Skiing Across Alaska: Rest and Regroup
Receive $50 off an eligible $100 purchase at the Outside Shop, where you’ll find a selection of brand-name products curated by our gear editors, when you sign up for Outside+ today.
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, frsos.com.
If you haven't been up here it's amazing how quickly Alaska can illuminate your place in the dominion of nature. It doesn't take long to realize you are no longer master of your domain and just part of the food chain.
After a hearty breakfast of egg and ham sandwich's, mine with ketchup, and steaming cups of strong black coffee we were off. The day was beautiful, clear skies and cool temperatures. We followed a snowmachine trail for a while then dropped down onto the Chilitna river. The river was solid in this area and snaked through beautiful wilderness. Although we saw no wildlife sign was everywhere. The snowpack was a bit rotten which caused for some unexpected stops when we crossed the landfall. I got very adept at dropping my jpack, getting back on my feet, slinging my pack again, and continuing to continue.
Eventually we climbed out of the riverbed, across a small lake and onto a power line cut. The trail was well packed but the rolling hills added a challenge. But no one snowplows like a ski patroller. Off the trail the snow was punchy and rotten. Even on skis you could drop to your knees. Lhotse was as always a trooper, learning quickly where the good traveling was. About 5 p.m. we found a spot that had been used by the snowmachines to turn around. We picked a spot that was well packed and firm. You almost needed to flag the area around for rotten spots.
We settled in, ate, and went to sleep under clear skies. About 4 a.m. I heard the sound of snow on the tent. When we woke it was snowing about an inch an hour. We had a team meeting and decided to wait to see what the weather did. This had not been predicted. It never slowed down. By evening I had to shovel out the tent. The temperature stayed around 30 making everything wet. The heat from our bodies caused the snow under the tent to finally collapse. The problem with this was any water in the tent drained onto us and the gear.
Friday morning we arose to continued snow. There had now been about 3 feet of snow on the ground. But time to get moving if just to stay warm. And breaking trail through the snow with the sled did warm me up quickly. Every now and then the sled would come to an abrupt stop. This would be Lhotse in back becoming impatient with the pace and stepping on the sled.
We made out way to the highway. At first this made for good travel along the shoulder. Until the highway crew came by that is. With the shoulder now clear of snow and the adjacent snow too deep and punchy for travel, we came to a halt. The choice now was set up camp with the wet gear or retreat to back. Ahead was 80 miles to the next shelter. Back was 20 to where we started.
Well, tucking our tail between our collective legs we chose to retreat and regroup. Actually Lhotse curled up in a ball and shivered while I hitchhiked. There must have been something about us that offended the Alaskans. We stood there for two hours trying to get a ride, concentrating on pickup trucks. You'd think that with all those giant pickups and only one person someone would stop, but no luck. Lhotse would occasionally look up at me. I could see the look of “Mike, are you going to get us outta this?”
Well I am, if nothing else, creative. My phone was almost dead but I had a signal. I called burrough communications and told them we were broken down and needed a tow truck. Which was true, we just didn't have a car. Well about a half an hour later up pulls a flatbed from Jim's Towing. We tell him the story, and Jim's great. He tells us no charge. I offer to buy gas, beer, pizza, but he will have no part. He figures it will come back to him at some point. Seems every time I get pissed at the Alaskans—like for not picking us up—I meet someone face to face and they're kind, helpful folks.
Stretched out gear to dry and spent the night. Woke this morning and Lhotse was limping from his left shoulder again, and I could barely walk on my right foot. Pain in my metatarsals. So rest, dry, regroup. Tomorrow we head back into the park. If all goes well we'll get through in 8 days. There is no services and I think we can count out getting a ride.
But this is why they call it adventure. Otherwise it would be called a cruise, which is also known as virally caused hemorrhagic gastroenteritis.
Oh, the weather cleared and we're feelin' groovy. Can't wait to get back at it.
The Boyz from the hood