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Definition of Cabin Fever, it’s causes, and dangers. Read an Alaskan prospector story illustrating the threads of limited social contacts and boredom.

  1. Springtime in Alaska Can Be -40F (-40oC)
  2. Spring Is a Snow Season
  3. Interior Alaska Cabin Fever Story
    • Two prospectors’ First Winter
    • Countdown to Getting the Fever
    • Killing the Days
    • The Heat Is On
    • Getting a Solution
  4. Definition of Cabin Fever
  5. References


Springtime in Alaska can be -40F (-40oC)

Have you ever heard that song Springtime in Alaska is 40 below by Jonny Horton? It’s the story about a goldminer who visited Fairbanks, and enters the Red Dog Saloon. He dances with the singer, for which her fiancé stabs him with a knife.

This song is an example what Cabin Fever can do.


Spring Is a Snow Season

Typically, January is the coldest months. 40 below or colder is so cold that you don’t even want to set a foot in front of the door! You sit inside, and have the feeling the room gets smaller and smaller. Like in the elevator in the spooky house in Disneyland in Orlando, Florida. You are eager to get out, but when thinking about it, you stay inside. When it is a winter with a long cold snap, you will get it: Cabin Fever. You need some distraction and do some home improvement to stay sane.


Interior Alaska Cabin Fever Story

I am about to tell you an Alaska story. It explains the best the term Cabin Fever. When I was told this story the first time in 2001, I did not believe it and laughed about it. One has to have been in a winter with about four weeks of 40 below and colder, to understand it is possible and it may have actually happened once upon a time ….


Two prospectors’ First Winter

During the Gold Rush times, two friends had made their way up North to Alaska. They had spent the summer searching for gold and had been quite lucky and stroke gold in mid September. Winter came early, some time at the end of September and stopped their work. While they first still continued, the soil froze fast and stopped their ability to get to what they came for – the gold. Thus, they were convicted to wait until spring while their minds were burning for the gold.

They shared a dry cabin far outside of Fairbanks. Typically, they mushed into town at least once a week to haul food, and spend some of their nuggets in the saloons and red light district. Once in a while, they mushed to Chena Hot Springs for a soak in the natural thermal wells. That year, it became extremely cold short before Christmas for which they stopped their weekly routine.


dog mushing in Interior Alaska
Dog musher and sled-dog team close to Fairbanks



Count-Down to Getting the Fever

A strong Canadian high pressure system had extended into the Interior with clear days and nights. The stars were shining in the sky and the green aurora borealis showed its eternal displays from one end of the horizon to the other. What a great view!


Aurora borealis in Moon light over a lonely cabin
Aurora borealis in Moon light dancing in a clear night over a lonely cabin



The cabin was cozy and warm, coffee on the stove, the smell of burning alder wood filled the room while outside the temperatures kept dropping and dropping reaching 40 below on Christmas Day. The windows had ice flowers and they grew from the frame to the middle leaving less and less space to see the pink light of the low winter Sun for about 2.5 hours or a little more than 10856 s of daylight after winter solstice in Fairbanks. Despite daylight gained a couple of minutes each day, it remained frigid cold in January, which is typically the coldest month of the year.


Killing the Days

Mushing into town would mean strong cold wind chill in the face from the race. Due to the wind chill, the way below 40 air would feel even more cold. They were sure they would get frost burns if they would mush to Fairbanks. Thus, they killed their time playing cards and only opened the door when they needed new wood for the stove or had to go to the outhouse. They had food supply for at least six to eight weeks. There was no need to make the trip for shopping in Fairbanks.


"Outhouses" by paukrus is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Outhouse on a frozen creek after a storm in late winter. “Outhouses” by paukrus is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0


The high was strong and persistent, unforgivable and like nailed to the place. They re-read their few books several times. After four weeks of not having seen anyone but themselves and their sled dogs, they played cards who had to haul in the wood, let out the dogs, and feed them with the smoked salmon that was stored outside in a shack on stalks (to avoid that carnivore animals would get the food). They started watching the handles of the clock moving predicting when it would jump to the next spot.


The Heat Is On

They became bored with each other, started hating the cold, the smell, themselves, and their food. Bacon and beans anyone? Pilot bread, Alaska raspberry jam and trapper coffee everyday? Then they started arguing with each other, hating each other, and started fighting.

After another two weeks of 40 below temperatures, they decided to separate. They built a wall in the middle of the cabin to divide it into two parts. The table was built into the wall so each of the men had his fair share. Then they started fighting about who would get the stove.


Getting a Solution

The stove would burn down the cabin when built into the wall. Heating both sides of the cabin with the stove would mean that they could not live separate without seeing each other. Getting another stove from town was not an option as temperatures were even lower than the weeks before. Then they argued that they had both paid down the same amount of money for the stove and had equal legal rights on the stove. Thus, they sawed the stove into two pieces.


Definition of Cabin Fever

Doing something that makes no sense at all, in the depth of winter.

Stay cool and sane even in times of limited social contacts and outside entertainment. Be creative to make the best out of the waiting time and don’t ever cut something that is life protecting!



Mölders, N., 2019. Outdoor Universal Thermal Comfort Index Climatology for Alaska, Atmosphere and Climate Sciences, DOI: 10.4236/acs.2019.94036

Photos if not mentioned otherwise: N. Mölders

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