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Midwinter in Alaska

January 6th, 2010

Surviving winter in Alaska is not for the weak. Months of darkness, polar temperatures, cloudy skies and rain. Stateside friends ask “Does the sun ever come up?” Well that depends on where in Alaska you’re talking about. The Arctic Circle is the southern extremity of the polar night, meaning the sun never rises on one day of the year. I live in Anchorage—along with 42% of the state’s population—564 miles south of the Arctic Circle, so the sun climbs above the horizon  for about five hours on the winter solstice. The sun does a lazy arc just above the horizon creating twilight all day. We loose our sunglasses in October and find them in March.

In winter, my wife and I often vacate Alaska for South America to climb rocks and soak in the sun. This year we’re going to France and Italy, but not until February. I was dreading the midwinter months, but Alaska is all about surprises.

After Christmas, Cathy I made the six-hour drive to Valdez in the Chugach Mountains to ski at Thompson Pass. Valdez is the snowiest city in the US, so we crossed our fingers for clear skies. We got lucky. We then drove straight back through Anchorage to the Kenai Mountains and spent New Years with friends at the Crescent Saddle Cabin. We got even more lucky. Oh Alaska!

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Max Kaufman, a long-time friend from Fairbanks, skiing in twilight from the summit of Girls Mountain, Thompson Pass, Chugach Mountains, Alaska.

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Najeeby Quinn soaking in the midwinter sun above Crescent Saddle. She is squinting a bit, although the sun has zero warmth.

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I’m spotting Jeff Conaway with his Osprey Aether 70 from the safety of a rock overhang as he skis a chute below a dangling cornice. As we prepared to drop in, a bus-sized portion of the cornice snapped off and thundered down the chute. So much for the powder, but at least we know it’s stable!

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Crescent Saddle Cabin in the Kenai Mountains during the New Years Eve blue moon. Here Andy Newton and I are heading out to shoot skeet on Crescent Lake. The wailing and cracking lake ice was creeeeeeepy!!!!! See more photos at: http://www.stockalpine.com/posts/2010/1/4/crescent-saddle-cabin.html

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