|August 29, 2006 -
Winter is Never Far Away
Immediately east of Anchorage is the Chugach
Mountains. The first ridge that overlooks the city has peaks to
about 3500 feet; head deeper into the mountains and the peaks get
taller, and eventually you reach the glaciers of the Chugach
About this time of year, we'll get a rainy, foggy
day, and when we get up the next morning, the tops of the peaks will
have a fresh coating of snow. Alaskans call this "termination dust",
which is a reference to the end of summer. Termination dust comes
and goes several times in late August and September, before the
snows settle in here at sea level, usually on a Saturday morning,
when we have some outdoor chore, or even worse, a fishing trip
planned. The phenomenon is the same in other parts of the state. In
Fairbanks, the White Mountains just north and northeast of town will
gather a mantle of snow a few weeks before the snows reach the floor
of the Tanana Valley.
In Denali National Park, the situation is a
little different. The mountains there are quite a bit taller, and
most of the park, including the area along the park road is around
the 3000 to 4000 feet, so when there's termination dust on the
Chugach Mountains, there's snow on the park road in Denali. This is
an important thing to remember when you're out in the elements in
Alaska; especially in the fall, but in fact, it is important
anytime. When it is raining on you, it is snowing just a few
thousand feet above your head, and in Alaska, a nice sunny day can
become rainy very quickly, and an unexpected heavy shower might have
a few hailstones, then a few more, then a few flakes of snow, and
before you know it, you have a cold, wet mess.
|I was on a moose hunting
trip a few years back. We traveled by boat for about 15
miles, and we spent the better part of the month of
September at our camp. We hunted the last day of the season.
It was a beautiful fall day, with temperatures in the low
50's. We went into our tents that night, ready to break camp
and go home the next day. I woke up around 7 AM, and I heard
some dripping on the tent.I was eager to make some coffee
and some breakfast, so I started to get dressed and go to
our campfire and get the fire started. I unzipped my tent,
and was greeted by the sight of six inches of snow.
First snow of
the year at Kashwitna Lake near Willow.
I made my coffee, and we broke camp, and rode in
the boat for 15 miles in the cold and miserable snow all the way
back to town.
Any day now, the Chugach Mountains will get
another coating of snow, and Alaskans will moan and complain about
how summer was short, and winter is coming. The truth is, winter
comes when it wants to come, and summer is really just on loan to
us, and we're going to have to pay that loan back... Any day now.
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