Of Dogs & Wilderness: Preparation

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.

Ranger Laurie and her arctic parka with a wolf ruff
Ranger Laurie

My name is Laurie and I am a park ranger and I work for Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, a remote and wild park in the Arctic. We are travelling to a rarely-visited area of the park with 2 snow machine teams and 3 dogsled teams (1 from Gates of the Arctic and 2 from Denali National Park and Preserve) during the year that marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act. Our destination is May Lake, located in a little island of wilderness to the north of the main area of the park. We will patrol the area and also take the opportunity to clean up some old barrels that mar the pristine beauty of the wilderness. Our journey will begin at Galbraith Lake, located slightly northeast of the park boundary, well outside the designated wilderness. I will be part of the 2 snow machine teams that will break trail for the dog sleds and provide support. However, in order to preserve the natural wilderness soundscape, the snow machines will not enter the designated wilderness area. We will stop and set up camp outside the boundary and accompany the dog sled teams in to May Lake on foot. Winter provides the perfect opportunity to travel in the Arctic without damaging the fragile tundra and the archaeological remains that are scattered across the park. And, I don't think I would be wrong to state that the people involved in this trip (humans and dogs alike!) embrace the freedom of travel that winter offers. As some Alaskans are fond of saying, "Winter sets us free!"

My role in this winter patrol is to document the journey and share stories and photos of this amazing, but little visited wilderness resource with the American public who love and support it, knowing full well that they may never have the opportunity to see it for themselves! Follow our journey via Facebook as we post live from the field. We will be taking a satellite communicator with us that enables you to follow our progress across a map. I will be posting brief trip reports along the way and will bring back photos to share upon our return. Denali National Park and Preserve is collaborating with us on this project and is bringing 2 of their dog sled teams for training and outreach. They will also be posting live trip reports with a satellite communicator of their own. Follow their journey on their kennel's blog and on the Denali National Park Facebook page.


Last updated: September 3, 2015

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