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by: Tim Kelley

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28 April 2013: Moose Pass To Portage Crust Ski

Crust skiing the Moose Pass to Portage route is one of the more challenging crust skiing routes in the Portage area.  You have to start early and keep up a good pace to cover 34 trail-less miles before the crust turns soft on you.  This route is also challenging because you have to know how to get from the Grandview Valley to the Placer Valley, which is tricky due to route finding and steep travel through dense hemlock forest.  I only knew of this route being crust skied once before, when Tim Miller and I did it north to south in 2004.  So this ski trip, with Cory Smith and Benji Uffenbeck, was probably the first time this route had been crust skied south to north.  It's a long and tough crust ski, but it sure passes through some beautiful country.  Check out Cory's pictures!

GPS track - 55 km/ 34 miles. Some rail-side skiing at the start. An empty coal train with 6 locomotives goes by. Benji climbs up from the Trail Creek drainage. Benji heads towards Grandview.
Team photo at Grandview. Cory leaves Grandview, buildings on right in distance. Slalom action along an old pole line. Benji slays the crust deck.
Heading towards the Bartlett Glacier. Scenic view of the Bartlett Glacier. Benji caressing and cruising the crystals. Cory ripping ripe rocket crust. Passing by an Alaska Railroad avalanche howitzer weatherport.
The beaver pond on our secret Placer to Grandview connector route. Descending to Spencer Lake.  Brush is getting thicker here and the skiing terrain is getting less fun. Passing by the Spencer Glacier. Skiing past icebergs on Spencer Lake. Cory leaves Spencer Lake, time to grind the last 9-10 miles to Portage.
    GPS track - topo version.    
27 April 2013: A Ski To Lake No More

I hadn't skied to the Spencer Glacier in a few years.  So, I figured I ski to it and check out the new pedestrian bridge over the Placer River.  And also - I'd check out the north side of the Spencer Glacier.  There used to be a glacial-dammed lake at the mouth of a valley in this area.  But due to rapid glacial recession, the lake that was there in the late 1990's is a lake no more.

Under construction - the new Chugach National Forest pedestrian bridge that spans the Placer River near Spencer Lake (next to the Alaska Railroad bridge). Skiing next to the Spencer Glacier.
Placer River area map. Iceberg icicles. It looked like a coyote caught a ptarmigan and then trotted out onto the lake to eat the bird on top of an iceberg.  I guess he wanted a restaurant seat with a view. Eagle's nest, and an eagle.
  The "X" on this 1997 map shows where I skied to.  The lake next to the "X" is there no more.  The two pictures above were taken from "inside" the former lake, looking up-valley and up-glacier.  
Mid April 2013: Gaining Tribal Knowledge

There is only so much information about winter trails in Alaska that you can gleam from maps, the Internet, online forums, emails and conversations with people.  A lot of winter trail information is "tribal knowledge".  To gain this tribal knowledge there is only one way ... and that is go to to the location you are wondering about and see and learn for yourself.

My wife and I took a couple of days to ramp up our tribal knowledge of the trails to the south of the Petersville Road.  Here there is a maze of trails, seismic lines and rivers here that connect this area to the Upper Yentna and Skwentna area.  After a couple days of taking turns riding a snowmobile and get some great skiing in ... we now know how to connect some of the dots.  And this tribal knowledge will be the source of future ski trips on these trails.

Area map - south of Petersville Road. Shulin Lake Trail Shulin Lake Trail glacial erratics.  More here. Nice skiing on Peters Creek
Skiing an ice road, that heads to the Yentna River, to the south and west of the Oil Well Road. Not everyone was having fun on the Oil Well Road.
  Respect and friendliness towards other user groups makes for quality winter trails.  
13 April 2013: Return To The Lunchbox

When I was in this area with my wife a week before (see previous post), I was surprised to find a connector trail from the Petersville Road, just before the Peters Hills gap, to the Lunchbox Hill Trail.  This connector trail is not on the Curry Ridge Riders trail map.  When I saw this trail, it quickly registered that a good ski loop could be had here. 

The next weekend I went back to the Kroto Creek trailhead in Petersville to ski this loop.  I skate-skied up the Petersville Road, took the cutoff to the Lunchbox Hill Trail and then climbed up the dog-leg to the spine of the Peters Hills, where there were good views to be had.  I then skied the flowing, fast and fun, and mostly downhill, Lunchbox Hill Trail to the East-West Express Trail.  A couple of miles down the East-West Trail I picked up the classic ski trail that Eric Schmidt grooms for the Denali View Chalet.  This trail was a unique, scenic and fun way to end up the last 7 miles of this loop.

