Outdoors/Adventure

The grass isn’t green, but spring is still here

Spring is here. However, it has not arrived in the usual fashion. A normal year would have mud, at least on the edge of most yards. No mud here, just ice. And plenty of snow. My wife was doing 2-mile runs on gravel last year on April 7. This year on April 7, my daughter rode a fat bike on a well-packed dog trail. There are no swans on Clearwater Lake in Delta. There are no swans at the Paxson Lake outlet. The Delta Junction bison have yet to cross from the barley fields to their calving area on the Delta River.

And — there won’t be as many of the big furry critters to migrate. The last count had 40 dead bison tallied in the Delta area. Traffic fatalities accounted for most of those, but there have been a number of dead yearlings spotted in the fields. The young ones need a lot of feed to nourish growing bodies. The deep snow has wreaked havoc among both bison and moose.

The Denali Highway/Paxson area has an extremely heavy snowpack as well. Moose are confined to river valleys that have enough decent overflow ice to allow them to move around and feed. The snowmobile trails on and along the Denali Highway also provide a highway for moose to walk. Snowmachiners have to swing out around them; they refuse to move.

Snowmobilers are happy. The snow at Summit Lake is powder on top. The snowpack underneath has covered all of the willows, leaving endless unbroken powder. Snowmachines stay on the surface, only sinking 6 or 8 inches. The conditions at Summit Lake and on the eastern Denali are unmatched. Daytime highs should only reach into the 20s this weekend. There is no sticky, wet snow. Avalanche danger should certainly be a concern because of the heavy snow on mountainsides, but the danger is not yet what it will be when the weather reaches April normals.

Rainbow Mountain, on the Richardson, will slide. The hillsides along Summit Lake will avalanche. These will close the road temporarily, but possibly not until most of the spring snowmobilers have put up their machines. Good advice is to stay out of the mountains when daytime highs begin reaching the 40s.

A normal spring … what is that anyway? It isn’t this year — the transfer stations between Delta and Fairbanks are usually full with spring-cleaning junk. Hey — it’s April and no one seems to be cleaning their garage. Where are all of the garage sale signs? We have baby chicks and baby rabbits in our garage. Normally, they would go outside in early April with a heat lamp. This spring they would drown as the heat lamp melted the snow.

Fire danger should be minimal for some time when all of this white stuff turns to water. I have mentioned in the past that I am always surprised when the leaves turn green in the spring. It seems that we get used to snow and then it is gone. This year I think there is a legit reason to be surprised. Snow arrived in September. Maclaren River will have snow in June; maybe it is here to stay?

In 1972, I took a snowmachine from Maclaren River to Seven Mile Lake — near there — on June 1. I towed a 14-foot boat on great snow. The boat is still there and usable; this would be another great year to get boats and equipment to remote cabins with little hassle.

So, instead of bemoaning the late melt, get the skis out, enjoy April snowmachining and roll out the fat bike for a last run on snow. There will be plenty of time for spring cleaning while the yard is melting and the mountains are sliding. The geese will show soon enough. They will brighten your day as they promise that the grass will really be green again.

John Schandelmeier

Outdoor opinion columnist John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives with his family near Paxson. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.

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