A Condor in the sky
Starting end of May until September, you can see a Condor in the sky over Fairbanks every Thursday. It is the Lufthansa daughter Condor coming in from Whitehorse after a flight over the pole from Frankfurt am Main, Germany. It will fly back non-stop to Frankfurt that evening. The former flight is little more than 9 hours, the latter a bit more than 8 hours. This means that in summer, Fairbanksans can be faster in Europe than in D.C.. Tweet this to your friends.
The crew stays the night and flies to Anchorage to serve the guests of another Condor flight from Anchorage to Frankfurt on Saturday. Anchorage has flights from and to Germany on Tuesdays too.
The German speaking women of the Fairbanks community look forward to the stewardesses’ bringing German fashion magazines like Brigitte or InStyle, which is quite different from the InStyle you can buy in the US.
What not to wear
Most of the passengers are Germans who come for hiking and visiting the hot springs, wilderness areas, and Denali Park or for climbing Denali.
When they walk around town you immediately recognize them even without them saying a word. They wear clothing that is inappropriate for Interior Alaska at 50 to 60 F (10 to 15oC) and also when temperatures are in their 80s (>25oC). Nobody of the locals wears long sleeves and long pants with Birkenstocks and socks, or with sneakers and socks when temperatures are above 50F on a partly cloudy day….
… and they also don’t use mosquito repellents. To be honest, most of us believe that mosquitoes take that as an appetizer. Full disclosure: I am one of them.
Get pepper spray
Of course, you need the gear for whatever you want to do. However, you may need some additional pieces for your own protection from wildlife and other hazards which is the great waste of the land. Whenever you leave the car, bus or house, you are at risk to enter the food chain.
Once you arrive in Fairbanks, buy pepper spray. Be aware it may help on bears when sprayed at the right height (and not against the wind 😉 ), but it does not work on moose. If you plan on going out in the wild, buy bear-safe food containers.
It is absolutely necessary to have a swim vest, when you plan on canoeing on Alaska rivers. Rivers that are glacier-fed have a lot of fine silt. When you go over board, the silt gets caught in your clothes. It makes the clothes heavy and you may drown without a swim vest even when you are a good swimmer. There is a saying that the Yukon and Tanana never give somebody back who falls into them unprotected. Full disclosure: I know at least one exception for each one them. However, they both were lucky that there was another person who helped them out of the river.
When you plan on hiking, make sure you have appropriate hiking shoes. Don’t go out there with hiking shoes that are not yet broken in. Once you are out there you can’t go back even when the blisters on your blisters get blisters.
If you are on a guided tour, the tour company will probably give you tips what to pack. It is wise to follow them.
What else to pack
… depends on the time of the year you are travelling in Alaska. I already wrote a post on what to pack for aurora watching. Be aware that you can only watch the aurora when you have clear sky and dark nights. Thus, if seeing the aurora is your goal, you will have to plan for traveling after mid August to end of April. The best chances are in March, which on average is the driest month with the fewest cloudiness. However, March can still be pretty cold.
When you are visiting during the white nights and have trouble sleeping when there is light, get some eye-covers.
Unexpected heat and cold
In the Interior of Alaska, temperatures can reach the 90s (27.9oC) around local noon. In the early mornings, temperatures may be in their 50s (10oC). When you are hiking be aware that temperature typically decreases about 1.27F (0.65o) per 328 fts (100 m) increase in height. Thus, pack clothes that is suitable for layering.
Make sure that your clothes are semi-permeable for moisture, i.e. the fabric should let moisture from sweating go outside, but don’t let moisture from rain outside get inside. Wet clothes lead to evaporative cooling. This effect may be nice when it is hot, but it can be the recipe for catching a cold, and getting hypothermia when the weather gets cold.
What to wear to not look like a tourist in town
Skip the socks in sandals or sneakers. If you absolutely need socks, wear socks that end at the ankle. Wear short sleeves when temperatures are above 50F (10oC). Wear long pants only when it rains. Otherwise go for Bermudas, shorts or Capris. Wear tank tops, spaghetti strap tops with the aforementioned pants or with a mini-skirt or a maxi halter or strapless dress on days with sunny sky and temperatures in the 70s (warmer than 21.1o). Oh, did I say that Fairbanksans love to run around town in flip-flops during the spare time?
The Texas tux or Canadian tuxedo as it is called in the Interior is a typical Casual Friday outfit when worn on a sunny day. During the rain season (August), it would be a good outfit when temperatures are in the upper 40s.
Get a satellite phone
If you go alone with your party, i.e. without scout, you should also have a satellite phone. The cellphone network in Alaska is sparse. Once you leave the three big cities (Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau) or Prudhoe Bay, your cellphone will get no signal anymore after 30 miles or so (about 48 km).
Read the fine print when renting a car
When you rent a car and plan on driving the Denali Highway, Taylor Highway, or Dalton Highway, make sure you rent a car that has 4-wheel drive. Also make sure your rental car contract permits you to drive unpaved roads. Go for the windshield insurance. On unpaved roads it just happens that the car in front of you throws a stone in the windshield.
Don’t panic when you get a crack in the windshield. You can still continue driving. I have never seen so many cracked windshields than in Alaska.
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Is Alaska on your travel bucket list? Have you already been in Alaska? If so, where have you been and did you love or hate it? Let me know, I am curious.
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Photos: G. Kramm (2016)
Copyright 2013-2016 Nicole Mölders | All rights reserved