow lake it seemed to grow colder and colder. After about an hour and a half of skiing I finally caught up to Goose who had been quite a distance in front of me since I was stopping to marvel at the beauty of the morning often, and we both added additional layers as we commented about the ice crystals that had formed around our faces. It was definitely much colder than the previous mornings. We didn't know it at the time, but later learned it was around -20°F. We continued on, stopping only once for a short snack break, until we reached Lake Louise mid-day. Soon after we stopped at our bosses empty cabin to warm up while we ate lunch.

Once inside we started a fire and huddled around the wood stove. It wasn't long until the iron had warmed and we were able to remove some layers and finally start to feel comfortable. As we warmed however, Goose began to notice a lot of pain in several of his toes. His feet had been freezing all morning, and even though he had an old injury on his big toe which caused him pain, it was obvious this pain was from frost nip. We had intended to ski the final 6 miles across the lake back to our cabin that afternoon, but knowing that refreezing frost injuries after warming would cause even worse damage, we decided to stay for the night, thankful that we had a warm place available to us. Once we settled into our decision to stay for the night I stoked a fire in the sauna out back and enjoyed rotating between the warmth of the cabin and the intense heat of the sauna. After a few very relaxing visits we settled into our down beds set up on the floor in front of the fire and slept wonderfully through the night.


We were so happy to be able to enjoy coffee and pack up without having to battle the cold of January in Alaska the following morning. We enjoyed our final hours of skiing home and were thrilled to see our dogs waiting for us at the edge of the frozen lake when we arrived. It had been a beautiful week spent outdoors, but it had also been trying and exhausting. We continue to learn things with each trip and we are excited to continue our winter adventures outdoors.

I was thrilled to be home, more happy than I usually am to return to the indoors, but I know this was just the first of probably many more extended winter trips for us. This year however, as each day is getting longer and warmer with the return of the sun, I was excited that our next upcoming trips would not be in the dead of winter, but rather in the start of spring.

Camping in the Cold of Alaska~ Our 2nd Adventure

Our second winter camping trip took place just after Thanksgiving. It was the weekend of my birthday and our intention was to have fun playing in the woods with an easy three day trip. We stuck close to home since we were still learning the tricks to cold weather camping and the weather remained comfortable with temperatures above 0°F for the entirety of our weekend.

We left our cabin the first morning under a sky still speckled with stars and only the faintest hint of changing from the black of night to the steely gray of the first light of day. The dull moon still hung low in the sky as we slid our way across a windy path through the dense spruce forest.  We crossed the first of several small frozen lakes as the sky was warming and stopped to enjoy the streaks of red, orange and pink that painted the horizon. Our tracks were the only marks on the smooth white surface of the lake.

We reached our intended destination in the early afternoon and decided to explore the nearby hill for a campsite that might offer us views of the sweeping valley and giant Wrangell mountain peaks in the distance. Travel became much more difficult the moment we left the flat terrain of the lake and began to make our way across the powder covered bushes as we climbed. We removed our skis as the incline increased and began to work our way uphill in our boots. I immediately began to regret the weight of the load I had packed into my ski pulk. Sure a case of beer, a bottle of vodka, games, books and plenty of yummy foods would all be enjoyed on our celebratory weekend, but I was really struggling to haul the heavily laden sled that was attached to my hips. I yanked and pulled with all of my might, groaning and cursing my way uphill barely able to move with each step. When I had finally tugged my way to the top I was exhausted and frustrated beyond belief. My mood had changed quickly, but I realized my anger probably stemmed from the fact that it was lunchtime and I had yet to eat anything that day. I took a deep breath and unhooked the harness to my pulk so we could more easily explore the trees for a good place to set up camp.

We found the perfect clearing at the very top of the mountain, returned for our gear and set up our tent. Goose then worked on making us a campfire while I worked on getting us some food. We created a nest of spruce branches for Shilo dog to curl up in and also piled up additional branches under our feet to help insulate from the cold that inevitably began to sink in as we sat around the fire. We enjoyed turkey sandwiches from our leftover Thanksgiving dinner and a couple of beers as the crackle of the fire played background music and the early setting sun illuminated the amazing mountains in the distance. I then  went to our tent to set up our beds and take a quick nap while Goose skied back to our cabin to drop off Shilo for the night. We were planning on visiting a friend's cabin on the lake that night and their dogs did not like other canine visitors so Shilo would have to stay at home and we would return for her the following day.

