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  1. #1
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    white mountains fat-bike-packing

    Hi guys
    We're a couple of guys from CA planning on a ~5 days bikepacking tour on fatbikes to the White Mountains.

    Our current plan is to rent fat-bikes + bikepacking equipment around end of Feb/beginning of Mar.

    Can anyone recommend on a place that rents that around there?

    Also in need for recommendations on sleepingbag/bivy/shoes/clothing...

    Any help would be appreciated.
    Thanks!
    Gilad

  2. #2
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    How much cold weather experience on a fatbike do you have?
    "It's only when you stand over it, you know, when you physically stand over the bike, that then you say 'hey, I don't have much stand over height', you know"-T. Ellsworth

    You're turning black metallic.

  3. #3
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    zero.

    have bikepacking experience on MTBs (non fatbike). including some cold weather (snow storms in the European alps)

  4. #4
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    Well, some of us have spent entire seasons getting our winter-weather clothing systems down. The plan may be quite ambitious, also if you are planning to use gear you don't own and aren't familiar with. White Mountains can easily plunge below -50F during that time, this is no small deal IMO. It may be a better idea to do come up to Anchorage get a little experience in and do something like the Susitna 100 race over two days to cut your teeth a bit in a safer environment. Maybe go bike-camping out of Talkeetna to validate gear, etc. Not trying to discourage you, but going right to the White Mountains and bike camping seems like a lot to bite off.
    "It's only when you stand over it, you know, when you physically stand over the bike, that then you say 'hey, I don't have much stand over height', you know"-T. Ellsworth

    You're turning black metallic.

  5. #5
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    Thanks for this. Truly appreciate this.

    I'm aware of the risks. Been trying to get myself out of my comfort zone every year for an adventure.
    My way to cope with this is to prepare properly.

    Thats why I'm asking for advice from the veterans (like you ) about their setup, to learn from experience.

    (We will do "dry runs" with the bike+equipment before going directly to the white mountains.)

    Thanks again

  6. #6
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    There are a few places in Fairbanks to rent fatbikes.

    Far North Fatbikes: Fatbiking Links

    Try to rent on of the BLM cabins, I think their reservation system is on line now.

    As Jayem said, the weather that time of year can be anything from positive 20Fs to -50Fs.

    The drive to the trail head is less than 30 miles from Fairbanks, and ATT cell phones work from the trail head, but no where else. No other cell service is available.
    Most rental cars do not have an auto start system to keep the engine cycling, so anything less than -20 is going to be difficult. There are ways of dealing with this.

    When temps get to -20, situations can turn bad quickly, at -40 little things can put you in a survival situation. Remember that it will be dark most of the time.

    With the right gear a -20 ride is actually enjoyable. Riding out at -40 is possible, but you would have to really know what you're doing, and it would suck. I have gone out on overnights leaving at 0F, and had the temps near -30F the next day, even though the forecast was for rising temps.

    During the White Mountain 100, the riders are being pretty closely monitored and there are people on snowmachines to bail them out. The rest of the year you might be the only people out there.

    With that said, I've lived here 30 years and pretty much head out camping year round. The White Mountain Nat Rec area is beautiful, and has collection of nice cabins. I'd certainly recommend a visit. You'll just have to play the weather, and realize that your trip may end up riding local trails around Fairbanks and growing some nice snotcicles.

    I hope this sounded positive, I'm most certainly not trying to dissuade you. The Moose Creek cabin would be a good goal. It's very possible you could have nice weather in the teens with an awesome auroras. In the Interior of Alaska, the weather will determine the trip.

    Duncan
    Fairbanks AK
    “Maybe, just once, someone will call me 'Sir' without adding, 'You're making a scene’.” -H.J. Simson

  7. #7
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    Duncan - thanks a lot this is very helpful!
    Appreciate the time you took for writing.

    Just making sure:
    When you say temperatures go get to -50F you mean - during daytime? i guess i was looking at the wrong weather sites i realize weather forecast is never accurate but this sounds extremely off
    I have no plans on sleeping outside, only in cabins.
    What do you mean it'll be dark most of the time? I saw that I'll have ~11 hours daytime..
    (https://www.timeanddate.com/sun/usa/fairbanks)
    (beginning of march)

    am i missing something?

    our current plan, weather permitting of course, is something like:
    moose creek cabin, cache mountain cabin, windy gap cabin, borealis cabin

    does that make sense?

    thanks again guys

  8. #8
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    You are correct on the daylight, I was thinking Jan-Feb. I should have paid better attention. We will be gaining about 8 minutes a day of daylight mid March, so you will have pretty good daylight, and dusk will go on for hours.

