Nick Varney

Nick Varney

Unhinged Alaska: Get Ready

It looks as though some early deep freeze history may be about to repeat itself

A friend of mine recently returned from a scouting trip to his secluded and highly classified retreat, which is a significant sojourn above the Arctic Circle, and issued an all-points bulletin.

“Nick, a ninja winter is preparing to sneak down on us faster than my gerbil moves when your deeply disturbed dog, Luna, stares at her like she’s a stuffed Cornish game hen with paws.”

He and his crew had been ambushed by some unanticipated and exceptionally anti-human weather and spent most of their time trying to keep their base camp from being spread over the terrain like icing on the face of a ravenous toddler savaging an éclair.

It was easy to imagine what kind of predicament they found themselves in because I had spent some noteworthy and butt puckering times navigating in high winds, deluges, blizzards, and dodging avalanches in that part of the state while my wife was still mowing the lawn and nursing along her outdoor flower pots in Homer.


I recall one time when I had been away from the Dalton Highway south of the Brooks Range for just a few weeks and returned to discover a different landscape.

As I rumbled north into the Dietrich River area, I was greeted by a scene of nearly full fall colors bracketed with termination dusted peaks and August had yet to let go of its last gasp of the year.

It was a stunning metamorphosis and I was awed like a mesmerized tourist at the spectacle of the seas of flaming reds and dazzling shades of gold drenching the valley’s flora flooding through gorges into valleys already blanketed with a kaleidoscope of autumn hues.

Magnificent? Yes, but I didn’t let the warm and fuzzies detract from the fact that behind that glowing facade of foliage lurked the premature arrival of the beast of winter.

When the earth starts flying those colors, it’s usually not long until glacial breaths of air tend to spread shiny layers of snow and ice on the road’s surface making it challenging for drivers to negotiate without implanting their rigs into tree lines, tundra, or a crossing herd of caribou with a composite I.Q. of a wood duck.

That year, Mother Nature’s warning bore fruit near mid-September when 5-plus inches of the white dander of doom carpeted the hyperborean landscape and had the audacity to stick around for a while.

Of course, that snit fit of nature had to transpire just as every wannabee big game hunter from Fairbanks south was trying to truck their four wheelers, all-track vehicles, and half-hammered buddies up the Haul Road to their tough guy base camps that were usually about 100 yards off the main road and fenced in by several cases of adult beverages.

The only things that got loaded during that storm were the hunters and nary a gun left its case before the tempest abated and they had to head south to their jobs and warm man caves.

I heard that most of those stalkers ended up with trophy hangovers and not much else but harrowing drives home with a plethora of tall tales about high arctic survival. Some of which featured descriptive techniques on how to pee while standing in whiteout conditions without suffering instantaneous frostbite on body parts that even their closest friends wouldn’t volunteer to treat.

It is amazing how some guys will bicker for hours over a $10 garage sale item and then turn around and blow a truckload of cash for a long shot at some meat wickedly more expensive than a couple sides of Kolbe beef cut, wrapped and delivered to the front door.

I should know. My lovely wife has such price comparisons cataloged from some of my less noteworthy manly sojourns in “Nick’s Disasters Dossier” that she produces for review when she notices me oiling up the old scoped 7mm while staring at the kaleidoscope of colors draped across the mountains.

Now don’t get things wrong here. She doesn’t mind if I wander off into the wilderness in search of my hunter/gather identity. She just wants the calamity catalog to serve as a reminder not to travel more than 400 miles with a bunch of cool toys and then discover you forgot your rifle. Women can be picky, at times.

Enough about rusting memories. Back to the current matters at hand.

With my bro’s latest weather observations and trip report, it looks as though some early deep freeze history may be about to repeat itself and the odds of a mild trek into winter is as likely as a smooth presidential election in ’24.

It may be time to quaff an energy drink with a hefty chaser of Geritol to get this old body started on sealing things up and cold proofed before I wake one morning and discover snow on the deck butt-deep to a Clydesdale.

But, before all that heavy lifting, I think I’ll bag a hind quarter of local beef with a well-aimed phone call.

The haunch will fit just fine in the freezer alongside the halibut, cod and salmon. And, if there’s any room left, my veteran buddy Turk has a pig that he’s having a personality conflict with. Maybe I could help him out with that issue.

Nick can be reached at if he isn’t ambushing a few annoying pheasants to add to the winter’s larder.

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