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Alaska Performance Backcountry Skiing Photos
2009/2010

by: Tim Kelley

Oct - Dec Jan - Feb Mar - Apr May - Jun Summer

Eklutna Lakeside Trail, in the Rain
Late February 2010:  Southcentral Alaska has been going through a warm period.  Temperatures have been staying above freezing around the clock.  I sure hope winter returns soon.  Until then, good skiing can usually be found in these conditions on multi-use / snowmobile-friendly trails, like the Eklutna Lakeside Trail.  It was 42 degrees F. and sprinkling rain for this 24 mile out and back ski.  But the skiing conditions were pretty good.
  The Eklutna Lakeside Trail was wet icy-granular which made for good skate skiing.  The lake was too icy for skiing and too rough for Nordic blading. This guy flapped by, 2 feet above my head, to say Hello.  I think he/she is a Red-Tailed Hawk. The public use Serenity Falls Cabin, 12 miles in.
 
Wow ... not much for snow on the Eklutna Glacier in February. An old military bridge across the Eklutna River. Back in the 50's and 60's the military would stage glacier training operations from this area.  More info here. Near the Serenity Falls Cabin the trail got a bit lean.  

Hatcher Pass to Alexander Creek

GPS track: 86 miles.

Mid February 2010:  A ski trip that had been on my list for a while was to ski from Hatcher Pass to my wife's and my cabin at Alexander Creek.  I had to wait over a year until I could combine logistics and a nice day to pull this ski trip off.  Finally, on February 13th, I got my chance and did this 86 mile trek in one 10 hour push.

I started at the Hatcher Pass Lodge and headed up the freshly groomed road to Hatcher Pass.  The grooming stopped at the pass as snowmobiling was still closed there due to low snow.  I then skied the Fishhook-Willow Road down to the Herning Trail, then onto the Haesller-Norris Trails which I followed to Willow.  In Willow I skied over to Long Lake and got on the Willow Trail Committee trails and went to Deshka Landing.  I then skied the Big Susitna River and Kroto Slough down to the Yentna, then to Susitna Station and on to the cut-off to Mile 10 of Alexander Creek and down the homestretch to our cabin.

This was a really fun link-up of many cool trails that I have skied and learned over the years.

My wife took this picture of me after she dropped me off at Hatcher Pass. A freshly groomed trail to the pass, and no snowmachine traffic.  Definitely a unique situation. From the top of Hatcher Pass you can just barely see Mt. Susitna peeking over the ridge in the distance.  That's basically where I'm heading to. It was very quiet at Hatcher Pass.  I only saw 2 snowmachines (they were outside of the park) due to the closure. Often this is a wide, groomed trail.  Not this year.  But nevertheless - it was good skiing.
I was surprised to find that the Fishook-Willow Road had been plowed all the way up to the Lucky Shot Gold Mining Project.  This is not normal.  The skiing was still good on the plowed road.  But when it warms up this route is going to be lost pretty fast. "Dualies" (double back wheeled pickup trucks) make good double poling tracks. At this sign I turn off the road and get on the Herning Trail.
The Herning Trail, because it was laid out in the old days as a dog sled freighting route, has a great flow to it. A ways out of Houston I took a right off the Herning Trail and headed northwest towards Willow. Plateau Lake The Haessler-Norris mushing trail system is beautiful skiing.  But I'm always looking as far down the trail as possible to watch out for oncoming teams of canine athletes.  I didn't see any dog teams this day.
The "Woodcutters Row" trail is aptly named.  It skirts the edge of a logging operation. The Haessler-Norris trail goes through lots of areas of dense, snow-laden spruce forest. Following the power line that goes to the top of Mt. McKinley.  ;-) A Willow Trail Committee marker on Long Lake. Passing through Deshka Landing.
At Deshka Landing I saw a flying snowmobile!  "Hey, watch out for those .... trees!" A few miles below Deshka Landing is a BIG opening in the Big Su.  I definitely wanted to ski by this before it got dark.  Update: Sadly, later this year a snowmobiler would drown here. Darkness falls as I head down Kroto Slough.  When a ski trip you have long tried to do is playing out ... darkness, daylight - it's all good. Getting near our cabin.  This is the "Big Rock".  It's a glacial erratic, the only rock that shows up in the first 10 miles of Alexander Creek.  I round the last bend and see that my wife has her living Christmas tree lit up (by generator).  My wife observes a very long Christmas tree season (about 5 months).

