Tolovana Hot Springs: 11 Mile Ski at -35F?

COLD. I’ve never loved it more.

Late day light on Denali.

I recently skied into Tolovana Hot Springs in the interior of Alaska with a couple friends. It was my second time out there, along the 11-mile–sometimes packed by snow machine–trail that runs from one dome down into a valley, up and over a second dome before dropping into the edge of Tolovana River Valley where the hot springs are located.

The main difference between this trip and the last (3 years ago) was that this one we spent the entire trip well beneath 0 degrees on the Fahrenheit scale. This made it way more fun, because severe cold is a reality that forces you to be a better, more thoughtful, controlled version of yourself in order to survive. The best is when you can not only survive it, but thrive in it.

What kind of cold are we talking about here? Well, nothing record-setting and a rather typical cold snap for mid-winter in interior Alaska. Most our time in the hot springs it was anywhere from -20 to -31F, but when we first crossed the Tolovana Hot Springs Dome (notorious for cold temps and far worse wind conditions) it was somewhere around -40, possibly as cold as -45F. However, that was counting wind chill and it was nighttime by then. Departing the springs after 3 nights in one of the cabins, we saw -35F ambient (aka, no wind) atop the dome. That was spicy cold. Daylight, no wind, -35F.

I guess it would be unfair to leave out the second major difference with this trip. A recent windstorm had blown snow in strange, unpleasant formations across sections of the trail and, on the backside of the steep dome we had to ski down (2 miles in the dark), there were downed trees. The worst (most fun) moment of the trip for me came when a chest-high tree appeared in my headlamp light as I barreled down the hill, pulk sled in tow. I was able to drop down, drag my butt on the ground and clear the tree before popping back up and snowplowing to a stop. Then cut I ran back up and cut the tree down before my companions could encounter it.

Enough talk. I wanted to share a series of my favorite images from the trip–mainly the ones that best depict the feeling of cold. Can you feel it? This is a series I’m very interested in exploring a lot more in my life. Turns out I live in a good place for that. It’s also fun to try to keep your camera working at -40 in the dark.

Cold awaits the soakers
Just after the 2:45 PM Sunset, enjoying cabin time.
It was a few days before New Years Eve 2012, so we celebrated with a Chinese lantern.

View more photos from this series here.

Born, raised, and now based in Anchorage, Alaska, Nathaniel Wilder specializes in outdoor adventure, lifestyle, and editorial photography.

Nathaniel’s work has been featured in Newsweek, The Christian Science Monitor, Sports Illustrated, and Alaska Magazine as well as Chaco Footwear ad campaigns.

Nathaniel has produced work around the globe including documentary imagery for The Mountain Education Project, a startup non-profit in rural Nepal and features from Asia and Alaska for The Christian Science Monitor. Reuters hired Nathaniel to document Sarah Palin’s final moments as a vice-presidential candidate on election day in Alaska as well as her last day in office as Governor.

Nathaniel strives to communicate authenticity in his images—whether for journalistic or commercial use.

Previous articleJuneau Indie Filmmakers Host Screening in Anchorage
Next articleGlobal LNG – A Shell View