Cathedral Mountain and the Fairbanks-Coldfoot Drive

One of the things I’ve liked about Coldfoot is that it forces me into situations I’m not always comfortable with. Both of these events were apart of me getting out of my comfort zone that turned into something I really enjoyed. My hike up Cathedral Mountain was fun but very hard for me since I’m an obvious novice at trekking through the wilderness. It was painful at times but it really helped get my mind into a better place after my journey down the Dalton Highway from hibernation at the Deadhorse Camp. Everything was still fairly new when me and a group of people hiked up the mountain. It helped me connect with the area on a deeper level and to appreciate the place I’m living in. The other journey was my time in Fairbanks. The reason it was such a hard situation for me is that when an employee gets down to Fairbanks by plane in Coldfoot, they don’t have an ironclad way of getting back up for work, sometimes leaving the employee stranded. That’s what happened to me.

Cathedral Mountain is a medium sized mountain at about 3600 feet to climb. It’s located just south of Coldfoot and you trek into it by the Dalton Highway. Me and about 8 more experienced hikers went up it. The first hour was pretty fine but I fell behind quick. I didn’t care, really. I was just glad to be out in the mountains on my day off. My group would occasionally call out or stop so I didn’t get lost, which was appreciated but I really enjoyed the challenge. Towards the end, it got pretty steep so I fought for pretty much every step up the mountain. I have an incredibly limited background in hiking or trekking, especially considering my house in Utah is about 15 minutes from the mountains. My family never did any of that while I was growing up. I’ve done a lot of research on the subject since I’ve started coming up to Alaska a few years ago, so I was prepared with equipment. I was especially grateful for my water bladder and good hiking shoes I invested a good amount of money in.

This was more than half way up with a great view of the middle fork of the Koyukuk River. We just got out of the tree line and the rocks were covered in slick lichen, making it difficult at times. Beyond this, it got really steep and at some spots I had to almost crawl up the rocks.

When we reached the top, some of us didn’t feel confident enough to climb to the outcropping at the peak so we ate lunch just beneath it. I brought up the artisan bread I made the day before with some butter and some of us shared that.

At the bottom, we all took a picture of the mountain after climbing it. It’s always a good feeling after a hard hike to see the reference point of the mountain you just climbed. We also found a dead wolf just inside the tree line on the other side of the Dalton Highway. 
My next trip was to get supplies in Fairbanks a few weeks later. I got a ride with one of the planes that was going to Fairbanks with some guests that were going south. While I was there, I stayed at a really nice Hostel that a very pleasant Swedish man owned and operated. The sleeping quarters were 4-walled tents pretty similar to military tents but much nicer. They each had 5 beds in them. The middle of the camp had a giant tee-pee you could sleep in with a few other people and they also had private cabins for rent that were much more expensive. They had a main kitchen where you could cook yourself food and store anything you needed to in their fridges. The camp was about a mile and a half away from the stores so I got resupplied the night I got there and bought some lunch meat and bagels from Fred Meyers for dinner. I slept in one of the tents with my sleeping bag and the next morning I walked to the NATC main office, the sister company that helps with coworker travel. When I got there, they said all the flights were canceled, I’d have to stay another night in Fairbanks, and I’d have to come back at 5 in the morning to get a 9 hour van ride up with a tourist group up to Coldfoot. Although it was inconvenient, I was happy I’d get to stay another night because I ended up going to dinner with some old friends that I worked with in South East, Alaska that now live in Fairbanks. At 5 AM, we loaded up and traveled a couple hundreds miles up the Dalton Highway, stopping at a few pretty cool attractions along the way.

This is the geographical Arctic Circle, as close to what they can pinpoint for tourists. The Arctic Circle is the imaginary circular line that encapsulates anywhere you can see the sun at midnight on the Summer Solstice at sea level. You can actually see the sun a couple miles south from here if you’re on a hill since you’re higher than the curve of the earth at sea level. An hour past this point, our tour guide dug down in the Arctic ground and let us feel perma-frost, the permanent quicksand under all arctic tundras that’s always completely solid frozen.

Crossing over one of the only land bridges of the Yukon River. The Yukon is the fifth largest river system in the world in sheer volume, making it an interesting task of actually building any structure across it. A good friend of mine is working at the camp that the company I work for owns off the banks of the Yukon River. That whole area is really exciting and teeming with life compared to life in Deadhorse, Alaska during the winter.

This is half way between the Yukon Camp and Fairbanks. The mountains around this area are really more like hills and the farther north you go, the steeper and bigger the mountains become. The mountains where I’m staying in Coldfoot are pretty close to the size of the Wasatch Mountains in Utah but if you go about 15 miles north, they start becoming increasingly larger until you reach the continental divide. At that point, the mountains slope downwards towards the Arctic Ocean that is the barren desert of the North Slope. 

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