Audrey Coble

No Cold Feet: Essentials (and Optionals!) for a Winter Trip to Coldfoot

There’s no arguing that Coldfoot shines in the wintertime: we’ve got incredible wildlife, pristine snowy landscapes, and beautiful mountains bathed in alpenglow. Not to mention, of course, some of the best views of the aurora borealis in the world!

What’s the catch? Few places in the world experience winter quite like we do. Recently, the temperature dropped down to -44 in the area. We do average a little warmer, around -20, but still..most folks would hardly call it balmy.

Some of the most common questions we’ve heard from guests in the winter months go something like this: How do I prepare for winter weather in Coldfoot? What should I bring? Is there anything I should buy?

Our best advice: don’t be nervous! Here are some winter-weather essentials and not-so-essentials (both tips and gear recommendations) to make the most of your winter trip to Coldfoot.

Image by  Brandon Gray .

Image by Brandon Gray.

Remember, layers are key!

For a quick visit, it’s less about quality than quantity. Don’t feel like you have to spend hundreds of dollars on gear for a short vacation! Just bring lots of layers, and don’t be afraid to wear them--especially if you’ll be joining us for an outdoors excursion.

We always like to remind people that being over-prepared is much better than being under-prepared. You don’t want to miss out on the incredible outdoors scenery. And you can always take off layers if you’re too warm!

If you don’t own anything you think would be suitable, there are winter gear rental services available in Fairbanks, as well as a number of outfitters and a thrift store. You’ve got lots of options.

Scarves, gloves, socks, boots, sunglasses

These might seem like obvious picks, but they’re definitely worth double-checking your bags for before you make your way north.

A scarf or neck warmer to cover your face can make breathing more comfortable if you want to play outside.

Good gloves are essential: you can even layer tech gloves under winter gloves if you plan on taking a lot of photos!

Warm feet can be the difference between a rough day and a great one. Wearing a pair of wool socks to wear over your regular socks can help you keep warm all night as you go aurora-scouting.

Likewise, good winter boots are crucial if you’re planning on exploring, hiking, or snowshoeing around in camp while you’re here. If you don’t already own a pair, there are plenty of outfitters (and a thrift store) in Fairbanks that sell gear at reasonable prices; or you might choose to use a rental service, instead.

Finally, don’t forget your sunglasses! Wait, isn’t it dark up there all winter? When we do outdoor activities (besides aurora watching), we try to maximize daylight. What sun we see can reflect off of all the snow and make for a very bright view.

Less obvious picks: headlamp, ice grips

A headlamp with a red-light setting is super useful if you plan on aurora-watching with us. Why red light? White light throws both eyes and cameras off in the darkness. Red light allows you to move safely outside without ruining your (or anyone else’s) photos.

Ice grips (like YakTrax, for instance) can be helpful if you struggle to walk on ice, or if you’re worried about safety. We plow, but even getting from the cafe to the inn requires a walk outside. They’re super optional, but do make a difference--so we like to mention them just in case!

You choose!

Part of experiencing winter in Coldfoot is slowing down, relaxing, and moving with the outdoor world. We don’t have cell service (unless you’re a GCI customer), and WiFi costs money. Instead, consider taking some time off from being plugged in.

We’ve got a cozy space with hot cocoa, tea, and coffee: you bring a book, a notebook, a journal, a coloring book, a sketchbook, a board game, a card game, or...well, you get the idea. It’s the perfect time to enjoy something you wouldn’t have time for in the “real world.”

Still feel like a lot to think about? Like we said up top: don’t sweat it. If you’ve still got questions, don’t hesitate to ask. We want you to enjoy your time in the Arctic, and we’re happy to help you as much as we can!

Do you have any cold-weather essentials you can’t live without? Drop a comment below and let us know!

Aurora Lore: Myths of the Northern Lights

Nowadays, we’ve come to accept the scientific explanation of the northern lights: it’s a particulate reaction with the atmosphere influenced by Earth’s magnetic fields. Pretty simple, right?

But when you’re standing right below them–staring straight up and watching the lights shimmer, dance, and change colors overhead–it becomes easy to understand why the aurora borealis is the subject of so many folk tales.

Photo by Jackie Veats

Photo by Jackie Veats

It’s absolutely otherworldly.

Stories come from places as far apart as Iceland, Greece, and China, and legends of what the aurora borealis represented vary just as much. Here’s a compilation of some of the most popular aurora legends from cultures around the world.

International Folklore

Greenland: Indigenous Greenlanders believed that the aurora was made up of the spirits of children who had died in childbirth.

Iceland: In Iceland, the northern lights were thought to relieve the pain of childbirth, but only if the mother didn’t look directly at them. If she did, it was believed that she’d give birth to a cross-eyed child.

Finland: In Finnish, the word for aurora is “revontulet,” which translates to “fox fires.” In Finnish lore, the aurora is caused by a fox running so fast across the snow that its tail sparks flames up into the sky. The Sámi people believed that the lights were created by a whale’s water spew.