About an hour later I met Goose on the lake below and together we made our way across Cameron Cove in search of our friends place. The ice cracked and moaned under our skis and although I knew these were good noises of the lake freezing it still freaked me out at times to feel the rumble underneath. After about an hour we found a large beautiful cabin whose glow illuminated the shoreline and knew this must be the place we were looking for. Once inside we stripped off our many layers of clothing and joined the house full of people for an amazing dinner of Alaskan crab, moose steaks, smoked salmon and chocolate birthday cake with plenty of beer to wash it all down. As midnight approached we hitched a ride on a snow machine about 1/2 way back  and then took a 30 min. ski by headlamp to our camp in the trees. We happily slid into our puffy down sleeping bags and snuggled in for the night. 

We woke late the following morning and unzipped our nylon door to find a world covered in a thick layer of shimmering ice. The air was heavy with frozen moisture and a thick fog blocked the beautiful views that we had enjoyed the previous day. We packed up camp and quietly skied to our next destination. We made our way to a small island with just enough time to set up our tent before the sun sunk behind the hills. I then grabbed a few more layers, turned on my headlamp, strapped my skis back on and made my way to our cabin to pick up Shilo dog. We returned about an hour later to find the ski pulks unpacked and our beds ready for us. We got cozy in the tent and made a delicious dinner of curry chicken and noodles. We spent the evening talking and sharing a bottle of hot tea before we drifted off to sleep in our bed of feathers.

This weekend of winter camping was so much more comfortable than our first trip had been. The combination of warmer weather and a mid trip visit to a cabin made it hardly seem as if we were winter camping in Alaska at all. We did learn a few new things such as, you can pretty much carry any food that could be stored in a freezer which opens up so many more dinner possibilities in the backcountry, and always cover any gear stored outside as you never know what weather you will wake to the next morning. I was also reminded of something I already knew very well from backpacking, just because it can fit in your pulk doesn't mean you should pack it. While we will continue to learn on each of trips, this trip was much more about enjoying the outdoors; breathing the cold fresh air scented by the evergreen trees, stretching our bodies until our muscles ached,  and playing in the place that I enjoy more than anywhere else, in the wilderness. Home is where the tent is.

First Responder

The sky was darkening by 4pm when the ice fog began to creep across the lake in a thickness that seemed as if you could reach into it and scoop out a handful. It left a layer of white ice crystals on everything it settled over and a cold crust that gave the appearance that the landscape might shatter if touched too hard. It made a wilderness that was was already deceivingly hard to navigate even more confusing as it swallowed small islands and hid miles of tree covered shoreline that even in clear conditions could trick you with the many inlets and peninsulas that made the abstract pattern of the shape of the large lake. It was after the darkness had embraced the entire sky and the ice fog had blanketed every surface that we received a call looking for a missing woman who had been riding her snow machine and had not been seen since the sky was still light from the setting sun.

At first there wasn't too much concern, the woman was from the area and had a cabin along the lake. It was possible she was still out riding or had stopped by somewhere to warm up in a cabin. By the time the man who had called looking for her arrived at the lodge his concern was apparent and an impromptu search team of friends who had gathered for the evening began layering on their warm arctic clothes and starting up their snow machines. It was around 7pm and already -10°F.

In teams of two, they followed the shorelines and cabins where her route might have taken her. Some searched the center of the large lake, but even the locals of over 25 years found themselves turned around and lost on the white surface with nothing but heavy fog in all directions. They used their own snow machine tracks, which could be seen for only a very short distance in their headlights, to follow their way back to the lodge an hour later. As they quickly warmed their fingers and faces indoors the search teams reassembled, discussed their next search plan and quickly headed back out. They had a full understanding that in this type of cold and dark every moment mattered, and in this remote location there was nobody who could be called to help in time, it was up to them. 

