Things I’ve learned about winter in Alaska.

Glacier wall, Kennecott Glacier, Wrangell St. Elias National Park, Alaska.

Hey Folks,

Well, I’m in still on my trip here to Wrangell St. Elias National Park. This is really my first time taking a solo venture into the park in the winter time, and I’ve learned a lot. So far, the things I’ve learned include:

* If your van breaks down on the McCarthy Rd, it helps a lot to have a satellite phone with you.
* If your van breaks down on the middle of an ice-covered bridge, and you have to push it across the bridge, it really helps to have a set of crampons with you.
* It costs an awful lot of money to have your van towed to Glennallen.
* A fuel pump going bad is very expensive.
* On your photo trip, you will see the most impressive sunrise of your life whilst you sit at the mechanics repair place.
* When you walk through the forest in Alaska in the winter, sometimes what looks good to walk on is not.
* Having extra socks with you is good.
* Eggs in a cooler will freeze.
* Frozen eggs are hard to shell.
* When you sit and wait for the light, sit and wait. Do not try to climb to the highest point on the glacier to fill inn your time.
* When you pull a calf muscle and you’re on a glacier, it’s a very long, slow clamber back to camp.
* Always bring a flashlight with you when hiking in Alaska in the winter, just in case you get injured and have to hike back to camp in the dark.
* When you really don’t want your lenses to fog up, your lenses will fog up.
* It’s cold here.
* There’s a reason why everyone here has a snow machine.
* Yellow snow is not lemon flavored.
* Your tongue can actually stick to the hood of your van.
* Bunnies in Alaska do not wear bunny boots.
* The light on the mountains here in the winter is sublime.
* Boots rated to “MInus 65˚ F might not keep your toes warm at minus 5˚ F.
* There is nobody in McCarthy in the winter.
* Don’t try to take a 4 hour exposure with a camera whose battery power, at full charge, will only keep the shutter open 2 hrs at best.
* When every person you actually see in the area is checking their trap line, there’s a good chance your wildlife photography trip might not be very successful.
* Sitting in a blind at minus 5˚ F is less fun than sitting on a couch watching the Daily Show.
* It gets much darker here in the winter.
* No matter what time you wake up, it’s REALLY hard to get out of a warm sleeping bag when the temperature is minus 12˚F.
* Regardless of what time you crawl out of your sleeping bag, you’ll miss the dawn, and the alpenglow on the mountains is just fading.
* The creeks and rivers here may run all year long, but the water you want to use for cooking dinner will be frozen.
* It’s really cold up here.
* It’s beautiful here.
* When you park your van for the night, park it facing OUT onto the road, not in, away from the road. If you get a dumping of snow overnight, it will be easier to back on to the road.
* It can easily snow over a foot during the nighttime.
* Unlike rain, snow is stealthy, and you won’t hear it, so you won’t actually know you’re being snowed in until, lo and behold, you’re snowed in.
* Just because you had your van fixed on friday doesn’t mean it’s “fixed”. It can break down again the following wednesday.
* If the PCM board on your van goes bad, your van won’t run.
* It can take over a week to get a part for your van to Glennallen.
* You can see all of what Glennallen has to see in much less than a week.
* While your vehicle is not working, the weather will be incredible, the light squelching, and your internet access very bad.
* None of this will happen, of course, when your parents are around. Their vacation will run smoothly, hassle free.
* Cell phones don’t power up when the temperature drops down too cold.
* If there’s a national holiday on the coming thursday, that will be the day the part for your van is predicted to arrive.
* Having an iPod with 40 gig of great music and comedy on it can go a long way to helping maintain your sanity when you’re stuck in Glennallen.
* Even Chris Rock, Steve Earle, Peter Gabriel, Miles Davis and Stevie Ray Vaughan on your iPod can only go so far to helping maintain your sanity if you’re stuck in Glennallen.
* It’s really cold up here.
* What internet?



9 thoughts on “Things I’ve learned about winter in Alaska.

  1. Keba

    Keba would like you to know that 1) he is very happy that you have hearth again and 2) no yellow snow is not lemon but it does bring news of various sorts to the discerning snout and 3) watch out for the rabbid wolf pack currently in the news…..

  2. Mark

    Like Guy said, I have a feeling in a couple months you will publish another list – starting with “Remember that last list – it ain’t nothin now!!”

  3. Ron Niebrugge

    Hey Carl,

    I was wondering how your trip was going. O man, that is tough! Sorry to hear about the vehicle troubles. I can’t believe you drove to McCarthy this time of year. Good thing you didn’t get snowed in!

    Guy and Mark are right – come March, these same temperatures are going to almost feel warm.

    I was thinking of you when I saw a great sunrise over the Wrangells on the Gulkana webcam. I didn’t think you would be in the shop. Hang in there man!


  4. Janine Niebrugge

    Hey Carl,

    Forget all the other stuff you wrote and just remember “It’s Beautiful Here!” And everyone is correct, come February you will begin to understand why we leave 🙂 Welcome to Alaska!

    Stay warm,


  5. Pete

    Whoa Carl … that van breaking down sucks. But hey, how many people can say they’ve spent a week in Glenallan during the late fall (that’s right Dude, late fall at best … winter is still a month away!). You should’ve played some 80s to pass the time … stuff like Madonna & Paula Abdul. 🙂

  6. Carl Donohue

    Hey Folks,

    Thanks for all the support.

    Contrary to all your collective wisdom (which I very much appreciate), it IS indeed winter here. If I’m cold, and there’s snow around, it’s winter. This is my blog, afterall, so I make the rules.

    I do agree, the weather can be worse. Folks here are all telling me last year at this time here in Glennallen, it was 40 below. Today it’s 37deg. That’s nearly 80 degrees warmer. Woo hoo!

    Still waiting for a PCM board for my van. I have turkey dinners offered to me in Anchorage on thursday, IF I can get there. Looks like I’ll be putting my hiking boots back on again, one more time.

    What’s funny, as I was saying to a friend of mine on the phone last week, is that it’s all about incidentals. If my van hadn’t gone crazy, I’d be saying “man, I had the BEST trip”. As it is, that’s not what I’m saying. It’s still pretty cool though, just frustrating.

    For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Kuskalana Bridge (i.e., most people), it’s this crazy single lane bridge over this huge gorge in the Wrangells, along the road to McCarthy. My van died smack on the middle of the bridge. I mustered myself, crampons and all, and pushed the van across to the far end of the bridge. Had I known it would lead to this mess, I’m thinking I’d have done better simply to push the darn thing over the edge instead. The snow would cover it up, and no one would ever know.

    Pete, there shall be NO Paula Abdul on my iPod. Not now, not never.



  7. MaryBeth Lunsford

    I hate the car troubles. Of course, it always happens at the worst times. But we’re all rooting for you!!! P.S. That bridge sounded scary as hell!! Glad you’re o.k.

  8. Carl Donohue

    Hey MaryBeth,


    the bridge isn’t too scary, it’s got a nice little fence along it, so there’s not much danger or anything. It’s an awesome bridge though, very cool. Here’s a picture of it:

    Kuskalana Bridge

    I’ll write an updated post soon.



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