You’ve seen them…those trees and flowers that bend and stretch toward the light.
We humans aren’t much different. Our bodies crave Vitamin D, and those photons seem to recharge our batteries magically. During the darkest months of the year, we find ourselves craning our necks toward a cloud-shrouded sun that hangs wearily above the horizon. We visit tanning salons; we sit in front of full-spectrum lights; or, we might jump on a commercial airliner and migrate, like geese, to southern climates.
But if you’re like me, with an almost apoplectic aversion to air travel and a deathly fear of skin cancer from tanning beds, you look upward to the sun-illuminated mountains and without much thought, go there. And with a shortage of snow in our immediate area this winter, it’s been quite easy to access the south-facing ridges where the sun does shine. During winters with heavier snows and increasing avalanche dangers, I’m cautious about where I go.
A few of the high places I like to go for sunshine include the ridge south of Baldy that leads to Blacktail Rocks; the ridges both west and east of Mile High Pass; the ridge west of South Fork Valley; the Twin Peaks trail above Eklutna Lake; and if I’m down south and the snow isn’t too deep, the Bird Ridge Trail.
Trails have been icy, so Kahtoolas or some kind of microspikes are mandatory gear. I’ve recently learned there is a big difference between dull and sharp Kahtoolas, especially if you cross a plate of hard ice that is devilishly covered by a thin layer of snow. I haven’t yet figured out a way to sharpen dull Kahtoolas, or if anyone does this commercially, but would like to hear from readers if they have that information.
With unseasonably warm temperatures this winter, staying warm hasn’t been that difficult. Our nearby ridges can be windy, often coming from the southeast. Finding a windbreak while basking in the sun on a south-facing slope can be challenging. I always carry extra clothing, so even if I’m in a cold spot, I can stay warm while enjoying the sunlight.
If you time it right and it’s relatively clear, the locations listed above will provide at least 3-1/2 hours of sunlight during December and January, the darkest months of the year. From my south-facing house, I receive about 1 hour, 10 minutes of direct sunlight on December 21, and more on each side of that date.
While people travel thousands of miles to enjoy the sun, industrious engineers and scientists have developed ways of redirecting sunlight. The Norwegian town of Rjukan, for example, lies in a narrow valley and receives direct sunlight only about six months of the year. Since 2013, however, it receives winter sunlight via mirrors installed high on a mountain overlooking the valley. You can see for yourself here. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/06/rjukan-sun-norway-town-mirrors
Russian scientists have experimented with giant “space-mirrors” to bring sunlight into dark areas within northern Siberia, and this technology has been considered in other locations.
But I don’t think we’d like large mirrors perched atop our mountain ridges here.
Instead, I encourage folks to get outdoors, breathe the fresh air, stretch the legs, and climb up into those sunny zones I described, or find your own. The Bodenburg Butte up toward Palmer, for example, is an easy hike and puts you into some beautiful winter sunshine.
Winter sun is a guaranteed energy and morale booster. I once thought I couldn’t feel any warmth radiating from the sun until late January. But after many years of clamoring around the mountains, I’ve learned that even in our short December days, a person can still feel some heat from our glorious sun.