The previous weekend there were high winds on the Peters Hills.  At the start of this attempt there were again stiff winds, and I was worried that they would keep me off the top of the ridge.  But once I got to treeline, good luck came and the winds died off for the day.  So from then on it was pleasant skiing on a beautiful spring day in Alaska.  For those that have skied the Curry Ridge Riders 46 mile "Super Loop" (EW Trail - Safari - Tokositna - Chulitna Bluffs), this "Lunchbox Loop" is definitely worth putting on your list for trail skiing in this area.

GPS track: 39 miles (see area map below) On the road looking down at Peters Creek, which seems like it would be good skiing too. Leaving treeline and nearing the Peters Hills. Passing mining cabins at Petersville.
Here the Curry Ridge Riders groomed trail turns off from the Petersville Road, and heads towards Lunchbox Hill On the spine of the Peters Hills.  I saw two snowmobilers on a hilltop in the distance.  I knew why they stopped there - a good view of Mt. McKinley.  So I skied over to where they were. After talking to the snowmobilers, they took my picture.  I only saw 8 snowmobilers all day. The Lunchbox Hill trail is a fun ride as it flows back down off the Peters Hills.
  The Denali View Chalet access ski trail added a unique mix to this loop.  It's not often you can combine snowmobile skate skiing with classic track double-poling in the same loop.  The trail went right by a very impressive glacial erratic that had split in two.  I've heard a lot about the Denali View Chalet and know Sepp Weber, the adventurer extraordinaire, that made the original lodge.  I hope to go there someday soon with my wife.  
Early April 2013: A Lunchbox Full Of Wind

I had heard of the Curry Ridge Riders (CRR) snowmobile trail to Lunchbox Hill in the Peters Hills.  I wasn't sure about the trail layout to get to this place.  So I headed up to the Kroto Creek trailhead with my wife and a snowmobile to do some trail research.  We took turns skiing and driving and figured out the lay of the trails (it's a bit different than the CRR map says).  We didn't pick the best day to do this.  Winds up on the Peters Hills were screaming as air raced towards low pressure of a Gulf of Alaska storm system that was moving in.  Below the high wind zone was good skiing.  The trail from the East West Trail to the Peters Hills, when you went with the wind, was so nice we backtracked and did it twice so both of us could ski it.  Now that I know these trails, I plan on going back and skiing a long loop to Lunchbox Hill and back.

A nice day on the Lunchbox Hill Trail. You can see the Peters Hills, below Mt. McKinley, in the distance. On top of Lunchbox Hill in the Peters Hills. My wife's turn to ski the Lunchbox Hill Trail.  Scenic country. I laugh when I hear skiers say they hate snowmobile trails because they are so bumpy.
    Area map.    
Early April 2013: Out And Back Anchorage Coastal Cruising

I had this idea of doing a 50 kilometer crust ski in Anchorage.  The idea was to ski the coast from Oceanview Bluff Park to Westchester Lagoon and back.  Last year, with our record snowfall, would have been the year to do this.  This year the skiing along the north coast of Anchorage was not that good.  I skied the coast until 2 miles before Westchester.  After making it to Westchester Lagoon I skied the Coastal Trail back to Pt. Campbell, and then crust skied along the coast back to Ocenview Bluff Park.  It was a good long ski, but not quite the route that I had hoped.

GPS track: 34 miles The 50th anniversary of these "earthquake trees" is next year. With recent low tides, it was easy to get across the mouth of Campbell Creek. Nearing Pt. Campbell. The crust from Pt. Cambell to Pt. Woronzof was  a bit punchy.
There always seems to be unique, and odd, natural phenomenon sights while skiing around Pt. Woronzof ...
Strangely shaped ice blocks covered in glacial silt. Snow rollers at the bottoms of the bluff. A snow roller frozen into a mini-mud slide. Skiing on frozen sea foam. Pebbles on powder.  The bluffs are constantly eroding here.
20 March 2013: Matanuska River - Glacier Creek - Matanuska Glacier

Several years back I skied up Gravel Creek with Tim Miller and Cory Smith.  We lucked out on that trip, there was a snowmobile trail that went all the way back to the glacier.  That was a fun ski, so I decided to give the next valley to the east, Glacier Creek, a try.  I started at the Hicks Creek parking lot on the Glenn Highway and skied up the Matanuska River on snowmobile trails.  When I got to the start of Glacier Creek, I classic skied up old snowmobile tracks to where they turned around.  The tracks ended about a third of the way up the valley.  Continuing on via racing skis in 2 foot deep powder wasn't appealing, so I turned around and headed to the Matanuska Glacier.  It was fun checking out the snout of the glacier on snowmobile trails that glacier viewing tours use.  A nice day of skiing to places I had never skied to before.

