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by: Tim Kelley

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

17 December 2011:   Lower Susitna Valley Trails Are A Go (Caution Advised)

With the snowfall this last week most of the trails in the Lower Susitna Valley are now ready to go and are in use.  But the catch is - there is lots of overflow on lakes and rivers.  And some rivers, like the Big Susitna and Yentna still have open sections.  It's still early in the season so the trails are a bit soft and you need to be alert when skiing rivers and lakes.

Trails in the Lower Su drainage are in, like this one at Alexander Creek.  With December low or no light - make sure other trail users can see you. A windstorm-felled spruce tree dropped across a ski trail near my wife's and my cabin.  And it put some hurt on our canoe. Just some minor cosmetic blemishes.  ;-)
Some quality time with a sledge hammer, and ear plugs, and she should float again (maybe).
Do spruce trees poop in the woods?

Usually they do.  But if they have to go really bad ...

... sometimes they will use a nearby outhouse.

Luckily this was not our outhouse.

10 December 2011:   Nancy Lake State Recreation Area "Outside Loop"

The idea behind this ski jaunt was to ski around the outside of most of Nancy Lake State Recreation Area (NLSRA).  I started this loop at the Lynx Lake Trail trailhead, a trail that I had never skied before.  From the Lynx Lake Trail I took a mushing trail south and then followed snowmobile trails to Butterfly, Delyndia and Cow Lakes.  I then went west over the ridge and hooked into the Willow Trail Committee trail system that took me north and east to North Rolly Lake.  After skiing the Parkway I got on Nancy Lake, skied to the south end and got on a cool mushing trail that I skied back to the Lynx Lake Trail.

Many variants of this loop can be made using the NLSRA trail system, or other Willow Trail Committee trails.  When you feel the need for a long trail ski ... it's hard to beat what Willow has to offer.

Area map GPS track: 44 miles. The dawning of a nice day. Lynx Lake Trail Following snowmobile trails to Butterfly Lake.
Trail junction marker. A canoe portage sign at Butterfly Lake. On a trail off the end of Delyndia Lake this downfall had turned back snowmobilers.  I figured I had a lot of trail breaking ahead ... ... but after 200 yards of trail breaking I ran into this groomed trail!  Alpine General Services got some state money to groom here.  Nice! Talked to these guys out training for the Iron Dog.  They were doing a 350 mile training run this day to Finger Lake and back.  That's hardcore.
High noon in the Susitna Valley. Heading north across the Big Swamp. This trail sign was cool to see, but kinda funny.  I would bet that less than 20 people have ever skied this remote trail. This guy is a big reason why I go to Willow a lot to ski.  His name is Bill Luth and he is the "Trail Boss" for the Willow Trail Committee.  He grooms some world-class trails.  I like Bill and the WTC a lot.
The Old Hunters Trail was not in, so I skied up to the Willow Swamp Trails before taking the trail to North Rolly Lake. Wow, these trails are beautiful!?!?  Oh that's right ... I'm in Willow. Entering the northwest corner of the Nancy Lake State Recreation Area. Skiing on dog sled tracks while heading to North Rolly Lake. At the end of Nancy Lake I got on an extremely cool mushing trail that worked through the woods to the Lynx Lake Trail.
04 December 2011:   This Weather Blows.  Yes Indeed ... It Blows Over 100 MPH !!

No new or long skis this weekend.  Instead I stayed at home and had the same memorable adventure that many of my fellow Anchorage-ites had.  The adventure activity is called: "riding the storm out".  High winds (118 mph at Glenn Alps) along with several inches of rain that is delivered sideways, makes for sleepless nights as booming gusts hammer the house and make it shudder.  Winds reached 105 mph at my house, 107 at my neighbors.  Just another day in paradise.

The max wind gust recorded on my weather station. Wind Blast From The Past: Before I moved to the South Anchorage Hillside I thought that 75 mph winds, like shown in the above pictures from a North Slope ski trip, were hardcore.  Geez, I didn't know squat back then.  75 mph winds are just a "refreshing breeze" in South Anchorage.
Familiar conditions in south Anchorage this December.  Four storms with winds over 90 mph in three weeks.   During one of our storms I heard a thump and realized Santa had been out trying to ski in 100 mph wind.  Dummy.  He was now smooshed against a slush plastered window.  I called North Pole 911 and some elves flew down with spatulas to pry him off the window.  Hopefully he will recover from this skiing accident in time for Xmas.
27 November 2011:   Butte Trails

There were some trails in the Butte area of Palmer that I had not skied, so I drove up to check them out.  I parked at the end of Maud Road and skied the length of the Plumley-Maud Trail and then the Burnt Butte Trail (and some trails I didn't intend to ski that led me to remote hay fields).  Then when I got back to Maud Road I skied down to the start of the Morgan Horse Trail and skied it to the Lazy Mountain trailhead and back.  The Plumley-Maud and Morgan Horse Trails are "official" Matanuska-Susitna Borough trails.  The Morgan Horse Trail is for non-motorized travel.  The other trails are multi-use.  The only people I met on these trails were two ladies skiing down the Morgan Horse Trail.  I really liked the Burnt Butte Trail.  This trail goes along the northwest  base of the butte.

Picture of map at Maud Road trailhead.  Click on the links above for more info about the P-M and Morgan Horse trails. Plumley-Maud Trail, Burnt Butte in the distance.   I took a wrong turn and followed some random trails.  Got some balance beam work in while skiing across this "bridge". A hayfield I ended up in had a good view of why Butte is called Butte - Bodenberg Butte.
Burnt Butte Trail.  Scenic, nice flow and terrain.  Had to break trail for 1/2 of it. Maud Road trailhead of the Morgan Horse Trail, ski tracks (not mine) lead into the woods. Morgan Horse Trail - narrow but fun skiing. This ain't no Anchorage yuppie hangout. Polaris Rangers (above) and like-kind ATVs are popular these days.  But they don't make good trails for skiing.


