Tuesday I went back up to the top of Crater Hill in a PistenBully. It's still a couple of days before the solstice, but I was so impressed with how incredibly dark it is here this time of year. We left around 9AM, and got back by 11AM, and it was as dark as the bottom of a well the whole time. The PistenBully has pretty bright headlights, so everything is fine as long as you only care about things within the headlight range. It's a very eerie feeling to have everything be gone outside the perimeter of light.
Navigating the top of Crater Hill involves some tricky maneuvering. After a long and bumpy ride from town, the trail from T-Site to the buildings on top of CH runs practically vertically up the hill. There's no way in a million years a wheeled vehicle could make it up that hill. The PB makes short work of it, but it was a little spooky when I lost traction on some wind-drifted snow. At the very top it is necessary to execute a quick 90-degree turn to the right, lest you plunge down a cliff into a depression.
We really lucked out on the weather. It was about -20F and calm, which is bikini weather for the top of that hill-- it is frequently scary windy up there. In this picture I didn't even put my gloves and hat on-- that's pretty balmy for this area in the middle of the winter. Whenever leaving town like this, we are require to at least bring all our ECW (Extreme Cold weather Gear). I wore jeans with long johns, Carhartt coveralls, long underwear top, big red coat, neck gaiter, ECW boots (Baffin boots, in this case), and my fur bomber hat. If it had been windy, I would have added a balaclava, goggles, and a fleece vest. Our big red coats are seriously warm-- I rarely find the need to wear more than a t-shirt under mine in town.
It was so incredibly dark that I completely missed one of the communications shelters I was trying to go to. It was outside my headlights, so it was just gone. There was even a half moon, but it was impossible to see anything but a million stars. We had to stop and stab our flashlight beams out into the darkness to locate building 66. There are fiber optic cables running all over the ground up there, which I didn't want to run over. We parked a hundred yards or so away and hiked up to the hut.
We checked on the conditions of the buildings on top of the hill, which was our main objective. We don't get up there often, and it's a good idea to go up periodically to make sure the buildings haven't blown away or drifted full of snow.
On the whole, a successful trip, but I always feel that I have acquired a gray hair or ten when I make that PistenBully trip.
(Sorry about the quality of the photo. Some much better photos were taken before this, but didn't save, due to a cold battery issue)