GPS track: 26 miles. Looking back at the route up the Matanuska River.
Heading towards Glacier Creek, Mount Wickersham in the distance. Heading up Granite Creek. Wind crust broken-up by a passing coyote or wolf (between my ski tips you can see a claw mark). Heavy moose traffic where the trail went through willow stands.
Turnaround point. Gravel cliffs. Lion Head Approaching the Matanuska Glacier.
Snowmobile trails through ice at the terminus of the glacier. Ice cave. Heading back down the Matanuska River. "Whump!"  River channel crossings can be sketchy here.  Be careful.
  I skied by this old car ... and noticed it was completely filled with river rocks!  That seemed odd.  Then I noticed a cable running out of the car.  Apparently this rock-filled car was once an anchor for a cable that was strung across the river at this location.  Perhaps a trolley once hung from the cable so that people could get across the Matanuska River here.  
17 March 2013: Parker Lake Loop

Trying to make the most out of a stretch of clear weather, I went back to the mid-Susitna Valley two days after my last ski (see below).  This time the plan was do do a loop from the Rabideaux Creek parking lot out to Parker Lake and back.  Trail conditions ranged from great to crappy.  Great was the groomed Susitna Valley Winter Trail.  OK - was the Amber Lake Trail seismic line - lots of double-poling.  Fantastic was the Oilwell Road and Parker Lake Trail skiing.  Crappy was the open swamps between Moose Creek and the Neil Lake Trail.  The Mat-Su Borough Amber Lake - Trapper Lake map said there is a trail between Moose Creek and Trapper Lake.  But this trail petered out and I had to skate old snowmobile tracks south to the Neil Lake Trail.  From there it was good skiing back to the trailhead.

My wife came along on a snowmobile.  It was fun having her along, and that's why there are a lot of pictures of me skiing.  The stretch from Parker Lake to the Neil Lake Trail was a navigational challenge.  After Parker Lake we got off course a bit.  Thanks to some friendly Parker Lake folks at Poor Boy Lakes - we were put back on the right route.  By the time we got to Neil Lake we were a bit behind schedule.  And my wife needed to get home because she had to get up at 4:00 AM the next morning.  So I had to hammer the last 30 kilometers of this loop to finish it up.  I was beat at the end, but glad to pull off a new loop and see, and learn, new places and trails.  Surprised to only meet 6 snowmobilers all day.

GPS track: 55 miles. This route was a fun mix of groomed and backcountry snowmobile trails. Oil Well Road:  This guy must be really good, with a name like TK Enterprises!  ;-)
Super fast and fun skiing on the Oil Well Road. The Parker Lake Trail was rocket fast skiing on a straight and flat seismic line cut, that had been groomed! Folks with cabins at Parker Lake have a nice view!
The only not-so-fun skiing on this loop was across the swamps to the west of Trapper Lake. Hammering away on the Rabideaux Trail, to close the loop. 6 miles to go.
  Su Valley winter trails in the sunshine.  Can't beat it.  
15 March 2013: Susitna Landing - Deshka River Loop

GPS track: 50 miles



When I skied to Neil Lake last year, I realized that there was a logical ski loop in the mid-Susitna Valley that needed to be skied.  I waited for good weather this year and then headed to Susitna Landing to do this new 50 mile loop.  From Susitna Landing I skied the Susitna Valley Winter Trail (SVWT) to the Neil Lake Trail and then on to Neil Lake.  My wife came along on a snowmobile, so I stopped at Neil Lake for a while so she could get some skiing in.  From Neil Lake I skied 20 miles down the Deshka River to the Deshka Crossover Trail.  From there I caught the SVWT again and skied it back to Susitna Landing.

Conditions were good the whole loop.  The wind had died down from the previous days and the trail surface was primarily frozen granular snow, which made for fast skate skiing.  The only part of the loop that had any soft snow was from Neil Lake south on the Deshka River to the start of the "cabin zone" at Mile 17 or so of the Deshka.

Starting out, skiing north on the Susitna River. Trapper and Neil Lake community bulletin board. Neil Lake Trail.
Neil Lake Trail.   Neil Lake Trail.   Neil Lake Trail.
My wife skiing at Neil Lake. Deshka River. Branch-caught grasses from last fall's flood waters. Deshka River.
Susitna Valley Winter Trail sign. Finishing up, last miles before Susitna Landing.   At Susitna Landing, looking back down the SVWT / Deshka River Trail. 300 yards to go.  Fun loop!
10 March 2013: Marginal Weather Go-To Loop

This is a ski route that I have never posted on this web site.  But I've probably done this loop, or a variant of it, 30 or more times.  It's my go-to loop for when conditions are "OK but not great" and when I'm in the western Susitna Valley.

