After enjoying our first cabin trip of the year in October to Donna Lake, Alana and I made plans to head out to the White Mountains and visit a few more on skis. Our plan was to ski roughly 75 miles, making a loop connecting Colorado Creek, Wolf Run, Windy Gap, Borealis and Colorado Creek again before skiing back to the road. Conditions were not in our favor as our departure date approached, with only a few inches of snow on the ground. With reports of Beaver Creek still wide open, we tossed one of our packrafts in the car, ready for whatever. We set off, unsure of what we would find, but eager to make the most out of the experience.
The trail out was hard packed, with tussocks and vegetation still sticking out in sections above the snow. Within a half mile of the trailhead, we had ditched our skis, opting to continue on foot. The poor conditions dissuaded our friends Claire and Jake, who were going to join us for the first night, and they turned around after a couple miles to head home. Alana and I plodded on into the night. Our world shrunk to the narrow beam of our headlamp, illuminating a short stretch of trail beyond and the snow that fell from the sky. After 6 hours and 14 miles of travel, we arrived at Colorado Creek and set about to make it our home. Loading and firing up the woodstove, chopping a hole in the lake ice to get water and playing cards before going to bed.
It became immediately apparent the next day that we would not follow our plans as we had initially crafted them. I woke up extremely tired and feeling sick, having overexerted myself the day prior from pulling the sled full of wood and from strenuous workouts earlier in the week that I had not fully recovered from. Alana slept late, while I went around the shore of the lake, collecting firewood from an old burn. The saw at the cabin was worthless, dulled beyond the point of use, so I used the axe to fell and buck up the trees to smaller sections.
I had brought my rifle along with the hopes that some of the 40-mile caribou herd would be present in the area. I went out on the tundra, with binoculars and rifle in hand, scanning for any sign of life. There were caribou tracks but nothing fresh, and I returned home empty handed. Later that day Alana saw some snowmachines in the distance and heard some shots. I would find and scavenge a whole caribou hide on the trail a day later, perhaps from that same group.
That night, I was in bed by 7 pm. Nobody had reserved the cabin for that night prior to us leaving, but we were worried someone might have made a last-minute decision to head out, leaving us out in the dark. Anxiously, we waited throughout the night, straining our ears for any sign of potential visitors. We lucked out, and kept the cabin to ourselves.
Feeling better the next day, I went out again to look for caribou. No new sign this time, but fresh wolf and fox tracks from the night before. Alana had heard a wolf howling on one of her excursions out from the cabin and it was evident that there was at least one in the area. We went out on skis in the afternoon on the trail to Wolf Run, turning around after a mile or so after skiing over many tussocks and finding travel very rough.
With the temperature near 0, we spent the rest of the day shoring up our wood supply, bucking what logs we did have with our foldable handsaw and then splitting them. Alana worked on a puzzle while I read aloud the book, “Koviashuvik,” a story of a couple who lived remotely in the Brooks Range. The skies had cleared from the day before and we admired the mountains out the picture window, watching the sky fill with pastels and the mountains alight with alpenglow. We took turns severely destroying each other in cards. Alana triumphing in rummy and I in cribbage. The woodstove continued to burn hot while ice crystals formed on the picture window, and the dogs curled up by the door. All were content.
The fourth day we decided to ski out, having exhausted nearly all of our food supply. We made quick time and it was a pleasure to travel in the daylight. Alas, no caribou were seen, just their tracks. We didn’t leave empty handed, however, scoring the caribou hide. Remi (reluctantly) served as the MVP on the way out, pulling the sled with the caribou hide and packraft. We thoroughly enjoyed the few days we spent out and look forward to completing the trip as we actually had intended later this winter when conditions improve. For now, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.