Ok, so my last blog post kind of sucked (too much rambling text about what happened). So here’s the lowdown on what we learned from this trip (along with a couple more pictures I didn’t have room to fit in).
Skis: Maybe better skiers than us can handle skinny trail skis in hilly forests. We need all the help we can get. So going against the grain of our usual preference for the lightest stuff we can get away with, we’re planning to go with wider backcountry skis (metal edged) and stiff boots for this trip.
Skiing through the forest: Slower than we’d hoped. When you’re not only sinking into the snow, but also carrying it with you (in 6 inch layers on the bottoms of the skis), even five miles of forest is really really long. Luckily a lot of our winter travel will be over tundra. And it doesn’t really matter if the whole trip takes longer than 9 months… But on this shakedown, we were on a tighter schedule. So we bailed. We ended up relying on the “no spontaneous generation of snowmachines” principle (where a snowmachine comes from, there must ultimately be gasoline, humans, and roads), and hightailed it off our map after the second day of continuous forest, down a snowmachine trail to the road.
Open section of the Kenai River
Drysuits: Awesome. Still a few bugs in the beta test version, but we’ll be getting them back with better wrist gaskets, and I think they’ll be beautiful. Both more comfortable and more waterproof than anything we’ve ever had. And in the winter, the roomy top let us stuff waterbottles and cold-sensitive electronics down the front – giving us the appearance of some oddly boxy beer bellies.
Paddling the Kenai River
New thermarest-life vests doing well
Old Ski Boots from the Seventh Grade: More awful than I could have imagined. Too small, and not very warm (which I was expecting). Also completely formless, with holes tearing out at the bottom, no control at all over the skis, not at all waterproof, almost impossible to get on wet, and completely impossible to get on frozen (which I wasn’t expecting). Needless to say, they’re in a dump in Alaska now.
Alpacka Rafts as Sleds: Great. In all the temperatures we had (probably zero ish to about freezing), they slid across the snow beautifully, saving us from lugging a pack. And the spray deck kept everything under control inside, allowing us to be complete slobs about packing them.
Kenai River frozen solid
Stoves: You always need more air holes. Always. And don’t tip over the stove. Better yet, let Hig deal with the stove so it’s not my fault if it does tip over. (I think we might be better with a shorter and wider can?)
Shelter: Making a shelter with every last scrap of fabric and figuring that we can just barely fit inside…? In real world conditions (i.e. not a backyard test), we can’t really fit inside. Lesson? Don’t procrastinate so much on ordering fabric.
Fur Ruff: There’s a reason the Inuit have used them for thousands of years. I didn’t have one yet, but Hig was raving about the way it cut the wind and kept his face warm.
Flat Water Alpacka Travel: I just don’t understand why no one else does this. We paddled 12 miles from the Homer Spit to Seldovia, with one rest break in the middle. People are impressed when we tell them this. Propelling a boat forward on calm seas is not impressive. In fact, it is a pleasant and dirt cheap way to visit Hig’s family in Seldovia (just a little more time consuming)
Burnt forest on the moraine hills
Burnt Forest: I’ve never been on a trip in a recently burnt area before. Aesthetically, it’s really kind of an intriguing landscape. And interesting to see what still lives there (a few ptarmigan and squirrels). Fires have been huge in Alaska in recent summers – a combination of very dry weather and spruce-bark-beetle killed trees in some areas. Some people think that with global warming, increased fire in Alaska’s boreal forests will end up turning them back into grasslands.
Ultimate lesson? It was a great trip. We’ll fix a few things, get a few more pieces of gear, and it’ll work out one way or another. When I remember how awful some of our gear was for our first major summer trip (800 miles down the Alaska Peninsula), I realize we’re far better prepared now. And I realize that we can make it work out somehow even if we’re not.