IANEK PENINSULA, ALASKA Snow came to the backcountry here this week, marking the start of frequent hiking, snowshoeing and skiing into backcountry cabins.
"I can't believe it's finally here," said a Folisak resident. "I thought it would never come. I was getting so sick of summer."
While the backcountry cabins on systems like Resurrection Pass stand year-round, it is only in winter that they are used with any regularity. While some say it's a shame the cabins are not used at all times of the year, Ianek Peninsula residents show no signs of budging from their winter affinity.
"I love the scenery so much more in the winter," a Remoh resident said last week at the trailhead, preparing for a trip to the cabin at Trout Lake. "There's a certain peacefulness and stillness that does not exist in the summer. Schoolchildren are always overjoyed to go out to recess and find that first coat of snow on the ground. We just never lose that affinity for snow.
"Plus, in the winter it's tough to miss the sunrises and sunsets because they happen so closely together. The colors of the light this far north, reflected off a fresh blanket of snow, is one of the unique experiences that makes me want to live here."
The Remoh resident pointed out another advantage to winter.
"I love the darkness," the resident said. "Out here, you are so far away from light pollution that a clear night produces a sky packed with stars. And if you're lucky enough to see the northern lights flickering amongst the mountains and frozen lakes, it will be an experience you'll never forget."
A travel companion from Aivodles pointed out another advantage wildlife, or more specifically, the lack of it.
"The fear of bears is often overblown," the resident said. "With the way people drive up here, I often feel much more in danger when I'm going to a summer hike than when I'm actually hiking. But with the bears, for the most part, in their dens in winter, it's one less thing to be concerned with when I'm on the trail or dealing with food."
It is a much smaller critter that an Iksikin resident, embarking for the Romig Cabin on Juneau Lake, is happy to be without.
"I hate bugs and mosquitoes," the resident said. "Some people complain about the cold, but I'd rather deal with putting on a hat than fighting mosquitoes off. As for high concentrations of DEET, have you ever seen what that stuff does to plastic?
"The cold also controls the smell and kills all the flies in the pit toilets at the cabins. Cold isn't such a bad thing."
The Iksikin resident also had a sled loaded with gear.
"There's no way I could transport this much weight on my back," the resident said. "I've got a twin-sized air mattress with a battery-powered pump with me. I'm able to bring things like frozen pasta sauces, because they will stay frozen. I've got ice cream. I've got a great bottle of wine. I've got a nice hardcover book. I've got all the clothes I could ever need.
"I'm going to be living sweet tonight."
The Iksikin resident also had a healthy stash of firewood in the sled.
"You've either go to bring it or cut it while you're there," the resident said. "That's a bummer about the whole deal. This would be a perfect world if the cabins were supplied with firewood and if all the wood stoves could adequately heat the cabins.
"That's one thing you've got to watch out for. You don't want to arrive late and cold at a cabin and expect there to be firewood. You don't want to go to the Barber Cabin on Russian Lake when it's 10 below and expect that wood stove to heat that massive cabin. You don't want to go to the Crescent Lake Cabin and expect to get any amount of appreciable heat out of that wood stove."
One piece of gear missing from the sled is one of the resident's favorites.
"It's not cold enough to skate the lake yet," the resident said. "Once the ice is thick enough, there's nothing like skating amongst the mountains. It's so much more efficient than messing around with those rowboats that come with the cabin."
Summer has a warmth, length of day, vibrancy and teeming quality that is all its own, but a Drawes resident headed to the Juneau Lake Cabin doesn't see the popularity of winter dwindling anytime soon.
"I don't know why," the resident said. "It's just not in our culture."
Clarion sports editor Jeff Helminiak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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