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by: Tim Kelley

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Late February 2012: Beluga Slough

From our cabin my wife and I skied to the Ivan River, Beluga Slough and the west side of the mouth of the Big Susitna River.  In the wind-protected woods of this area the snow was chest deep.  But out in these wind-swept coastal flats the snow is often blown down making for good skinny skiing on a firm snowpack.

Nice dragged trail in the Alexander Creek area. Smith Air making a stop at Alexander Creek. Some flamingoes winter-over out here. Smith Air delivering Karl and June Thiele.  90 year old Karl has lived here since 1935 (75+ years). The Gasline Trail across the Chedatna Swamp.  Straight, smooth and fast.
A few inches of powder on winter crust.  Good for striding. Following tracks of a small wolf pack. Skiing under the transmission line that powers most of Anchorage and the Valley.
On the Ivan River we ran into tracks of a river otter that had been out travelling. Frosted cow's parsnip stalk.
An old cabin next to the mouth of the Big Su.  Note the outhouse on the deck.  You don't have to go far when you have to go. Getting some circuit training in. The very rare Susitna palm tree. Heading back, Mt. Susitna to the north. Heading back with storm clouds approaching from the south.  The storm would soon dump 18-20 inches of snow on this area.
  Area map   GPS track: 26 miles.  
19 February 2012: Finding Some Early Season Crust Skiing

Benji and I went down the the Twentymile River drainage to see if we could ski the snowmobile trail up into the valley.  We quickly found that there was no snowmobile trail, probably due to the recent warm-ish weather that opened up creeks and collapsed snow-bridges.  To our surprise we found relatively good crust snow covered by an inch or two of powder.  We were able to skate-ski 9 miles up into the valley.  We turned around at the Glacier River crossing.  The weather was not too nice so we figured we'd come back when it was clear and you could see things.  The Twentymile is the trickiest valley in the Portage area to ski to the end of.  And it's such a cool location that it's somewhat pointless to get to Carmen or Twentymile lakes when the clouds are down to the treetops and you're not able to see anything.  Hopefully it turns cold and clear again and freezes up some of the creeks we had to cross.

GPS track "Hey!  This feels like crust skiing!" There was plenty of open water to contend with.
Give moose a WIDE berth.  They are in a death struggle to survive until spring in this deep snow.  They can't afford to expend calories running from skiers (or dogs). There was a broken down snowmobile near the Glacier River.  Hope they can recover this machine.  It will be a struggle. This is the Glacier River crossing.  It's not too deep but you need NEOS or rubber boots to get to the other side. Skiing on top of the snow in mid- February is a good sign.  With some cold weather there could be early and good crust skiing.
Mid February 2012: Willow Area Trails ... Done.

I knew that I had the Rolly Creek Trail to ski to complete my skiing of all the Willow area trails (on both sides of the Parks Highway).  But I gave the Willow trail maps another thorough going over to see if there were any other trails I needed to hit.  Come to find out there were two others.  So this ski hit all three of these remaining trails: Redshirt Lake "Winter Trail", Old Hunter Trail and the Rolly Creek Trail.  Now I feel confident that I've hit all Willow winter trails.  In a way it's kinda sad knowing this, because skiing trails for the first time is the most fun.  And skiing the trails in Willow over the last several years has been great fun.

GPS track: 41 miles. Start of the Redshirt Lake Winter Trail. Nice birch groves in this area. Red Shirt Lake. View from the Willow Swamp.
Start of the Old Hunter Trail. I really like the Old Hunter Trail.  It's beautiful. Approaching the Big Susitna River on Rolly Creek. On the Big Su.  My wife and I have boated past this spot nearly 100 times going to and from our cabin. Cabins along the Big Su bluffs have good views.  But the high banks make getting supplies from a boat to the cabin a hassle.
Heading back up the Rolly Creek Trail. There is a snaky section of the Rolly Creek Trail that is fun to ski. The Rolly Creek Trail is yet another beautiful Willow trail.   Wasilla?  You betcha.
Mid February 2012: Now I Know Where Neil Lake Is

If you would have asked me a week ago where Neil Lake was, I couldn't have told you.  But thanks to my quest to ski all South-central Alaska winter trails I now know where this neat lake is.  I started at Susitna Landing and skied the MVTC (Mid-Valley Trail Club) trail up the Big Susitna River to "The Ravine" where the trail climbs off the river up to taiga swamps.  I then skied the Neil Lake trail west across swamps and reached the Deshka River.  Skiing down the river I found the short trail from the Deshka to Neil Lake.  I skied back the same way I came in.

At Neil Lake I talked to folks I met on the trail.  And I talked to Jr. Bostwick.  Colleen and Jr. live at Neil Lake and run a cabin rental business called the Neil Lake Trading Post.  If folks are looking for a unique and relatively unknown destination to rent a cabin, that is only 16 miles from the road, this could be a good place to check out.  You can contact Coleen and Jr. at 733-4813 / cell: 715-4531.  Jr. is paid by the MVTC to groom the trail to Neil Lake, so no one is going to know the condition of the trail better than him.