    The temps will increase bit during the day, especially in later March, but not much in Feb. The sun just doesn't get high enough.

    Even mid March, we are still in the possible -30 zone. It can easily be 20 degrees colder in the Whites than Fairbanks, it can also be that much warmer.

    There is often a 20 degree difference between the hills and the valley floors. The valleys are coldest, the cold air just pools there.

    Those cabins are about 20 miles apart, which is a good distance, especially it snows much. The BLM does groom the trail once and a while, and other snowmachines pack it. It there is a good dump, then you might have to wait a while to get out. This happened mid March about 6 years ago.

    The cabins are nice, they have wood stoves, propane lanterns, and a propane cook stove.

    The BLM rangers are the best source of up to date information, you can talk to a real human and see that the latest conditions are.
    “Maybe, just once, someone will call me 'Sir' without adding, 'You're making a scene’.” -H.J. Simson

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by AlaskaStinson View Post
    The drive to the trail head is less than 30 miles from Fairbanks, and ATT cell phones work from the trail head, but no where else. No other cell service is available.
    Most rental cars do not have an auto start system to keep the engine cycling, so anything less than -20 is going to be difficult. There are ways of dealing with this.
    And on that note, I'd highly recommend a Delorme InReach type device, ideally with someone monitoring for non-critical situations, in addition to critical ones (doesn't need this, just nice to be able to communicate with someone or have them check the weather for you, etc).

    And yeah, the reason I say be prepared for -50 is that you can get real crazy still/calm days where the cold air just pools and super-cools in valleys and low spots. It's not always possible to just climb out, depends on the conditions, snow, location, etc. Our sun-angle is pretty low all year, in the winter anything that doesn't get sunlight just gets way cold, and it doesn't take very high mountains to do this. I'm already starting to see valleys that remain dark nearly all day, just due to the changes going into fall. If you want more regulated temps, ride near the coast, like Nome, etc.

    Personally, I don't go ride colder than about -20, I have, and I've had fun, but you really have to know your body and what to do before it's too late. It's a skill I've developed over a few seasons, knowing how to dress, when to change, what to do if feet/hands start feeling cold. I wouldn't attempt such a ride without some backcountry bike-packing prep, going into the hills behind Anchorage or out at Nancy Lakes for "mini" expeditions (when the temps are cold enough to make it realistic).

    Good luck, hopefully some more people will chime in. I really don't have the camping (on bikes) experience, just riding and races over the last 4 years. Others have much more experience and knowledge on this subject than me. There's an Alaska Mountain Biking facebook page, that might be a good start too, lots of friendly riders there as well. There are probably some good shops in Fairbanks, but the few times I've been there in what I consider warm for fairbanks (-10 to +10) during the dead of winter, I saw no one riding and very little evidence of riding (on the trails just outside the city).
    "It's only when you stand over it, you know, when you physically stand over the bike, that then you say 'hey, I don't have much stand over height', you know"-T. Ellsworth

    You're turning black metallic.

  10. #10
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    The white mountains is a beautiful place, but you are really on your own. What the other guys has posted is very true and real up there. I say at -20 things start to get real, all your gear starts not wanting to work from your bike to your clothing. At -50 anything can break, nothing will work properly, you better have a plan that you have tested before. If you have a few knots of breeze at -50 you uncover your face within minutes it will feel like you just got hit in the face with a 2x4, if you take your glove off your already cold hand your fingers will stop working so fast you can’t believe it.
    I would suggest doing some of the Iditarod trail south of the Alaskan mountain range maybe. A lot more services along the way, trail is more predictable and help is a lot closer if you should need it. Not that it does not get cool and challenging, but probably a better plan to start cold weather riding. Not to discourage you but if you have not been it that cold it’s hard to understand all the things that will go wrong.

  11. #11
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    The Whites are a fantastic place. Cabins can be rented 30 days in advance online, the details are here: BLM Alaska: White Mountains National Recreation Area: Cabins

    Far North Fatbikes is out of business these days, but Goldstream Sports (Goldstream Sports Fairbanks AK your local Bike, Run & Ski specialists. Trek Electra Trek Ride+ Free Agent ) and Beaver Sports (Home page) are renting bikes.

