Lying in the snow outside my apartment to test out the warmth of a sleeping bag in preparation for a two-week trip into the winter wilderness of Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, I listen to the traffic rush on the nearby highway and feel a bit foolish. I've been instructed to lie out in the cold for at least an hour. The problem is that it just isn't all that cold tonight in Fairbanks. Even so, at zero degrees, I feel the cold creeping into the down bag after only about 30 minutes and my mind inevitably goes to all the Jack London tales I've read. The weather report for Galbraith Lake, where our journey will begin, shows that it is currently -36F and it's obvious that this sleeping bag is not going to be warm enough. Along with the cold creeping in, there is a small knot of dread working its way into my gut. It occurs to me that it is somewhat foolish for someone with my fear of deep cold to go on a two week trip into the Arctic in March!
People are drawn to wilderness for a variety of reasons. Beauty, solitude, inspiration, and rejuvenation are often mentioned, but just as often, people state that they want to test themselves, to see what they are made of. This is definitely a component of my desire to participate in this trip. Well, that and the fact that this may well represent my only opportunity to experience the unparalleled beauty of the park in winter, first-hand. It will also be a great opportunity to lie in a sleeping bag in the snow without hearing traffic! I, too, would like to find out just what I am made of, but I muse on the fact that the first inhabitants of the area that is now Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve had no concept of wilderness and they certainly did not come to the land to "test themselves!" They came for the resources and they likely lived lives richly filled with laughter, love, family and community. I wanted to experience the landscape through that lens and not just the lens of Jack London. So, I tamp down the feelings of dread, push stories of brutal cold and hardship to the back of my brain, and begin to rejoice in the coming adventure. Besides, we are going out fully outfitted with some of the best winter gear available and I will be accompanied by rangers that have extensive experience with winter camping and travel from all across Alaska.