In many ways, winter is the ideal season for hiking in Alaska. Set out in the summer, and you're stuck on the trails - unless you want to try your hand at land swimming in a sea of shrubs and mosquitoes. But in the winter, with the landscape stripped of all but its most basic elements and covered in an indiscriminate layer of snow and ice, overland travel is a breeze. You don't even have to have a good sense of direction ... if you get lost, just follow your own trail back. Geoff and I set out today from Ohlsen Mountain and walked toward the Anchor River for a couple hours, traversing the open fields, forests and streams with relative ease - that is, it was as easy as something can be when you're stamping down fresh tracks in calf-high powder. It was fun to think that summer exploration of this area would require rubber boots, a machete, 100-percent DEET, strong protection against scratches, a partner for crossing large streams and more than a passing awareness of bears. In the winter, all you need are a pair of snowshoes and a warm coat.
People in Alaska have looked to winter as the premier travel season for hundreds if not thousands of years, but it's still a strange reality when weighed against the usually uninviting obstacles of cold, ice and snow. I'll probably get more traction out of my snowshoes this year than I ever did in warmer climes, and I'll cover more ground than I ever could in the summer. Plus, there's all that freedom of movement, even when bushwhacking (see above). Good times.