GPS track: 32 miles/ 50km RT The map on the MVTC web site shows two trails to Neil Lake.  The northern route is rarely used. Susitna Landing.  Parking is $8.00.  Gated and secure parking.  Nice folks that run the place. Susitna Landing is the takeoff point for folks that have cabins on Trapper Lake.  Here building supplies are waiting to be hauled out. I didn't have to cross any open water on the Big Susitna.
This is the bottom of "The Ravine".  Here you climb up off the Big Su. The Neil Lake Trail is very well marked. The Neil Lake Trail crosses some big open taiga swamps.  This is not a trail you want to ski when there is a strong north wind. The Neil Lake Trail goes through a section of fire killed black spruce trees. Reaching the Deshka River.  Nice skiing on the river.
Twin eagle nests on the Deshka. This is where you turn off the Deshka River and head to the lake. Arrival at Neil Lake.  Colleen and Jr's Neil Lake Trading Post is on the other side of the lake. A sign at Neil Lake shows that this place is skier friendly.
Mid February 2012: Checking Off The Last WTC Trails ... Almost

I went to Willow to ski the remaining Willow Trail Committee (WTC) trails that I had not skied.  I had not skied a 1/2 mile section of the Deshka Crossover Trail, the Deshka River Trail or the Rolly Creek Trail.  I skied from the West Gateway access at Crystal Lake out the Corral Hill Trail and up the Deshka X-Over.  At the Deshka River I skied north for a couple of miles to see what was up that way (not much).  I then skied to the mouth of the Deshka River and down Kroto Slough to the Big Su to find the trail to Rolly Creek.  But there was too much snow and no trails.  I looked for trails going to Rolly Creek from the north too, but couldn't find any.  I skied back via Corral Hill.  Oh well - guess I still have a good excuse to go back to Willow. 

Willow West Gateway Trails. Wake up and pay attention!  This intersection is IMPORTANT! The beautiful Corral Hill Trail. The Corral Hill Trail has the last downhill on the Iditarod Trail for the next 100 or so miles.  
An "AIL-ing" trail marker. Deska X-Over Trail Nice country upriver on the Deshka. Mouth of the Deshka.  I was surprised how few cabins there were on the Deshka, I figured there would be more. You know you've skied enough hours when you start seeing faces in the forest!

Wind feeds moose. Unlike cows and horses, moose often poop while lying down. 

"Thanks Tim!  That picture made my day!"

In deep snow moose congregate on trails.  Best thing to to is stop and wait until they clear the trail.

Moose calves are reliant on their mothers in deep snow to break trail for them.

Leaving Crystal Lake I noticed this State Trooper pickup stuck in the ditch.  Probably a case of texting while driving.  The troopers weren't happy about me taking their picture.  Ha!  ... it's on the Internet now!


05 February 2012: Matanuska River Floodplain Exploring

I had long wanted to check out the Matanuska River drainage to the east of Palmer.  Looking at Google Maps you can see that the Matanuska River has shifted far to the east in the past decades.  So that shift created a large and mostly dry floodplain to the west ... which I figured would make for good and safe skiing.  I started at the Palmer Matanuska River bridge and skied out and back for 25 miles RT.  I used touring skis  because I figured I'd be breaking trail (I was half the time).  On the lower half of this route I found some good snowmobile trails.

GPS track: 25 miles RT. Start and finish at the Palmer Matanuska River bridge. Heading south, Bodenburg Butte and Pioneer Peak. The trail crossed two open but shallow streams. The water was only 3-4 inches deep so you could ski across.
There were surprisingly nice trails further south, heading towards the railroad.  Only saw one snowmobiler. Palmer Hay Flats State Game Refuge sign. I found this wire snare.  I hate snares, they kill indiscriminately. My outgoing track was almost blown in near the end.


31 January 2012: First Ski on a First-Ever Groomed Trail

For the first time ever the trail to Beluga, across a remote section of a gas line right of way from the West Channel of the Big Susitna River to the gas field houses at the north end of the Beluga road system, is being groomed.  This grooming is being done by a guy who lives in Beluga and does a lot of freight hauling out there.  He recently bought a trail groomer and now there is a buffed-out groomed trail south of the base of Mount Susitna.  I've been skiing this trail for 20 years and never imagined that it would be groomed one day.

22 January 2012: Checking Out The "New" Trail Eleven

The Big Lake Trails (BLT) association has groomed snowmobile trails in the Big Lake area for years.  But as of this year Pat Daniels, operating as Alpine General Services, has been grooming some outlying old seismic line trails that BLT's big snowcats can't easily navigate.  Pat has been grooming with a snowmobile and drag.  Lots of people have been raving about how good his grooming is so I had to go see for myself.  I was impressed.  I skied Trail 11 that runs 11 miles from near Crooked Lake to the Big Susitna River and it was just plain gorgeous.

I started this ski at the Mat-Su parking lot at the end of Ayshire Road at Point Mac.  Skating out the Little Su Access Road I found Trail 14, which I classic skied north and  connected to Trail 11.   I then skate skied to the Big Su, then skated across Flathorn Lake to the Gasline Trail and back to the parking lot.  If you want to give Trail 11 a try, or do other loops on BLT trails, here is BLT's trails web page.

GPS track: 44 miles. The start of BLT Trail 14 on the Little Su Access Road.  You have to pay attention or you will miss it.   BLT Trail 14 heading north.  Nice classic skiing. BLT Trail 11, near east end of the trail.
Trail 11 - buffed out. There are some hills on Trail 11.  You can see the trail heading west towards the Big Su.   Gorgeous trail. BLT Trail 11 is also called the Cranford Trail.  Don't make trail signs out of glulam, porcupines and bears like the taste of glue!
This shrew heard me coming and curled up in a ball.  Good thing I wasn't a coyote, wolf or an owl. The Big Su where Trail 11 meets the river.  This is about a mile plus north of Susitna Station. A trail marker, blowing snow and sunset on Flathorn Lake.
  Winter light is the best.  Get out and enjoy it.  
Mid January 2012: Recent Photos That Depict Our Winter So Far ...
Snow. Snow and wind. Snow. Wind and snow. This isn't the first time we've had a harsh winter in Anchorage.
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