19 November 2011:   It's Fata Morgana Time Again

Skiing around Alaska this time of year can be a bit strange.  Cold air cells and low light can create Fata Morgana mirages in the distance.  I've posted pictures of this optical phenomenon before, but here is a picture I took while skiing recently.  It shows Mt. Russell on mirage steroids.  Mt. Russell is a distant Alaska range peak that is unknown to most Anchoragites ... but on this day Russell was demanding some attention!

On a recent ski I took this picture of what I call an "earthquake tree".  You see pockets of these standing dead spruce trees in many low elevation places near Anchorage, on the Kenai Peninsula and in Prince William Sound.  And many crust skiing routes pass through these trees.  The massive earthquake of 1964 caused many areas of land to sink.  This sinking put the root system of these trees below the waterline.  And in many cases the aquifer was now salt water.  The trees sucked up salt water and became partially preserved.  These trees have been standing dead for close to 50 years.  There is a good chance we could be skiing past earthquake trees on the day these trees mark 50 years since they were doomed by the quake: March 27, 2014.

11 November 2011:   Celebrating "Tri-Eleven Day" - 11/11/11

Happy Tri-Eleven Day!  "Say what?"  Today is a day that has the same number for the month, the day and the abbreviated year: 11/11/11.  This is likely the 2nd to last time in your life that you will be alive on one of these days.  The next tri-day, and last for 989 years, is 12/12/12.  On 8/8/8 I did a tri-day celebration summer ski event with friends.  I wanted again to do a date-significant ski on this day - so I figured a 111 kilometer ski would be the thing to do.  111 k's on 11/11/11 ... gotta max out all of the one's that you can!  I was lucky to be able to do this ski as significant snowfall in Anchorage was early this year.  Next year it will be tougher: a dozen dozen k's (144 k's) on dozen/dozen/dozen (12/12/12) ... put it on your calendar!  (Note: As a heads up for next year -12/12/12 will fall on a Wednesday)

GPS track - 111 kms. Tour of Anchorage Trail, looks like winter! BLM sign.  Yep, bears like to hang out here. A snowplow spray barrier next to the TOA trail.

This rarely used back-exit of the police headquarters crosses the TOA Trail.  It is kept plowed so that detectives can make secret trips to Golden Doughnuts without the police chief noticing.

Nice trail to Russian Jacks. A Municipality of Anchorage trail groomer.  I'm a fan of the MOA groomers.  They do a lot with a little. I've always thought these Chester Creek oxbows were cool. NSAA sign at Kincaid says: "Ski Only In Winter."  I disagree.  I think you should ski in winter, spring, summer and fall.  (Grammar police to NSAA: "Skiing Only" or "Ski-only", not "Ski Only") My first sighting of a recumbent snow bike.  Impressive.
Looks like the Coastal Trail near Kincaid is going to see closures do to construction equipment for the Fire Island power transmission line.  No sign of construction on this day. Near Tudor a new building is going up a few feet away from the TOA trail.  Ski the urban canyons of Anchorage! I like this stretch of trail near the crossing of the Tozier Track mushing trails. Easy "L1" pace, stopped to take a few pics and talk to folks.  Happy Tri-Eleven Day!

For those interested in how this route was skied, here's how it went: Start at Hillside/Abbot trailhead, Besh Loop, Tour of Anchorage Trail, APU, around Russian Jacks bike trail and golf course, Chester Creek Trail, detour to park with Scotty Gomez rink, Westchester Lagoon, end of bike trail near port, Westchester Lagoon, Kincaid, Westchester Lagoon, Gomez rink, back around Russian Jacks, APU, trail from MLK underpass to Lake Otis park and back, TOA trail, BLM Coyote Trail, back out the TOA Trail to start of Coyote Trail for a 2nd pass, TOA trail, lighted loop, Service, Hillside/Abbot parking lot.  When I got back to the parking lot I had gone 110 kms, so I skied a short loop to run the GPS over 111.

06 November 2011:   Skiing Anchorage's Newest and Coolest Trail System

With Anchorage's first significant snowfall on the ground I figured I'd try skiing for my first time on Anchorage's newest and coolest trail system - the brand new and wildly popular mountain biking singletrack trail system at Kincaid Park, that was made this summer by the Singletrack Advocates.  It was entertaining and technically challenging skiing.  The  banked turns and jumps were a kick.  Here are a couple of pictures I took with my cell phone.  And here is a map of the new Kincaid single track trail system (the white trails are the new single track trails).

A narrow and technically challenging ski trail at ... Kincaid !?  Yep. A banked hairpin corner draws a spectator.
Update: The above picture is from late November.  Good conditions for single track skiing.  More ski tracks than fat bike tracks.

I think it's cool, and I like to point out the fact, that the highly praised Hillside and Kincaid single track trails systems were designed and built with a cross country skier as a key player.  Happy Trails was contracted to help STA and volunteers build these trails.  And Happy Trails is the company of Jon Underwood of Fairbanks - a former standout Alaskan Jr. xc racer and a member of the  Dartmouth College Ski Team in the1980's.

 Blast From The Past

Skiing the Kobuk 440 sled dog race route.  Trail from Selawik to Noorvik in Northwest Alaska.  No trees.  Lots of wind.
Oct - Dec Jan - Feb Mar - Apr May - Jun Summer
Alaska Backcountry XC Skiing