Ski Trip to Burnt Island and Back

March 2004



For a long time I had thought that it would be neat to check out Burnt Island.  This island is less than 8 miles from the southern edge of Anchorage (Potter Creek Road).  But it is not easy to get to because of Turnagain Arm that separates it from Anchorage.  There are no summer trails that lead to the island (though 50 years ago there was one).  The easiest way to get to Burnt Island is to fly a small plane to Chickaloon Flats and then take a small boat to it.  But I figured there had to be a better way to get to this island ... like by skis!

I had never heard of anyone skiing to Burnt Island.  But I had heard of trucks during hunting season driving the Mystery Creek Road and then along the Enstar natural gas pipeline north towards Chickaloon Flats.  This route follows the western base of the northern Kenai Mountains.  Knowing that there was a seasonal road to this area, I figured likely there would be snowmobiles heading to this area in the winter.  One way to find out .. grab some food and skis and go hit the trail!

Friday night I had pretty much written off this trip.  The weather in the area was nasty.  But when I woke up on Saturday, it was a radiant and clear day.  So I scrambled to get my stuff together and get down to the Mystery Creek Road trailhead near Sterling.  I finally got skiing at 12:30 PM, and had to push hard to make it the 40 plus miles to Burnt Island before dark.  I got to the Island at 6:30 PM and was able to scramble around and check out this big rock, and the private cabin on the south side (which was in rotten shape).  About 1/2 the 10 acre island is a privately owned parcel, the other half is the property of the Chugach National Forest.

I camped about 1 mile south of Burnt Island and then skied out on Sunday in 7 hours.  This was a hilly ski trip - some big climbs and descents as you traverse ridges to the east while skirting Chickaloon Flats.  Overall - a good long ski cruise on trails I had never skied before.

Here are some pics from the trip (click on any picture to enlarge it):


BurntIslandFromDeck.jpg (66773 bytes) Burnt Island as seen from my deck (telephoto shot).
Sign.jpg (121745 bytes) Start of ski trip - Snowmobile trailer parking lot 2 miles from Mystery Creek Road trailhead.  The Mystery Creek Road starts at mile 64 of the Sterling Highway (between Coopers Landing and Sterling).  From here Burnt Island is about 40 miles to the north.
WolfKill.jpg (121457 bytes) Mystery Creek Road wolf killed moose.  At the time of death, the moose's stomach was full of chewed up willow twigs (that's why the stomach content looks like sawdust).  A day later when I passed by the skull and spine had been  moved - so feeding was still in progress.
Burn.jpg (123390 bytes) Mystery Creek Road burn area - scorched black spruce trees.
SkiShadow.jpg (91224 bytes) A shadowy guy!
MysteryCreek.jpg (105856 bytes) Mystery Creek - I'm glad I brought my Goretex socks!  In the past hunters have been stranded because of this creek.  Heavy September rains can run this creek up to 5-6 feet deep and 150 feet across.  If hunters are north of this creek before it swells - they are in trouble.
GasLine1.jpg (88145 bytes) Do you like your trails long and straight?  This is the corridor for the underground gas pipeline that starts in Kenai and feeds Anchorage.  About 52 miles of this trip was on the pipeline right-of-way.
BigIndianCabin.jpg (131207 bytes) The Big Indian Creek cabin.  On Saturday I only encountered one group of snowmobilers.  A group of six went by.  Their tracks told that they turned around here, about 5-6 miles from Burnt Island.  There were old snowmobile tracks that lead on from here.  I looked at the log book - a lot of folks use this cabin during hunting season (Sept-Oct).  Last entry was in January.  I didn't see anyone on Sunday - so the total human interaction time was about 30 seconds - when the group on Saturday went by.  30 seconds of people in 2 days ... I like it.
OldCabin.jpg (150581 bytes) Old cabin near Little Indian Creek.
Destination.jpg (88675 bytes) Tidal flats in front of Burnt Island.  If you look closely you can see the cabin on the island.  And a redwood water collection tank above it.  The cabin is in rotten shape after 40 years of abuse by the high Turnagain winds and rain that batter this piece of rock.  What is unbelievable is that the owner of this remote and inhabitable rocky outcrop is asking one million dollars for this property.  But the Kenai Borough appraises this property at around 10 thousand!  So the asking price is 100 times the appraised price!  Hmmm, got a feeling no one is going to go for that price.  Or even close.  Cool location.  But a logistically challenging remote property.
PointToHome.jpg (75445 bytes) Standing 10 feet from Burnt Island and pointing to Anchorage.  From across Turnagain Arm it's actually hard to tell that there is a city of 1/4 million 8-10 miles away.  But when the sun goes down and the lights come on ... that's when you really know you're close to Anchorage.  Here, right next to Turnagain Arm, the wind was blowing strong ... as usual.
CreekCrossing.jpg (119982 bytes) Early Sunday morning on the way back.  Quite a few stream crossings like this on the gas pipeline trail.
GasLine2.jpg (44998 bytes) Not as clear on Sunday - but decent skiing for the most part.
WolfTrack.jpg (50453 bytes) Near Mystery Creek ... wolf tracks were everywhere.
MoodyDay.jpg (68565 bytes) A moody day.  But any day you are skiing long and hard on new trails ... that's a good day!