Most of these men had been on searches like this before, searches for strangers and friends alike, and most of these  searches had not ended well. It was hard to know what was going on in each of their minds, but we all knew the gravity of the situation. Together they headed back to her initial path of travel to look for her tracks in hopes of following them. As they circled in the fog they spotted a dim glow on the shoreline, but as they neared the glow they realized it was a neighbor who had come to his porch with a light. When they looped back around, not far from that neighbors cabin, one of them caught a glimmer of a helmet. Her snow machine was not found as it was buried in pieces in the trees where it had crashed, but somehow the woman had managed to crawl out onto the open lake and had been watching the search lights of the snow machines circling around her unable to hear her screams or see her in the thick ice fog. The men could not fully assess her injuries in the dark but found her partially clothed, a common occurrence as hypothermia sets in, and knew that after hours in negative temperatures the priority was to get her warm.

We had been anxiously watching for headlights returning in the fog to the lodge when we received the call that she had been found and was alive. We exhaled huge sighs of relief. We had been told that they were on their way back with her and that she was cold. We began to heat water and were prepared to get her warm sugary drinks and food to help heat her up, but we were not prepared mentally, at least I was not, for the extent of her injuries when they returned.

I left briefly to go to my cabin and when I came back to the lodge soon after I was surprised to see  a line of snow machines out front indicating that they had already gotten back and I hurried inside. I entered a room with blood smears on the tile floor and several people removing wet clothing from a semi limp body near the woodstove while others were rushing to gather blankets and a medical kit. I quickly removed my coat and rushed to the back room for a pair of latex gloves while I began to review the steps of my medical training in my mind. I had taken several wilderness medical courses in the past and had been a certified wilderness first responder for almost three years, however I had never had to rely on my training for more than a minor cut. I had hoped that would be all I would ever need it for, however living where and how I live it was inevitable that I would eventually find myself in more serious situations. I knew my training was important for my lifestyle, but I often said I hoped I would never have to be a first responder in the field. I knew I had the most medical training in the group that evening and I was about to experience my first serious situation as a first responder. I took a deep breath as I approached the scene in the back room.

The men cleared aside to allow me full access to her body and were quick to assist with warming measures as I began to assess the extent of her injuries. It was easy to know she had a broken arm from the look of the swollen purple limb twisted at odd angles and I soon realized she had a compound fracture when I caught sight of a small piece of bone protruding the skin on her elbow. She was awake and coherent making eye contact with me and acknowledging that she knew me, the people around me and many of the details of the evening. She was also clearly in shock and suffering from hypothermia. As the others worked to warm her, called for an ambulance and gathered the local medical transport vehicle/litter I examined the rest of her body relieved that there did not appear to be any additional trauma. I struggled to find a heartbeat on both wrists and neck and was unable to do so after what seemed like a long time trying. I decided to move on as I knew at least her heart was beating since she was awake and responsive.

Preparing her for transport was the main objective and the process was a blur of teamwork which I tried to  direct, as well as confusion as we struggled to familiarize ourselves with a gurney nobody had used before, move her body onto a backboard, carry her through narrow doorways, load her into the transport vehicle while unsuccessfully trying to lower and secure the wheeled gurney, and finally removing her from the vehicle to transfer her to a more stable litter before putting her back in the vehicle. I was frustrated with my inability to assist with the unfamiliar equipment, the additional movement that we had to do to the patient in order to get her secured, the in and out of the cold environment that was required to move and secure her a second time and the time in which all of this confusion was taking. As we fumbled to get going I envisioned an ambulance waiting for us at the highway, not knowing that at around 9pm they were still over an hour away.

Once I was in the back of the transport vehicle I searched for a way to turn on the overhead lights. I had never seen this vehicle and didn't even know it existed in our community. The only other person with rescue medical training was driving the vehicle while her grown son helped me in the back by providing light from his phone, as we never figured out how to turn on the interior lights, and assisting me with medical supplies from the well stocked compartments. My main concern was keeping her comfortable on the bumpy ride down our long ice covered sixteen mile dirt road and ensuring that she stay awake while I continued to examine her and run over and over the medical checklists swirling in my brain. I took her temperature with a thermometer multiple times to confirm a reading of under 95°F. We rolled her to her side while she vomited the water that she had been begging for on the floor and on me. I had tried to avoid giving her too many liquids knowing this would be the outcome, but her begging was intense and persistent so we had been slowly giving her some warm liquids throughout the rescue knowing that while she might vomit they would also help with the warming process. She was coherent, intelligent, and responsive throughout the entire transport and she was also dangerously close to death.

