While not necessarily fond of the cold temperatures without snow as we had earlier this season, with each flake that now falls gently to the earth, my spirit soars ever higher.
There’s no season like snow season and nowhere am I happier in winter than when I’m running a team of sled dogs in the Caribou Hills just east of Ninilchik.
This area is used by many pursuing winter outdoor activities, but particularly by dog mushers and snowmachiners. And, while some user groups seem to be perpetually at odds with each other, these two groups seem to have found a happy medium.
At least that’s my take on it based on experiences with snowmachiners.
Sure, you do get the occasional yahoos who leave broken beer bottles in the trails, or the reckless speed demons that blast with break-neck speed to the tops of hills without any consideration to who or what may be coming up from the other direction.
However, by and large, most snowmachiners I encounter seem responsible and friendly.
I frequently pass snowmachiners who, upon seeing me coming, pull off to the side of the trail and even turn off their engines so as not to scare the dogs.
While it’s good to teach dogs to run past obstacles like revving snowmachines, this is always appreciated, especially when running a young team.
Also, while sled dog races like the upcoming Tustumena 200 could be held without snowmachines clubs like the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers putting in and grooming trails, the nature of the race would be quite different and undeniably tougher on race organizers, participants and, of course, the dogs, perhaps to the point of their detriment. As such, the Cabin Hoppers’ efforts are much appreciated.
All this being said, though, there is still something I like about being alone with the dogs away from snowmachiners, but also away from all other people in general.
This is tougher to do than it sounds, even in the most remote corners of the Caribou Hills, but this time of year is when I have my best chance.
Once sufficient snow has fallen in the high country of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge to get safely over stumps and willow branches that could poke the dogs, but before so much snow has fallen to open this area to snowmachines, I have my window of opportunity.
This past week I capitalized on the opportunity and mushed 14 dogs to a spot informally known as “the end of the world.”
While its title may sound a bit foreboding, this location is actually one of most, if not the most, breathtaking on the whole Kenai Peninsula.
From a knob a few thousand feet in elevation, this spot offers majestic views to the north Tustumena Lake can be seen in its entirety; to the east stand the jagged and much taller snow-capped peaks of the Kenai Mountains; to the south are the smoother, rolling hills of the Caribou Hills; and to the west the view of Redoubt Volcano is far superior compared to that from any vantage closer to sea level.
From this spot I feel like the only person on Earth. No signs of civilization can be seen and the only tracks in the snow are the ones behind me.
While being there seems magical, it is perhaps the most real place I can escape to. Yet, like magic, in the blink of an eye it’ll be gone.
Before long, others will come. And while I will lose my solitude, I can’t fault these others for seeking similar outdoor experiences of their own.
If anything they should be commended for their exquisite taste in recognizing how good life can be lived.
Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Clarion.
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