The Bucket List, Part 3, Evenings

This is my attempt at describing what it’s like for me in Alaska. I’ll take a typical day and break it into separate posts, so you aren’t overwhelmed by text. This is the third post, covering my evenings. Don’t miss the first post and second posts!

Around 4:30-5 (or later, now that we’re getting more light than 10am-3pm), I head back out and scoop the yard again, while the puppies run around. If it’s really cold, before I scoop I’ll carry around an old kitty litter bucket full of frozen beef fat scraps, and give all the dogs a snack. Then, I fill those three 5-gallon buckets with food, and carry them around the yard to feed. Finally, I take a small bucket of water around to the older dogs and give them extra water for the night, even though it will probably freeze before they drink much of it.

The morning and evening dog feeding shifts happen no matter what. The fogDogs don’t care if you’re sick, if the weather is crappy, or if you’re just feeling really tired. I’ve been out feeding in pouring rain, impenetrable fog, sleet with high winds (summary: “OW MY EYES”), blizzards with total whiteout conditions, temps nearing -20&degF, everything. Sometimes there are several feet of new snow to wade through, or freeze/thaw ice covering everything like an ice rink, or ankle deep mud during melt-out in the spring. Every shift of the wind means going out and rotating the dog houses so the wind doesn’t blow in them, no matter what time it is. Watch the video below…I was out in that, turning dog houses out of the snow, at 5:30am in the dark, with fogged up glasses and a headlamp that only highlighted the snow whipping around my face. It’s like this every few weeks, and apparently this winter we haven’t had nearly as much snow as usual. I wonder if it will all fall in March.

Actually, the weather keeps it pretty interesting, and I have enjoyed some of the challenges it presents. Most of the time it’s clear and beautiful, but sometimes it’s a fight just to stay upright and pointed in the right direction.

Back at the cabin, it’s probably time to empty the sink bucket. We usually have it drain under the floor and out the side of the cabin’s skirting, but the pipe that does that froze up a few weeks ago, so now we have the sink emptying into what was a former water hauling bucket, but got converted to a slop bucket after an unfortunate New Years Eve accident where Skippy and I drank three bottles of champagne in one night.

Anyway, I take the sink bucket and toss it outside. We use biodegradable dish soap, fortunately. By this time, Skippy is home from work (a desk job. Sallie Mae needs her money back no matter what), so we catch up and start to make dinner. Last week, we ran out of cooking propane, so we have to use a single electric burner, because the propane tank is 5 feet tall and is frozen to the ground so I can’t take it out to get it refilled until the weather warms up some.

Twice a week, we make our way up the path, towels and soap in hand, to take much needed No room for a shower or w/d hereshowers in the boss’s bathroom. We don’t sweat much at all, but that doesn’t stop the funk. Plus, with our heads covered by hats most of the time, our hair gets a little oily. We also do laundry at the boss’s house every couple of weeks. Her dryer isn’t working, so we have to take the wet clothes back to our cabin and hang them up in front of the heater to dry. The increased humidity sometimes collects around the door and freezes, trapping us until we kick and yank on the door enough to break the ice. It’s always fun to be literally trapped in your own home, especially when you’re late for something like work.

Next: Part 4, Nights

R143 Ice Climbing

Over the weekend, I helped instruct an ice climbing course in Wisconsin. We don’t have much climbable ice in Indiana, especially when the weather hovers around 60 degrees Fahrenheit for days at a time. However, Wisconsin has great ice!

I recently purchased a Nikon D80 that I’m still getting used to (hence the lack of picture updates for a few weeks), so I took it along to try it out in the cold. Here’s what I got.

ice climbing

The wall was thick with ice, and about 30-40 feet tall.


Saturday it hovered around 29 degrees Fahrenheit, and the sun made the ice a little slushy on the surface in places.

Waterfall ice

The spring that feeds this waterfall must be pretty warm, as the creek and waterfall all had green plants and algae still growing, despite the 3 feet of snow on the ground.

Crampon check

Class consists of 2 evenings of classroom work, where the students learn some of the basic information on ice climbing (equipment, technique, knots, etc.), and 2 days of actual climbing and skills testing. There is also a written test, a 2 page reflective paper, and the students are also graded on their expedition behavior.

ice screw

We use top ropes on this wall, since the top is easily accessible and there are plenty of trees. We take ice screws just to show the students how they work.

frozen water

Sunday, the temperature plummeted to around 0 degrees Fahrenheit, with a vicious wind that dropped the temperature to -20 or so. Fortunately, our wall is in a hollow, well protected from the wind. It was still incredibly cold, and the pool at the base of the waterfall began to freeze.

The ice on Sunday was much more solid, with no slush. It was a bit brittle on top, but underneath was perfect ice.

boot with teeth

Most of the pictures were taken with a Nikon 105mm AF-S VR lens that I had just received on Thursday. I like that lens a lot, and I can’t wait to take more pictures with it!

Going for it

Mark here was one of the more daring students on the ice. He also took a few spectacular falls, but that’s part of the fun!

snow everywhere

Yes, there was a lot of snow in Wisconsin. On the drive back, we passed no less than 30 cars stranded in the median and side of the interstate. Several were upside or on their sides. The high winds caused several cars to overcorrect and veer off the road, into the snow. It was an intense couple of hours of driving.