Last Saturday's emergency response drill -- organized by the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers snowmachine club, but attended by numerous local agencies -- highlighted so much.
First, it brought to light that while the Caribou Hills is outstanding area for year round recreation, this area is not without inherent dangers, particularly during the winter months.
At least one of the drills took place in the "high country" section of the Caribou Hills, an area miles from the closest road and well above treeline. On a clear day this area offers pristine views of Tustumena Lake to the north, the Harding Icefield to the east, and on very clear days glimpses of Kachemak Bay to the south.
However, I know from firsthand experience that this area can be extremely inhospitable during inclement weather. Being above treeline, there is little to block the wind and driving snow when a storm blows in quickly, as is quite common at that elevation.
Also, devoid of trees and markers, the area is moon-like, just white and featureless for miles. As such, when a storm blows in it can be extremely disorienting. I have been in storms where I couldn't tell where the ground ended and the sky began and I had no idea where I was. Only my lead dogs' ability to detect the scent of the trail we came in on got me out safely.
I can't imagine what it would be like enduring a storm in this area on a snowmachine, with so many vertical drop-offs -- some thousands of feet steep -- to drive off.
Accidents in this area aren't common, but they aren't impossible either. Being prepared for the inevitable is a fantastic idea, and the Cabin Hoppers should be applauded for taking the initiative on organizing last Saturday's drill.
The drill also illustrated another aspect of what makes life in Alaska, and on the Kenai Peninsula, so great: teamwork. Numerous agencies came together to participate in the drills. They did it on a Saturday, in the cold and blowing snow, but they did it for the greater good of all of us who could become lost or injured in this area.
Also, while the Cabin Hoppers are primarily made up of snowmachine enthusiasts, they do many things to benefit all the user groups that frequent this area, which include dog mushers, skijorers and skiers in the winter, and numerous four-wheeler riders, hunters and hikers in the warmer months. This drill was just one example.
In the past the Cabin Hoppers have also participated in the Adopt-A-Highway program to clean area roadways, put in the trail for the Tustumena 200 sled Dog Race, and providing winter safety education to elementary and middle-school children.
To label the whole cabin hoppers group as just working to further snowmachiners' interests would be to not scratch the surface of their efforts. They are representing snowmachine interests, but they do so much more than that, and as a recreationalist of the area, I am thankful for all they do.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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