Moose Can Read!
... and other goings on in the Lower Susitna Drainage

Early February 2010:  This moose cracked me up.  I was skiing down Alexander Creek and she saw me coming.  So she ran up to a "Posted / No Hunting" sign and stayed there.  She seemed to be saying: "Check out the sign: Posted!  No Trespassing!  No HUNTING!  ... You can't touch me!"  She seemed to have figured out that "Posted" signs would bring her safety.

Well, it's commendable that Susitna Valley moose have taught themselves how to read.  But while this moose's logic is good in theory, it really doesn't match reality.  As most Alexander Creek residents will attest, when winter moose hunters come from outside of this village to hunt here - 9 times out of 10 these moose hunters can't read signs (or maps or game regulations or even snowmobile fuel gauges).

Recently the Lower Susitna area got a bout of strong winds from the south.  This is fairly rare, as the prevailing winds here are from the north.  All the leaves that showed up on the snow, in February, made you realize that something odd had happened.  Leaves that had withstood months of harsh north winds were all dislodged by a strong blow from the opposite direction. "Hey!  Where the heck did that dog come from!?"

That's Cali from Alexander Creek.  Whenever she wants to go someplace she hops a ride on a passing snowmobile sled.

When you ski through moose tracks and you feel no resistance (the tracks haven't begun to set up) - then you know the tracks are fresh and the moose is right in front of you, or maybe right besides you! West of the Big Su you can still find snow that was colored over a month ago by the New Years Eve "blue  moon".  ;-)
Skiing Alexander Creek. Skiing past a Susitna River log jam. A Valentines Day potluck dinner at the Drapers drew 100% of the current population of Alexander Creek.  15 people showed up.  Good food, nice folks ... a neat Alaskan small town gathering. A point near where the Yentna and Big Susitna Rivers meet is called "Scary Tree".  This name came from an ancient, and "scary" looking, big cottonwood tree that once resided at this spot.  The old tree was taken out by the bank-eroding forces of these big glacial rivers.  Someone recently put a sign up to ensure that the Scary Tree place name is not forgotten.  But now it's not really Scary Tree.  It's more like "Scary Treated 6 foot 4 by 4 From Home Depot".

January Crust Skiing on the Ingram Creek Tidal Flats
 
Map of the often, but not always, ski-able areas on the Turnagain Arm tidal flats on either side of Ingram Creek.  Check when the high tide will be before you go.

Eagle River Nature Center to Chugiak Ski Trails
Late January 2010:  I teamed up with Benji Uffenbeck to ski a new Eagle River route we had been talking about.  The idea was to ski from his house near the Eagle River Nature Center to the chalet at the Beach Lake / Chugiak trail system.  We skied down Eagle River, which was good going mostly on snowmobile trails, until we were a mile or so downriver from the Glenn Highway bridge.  Then our plans changed thanks to the Eagle River sewage treatment plant.  We didn't realize that the effluent of the poop plant was a strong flow of warm, and pungent,  water that kept Eagle River unfrozen and open from this point on.  Whoops.  So, we "Plan B'ed" it and skied a power line, subdivision roads and through random backyards until we got to Chugiak High School and the trail system.  Skiing the "Benji Trail"  was a fun combination of nice river skating ... followed by some entertaining skinny-ski boondocking. 

Note: To ski on Fort Richardson property you need to get a Recreation Access Pernit.  It's quick, easy and free to get one.  Just stop by the main gate of Fort Rich and an MP will get some info (drivers license) from you, take your picture, give you an ID card ... and you will be ready to go.

Note to Fort Richardson: Perhaps there should be more signage along Eagle River near the sewage plant?   Eagle River is a popular skiing route and you can't tell when you enter Fort Richardson property.

GPS track: 25.4 miles. Good snowmobile trails for skating on Eagle River. Reaching the Bypass bridge. Heading towards the infamous Eagle River campground rapids.  Site of many canoe and raft rescues. We followed a snowmobile trail along the side of  the frozen rapids.  It was no problem skiing this section.
Waxing up at the campground.  The Glenn Highway bridge is in the distance. Downriver from the Glenn Highway we found good ski trails to follow. We skied past this unique looking house.  It's the only house I noticed along the river west of the Glenn Highway bridge. Due to lack of signs telling us to stay out ... we wandered onto Fort Rich, and had to find a way out.  The Army needs more signage in this area. Benji enjoys some quality skinny-ski boondocking near the end of the ski route.

Skiing From Coast To coasT
Late January 2010:  I waited until conditions were right so I could ski from coast to coasT, in a day!  What coasts am I referring to?  The coast of Anchorage to coasT Pizza in Girdwood, Alaska.  The second spelling above of coast should be a hint if you have been to Girdwood.  This fine restaurant used to be a tacos place.  But when the restaurant switched to a pizza joint, the sign letters were rearranged from "Tacos" to "coasT" ... thus the capital "T" at the end of the name.

