When it's spring time in Alaska...

Yellowknife

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There have been a few too many photos posted recently that show actual exposed earth. It’s making me jealous, so I’m throwing up a few pictures from this week in Alaska. Dirt is something we can only wish for at this point.

My job this week was to survey and flag a potential winter trail north of Fairbanks. Following a GPS line put on a map back in the office. Normal stuff. I had scheduled the work for April expecting long sunny days and daytime highs near or above freezing. The snow usually starts settling out this time of year also, making for pretty decent snowshoeing. At least that was the theory….

Rendezvoused with the helicopter at noon on Sunday, April 7 and the truck thermometer was reading a high for the day of +1 F. What the heck, this isn’t April as advertised! Oh well. Maybe it will warm up tomorrow.



Second bit of bad news was with the helicopter sat us down 25 miles from the truck. Looks like the snow hasn’t started to settle yet and this job is going to require some work…



Well, nothing to it but buckle on the snowshoes and start following the GPS line. The terrain the first day was a mix of wide open swamps with deep snow and dense black spruce.



Progress was slow and slower as my partner and I took turns breaking trail. Snow depth was waist deep, and even with our big trail breaking shoes we were sinking to our knees in the open areas. After peaking at +1 F, the temp fell for the rest of the day.



When we pitched camp the first evening, we had made a total of 2 miles progress. We were testing some new gear on this trip, and I had cut a stove jack into a SL-5 in anticipation of needing to dry gear out from working in wet snow all day. As it turned out, we needed the wood stove not so much to dry gear as to keep from freezing!



Got up to relieve myself at 3:00 am and discovered that the temp had dropped below -20F. Ahh…. spring time in Alaska.
 
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Yellowknife

Yellowknife

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April 8

The next day was below zero all day and the going was mostly a mix of Class III alders and/or dense black spruce. Covered a total of three line miles, but likely traveled close to double that on the ground snaking through brush.



April 9

It finally warmed up overnight as a front blew in, and we woke up to above zero temps! That was awesome… but what was not awesome was the snow coming down.

We were now traveling on open swamps and old burns and the snow was DEEP (and getting deeper by the hour). The lead trail breaker was now dropping his pack to take a turn breaking trail 200-300 yds at a time. Once the trail breaker had reached the point of muscle screaming exhaustion, the other guy would take over and work on breaking the next section while the first guy would go back for his pack. This doubled the distance we were traveling, but made slow forward motion possible.



The light was so flat that going across open swamps was a mind bending experience with no frame of reference other than the shoreline.

On another project, in another place we might have said to heck with it and bailed until another day. But with the truck still 20 miles way, and the helicopter safely in its hanger even further way than that, there was nothing to do but keep pushing forward following the line. When we set up camp that night we had covered 2.6 line miles, with 5 miles of actual snowshoeing. Much of our gear was soaked, and we spent hours feeding the little cylinder stove to dry things out.
 
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Yellowknife

Yellowknife

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April 10

Snow had finally quit around midnight, with 4” of accumulation. The temp instantly dropped below zero again and we heard the wind pick up. Great… lovely….
Nevertheless, I was happy to see the sun again.



Day 4 was another day of trudging through old swamps and burns, only now with an additional 4” of snow it was up to our navels. Our big snowshoes were only barely helping as we sunk to our thighs with every step. Progress was measured in feet per hour and each “turn” at breaking trail only netted another 100 yds before our muscles would give out and we would turn around to fetch our packs



I’ve packed a few moose in my time, worked all nighters commercial salmon fishing on the Alaska Peninsula, and even packed a ram out of the Alaska Range solo, but this week was starting to rank up there as one of the more difficult pure physical grinds I have ever done. The wicked sub-zero windchill wasn’t making it any easier, as trying to regulate between frostbite and overheating was a constant challenge. With an all day push we made the last 2 miles, and seeing the helicopter set down to pick us up was a lovely thing to behold.



So enjoy your spring you guys down south. Ours will get here…. eventually… I hope…

Yk
 

Darren Best

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Damn that ranks pretty high on the suck-o-meter. :(

You need some bigger snow shoes.

