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Monthly Archives: April 2011

Early spring in Alaska is defined more by light than by temperature—by mid-March, the daylight is approaching 12 hours—long enough to get outside and do something—while the temperatures remain cold enough for the snow and ice to remain solid.  A daytime temperature of +20 with a low at night of -20 is perfect.   When my wife and I first came to Alaska more than 20 years ago, working for a wildlife refuge in northwest Alaska, spring was the time to get a lot of work done—it was easy to move supplies (lumber and fuel, mostly) across the roadless tundra to our field station, and get ready for the summer.   And after the supplies were in place, we would sometimes have time for a trip to the hot springs—refuge property—a trip of about 150 miles (each way) from our camp ( if you followed the trails between villages) or 90 miles cross country (we were only brave enough to do this our last spring).    The spring travel season ends (tragically) when the temperatures rise to the point the snow melts and the streams flood.

Since moving to Fairbanks, it’s been harder to spend that much time in the country—jobs and kids and the comfort of cars all conspire to keep one close to home—but for years, my wife and her sister have typically insisted on at least a short spring camping trip, just to keep in touch with the country here—a pattern broken in the last few years by health issues—a bad hip for my wife, and back injuries sustained in a car accident by her sister.  But my wife had a hip resurfacing surgery last May that has eliminated her pain, so we decided to try spring camping this year.

It took more time than we expected to dig out the snow-machines and trailer, and to find the necessary boots, gloves, hats, sleeping bags, sleeping pads and tents, but finally we got off.  We headed to a place we’ve gone camping several times before, a few hours drive out of town, where we parked the truck and trailer and set off along a well used trail.  We set up camp at a spot we’d used before (in the summer)—a spot with a long view to the mountains and glaciers to the north.  It was after sunset by the time we arrived, so we set up our tent as quickly as possible, started the stove, and settled in for the night.

It was full moon, and when I left the tent to relieve my aging bladder, the landscape was bright—moon, stars, snow, mountains—and stillness.  No sounds of motors, no lights from cars or planes.   The chill of the air at -20 forced me back to the tent quickly.

Spring Camping

In the morning, the air was cold, and everything in our camp was covered with a thick layer of frost.  The air was still, and the silence of the land remained—so quiet that (if you stay sill long enough) it is possible to hear the sound of blood moving in your own ears.  I sat facing the sun, happy to be alive, knowing this space exists, intact, in its stillness.   The only animal I saw or heard was a single raven, the sound of his wings moving through the air briefly breaking the silence.

In the afternoon, we took a short excursion on the snow machines, letting Ben drive one of the machines by himself for the first time.  He’s 14, taller than his mom, young and strong—and we are coming to realize that while we can do this, but hopefully another generation will be willing to continue the traditions—and hopefully the place will retain its stillness.