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Thread: Winter hiking?

  1. #1
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    Default Winter hiking?

    I'm trying to decide on moving back to Alaska. I've spent some time in Nome and Anchorage last summer, but have never experienced an Alaskan winter. The main thing that attracts me, and I suppose most other people is the endless possibilities to be outdoors. But I'm moving in the middle of next month and I'm wondering how much time I will really have in order to get out and hike and camp. Is it still possible to hike around when winter comes? Is it too cold in the higher regions? Too difficult to walk around on the snow? I have decent winter clothing for Tennessee winter (overkill actually) , but I have no idea if it will be enough for Alaska. My tent is the Tarptent Rainbow. I'm also worried about camera gear in such cold temps. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  2. #2
    Forum Admin Brian M's Avatar
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    A number of people hike all winter long (myself included), so it is definitely an option. If you're wanting to stay out in a tent on multi-day hikes, that can get a little more complicated with regards to adequate gear, but if you're looking for day hike options, winter is no reason to slow down. Additionally, you can get into snowshoeing and either cross-country or backcountry alpine skiing to diversify your outdoor experiences in the winter. The further north you get the more cold will be an issue, but then it's really just a matter of dressing appropriately. I live just north of Anchorage and can count on one hand the number of days in any given winter when I'd really rather not go outside due to the weather. As for walking, mountain ridgelines remain reasonably easy to walk due to frequent wind, and there are plenty of trails that stay packed down due to other hikers.

  3. #3
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    Thanks for the reply! That's really comforting news.

    I'll probably be camping a lot, so maybe I'll need to purchase some new gear. Right now I have a zero degree Marmot bag, and an insulated sleeping pad. Do you know where I might be able to find weather conditions for the mountains and trails? I know that here (in Tennessee) the temperature in the mountains can be 20 degrees colder than it is in the cities.

    Snowshoeing and cross country skiing is something I don't really know anything about, but maybe something I need to look into.

    Another random question: I won't have a car while I'm there, but I assume the buses still run? I'm guessing my road bike won't cut it when it starts snowing.

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    Where exactly are you moving to? In the winter, there's a big difference in temperatures between the Southeast, South Central, and the Interior. Wherever you end up living, you should be good to go with regular three-season gear up to around early October. November through March your kit pretty much needs to be rated for cold weather. If I were you, I wouldn't invest too much money in new gear until you get here. Once the winter comes, you'll be able to figure out pretty quickly what you need and what you don't.

  5. #5
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    Whoops, I thought I mentioned it in my original post, but I guess not. I'll be living in Anchorage but plan on travelling around Alaska as much as possible.

  6. #6
    Forum Admin Brian M's Avatar
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    Anchorage has a bus system, but it's not going to get you up to the trailheads in most cases. You may want to add a mountain bike with studded tires to your collection.

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    Member Gr is for Greg's Avatar
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    I would certainly echo Brian, both that hiking can definitely be done all winter long. It can even be more enjoyable, as there are no bugs, more sunny days, typically better clarity due to lack of clouds and haze, and the mountains are arguably more beautiful with snow on them than without. I also think you should definitely get into skiing if you live in Anchorage through the winter. The cross country skiing all over town is wonderful in any weather (other than rain - although that is exceedingly rare), and the downhill / back country skiing is very close, accessible, and amazing.

    On a different note - I would say definitely come check it out. You will never know if it is the right thing until you test it out. I have known several people that have been very pleasantly surprised about how awesome the winters are here. If you like the outdoors, I think you will love it. Hope to see you up here.

    -Gr
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  8. #8

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    I hike year around. The only thing I loath is ice, so I wear caulk-boots in the winter. Caulk-pack boots.

  9. #9
    Moderator Paul H's Avatar
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    You can definately hike year round, I actually find winter hiking is easier in many areas around Anchorage. When you have a load of packed snow, you'd be suprised where you can go. In the summer you'll be suprised to find many of those wonderful winter hikes are swampy mucky messes.

    The key to clothing is layering. A base layer of polypro, a layer of fleece, and a shell layer as well as hat and gloves is plenty of clothing down to 0 or slightly below when you are actively excercising. Having a down parka stuffed in a pack is a good idea for times when you're idle.

    I know it's popular to bash the Anchorage area, but if you can't keep busy hiking, xc-skiing, downhill skiing, biking, camping, climbing, and boating within 30 minutes of town, you just aren't putting in much effort. The biggest issue is the lack of daylight in winter. It'll be dark when you get up for work, and dark when you get home. But, there are many lighted xc-ski trails, and you'd be suprised how well a full moon iluminates the landscape.

    To me the biggest challenge are warm winters when things don't freeze up and there isn't snow blanketing the land and reflecting the light. Expect a week or two of bitter cold, i.e. -20 to -30, but we've had many recent winters where the temp never dips below zero, or does so for only a day or two.
    Those that are successful in Alaska are those who are flexible, and allow the reality of life in Alaska to shape their dreams, vs. trying to force their dreams on the reality of Alaska.

    If you have a tenuous grasp of reality, Alaska is not for you.

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