    In late February and March the weather normally isn't that bad, but it can be cold, especially at night. For some idea about the temperatures, check out this climate chart for Fairbanks. Keep in mind in the Whites in the lower areas it can be a fair bit colder (like 15f degrees or colder ) than in Fairbanks.

    white mountains fat-bike-packing-fairbanks_temperature.png

    If you want better/warmer weather with more daylight, mid March to early April is the best time. There is a race in late March, White Mountains 100

    After mid February the trails are normally in pretty good shape, but if it snows or the wind blows a lot, the trail can be un-ridable and require you to push your bike. Moose Creek, Eleazars, Lees, Crowberry, and Borealis cabins are all fairly close (<25 miles) from the mile 28 trailhead, and have the best chance of good trails.

    The cabins are a bit rustic, and you need to bring propane for the lantern and cooking stove. They have wood stoves, but you need to be prepared to find/provide your own wood.

    Clothing is sort of hard to recommend without more knowledge of your winter traveling experience - what sort of background/experience do you have xc skiing, hut to hut touring, alpine (snow) climbing?

    What sort of physical shape are your group in?

    Let me know if you have any more questions, I spend a lot of time out there in the winter and summer .

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by spruceboy View Post
    The Whites are a fantastic place. Cabins can be rented 30 days in advance online, the details are here: BLM Alaska: White Mountains National Recreation Area: Cabins

    Far North Fatbikes is out of business these days, but Goldstream Sports (Goldstream Sports Fairbanks AK your local Bike, Run & Ski specialists. Trek Electra Trek Ride+ Free Agent ) and Beaver Sports (Home page) are renting bikes.

    In late February and March the weather normally isn't that bad, but it can be cold, especially at night. For some idea about the temperatures, check out this climate chart for Fairbanks. Keep in mind in the Whites in the lower areas it can be a fair bit colder (like 15f degrees or colder ) than in Fairbanks.


    If you want better/warmer weather with more daylight, mid March to early April is the best time. There is a race in late March, White Mountains 100

    After mid February the trails are normally in pretty good shape, but if it snows or the wind blows a lot, the trail can be un-ridable and require you to push your bike. Moose Creek, Eleazars, Lees, Crowberry, and Borealis cabins are all fairly close (<25 miles) from the mile 28 trailhead, and have the best chance of good trails.

    The cabins are a bit rustic, and you need to bring propane for the lantern and cooking stove. They have wood stoves, but you need to be prepared to find/provide your own wood.

    Clothing is sort of hard to recommend without more knowledge of your winter traveling experience - what sort of background/experience do you have xc skiing, hut to hut touring, alpine (snow) climbing?

    What sort of physical shape are your group in?

    Let me know if you have any more questions, I spend a lot of time out there in the winter and summer .
    Also important to note that 2015-16 winter was quite warm for Fairbanks, it has been more common to drop down to -40, but in the last few year not as much. Still have to plan for it though...
    "It's only when you stand over it, you know, when you physically stand over the bike, that then you say 'hey, I don't have much stand over height', you know"-T. Ellsworth

    You're turning black metallic.

  13. #13
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    That is possible, but the "gray" normal area minus 15 degrees or so seems more likely.

    The later you go, the more likely you will get warmer weather.

  14. #14
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    I'll second, or third everyone's advice. I go out all year, you just have to be careful, be smart, and know when to modify plans. Once the trails get packed in late March, the riding can be awesome.

    I found out this summer that the trails pretty well suck in the summer. I made it out to Crowberry in July.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWz8vCR7GOs

    I didn't know Far North was no more, Beaver Sports still rents fat bikes. Might have some luck with Joel at Goldstream Sports.

    If the trail is well packed, 3.8in tires are OK, but ever since I replaced my Pug, I have been riding 4.8s in the winter and enjoying the extra float.
    “Maybe, just once, someone will call me 'Sir' without adding, 'You're making a scene’.” -H.J. Simson

  15. #15
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    To balance all this doom and gloom - in early January I bumped into a woman in her mid 60s biking the main loop in the Whites solo. She was from Colorado, and had minimal snow biking experience, but lots of cold weather experience as an alpine climber. She had a great time, and enjoyed a wonderful experience. So, it is totally reasonable to great trip, assuming you do proper planning and sort out your cold weather gear + skills in advance.

  16. #16
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    +1 on the no gloom and doom. People do it all winter, it's a great trail/cabin system. But it certainly rewards the well prepared.

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