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Greetings from Alaska

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  • Greetings from Alaska

    Hi All,

    I thought I would join this forum to share and gain more knowledge of this wonderful joy in life that is winter camping. Admittedly, I do not do as much of it as I darn well should, but with a growing family and soon to have 3 kids under 6, needless to say I have a bit more time before I can really start getting after it with my homegrown expedition team. I've called Alaska my home for the last 13 years, having lived mostly in Southcentral, but also spending several years in the state's Interior, living out in remote villages along the Yukon River. I had the privilege of being an Iditarod volunteer in 2014, but the real treat was in 2015 when I skied about 100 miles of that year's trail, from Nenana to Manley Hot Springs. Alaska's winter exploits are diverse, and that makes all the camping styles such as well. Prior to Alaska, I was born and raised in Upstate NY, and my teeth were cut cold camping in lean-to shelters up in the Adirondaks, where I climbed all 46 of their 4,000'ers in less than 2 years. Snowshoes and crampons were my main thing there...but it wasn't until I moved North that I finally strapped two planks to my feet. Telemark was a dream to learn, and it's a bit of a shame that technology for AT bindings advanced so rapidly that I abandoned Tele for AT in my backcountry setup. My wilderness skills progressed to the point where I started participating in race events, namely the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Ski Classic. I learned then that the weight of your ski touring setup is paramount to just about anything you're carrying on your back, even though some guys would ski with a pulk. As a result, my "Nordic Tech" setup is a bit unorthodox: Dynafit rando race boots & toe binding (no heel), skinny Madschus Voss skis @ 190cm to offer the option for both skate and classic, and DIY dual-grip ski poles with upgraded powder basket and super sharp carbide tip, again to facilitate all scenarios, on-trail or off, skate or classic, even the option to double-pole across/along river ice. I still use this setup almost exclusively, even when I'm at my local trail system, because it is so versatile. Going ultralight often generates the assumption that the person is cold camping. I tried to buck that trend with a Seek Outside setup that provided a hot tenting package at right around 5 pounds. Combined with a custom down quilt-bag rated to -40, I was ready to take on the worst conditions Alaska has to offer in terms of cold.

    Then I got married...

    Six years and nearly 3 children later, my winter pursuits have been focused less on myself and more on them, specifically towards making them comfortable (I have dreadful memories of winter outings as a kid with improper footwear and nearly frostbitten feet), but we still have our own adventures. They get to either ride in the pulk, or shuffle along in their glacier paws. With more time to reflect on the past, I've had great opportunities to plan for the future, and for me in the realm of winter camping, I am looking to tradition. Wool and canvas now make up the majority of my clothing and shelter. Knowledge passed down from Mors Kochanski led me to start building super shelters and long fires. Lure of the North was my gateway drug to sewing my own gear that is better than anything you can find on the market for its purpose. So I guess you could say I'm spending less time on trips to increase that experience, but I am making up for it with much more time banking knowledge and skills to apply on future trips. I've also networked "locally" (Alaska is both a big and small state, if you know what I mean) in order to connect with and support one of Alaska's finest craftsman, who is one of the few remaining masters of the art of building Alaskan style snowshoes.

    So that's my truncated story. I hope to meet some great people on this forum who share in the passion of the cold.

  • #2
    Welcome from beautiful Alaska! Spent some time there in 2020 volunteering with the Iditarod and have dreamed every day since of going back. My solo adventures took a back seat when my kids were little, too. Do cherish it, as it appears you are. Mine are 14 and 16 now, and I miss pulling them up trails in the pulk bundled in blankets, waiting for hot chocolate at the end. I'm just now to the point where winter trips are more frequent for me, and this is the place I've gained much of my understanding and confidence. Great place to hang around, so welcome! Would also love to see your snowshoes and hear the story behind them.


    • AK Venture Bear
      AK Venture Bear commented
      Editing a comment
      Did you hop along the trail, or were you stationed at one checkpoint most of the time? I was in Nulato for 2014. I'm not sure yet how to share photos on this forum, but as you may know the Alaskan style snowshoes are long (mine are 5') and no more than 12" wide, with an upturned toe. The guy who still makes them lives in Ruby. Another guy also made them in Huslia, but I'm unsure if he's still with us. Both are in their 70s, and the prospects for the tradition being carried on are sadly not great. There might be a handful of younger guys apprenticing, but I don't as of yet know who they are or their level of craftsmanship. Anyway, the story was I knew about the guy in Ruby (George Albert) for many years, but was no longer interested in snowshoeing at the time. It's only recently, really after I sewed myself a pair of winter moccasins, that I knew I had to have an authentic handmade pair of traditional snowshoes to go with them. So I found out George's address, wrote him a letter, then one day this fall my phone rang. We talked for a bit, exchanged a few stories (Nulato is downriver from Ruby so there's several people we both know) and he informed me that he had a finished pair of 5-footers that I could buy. He operates very old-fashioned: you send him a postal money order, he mails you the 'shoes. George also makes racing snowshoes, but I'm not sure how much different they are from the plain old "walkers" that I have...probably lighter, maybe a thinner frame? Anyway, when they arrived it was amazing to see how much detail was obviously poured into them. The big tell is the weave pattern at the toe and tail: small and tight, not large and coarse like you see from a commercially manufactured "traditional" shoe. He uses a very thin (maybe 1mm?) braided cord for the toe/tail weave, and babiche underfoot. The entire shoe is then varnished. For as large as they are, they're extremely light. I use lamp wick for bindings. They are an absolute joy to walk in, even though my wife thinks they should be mounted on the living room wall.

  • #3
    Hello from downstate NY! App a year ago my buddy and I did our yearly Heart Lake car camping trip. Last year we used his big canvas tent with his kni-co stove. Whoo weee! temps were -20F that night. Next day we hiked over to Avalanche lake and the wind was kicking. Fast forward the drive back to Long Island became boring as the temps rose and the cement jungle surrounded us. But being now 62 yo I'm glad I got involved in hiking and camping around 2005. I found myself with the Catskill 3500 club and then joined VFTT. What a blast I had in the ADK, White Mountains, Vermont and Maine. Having 3 children also my window of outdoors was from late November - March, then sports would start. But somehow my knees were't happy. Fast forward I got involved in paddling but continued to follow my love of winter and thus some short sled trips with gear in Western ADk, near the Oswagotchie River.
    Now I sit here having another total knee replacement (recalled) 2 weeks ago upset because of losing another winter. Not to sure how much more I have but I want to go until the "Fat Lady Sings!"
    Enough of me, enjoy family, friends and the great outdoors!
    I'm online today because I'm researching new areas and groups to join, looks like Denver Colorado will be called home when I retire from teaching 2024 from the NYC system. My students loved videos of the winter wonderland. Also picked up a travel trailer and Alaska is definitely on the radar next 3 years.