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Thursday
Jan142016

Swan Lake Ice Skate

Ice is now more common than snow at sea level in Southcentral Alaska. As a result, nordic ice skating has become a mainstream sport. 

Nancy Lakes, near Wasilla, is the most popular place for nordic ice skating in the Anchorage area. If you drive the opposite direction from Anchorage, to where temperatures are warmer, you'll reach the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. It's a bigger version of Nancy Lakes, with more wilderness. Friends Tony Perrelli and Luc Mehl passed on reports from Josh Mumm that the lakes were glass and that Roman Dial was keen to go. 

At six am on a Monday morning I drove a few houses down the alley and picked up Roman. (You have to love Airport Heights!) We drove three and half hours down to KNWR. Our trip started and finished at Fish Lake near the West Entrance of the Swan Lake Canoe Route. From Fish Lake we skated south to Camp Island Lake, with hopes for the West Fork Moose River. No luck on the West Fork. We backtracked to Otter Lake and circled around through Swan Lake and back to Fish Lake. 

Whoops of joy on Fish Lake at 10am. 

 

Our trip was eight hours, 33 miles and covered 33 lakes. That means we did a lot of walking, probably 11 miles. It is easy to skate at 10 miles per hour on smooth lake ice. Nancy Lakes has less walking.  

 

An ice octopus formed by water extruding up through a crack then freezing smooth again. 

 

Roman about to dunk himself in the West Fork Moose River. The river had enough flow to keep the channel open in the near-freezing temperatures. The big lakes were stagnant and frozen. 

 

Roman cleaning his socks.  

 

 

Roman and I mostly socialize over the alley fence or at dinner parties. This was our first time to play outside together.

I'm fascinated by talking with adventurers who have been at it for many years. Their perspective on life, adventure and risk is matured. Roman told me that much of the allure of big trips in the outdoors is survival. If you pull off a tough trip, that feeling of surviving is unbeatable. It becomes addictive. Later, as adventurers have families, and their testosterone subsides, and they learn that dying is a real possibility, their trip priorities shift. Managing risk (avoiding death) becomes their focus. 

 

Roman calculating distance on the next leg. Navigating lakes is tricky because the terrain is flat. Each lake looks the same to a first time visitor. As we burst into each new lake one of us would say, "Have you looked where to go?" And we'd zoom across the glass to the next portage, following our navigation app. 

 

A glacial erratic. 

 

Most of the portages between lakes were easy trails.  

 

One of the bigger lakes, maybe Loon or Swan Lake.  

 Every great trip ends in the dark. We headed to Wildman's in Cooper Landing for dinner. I ate an old corndog with jojos. Roman had a pint of Dreyer's and a Rockstar. Climbing in the car I said, "Whoa, what stinks like sauerkraut?" Roman said, "That's my socks." An hour later, with the car floor heat cranked, I located a massive dog loaf stuck to the bottom of my shoe. Good times.

Thanks for a great day Roman!