China: Because of their latitudinal location, the Chinese rarely saw the aurora borealis. However, when they did see a rare display, they thought the northern lights were the fiery plumes on the breath of good and evil dragons, battling each other across the night sky.

Photo by Kenji Sato

Photo by Kenji Sato

Japan: Though Japanese legend isn’t so visual, the northern lights are still a good omen. According to Japanese lore, a baby conceived under the Northern Lights will be blessed with good looks, good fortune, and good luck.

Russia: Similarly to the Chinese, Russians believed that the aurora was a massive fire dragon. The difference? According to the Russians, the fire dragon would descend to earth while a village’s men were away in order to seduce the remaining women.

Greece & Rome: The Greeks and the Romans believed the northern lights represented the visible path of the dawn, named Aurora. She rode her chariot across the sky each morning to warn her siblings–the sun and the moon (Helios & Selene)–that a new day was coming.

England & France: The few times the English and the French happened to see an aurora display, the lights seemed to correlate with a war or other tragedy. So, to the English and the French, the red sky was an omen of bloodshed or ill fortune. 

Photo by Jackie Veats

Photo by Jackie Veats

Myths from North America

Indigenous people in North America had the most diverse range of beliefs about the northern lights, believing it to be anything from a battle omen to walruses playing ball with a human skull.

An excerpt from The Labrador Eskimo by explorer Ernest W. Hawkes:

“The ends of the land and sea are bounded by an immense abyss,
over which a narrow and dangerous pathway leads to the
heavenly regions. The sky is a great dome of hard material
arched over the Earth. There is a hole in it through which the
spirits pass to the true heavens. Only the spirits of those who
have died a voluntary or violent death, and the Raven, have been
over this pathway. The spirits who live there light torches to
guide the feet of new arrivals. This is the light of the aurora.
They can be seen there feasting and playing football with a
walrus skull.

The whistling crackling noise which sometimes accompanies the
aurora is the voices of these spirits trying to communicate
with the people of the Earth. They should always be answered
in a whispering voice. Youths dance to the aurora. The
heavenly spirits are called selamiut, “sky-dwellers,” those who
live in the sky.”

Photo by Jackie Veats

Photo by Jackie Veats

To the Saulteaux tribe of Canada, the northern lights were the dancing of human spirits.

The Fox people of Wisconsin believed the lights were spirits of enemies killed in battle come back to visit pestilence and famine; the Mandan people of North Dakota thought they emanated from fires lit by powerful warriors–over which large cauldrons filled with dead enemies simmered.

Some Inuit groups thought they were spirits of animals they’d hunted, like belugas, caribou, seals, and salmon. The Menominee of Wisconsin said they were huge torches friendly giants used on hunts to help spear fish.

A popular legend stated that the lights were human spirits playing ball with a walrus skull. People on Nunivak Island told it the opposite way, where walrus spirits played the game with a human head.

The Algonquin people believed it was the fire of Earth’s creator retired to the north, its bright reflection in the sky a reminder that he still remembered and cared for his people.

Only the Native people of Point Barrow believed it was evil; they carried knives and weapons when traveling outside at night to defend themselves.

So, which myth best describes the northern lights?

We’ll let you decide for yourself!

Photo by    Nickolas Warner

Looking for more information?

Check here: [1][2][3][4][5]

Coldfoot is the Best (and Most Underrated) Place to See the Northern Lights

Photo of the aurora borealis over the South Inn by Kenji Sato.

Photo of the aurora borealis over the South Inn by Kenji Sato.

Be honest with us for a moment: what comes to mind first when you think of ‘taking a trip to see the Northern Lights’?

For lots of folks, that’s “Oh, right, where is my passport?” or, if you’re in much of the U.S., “Would it really be worth taking that international flight?” The good news is, that totally doesn’t have to be the case. If you’re reading this, you’re probably already clued in-–but lots of Americans don’t even realize they have the option to see the aurora borealis right here in the United States.

In short: Coldfoot has stellar auroras. (Get it?) This isn’t just seeing the aurora, either, like it’s possible to do in the northern parts of some states in the Lower 48. It’s world-class aurora-viewing. Cool, right?

Here's why. 

For one, Coldfoot is located above the Arctic Circle. As you may already know, our Arctic location means that we have twenty-four hours of daylight in the summer and almost twenty-four hours of darkness in the winter (which, up here, is most of the year). Skies are dark all the way from the 21st of August to the 21st of April, meaning that aurora hunters can catch excellent Northern Lights displays for almost eight months.

Another perk of being in the Arctic is that Coldfoot is located directly underneath the Aurora Oval. The northern Aurora Oval is a band encircling the north pole where solar flares collide with atmospheric particles and emit photons (light energy). As the name implies, the northern Aurora Oval is also the zone where the aurora borealis is most visible to us on the ground. This means that any night where the weather is clear enough, you’ll be able to see the aurora from Coldfoot or Wiseman.

In addition to a perfect location, we also have near-perfect weather. By the time that the very brightest and most colorful auroras are out, eighty percent of nights are totally clear--cloudless, and without precipitation--making for incredible views almost every night.

