While in knee-rehabilitation mode throughout February and March, I know of many others, including friends, who have been taking advantage of this incredible stretch of clear weather, with the sun arcing noticeably higher in the sky every day and bringing its therapeutic wonders.
I’ve been told that throughout most of March, the snowpack in our immediate area was quite stable, and that in many cases folks could walk right on top of the snow without snow shoes. Baldy, Mt. Magnificent and South Fork locales have been choice for hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
There are always pockets of wind-drifted snow, however, that will be difficult to avoid. It seems that when I carry snowshoes with me, I don’t need them – so I often affix them to my pack and stash them if it’s easy going, especially if I find someone’s hardened footprints to follow.
A friend from Birchwood, Jeff Worrell, has been giving his fat-tire bike a workout on Eklutna Lake, Eagle River and Portage Lake. He says the packed-down snowmachine trails have created excellent pathways for fat-tire bikes.
The abundance of snow has been great for Alyeska downhill skiers and farther south on the Kenai Peninsula, snowmachiners and cross-country skiers. Turnagain Pass, Center Ridge (near Tincan Mountain) and Manitoba Mountain are popular areas for cross-country skiing.
I prefer Center Ridge because it presents little, if any, avalanche danger.
With increasing temperatures, snow-crust skiing is a popular sport. But one has to get an early start and not return too late. The Placer River area – one of the main access points is about one-tenth of a mile after turning onto Portage Road from the Seward Highway on the right-hand side – is a great area for snow-crust skiing. It is about six miles to reach the Skookum Glacier.
As the sun gets higher and afternoon temperatures rise, however, the snow softens and can turn what was earlier a care-free gliding experience into a slogging nightmare.
On late-winter/early spring ski or snowshoe trips, I have often picked well-established snow machine trails to help me achieve some distance; then strike out off-trail if the snow isn’t too soft. But generally, from late March into April, snow becomes mushy, or to use a common phrase: “rots out.”
One thing that people often forget at this time of the year is to take along sunblock. I once received horrific sunburn in April skiing shirtless around the foothills of Gunsight Mountain with my kids. Snowy areas in direct sunlight become radiant ovens that shoot ultraviolet rays at you in multiple directions. A hat and sunblock are essentials.
But aside from its harmful rays, the sun triggers the release of serotonin in the brain, which can boost our moods and help us feel calm and focused.
The sun also provides us with Vitamin D, – something which we northlanders are often deficient.
Consequently, at this time of the year, we are drawn outdoors and lean into the sun like the first crocus and tulip shoots. It doesn’t really matter if we have skis or snowshoes, a parasail or a snow machine. Just getting out there is physically and psychically rejuvenating.
And do not forget late-night northern lights watching. Early April is prime time for terrific aurora displays.
Editor’s Note: Frank E. Baker is a member of the ECHO News team, an avid outdoorsman and a freelance writer. He and wife, Rebekah – a retired Anchorage School District teacher – live in Eagle River. Baker is scheduled to present a slide show depicting his 40-plus years of hiking in the Chugach Mountains at the Eagle River Nature Center on Sun., April 9, at 2 p.m. in the main building.