When we finally reached the highway after what seemed like an excruciatingly long ride we were all crushed to realized the ambulance was still over 30 miles away. We spent that time comforting the woman, while also gathering as much information as we could to pass onto the emergency personnel when they arrived. We were so relieved when our windows were filled with the glow of the approaching ambulance lights and we were able to transfer her to the vehicle that would take her to the hospital which was still over 120 miles away. 

The three of us returned to the lodge down the long bumpy road under a sky illuminated by the green glow of the northern lights. We still had much to discuss and needed some major time to decompress, but for now we just needed to get back home.

I fell asleep after a long time of running the night's events over and over in my mind. The realization of how very removed we are in our remote community and how truly alone we are in the face of an emergency had hit me in the face hard that night. The following day I woke with my first thoughts being of the night prior and the need to know that the woman had survived. We were all thankful to learn that while she suffered a shattered elbow and multiple breaks of her arm, including the compound fracture, and had a long road of surgeries and recovery ahead of her, she was going to be okay.

She told me while we were waiting for the ambulance that she thought she was going to die that night out on the ice. I have no doubt that without the quick response and teamwork of her community that she would have. Unfortunately the rescues out here often become body recoveries, but not this time, this time we will all be able to hug her when she returns and tell her how glad we are that she survived.




Rumbling Groaning Ice

I woke today to blue skies and a gorgeous sunrise in hues of pinks and reds in stark contrast from the white of the landscape. When the sun finally crested the mountains around 11am the temperature gauge read -13°F and there was a vast silence across the lake. The wilderness beckoned me to play, so I strapped on my skis and my backpack and slid across the snow covered frozen lake on a solo ski for the afternoon. 

I soon found myself in the middle of a huge white expanse far from the secure feeling of being close to the tree covered shoreline. As I glided across the surface I heard low rumblings in the distance. Quickly those rumblings surrounded me. Several nearby pings, as if a laser gun was being fired, followed by a something that sounded like a large thin piece of metal being shaken, a metallic like thunder. I recognized these sounds and reminded myself that the groaning and rumbling of the ice were good noises, sounds that indicated further freezing of the lake which was already over a foot thick in many areas. But when the rumbling rippled beneath my feet and vibrated up my body I couldn't help but let out a few freaked out words as I picked up my pace and changed course.

I calmed myself and began to visualize the freezing process that was taking place beneath my feet and in all directions that I could see. I snickered at my fearful reaction and began to enjoy the music of the ice that filled my ears and the vibrations beneath me as I traveled. I soon fell into a rhythm of sliding my legs and pushing my arms while my breath became a steady pattern. I cleared my mind of all rambling thoughts and focused on my breath and the emptiness of my environment. I moved in meditation. A calmness washed through me and a spark of joy and gratitude began to burn brighter inside of me. 

I returned home a couple of hours later relaxed, refreshed and reenergized. I was filled with happiness and contentment, as I often am after I spend time alone in the woods. I am so grateful for my many opportunities to live a life outdoors.

Salve to Protect Puppy Paws

The ground is covered in snow and ice, but that doesn't stop our playful pup from wanting to hike, run, fetch and romp outdoors all day long. Her paws pay the price for her playfulness in the snow and show signs of drying and cracking. I wanted to help her, and our new puppy who will be coming home soon, to be able to play all winter without damaging her paws so I did some research on natural paw salves, creams and waxes to help protect and heal her pads. I found a few great recipes and combined some simple steps/ingredients from several to create a good paw salve for our pups. The process was quick and easy....


~4 TBSP Olive Oil (I used an olive oil that I had previously infused with spruce tips)

~4 TBSP Coconut Oil

~2 TBSP Shea Butter

~8 Tsp Beeswax (I prefer the granules as they are easy to measure and quick to melt)

Melt all in a double boiler.