Finally, we have little to no light pollution! Often, in the Lower 48, even if the aurora is visible, it appears dimmer due to the amount of light pollution from nearby neighborhoods or urban areas. At our cabin in the nearby village of Wiseman, Alaska, there is absolutely no light contamination; here in Coldfoot, there are some outdoor lighting fixtures, but they’re very easy to get away from. In both cases, the nearest towns are 240 miles away in either direction-–meaning darkness and great displays no matter where you choose to watch.

For all these reasons, we like to think Coldfoot is one of the best (and most underrated) destinations for aurora hunters and travelers alike. If seeing the Northern Lights is on your bucket list, forget about your passport, take that long weekend, and come on up to Coldfoot!

Colorful aurora borealis over Slate Mountain by Kenji Sato.

Colorful aurora borealis over Slate Mountain by Kenji Sato.

Three Hikes Around Coldfoot (for Hikers of All Levels)

One of the greatest parts of coming to Coldfoot is that, well, there's nothing to do. Your phone doesn't work, there's no reliable internet, and the nearest town is 240 miles away.  You're in the middle of nowhere. There's really only three buildings that are a part of the Camp. So: you made it. What now?

Well, we'd argue that much of the real beauty of Coldfoot--and the best parts of the area--aren't necessarily in camp. They're around camp. Just start walking!

The best way to discover Coldfoot and the surrounding areas is on foot. However, because there aren't too many paths or trails, the terrain can be intimidating for novice hikers and experienced hikers alike. This isn't a bad thing, though, it just gives you a chance to blaze your own trail!

If you're feeling overwhelmed: this guide is for you. Check out our picks for the three best hikes around Coldfoot for hikers of all levels.

1) Visitor's Center Trails

The beautiful Alaska Interagency Visitor's Center is located just across the street from Coldfoot Camp. In addition to an array of awesome exhibits on local flora and fauna, as well as a series of fun, informative presentations on the Arctic region, the Visitor's Center also maintains a series of short trails behind the building. Visitors in the mood for a shorter walk or those who would feel safer sticking to a trail can experience a measured taste of Alaskan wilderness, landscape, and wildlife here.

2) The Coldfoot-Chandalar Lake Trail

While the entire Coldfoot-Chandalar Lake Trail is 60 miles long, making it more fit for a backpacking or camping trip than a day-hike, visitors wanting a more rigorous day trip hike can easily tackle a few miles of the Chandalar trail post-breakfast and turn around in time to make it back to camp for the dinner buffet. No sweat! (Well, maybe some sweat.)

3) Hiker's Choice!

Seriously. Most of the mid-level hikes (without trails) will be best found by driving or walking along the highway and scouting a mountain or hill out for yourself. See a hill that looks perfect for a midday picnic? Order a sack lunch from the Cafe, drive on down, then pull over (without blocking the highway or any access roads) and climb it! Part of the magic of the Arctic is that there are very few hiking and camping regulations--so you can experience it exactly how you'd like. Talk about choosing your own adventure!

4) Bonus

If nothing on this list sounds like your thing, don't worry. Come on in to the Cafe and chat with a Camp Host about finding a hike (or walk) to suit you. The great majority of us love hiking and exploring around the Brooks Range--it's a big part of the reason many  of us live here--so we may be able to give you personalized recommendations for hikes that would suit your specific interests and needs. Just ask!

Hello, world!

Hey, everyone! Welcome to Coldfoot Camp–thanks for stopping in! As you may have seen on one of our social media accounts, today’s the big launch for our new project…this blog! 🎉

This whole blogging thing is pretty new for us, and we will definitely be learning as we go. But, we’re really excited to start building the virtual Coldfoot Camp space! All of us who live and work at Coldfoot are passionate about our love for the Arctic, for Camp, and for the Brooks Range, so we’re thrilled to get to share it whenever and wherever we can.

To cut to the chase–we’re hoping this blog will be the ultimate scoop on Coldfoot, informed by all of our time living here and falling in love with this place. We know that planning your first trip up to Coldfoot can be daunting; but that doesn’t have to be the case. So, we’ll be talking all kinds of things here: from what to do once you get to Coldfoot, to plant life and wildlife in the area, to where to hike, to what to pack based on the season–even what to listen to on your road trip up from Fairbanks!

In addition to a helpful guide, we sincerely hope this blog becomes a place to have a conversation. If you were to walk into the Coldfoot Truckers’ Cafe at any time of day or night, a coworker would be around to help find an answer to your question: it’s just a core part of how we operate.

Even if you can’t come on in just yet, if you have a question or topic you'd like us to cover–no matter how weird or mundane–drop a comment, shoot us an email, DM us, Tweet us, or message us on Facebook. We’ll do our best to reply and write a post on it so others can benefit, too.

So, whether you’re just following us for fun, adding us to your bucket list, or already midway through planning a visit this year or next, we hope you’ll find something here! 

We’ll be back soon with our first “real” post, so stay tuned. 

x

Cheers,

Audrey & Coldfoot Camp