Winter camping the best kind of camping

Posted: Friday, February 26, 2010

As I sat curled in the fetal position and shivering in my snow covered sleeping bag, feeling the sensation of stinging in my toes, watching the fog of my breath rise into the cold air and fading twilight of the day's final rays -- I couldn't help but think how lucky I was.

This was the scene several weeks ago, and I wouldn't have traded it for anything in the world. This is because while winter may seem to linger for those who don't embrace it, I also feel like the "offseason" flies by a bit too fast.

Sure, summer camping is far more simple and comfortable, but who wants to tuck into a tent when the sun is still up? Sleeping in a sleeping bag when it's so warm out is also far from comfortable. And, there are the hordes of annoying creatures to contend with -- insects and tourists.

Winter camping is in many ways one of the best times to camp and enjoy a side of Alaska few people get to experience. There's so much more solitude, and nature truly shows a different side of itself during the cold weather months.

The entire day leading up to camp I crossed numerous prints of animals: everything from tiny tracks of rodents on the surface, to slightly deeper paw prints of a coyote, to post-holes from a moose which, like me, had been wallowing in powder up to its knees.

When I actually saw some of the animals themselves, they also bore a different appearance than in summer, and these encounters were more frequent than in summer since there are fewer people out and about to push them far from the trail.

Moose seem thicker with their shaggier winter coats, and at least earlier in the season they still had their antlers on, making them look as iconic as they are in Alaska. Snowshoes hares are a barely visible blur with their all-white winter color, and when flushing a flock of ptarmigan -- even when you see them land -- they immediately become invisible in the blanket of snow that cloaks the landscape.

The landscape itself is also beautiful to behold in winter. With fewer leaves on the trees any climb in elevation often reveals miles of scenic views, and when the snow and ice still clings to the branches of the trees it alters their appearance dramatically.

At the end of the day, the true joy of winter camping begins as camp gets made. Campfires are always enjoyable, but the warm sensations from a winter fire seem to sooth the soul just as much as the flicking flames warm cold hands and frozen toes.

Then, as the last embers of the fire die out, the celestial canopy above can be seen in all its majesty. This is a scene that is spectacular on its own, but more often than not the pulsing green of the northern lights may also be visible in the dark night sky of winter.

So while some lament about the "return of winter" as this most recent snowfall brought the Kenai Peninsula back to a more typical temperature for this time of year, I have relished it. It gives me one more chance to get outdoors and take in a little more of what people too caught up in the creature comforts of winter life indoors are missing out on.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at

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