Add 15-30 drops of Vitamin E oil. I also added about 6 drops of Lavender essential oil for added healing benefits.

Pour into small containers and cool completely before covering. Will store for several years, but with regular use I know mine will be gone within a season.

Our dog seemed to enjoy the pampering she got as I spread a thin layer on her paws where cracks were forming. I immediately distracted her with a game of fetch so she wouldn't be inclined to lick off the salve before it could absorb. I plan on using a thin rub at night to help heal and thicker application, especially between her toes, prior to outdoor winter play. After applying to our pups paws I will happily rub the remaining salve into my own hands as it smells and feels great! 


Camping in the Cold of Alaska~ Our 1st Adventure

We survived our first night tent camping in the cold Alaska winter, and actually most of the time I was more comfortable than I had expected to be! We left in the late afternoon with the thermometer reading -3°F and dropping quickly after dark. Morning temperatures reached a low of -25°F and warmed to -14°F by the time we returned to the cabin at 2pm. When we woke the inside of our tent was covered in ice crystals from our breath, some over an inch long, and it snowed on us every time we bumped the walls or the ceiling. The evening and overnight was much more enjoyable than the morning.

This was our first trip, our "test trip" intended for learning, and we definitely did figure out a few things. The hardest lesson learned for me was that INSTANT coffee is a much better plan than fumbling around with freezing fingers while warming fuel bottles, clearing ice from fuel lines, waiting for a boil and then waiting for the grounds to steep while your precious hot liquid quickly cools to a lukewarm. I don't have the patience for that whole process pre-coffee, it was seriously frustrating and definitely did not start my day with smiles.

As for our gear and most of our other systems, they worked. Here is a brief description of what we carried. As we continue adventuring through out the winter I will get into more detail, including gear/clothing reviews, but for now here is an initial rundown with links to some of the gear sites...

~We both pulled fiberglass ski pulks and combined walking and cross country skiing on snow packed trails. This is the first time we have used the pulks and initial impression is that they are much nicer than carrying our gear in backpacks! However skiing up any type of hill is such an effort or near impossible we have come to conclusion that we will stick to flat terrain and/or combine skins or snowshoes with skiing, neither of which we currently own.

~We both used Feathered Friends Snow Goose EX -40° Down sleeping bags. They are amazing. We were near hot at times, although we were also wearing quite a bit of clothing, but it is nice knowing we have a large comfort range depending on how we dress.

~We both used a combination of two sleeping pads, a RidgeRest SoLite and a NeoAir Xtherm. The dual system is for added R value as well as extra assurance we will always have one functioning pad if the NeoAir were to be damaged. On this trip Goose actually ripped a 3/4" tear in his pad, but a combo of the included Tear-Aid patch kit and a layer of Tenacious Tape repaired the tear without problem. The dual pad system was warm and comfy.

~We slept in a Mountain Hardwear Trango 3 tent. We have gotten better at setting it up quickly and we love the room in the tent as well as the vestibules. Condensation is an issue, even with the roof vent wide open, but we knew that and weren't too surprised to find ice crystals coating the entire interior or by the snow that fell inside our tent when we bumped into the walls. We will work on a better balance of venting from the doors while still trying to trap the heat.

~We used the MSR Dragonfly stove with white gas. We had some issues with ice blocking the fuel flow, but this stove can be repaired or completely rebuilt in the field so we were able to oil some seals and remove the ice from the lines which solved our issues. The repairs did take some time and we are considering carrying a 2nd stove (either alcohol or canister) as back up so we can still cook while doing repairs. I still think the Dragonfly is our best option for winter camping/melting snow.

~We carried several insulated water bottles and a thermos. We filled with boiling water prior to leaving and it remained boiling hot all night. By morning the water had cooled but was not yet cold let alone frozen. They are heavy, but well worth having access to water and warm drinks at all times.