I've done some snowshoeing and even on packed snow it can get tedious real fast.
 
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Yellowknife

Yellowknife

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You need some bigger snow shoes.

We were running 12x42's and 10x36's. No sissy 8x25's for us :) It's actually really hard to find bigger than that without going to wood/rawhide.

All good fun, but I can't even begin to tell you how happy I'm going to be to see the snow start melting. Come on spring!

Yk
 

Darren Best

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12x42's are pretty decent size.

You don't like wood/rawhide?

Why don't you guys use pulks?

That takes quite a bit of weight off the snowshoes.
 
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Yellowknife

Yellowknife

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12x42's are pretty decent size.

You don't like wood/rawhide?

Why don't you guys use pulks?

That takes quite a bit of weight off the snowshoes.

I do like wood/rawhide and have used them extensively, but getting good quality one's with enough upturn on the toe to break trail is getting tougher and tougher. Also, longer than 36" starts to inhibit movement through/over/under/across alders and we did plenty of that this trip.

For the open ground, big wooden shoes would have been the ticket, but this was a mixed bag. See the photo for April 8?

Pulks are awesome, but require reasonable snow depth and open enough terrain to make the corners. Neither of which we had on this trip.

Yk
 
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Yellowknife

Yellowknife

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Lessons learned this trip:

1. Don't trust April weather (actually already knew this, and we were more or less prepared for everything that came at us)

2. The 15 yr old MSR XGK II stove still melts snow like a champ. Love that thing.

3. SL-5's are marginal platforms for stove use

4. Ti-Goat stoves NEED spark arrestors if used with spruce. Going to be studying up on my tent patching methods...

5. A 12" cylinder stove will not bring a SL-5 above the freezing point if it's -20 outside.

6. Thermarest XLites are rated at +30 for a reason.

7. Stone Glacier Terminus pack worked great, but was maxed out for 5 day winter camping.

8. Primaloft is awesome. (still)

9. The wood stove concept is worthy for winter camping, but needs to be done right.

Yk
 

HellsCanyon

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Yep... that looks like hell! One of those things you probably look back on and say "Oh that sucked, but wasn't that bad! Glad its over... and no I don't want to do it again... but it wasn't bad..." lol

Mike
 

Jared Lampton

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Very cool post yellowknife. Really enjoyed the pictures and story. I love stories of arduous adventures like this! Glad you made it!
A buddy and I are planning a long wilderness through hike this summer across some gnarly country for four very long days. Maybe I'll post some pics.
 

JNDEER

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Great photo story.

How did the tested gear do? What new gear did you test?
 

littlebuf

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what exactly was the objective? I know it was find a trail but how does that relate to the work you do?
 

Shrek

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Yep , that sucked ! FYI it's 82 º f and partly cloudy here in Florida and have never seen ANY snow accumulation here. A few flakes in the air once every 10 years or so. No moose , caribou , dall sheep , or grizzlies here to hunt so you got that going for you. I would love to live in Alaska for about four months out of the year but the winter is WAY over the top !
 

aron

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Trudging through snow like that sucks ass... cool pics none the less and it doesn't seem like spring is showing up any faster here in ND.
 
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Yellowknife

Yellowknife

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Great photo story.

How did the tested gear do? What new gear did you test?

Gear testing included:

- SL-5 with stove jack. Not at it's best in this application. Small for stove use, drafty, and not really designed for four season use.



- Ti-Goat cylinder stove. Worked great, but burned the heck out of my tent.



- Sitka Dewpoint. No issues so far. Way improved over their previous Stormfront Lite.



- Sitka Kelvin Pants. Awesome. The Kelvin line is by far the warmest of the various primaloft gear I've used. Not the lightest, but it's got warmth in spades. Pulled them on every times we stopped.



- Stone Glacier Terminus. Worked as advertised, although maxed out volumewise at the start.



- Koflach Degre's. My partner used these and we thought they were better all around for snowshoeing than my trusty Schnee pack boots.









what exactly was the objective? I know it was find a trail but how does that relate to the work you do?

You don't see it but we were carrying light survey gear and hanging flagging for future construction.

Yk
 
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