Starting from the coast of Cook Inlet at  Westchester Lagoon I skated to the Gasline Trail at Hillside and then strided  up to 4000 foot Ship Pass and on to Indian Pass.  Then I "survival skied" down the ratty snowshoers' trench of a trail to Indian (not too fun because of little snow).  Once in Indian I skied the bike trail to Girdwood until my skis were at the door of coasT Pizza.

It's fairly rare that you can do this ski because the Bird to Girdwood (B2G) pathway is often stripped of snow due to warm Turnagain Arm winds.  And skiing across the Bird Flats area can be dangerous due to avalanche run-outs.  But this year was a unique combination of little snow in the mountains, so avalanche possibilities were very low, and ski-able snow covered the B2G trail.


GPS track: 47 miles.
A long-exposure photo of a plow truck on the Westchester Lagoon skating area. Christmas tree on trail next to the lake at APU. A truly Alaskan stop sign. Breakfast time in Far North Bicentennial Park.
Powerline Trail.  A kicker that allows snowboarders to go big and grab onto the high voltage lines above.  Doh! At the "German Bridge".  Looking up towards Ship Pass.  (Note to AOC:  Are you guys missing a mountain orienteering race control?) Moose skull and Ship Pass in the distance. The Ramp and the moon above.  Below, wind kicking up snow plumes on The Wedge. I followed tracks of a guy who was skinning up to the pass.  He had monster ski pole baskets. I caught up to him at the Pass.  "You've got skis that are really skinny" he said.  I responded: "You've got pole baskets that are really freakin' huge!"
Ship Pass, 4050'.  Our backyard paradise, the Western Chugach Mountains, in the distance. A big glacial erratic, and looking down Ship Creek Valley Looking back up toward Ship Pass. At Indian Pass.  Old ski tracks lead towards Arctic Valley. Heading down the valley towards Indian.  A big lynx had made the most recent tracks here. Skiing above the trees was really good.  But skiing down the trail through the woods was lousy, survival skiing.  More snow is needed here ... badly.
Heading from Indian to Bird. I had to make a quick stop in Bird to fuel up on Snickers, Gatorade and Snickers. Sunset.  This ski trip took longer than I expected (due to Indian Pass area 2 mph slogging).  So I finished in the dark. Getting close. I made it ... coast to coasT!  Now it's time to eat ... Before I left Anchorage I knew exactly what I'd be eating at coasT Pizza - their spinach and feta quesadillas!!!

Familiar Trails, That Never Get Old
Mid January 2010:  I've skied this route many times in the last 20 years, but I think this is the first time I've posted info about it on this web site.  This is the general ski route to my wife's and my cabin west of the Susitna River.   Starting at the Point Mackenzie General Store it heads out the Enstar Gasline trail to the Big Susitna River.  At the Big Su there are a number of ways you can go.  So the distance is 24 to 28 miles.

Past the turnoff to Flathorn Lake, the route the Su 100 takes, I have never seen another skier on this trail in 20 years.  But I have seen skiers in the Alexander Creek area.  Mostly they are Thiele-clan relatives ... the Thieles homesteaded at Alexander Creek in the 1930's and 86 year old Carl Thiele still lives there.  He's lived at this remote, no road access location for 70 years.  His wife, who is in her late 70's, still xc skis out there.  So that makes me a young punk whippersnapper when it comes to skiers west of the Big Su.

While skiing the Gasline trail I met a friend that retired and moved to a remote property west of the Big Su.  What he had to say impressed me: "I can't believe how lucky we are to live out here.  Every time I travel out here I love this place even more."  This guy is 60 and has probably been coming to the Alexander Creek area for 55 years.  Sure sounds like a real Alaskan to me.
The Gasline Trail in the Lower Susitna Drainage.  Arrows show major trail offshoots. Skiing south of the "5 Fingers" on the West Channel of the Big Susitna River on the 28 mile route back to Pt. Mac. Recently there has been good crust skiing on the Big Susitna and in the Bell Island area. A state trooper plane patrols winter moose hunters.  This is a good thing.  The plane radios to troopers on snowmobiles of activity worth investigating. The Gasline Trail.  By snowmobile, skis, dogsled, ski-joring, Nordic skates or truck - I have probably traveled this trail 300 or more times in the last 20 years.

Susitna River Monsters:  The picture on the left shows cottonwood trees that fell into the Big Su.  You can see that they are all pointed the same direction, downstream.  The heavy roots drag behind the trunk as the trees move downstream with the current.  Often the tree will "rock" in the water.  So the end of the trunk can suddenly emerge and stick high out of the water before submerging again.  Seeing this in a boat as you travel upstream is creepy.  And it's dangerous.  You wouldn't want to ram a boat bow into a river monster like the one in the picture on the right.