~ I carried way too much clothing, I often do. While skiing I wore two pairs of mid-weight wool socks, two mid-weight base layer bottoms (Patagonia Capilene 4 & Smartwool Mid 250) with a Skhoop Skirt, a lightweight wool baselayer, midweight wool baselayer, Helly Hansen Down Vest, Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket,  scarf, wool hobo gloves & a knit beanie. After skiing for awhile I had to remove some layers. When sleeping I removed the skirt and added a 3rd pair of wool baselayer pants, a wool balaclava, a 3rd pair of wool socks, Feathered Friends Down Booties and a Mountain Hardwear Kelvinator Down Jacket. I could have removed some layers in bed, but mentally I was comfortable even when physically I was at times overly warm. In addition to what I wore I had a Patagonia fleece hoodie, fleece lined snow pants, down gloves, liner gloves, an Arc'teryx rain jacket and another pair of socks. Too many clothes, but I probably won't carry much less in the future as the extra clothing is a comfort thing for me to know I will always have options to be warm and dry. If I didn't have the ski pulk to carry my gear I'm sure I would think differently.

In addition to the main gear listed above we had a small first aid kit, a DeLorme inReach, a GoPro camera, two phones, external battery pack, three headlamps, ski boots/skis/poles, coffee cups & steepers, large pot with lid, two spoons, a .22 rifle, an ax and a book. With the large pulks for our gear we found ourselves tossing in a lot of "why not" items just prior to leaving. Much of our gear will take some re-examination for serious travel.

We returned from our 3/4 mile overnight trip hungry and tired as if we had been out for a long weekend. It was a tiring trip. A good first trip for learning, but we still have much more to learn. We will head out again soon, the cold has not scared me away yet! 


Camping in the Cold of Alaska Winter~ Introduction

It's early November and everything is frozen. Snow blankets the rolling hills and weighs down the spruce branches, bending the tree tops like drooping ice cream cones. Ice crystals sparkle on every surface, coating leaf barren branches with fuzzy looking formations that twinkle with the slightest light. The large expanse of the lake has become a solid, vast, open surface which reveals any slight movement of animals exploring the exposed terrain.

A brief walk from our cabin to the main lodge freezes the moisture around my nostrils, grips at my lungs and creates a dull frozen ache in my fingers if I have forgotten to wear gloves. The thermometer reads -17°F at 10am and warms to 2°F before quickly returning to negative numbers as low as -25°F at night. We have been waiting for this type of weather so we can go tent camping.

Last spring we took a few overnight trips in the snow, but we did not experience the arctic temperatures of the dark winter months. This is a new type of cold. A deep cold that we must respect at all moments while in the woods. A killing cold that took the life of a young man just several days ago less than a mile from our cabin. This is the cold that we have been anticipating with respect and excitement, a cold that will humble us and push us into an even deeper understanding of what it takes to survive in this powerful nature that we play with.

Before we venture deep into the woods we need to test this cold and test our gear to begin our learning process. We may know a lot about camping and backcountry travel, but in these temperatures we know very little. I am nervous and excited to learn over these next few months. We will begin this learning process slow and smart. This week our first overnight trip will be only a few hundred yards from our cabin. An opportunity to try out our four season tent, our -40°F sleeping bags, our dual sleeping pad system, our insulated water bottles and our layers of clothing that we hope will keep us warm.

Tonight or tomorrow we will venture into our "backyard" for our first test trip. As we learn we will push ourselves further from home and deeper into the cold. I will continue to write about these adventures over the next months and share this learning process as we go. Think warm thoughts for us!


Opening the Door to Alaska Winter Adventures

We have been living in remote Alaska all winter; dreaming, planning, envisioning the possibilities that winter outdoor adventures might have in store for us. For the past several months our ears have been pressed against the closed door, a winter play ground on the other side. We have been knocking on that closed door, rattling the handle, twisting on that door knob, waiting until we had the right winter gear and conditions so we could take that next step. This week we were finally able to swing the door to winter travel wide open and take our first steps through. Our overnight trip might have only been our first steps, but we are thrilled with our initial greeting into a whole new season in the Alaska outdoors that just became our play ground. We took our first few steps through that door and now we are standing at the entrance, our mouths open in wonder and awe as we soak in the possibilities of the new winter world that just opened up in front of us.

