Skiing Across Alaska: The Cracking Ice

Apr 1, 2011
Outside Magazine

To raise awareness about first responders diagnosed with PTSD, guest blogger Michael Ferrara plans to ski 900 miles across Alaska, south to north, from the Pacific Ocean to the Arctic Ocean, with his dog Lhotse trotting beside him. To learn more about Ferrara's quest, read The Man Who Saw Too Much and check out his web site, You can read his first post here.

I just pulled into Talkeetna. Kind of a tough trip the first few days. The first day out went well. The Susitna river was frozen hard and we made good distance.

The next morning the stove didn't work and neither did our fire starter. It's not just hot food and coffee that matter most, but rather the ability to melt snow so we can have water. It takes 10 cups of snow to make one cup of water. You can't eat enough snow to stay hydrated. The sled weighs 60 pounds and the pack weights 40, so six hours of travel is a good work out.

The second day the river started to open up. It was tense and slow going. Sections, especially at each turn, would be completely exposed. There would be ice covered by four or five inches of water. As you would cross over it, you could feel it flex and crack under your feet. The willows on the bank were too thick to traverse through. The worry is that if we fall in we have no way to warm up or dry out. Bad, Bad, Bad, very cheechako.

Over night we got 8-10 inches of new snow. Breaking trail slowed us down but the snow also hid some of the weak spots in the ice. After about three hours of that we found a side stream that I thought headed toward the highway. It did. So we climbed up the bank and followed the highway. In Alaska, snow machine is a regular form of travel. So next to the highway is a snow highway. At about 6:30 we made camp by the roadside.

We woke about 7 a.m. to find the temperature was 0, so we discussed it and decided to stay in bed till the sun came up. It didn't.

It was cold. Everything was frozen incuding my boots. By this time we were pretty dehydrated. As we were packing up camp, a railroad agent stopped. Someone had seen us and thought we looked cold. He offered a ride to a truck stop a couple miles up the road. We took it.

My gosh that was the best coca cola I ever drank. Lhotse found the water very pleasing. We stayed there until my feet were warm and headed to Talkeetna, 14 miles away. We pulled in about 4:30 and got a room at the Roadhouse. There was a bath down the hall, but it was dog friendly and warm and had all the water you could drink. So our gear is drying out, Lhotse has eaten and drank his fill, and I shall do the same. Hot food sounds good right now.

We'll see what tomorrow feels like. It might be an unplaned rest day. My fitness is an issue. I can only pull that sled about 5-6 hours a day. Hopefully after a rest, hydration and food I'll get stronger.

But I'm feeling really strong and very contented right now.

--Michael Ferrara


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