Chasing good weather is an art and a science for Alaska hikers


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Almost two months of constant rain turned my hiking friends and I into “weather hawks”. We hunt and ponder multiple weather forecasts, looking for that four or five hour window somewhere in the state where the sun might bestow its magical light and warmth on us.

Some might disagree, but I think weather forecasts have improved dramatically over the past 15-20 years. But at the mercy of the ever-changing moods of the Gulf of Alaska on our southern doorstep, they can’t always be right.

Over the years I’ve noticed that sometimes the weather seems to be moving faster than predicted. For this reason, I always prepare the Wednesday hike on the preceding Tuesday. I’m looking for hourly forecasts. I’ll be up at 3am if it takes me somewhere that offers three or four hours of this illusory orb of light we’ve seen so little of since July.

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My friends say I’m driven. The more accurate word is possessed.

South-central Alaska and even the immediate Anchorage area also have microclimates. For example, it can be overcast with cloud in the Eagle River area, while glorious sunny breaks can occur at Eklutna Lake, which is blessed with a rain shadow created by the great Chugach Mountains to the south.

Likewise, the upper Hillside and Glen Alps may be overcast by a Cook Inlet sea layer stacked around Flattop Mountain. But it could be sunny in West Anchorage around Kincaid Park, which is even closer to Cook Inlet.

If you want to defeat the weather monster, you have to be ready to drive away from him in your car. Admittedly, our road network in Alaska is limited. But in general you can greatly improve your chances of better weather by venturing north and even east. I haven’t fully worked out the formula, but Distance from the Gulf of Alaska (DFGOA) = Better Weather (BW).

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Two fall ago in early October I drove more than 270 miles to the Nabesna area (about 100 miles south of Tok Junction) to find some sun and blue skies. It worked for a few days. I enjoyed a beautiful hike in the Mentasta Mountains where I had never been.

This summer Fairbanks had nice weather in August. The distance didn’t stop me from going there. It was my lack of knowledge of his area trails. Even further north, along the Dalton Highway, the weather was significantly better than in South Central.

Of course, being retired helps a lot. Any day of the week, my friends and I can head out for a short break in the weather. And this summer, we’ve also conditioned ourselves to do the unheard of: hiking in the rain. And we’ve seen many others doing it. Oddly enough, they seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Getting wet for a short time is not a problem for me. It’s lack of visibility. It’s hard to justify a strenuous hike up a ridge when you can’t see a mile.

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This may be hard for readers to believe, but over the past 50 days of almost incessant rain, I’ve found at least 14 breaks, or “windows,” where it was either sunny, partly sunny, or cloudy, with no rain.

There are some people in Alaska who study weather data as closely as our professional meteorologists. i am one of them But the truth is I have yet to find out. Sometimes, when it’s cloudy and rainy everywhere, it gets partly sunny at Moose Pass on the Kenai Peninsula of all places. Imagine that.

Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer based in Eagle River.

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