While skiing in the Chedatna Lakes area I saw the distinctive tracks of three river otters.  I followed their tracks to their front door.
Someone's highbush cranberry cold storage facility. My wife and I were out snowshoe exploring and we stopped by this very remote, old cabin that is being reclaimed by the forces of nature.  30 years ago the folks that lived here walked away from it and left everything.  It's a snapshot of a rustic life, frozen in time ... and slowly rotting away.
Chedatna Lakes A swarm of very rare Susitna fire flies showed up one night.  I tried catching some with my bare hands.  They tasted pretty good.

The Artsy Side of Alaska's Most Hated Plant
Mid January 2010:  Due to the nasty, blistering rashes that cow parsnip can inflict on those that rub against it in the summer ... it's likely the most hated plant in Alaska.  The other day I was skiing with my wife and noticed how the new snow was building up on dead cow parsnip stalks.  And I thought: "Hey - this might make a good nighttime, colored-flash, photography experiment ..."
Our local volcano is still fizzling and burping.  If you expand this sunset picture you can see a steam cloud rising from Mount Redoubt, and a plume drifting northward.

Little Susitna Tidal Flats Ski-Exploring
Early January 2010:  Over the past few years I have been doing a number of ski trips on Northern Cook Inlet tidal flats.  These are fun ski treks because you go to unique places where people rarely ski, the skiing is often good and it's neat to see what other folks have been up to in these remote locations.  Like many Alaskans, I had flown over the Little Susitna tidal flats area many  times.  But I had never skied there.  So if I hadn't skied there, that's all the reason I need to head there with my skis.  I'm glad I did - cool place, beautiful day, only saw 1 person (a local musher) ... and the skiing was good.
GPS track: 32 miles Moonshine on Knik Arm. This ski started and ended where the Beluga transmission line crosses the Pt. Mackenzie Road.  I followed the power line to the inlet where I went east to check out an old boat wreck.  The trail along the bluff was good and I passed by lots of interesting old stuff.
I figured I had seen this abandoned barge, that was towed and left here in the 50's, from the air - for 34 years.  Finally ... I got around to skiing to it. Skiing the "soak zone", where high tides wet the snow and it freezes and makes good skating.  Wolves like the soak zones too, see tracks in above picture.  Anchorage in the distance. Old 1950's setnet fishing cabins once built by a group of old homesteaders that my father-in-law refers to as the "49'ers". Common sights in winter - long shadows and wolf tracks. There was a touch of classic skiing on this loop, but 95 percent of it was skating - mostly on crust snow.  
There are many duck hunting cabins on the Susitna Flats tidal area.  I probably skied by 30 of them.  People pay the state permit fees to keep these cabins here.  I don't believe that any new duck hunting cabins can be built. This dome cabin was once on a raised platform, but got blown off of it. Of all the duck hunting cabins I saw - this was the one I was the most impressed with. It had a separate storage and drying building.  And the living area was a classy 60's (?) Caravan trailer.  I award this gem ... 5 stars!
A bear-proof window cover on a duck shack. Skate tracks.  The west side of Fire Island can be seen in the distance. Crust skiing in early January.  No complaints. I met Justin mushing his pals near the Little Susitna River.  Justin invited me to stop by his place (a remote site next to the power line).  Nice folks.

Bell Island Crust Skiing

Early January 2010:  A recent thaw, followed by a cold spell, made for good crust skating on the many channels that run through Bell Island in the Susitna River.  This New Years Eve offered a rare opportunity to ski under a blue moon, which is the 2nd occurrence of a full moon in a calendar month.  The next blue moon on New Years Eve will be in 2028.

  It's hard crust snow if a 1000 pound moose barely makes a dent in it.      
While I was near Mt. Susitna, the blue moon triggered some inspiration for creative photography!  Note - none of these shots were Photoshop'ed.  They were created using long exposures, and some with lighting from a colored flash unit.
A spruce grouse roadblock. Looks like green wax is being brewed in the wax lab. A snowmobile pulls a $5000 load of heating fuel. The distinctive "Welcome to Anchorage!" sign on the edge of town.

Oct - Dec Jan - Feb Mar - Apr May - Jun Summer
Alaska Performance Backcountry Skiing 2009 Skiing Pictures
2008 Skiing Pictures
2007 Skiing Pictures
2006 Skiing Pictures
2005 Skiing Pictures

2004 Skiing Pictures