Winters Grip

Winters Grip

This story is meant, in hopes, to paint a picture for you, what things look like in the off-season. And to show an appreciation and understanding of nature, in the midst of Winters Grip.

If you have had a chance to visit Alaskan Adventures lodge it was most likely pretty favorable weather with lush green bushes and trees about. From end of May till September that is pretty typical, however, the golden yellow of autumn comes quick at the end of the season and it you can watch the trees leaves change to yellow and be gone in almost a week. It is very soon after that everything turns cold and white with snow.

Often when I meet folks that have never been to the lodge and we talk about Alaska, the conversation often shifts to the question of, “I bet it is freezing cold at night in the summer” or “how much snow do you see in the summer”. And to be honest summers are typically quite warm. We never see snow and RARELY does it ever get below 40 degrees Fahrenheit unless it is late August or September. As a matter of fact, I have seen two weeks of 90 degrees and the rest of the summer it stayed in the 80’s. That’s right! -in Alaska! That was a bit much if you ask me. Typically, where we are I would expect an average of 70 degrees during the day and 50’s at night and that’s perfect, in my opinion!

Now, once September hits the temperature really starts to get cold and it does not surprise me to see frozen puddles in the later part of September. When this happens it is just a reminder as to what is to come. It is rare that we ever see snow in September, with that, we do sparsely but it does not make its presence known until further into October. Once October rolls around things usually turn white and stay that way until the thaw, sometimes not until May some years.

Winter Months can get extremely cold. So cold, that I have heard from old timers that negative 75 degrees has happened, and it has been common for negative 50 degrees to last for seven days straight. In Alaska it can get COLD and it is not a dry cold, as a matter of fact, it is a damp cold and, My oh my! That is cold! Cold enough that the river freezes solid with six feet of ice. Six feet of ice sounds like a lot and it is, however, when spring rolls around it melts rather quick. In May I have seen it take only one-two weeks for these big ice chunks to melt.

With the extreme cold it is amazing that wildlife can survive in conditions like this, but nature has ways of prevailing. Bears, for example, will sleep for four to six months… Must be nice! However, I think most of us have heard about the sleeping bear magic, but have you heard about the frog that lives in Alaska? Yes, amphibians in Alaska! To me, it is amazing to think this is even possible since it gets SO COLD in Alaska. What really amazes me is that the ground in Alaska stays frozen well into July. The wood frogs live in the ground and literally freeze with the ground. During this frozen time their heart slows to almost one beat a minute. Just barely enough to keep the frog alive until winters grip loses its strength.

In the heart of winter, the shortest days in Alaska do not allow for much light. Only five and a half hours of daylight during this time. If you are into watching stars or Northern lights, winter is the optimal time of the year for you. You had better bring your extra layers and down jacket because Winters Grip peaks at this time!

Spring in Alaska is short lived and usually lasts the end of April to the beginning of May as the river opens up and the ice break happens. During this time we have seen four to six feet of snow at the lodge that has accumulated all winter, and in a matter of two to three weeks, we watch it all disappear. We enjoy watching the change in seasons as Winters Grip gets warmed away, however, we also pray for a slow release. Because when nature slowly loosens her grip, the river has a chance to move all that water downstream. If the earth warms too quickly, the river will rise and rise and rise until EVERYTHING floods. The flush is a good because it moves all the remnants of winter downstream, however, a large flood is not a good thing for the salmon smolt. The pike and sheefish end up moving into the timbered areas of the flood and once the river recedes these fish become trapped and eventually die. This purge of the river could be nature’s way of creating an eb an flow.

It is amazing to me how nature thrives in the extreme temperatures that Alaska throws at all things living. From the extremely cold in the winter to some extreme cases of heat in the summer. The idea that this amount of life can thrive in these extremes from fish to frogs, to bugs, to birds. Alaska is a land of extremes that everyone should experience. So, when visiting the lodge be sure to ask about how things looked in the midst of Winters Grip.