Winter Adventure Time
Recently, a veteran mountaineer offered to take me to the glorious White Mountains of Alaska's interior to go on a fat-tire bike ride. I jumped at the opportunity. We met in the morning and game-planned the adventure. Although the initial plan had been to fat bike, the recent snowfall made it seem a little more daunting than we wanted. The plan was that we would be snowshoeing Wickersham Dome that day. If the conditions were right, we would hike to the summit and if the trail looked okay, we’d continue on the rest of the 5 mile Ski Loop Trail. If the path was easy, we’d hike, and if the snow was deep, we’d snowshoe.
Getting the Right Gear
It was about 5 degrees Fahrenheit in town but it can be colder or warmer in the mountains depending on conditions. After a solid breakfast, I got all my gear together: heavy-duty socks, winter boots, thermal long johns, snow pants, teeshirt, longsleeved shirt, hooded sweatshirt, wind/waterproof coat, wool-lined hat, scarf, mittens and snowshoes. My friend had the same basic pieces, but also had goggles and a balaclava, both of which I will acquire before my next mountain trek. With Alaskan temperatures and unexpected winds in the mountains, I like to err on the side of too many warm clothes and extras in the car.
Into the White Mountains
We set off on a sunny Sunday in early November to check this beautiful part of Alaska. Just past noon, we arrived at the clear, sunny parking lot. The sun was up and I knew were hitting the most glorious light of the day, but it would be growing dark as we headed back to the car. At 10 degrees above zero, the day couldn’t have been more perfect for snowshoeing Wickersham Dome. The area recently had a heavy snowfall and high winds and we were ready.
Over The Summit
The trail was very well marked and gently sloped up to the summit of Wickersham Dome. I have hiked this trail many times in the summer, but it is very different in the winter. After a few minutes, we decided the snow was deep enough to use the snowshoes. I was pretty nervous.
My grandfather had big, traditional snowshoes he let me use made of wood and sinew and it always felt like swimming in the snow with enormous fins on my feet. It didn’t have memories of snowshoeing being fun or easy, but I was pleasantly surprised. After adjusting the straps for a perfect fit over my winter boots, I was amazed at how easy it was to navigate the trail. It was much easier to snowshoe than to walk in the conditions. The aluminum modern snowshoes made it a breeze to walk across the crusty snow and we were at the summit of the dome in no time!
After taking a few minutes to enjoy the view and take some photos, we continued over the ridge and down the back of the dome, following the orange tape, the wooden triangle structures and the dog pee spots to track the path under the thick layer of snow. We were feeling great, the sun was up, and the wind wasn’t too bad so we powered on to finish the trail.
The middle section of the triangle was a straight shot through the deepest snow. We had to break the trail, but with the alpenglow glimmering all around us and the birds saying hello, it wasn’t a slog at all. After about a mile, we connected to the main trail and were once again on a walkable path. We took off our snowshoes and headed the rest of the two miles toward the car.
This portion of the trail is also used by snow machines and backcountry travelers. We encountered several groups heading home after weekends in the Bureau of Land Management Cabins that are available for reservation. Sharing the path meant clearing the trail when we heard the snow machines approaching.
We made it back and were soon in a warm car cruising back to town. Another adventurer in the parking lot wasn’t as lucky and was jumpstarting the truck just trying to make it home. Remember that cars can freeze while you are adventuring, so make sure you have an Alaskan tough vehicle.
The trail was totally free and open to the public. Although I borrowed snowshoes from a friend, you can rent them from the Outdoor Center at UAF for $20 for a day. This is a wonderful time for snowshoeing Wickersham Dome in Alaska! Want to really warm your bones after a chilly outdoor adventure? How about a soak in the Chena hot springs!