We’ve been having a cold year so far. The average temperature during the month of January was -16.6 degrees: the coldest since record keeping began over 100 years ago. It hit -40 once, and -30 on 17 separate days. I didn’t get a chance to think about the cold until just recently, I was busy for most of the early part of the month covering the arrival of the Russian tanker Renda and U.S. Coast Guard Icebreaker Healy. The two vessels broke through 400 miles of ice to deliver a load of fuel.
Last weekend, however, I had a chance to get out and spend time on cross county skis for a while. I went with a friend to the Snake River Valley, about 6 miles northwest of town. The road in that direction goes 70 miles to the community of Teller, but it is closed beyond the river for most of the year due to heavy snowfall.
January was a very dry month with just 3 inches of snow, so the tundra was largely hard packed and a bit icy. We skied a few miles up the west side of the valley to a pass. One benefit of snow cover is the increased ability to spot wildlife. I saw a herd of 10-15 musk oxen on Anvil Mountain on the way out. I watched a fox bounding across the tundra from a half mile away.
You get some incredible vistas with the clear, cold air (-26) and wide expanses of the tundra and Bering Sea. You can literally see 50 or more miles in a few directions. The views are great, but they don’t make your fingers any warmer, so we got moving in short order. The benefit to climbing at the start is that we were able to enjoy an easy ride down as the light ran out.