We moved to a remote Alaska lodge this past February and began exploring our new surroundings as we learned to travel across the snow on cross country skis. Our first excursions were frustrating and slow as we learned to balance and glide on these narrow planks, but we also found humor and fun in the learning as we stumbled our way across the frozen lakes and tree lined paths of our white back yard. Walking seemed like a quicker option than the awkward skis, but we pushed on and continued to learn as we took short day trips whenever possible. Finally, after receiving our four season sleeping pads and after temperatures leveled out above 0* F to what we thought our three season tent and down sleeping bags could handle, we were finally able to stuff our gear into our back packs and slide across the snow covered paths into the woods for our first Alaska winter over night trip. 

We started our adventure mid-day after a hearty breakfast at the lodge. We began our journey by following a network of well traveled paths which were packed down from previous snow machines and easy for us to follow. The path led us through narrow sections of densely forested spruce trees, our views occasionally extended as we passed open areas of frozen lakes and sparsely vegetated meadows. After about ten miles we reached an intersection where we split from the main trail and began to wind our way through the remnants of a twisted, bumpy path that had not been traveled since the recent snow falls. We stopped to identify animal tracks in the snow as we passed and we were thrilled to see that only four legged critters seemed to have been in the area for many weeks prior. When our narrow tree lined path opened up at a low lying meadow we cut into the powder and made our way towards the nearby ridge line. When we reached the crest of the ridge we could see the open snow of a lake below and decided to carve our way down the other side of the hill towards the lake. When we reached the shoreline we saw evidence of a beaver dam and beaver activity, but it appeared we were the only other mammals to  have been in the vicinity for most of the winter. It was the perfect place to camp.

We took our time finding the ideal place to set our home for night and finally settled on a flat area at the edge of the frozen waters somewhat sheltered from the icy winds that were beginning to make the trees around us bend and dance in the sky. After setting up our tent and bed we lounged around our "front porch" area with a small bottle of tequila and a lime to celebrate our days journey. Once we were fully relaxed from our lounging and drinking we made our way to the opposite side of the small lake to cook and eat our dinner. We melted snow to fill our water bottles and steeped fresh spruce needles in boiling water to make a citrus flavored tea. The dark and cold of the night had fully settled in by the time that we made our way back to our tent and the warmth of our down sleeping bags. 

The following morning, after a night that was much warmer than I had anticipated, I crawled out of our tent as Goose continued to sleep. Shilo and I played fetch by the morning light and once I had boiled a pot of melted snow I wrapped my hands around a hot cup of coffee that I sipped quietly while soaking in the beauty of our small silent lake. The birds and wildlife began to scurry around as the warmth of the morning sun occasionally brightened our surroundings when it peaked out from behind the thick blanket of clouds that covered most of the sky. I brewed another pot of coffee on our small stove when Goose finally began to stir inside our tent and while he greeted the day from the warmth of our down bags I wandered into the nearby spruce forest to collect the amber colored pitch that oozed and dripped from many of the solid trunks. I was excited for the opportunity to spend more silent time alone in the woods while harvesting one of the many offerings from nature that I have recently been learning to use for medicinal and edible purposes. I returned to our tent in the early afternoon and together we broke camp, snapped on our skis and began to follow our tracks back towards our home about twelve or fifteen miles away.

Most of our return trip was a quiet one, the sound of our skis crunching and sliding across the heavy snow the only sound in the silent forest. We fell into a meditative rhythm of sliding our legs in long strides as we pushed and pulled with opposite arms. We enjoyed the ache in our muscles from the previous day as we made our way back up the slopes and mountain sides that had originally led us to our private little lake. We stopped several times finding small dry patches of grass where we could sit and Shilo could curl up for a quick nap. Our silence was eventually overcome by conversations about how much we were enjoying the time that we were spending in these winter woods, and to how excited we were to do trips like this every weekend. We also dreamily talked about what the following winter had in store for us once we completed our full collection of severe cold weather winter gear.

This was the first step into our Alaska winter adventure world. A new door has just been swung wide open in front of us we can not wait to explore this new world much, much more!