Ice-wise this has been a weird winter.  A super-wet fall meant that streams ran at a high velocity, and didn't freeze much, long into the winter. Then the winter turned mild.  The end result is that there are a lot more open streams for this time of year than usual.  I've never seen Granite Creek (above) this open in mid-March.
Ski route: 20 miles. Sign of last fall's big flood - grasses wrapped around this willow sapling. SNS binding foot plate adhesive strips have short life spans on NNN rails.  Foot plates should be epoxied to the ski to prevent this from happening, 99% of the mile wide Big Su is safe travel on ice-resting-on-frozen-mud.  But these cabin builders choose the unsafe 1% main channel to make a trail.  Doh!
The Su 100 lives on in trail markers used to mark local trails. Hauling burls home for a furniture project (example, example). On ski trips I look for standing dead spruce trees with burls on them. OMG!  "Illegal" snowmobile helmet decals!!  ;-)
09 March 2013: Hok'n in the Boondocks

I'm always up for trying new variants of xc skiing.  You probably figured that out if you have visited this web site a few times.  This year I gave a pair of Hoks a try (see review).  They are fun "ski shoes" for backcountry bushwhacking.

I like these skis because you can take them places that are hard to reach in any other manner.  Take for instance Bell Island in the Big Susitna River - a swampy, brushy and densely wooded area that is surrounded by a powerful glacial river.  In the non-winter months, travel here is near impossible.  But when a good snowfall hits, you can take the Hoks out to places like this and float over the downed trees and brush that you would have to fight through in the summer.

I always thought Bell Island was completely flat, that it was a shifting outwash island near the mouth of the temperamental Big Su.  But recently my wife and I happened across an old, moss-covered glacial moraine near the middle of this island.  Since the last ice age this moraine has survived the landscape-altering whims of the Big Su.  I wondered when the last time was that someone climbed this remote and jungle-protected knob.  10 years ago?  20?  50?  100?  It would be an epic struggle to get to this hill in the summer.  But it was no problem on Hoks.

Load up the Hoks, and ... On the bank of the Big Susitna River on Bell Island.
 ... drive out to unknown boonies, take off your Carhartts and start exploring. Skiing up an old, moss-covered moraine in the woods of Bell Island. Hoks make good tracks for trip partners with skinnier skis.
Skiing a (the only?) moraine on Bell Island. Hoks, good bushwhacking skis made by Altai Skis. Do you see the coyote in the center of this picture?  Click here for a closer view.
Mid March 2013: Spenard / Northwest Anchorage Urban Backcountry Loop

Ok, so I lied.  I said I was done with Urban Backcountry skiing for the year.  But then it snowed.  And then a coworker gave me a route idea.  So I had to do one more FINAL loop.  There wasn't much backcountry in this loop.  But the route was significant, in that it traversed Anchorage's most famous neighborhood - Spenard.  The route through Spenard was mostly along the Fish Creek estuary and Fish Creek bike trail, routes that I had never traveled before.  A bit of Spenard road and sidewalk skiing had to be thrown in too.  Once past Delong Lake it was all clear sailing on bike trails.  A nice day for a new UBXC loop.

Ski route: 17.5 miles. Satellite view, shows urban areas better. Access to Fish Creek estuary backcountry. Trail between the railroad and Turnagain neighborhood. Poet Robert Frost said: "Good fences make good neighbors".  I say: "Bad fences make good ski loops".
Pedestrian bridge to Spenard, over Northern Lights Blvd. Street skiing in Spenard!  Urban backcountry skiing at its finest! Fish Creek bike trail in Spenard. Fish Creek Park.  The slides here kick ass.  ;-) Enough snow to ski the bike trail along Jewel Lake Road.
Crossing Delong Lake. Nice skiing on the Raspberry Road bike trail. Watch out for Zombies at Kincaid. Amazing the amount of erosion at Pt Woronzof.  The Coastal Trail is in danger. Tourists asked me to take their picture.  I did.  And then they took a picture of me.
02 March 2013: Hillside - Snowhawk Valley Loop

I wanted to finish my Anchorage Urban Backcountry XC skiing side-project ... and this was the last loop on my list.  I started at Hillside and skied / hiked up The Dome, skied over into the Snowhawk Valley and then down the Snowhawk Trail to the Arctic Valley Road.  Then I skied the military road to the water plant, the powerline to Bicentennial Park and then trails back to the Hillside trailhead at the Abbott Road parking lot.

Most of this loop was on military land, so I logged in and out via their convenient web site: jber.isportsman.net.

I'm out of UBXC ski route ideas (for now anyway).  This was the last logical Anchorage UBXC ski loop that I could think of.  It's been fun!

Ski Route: 24 miles. On top of the Dome.  Some hiking was involved getting to the top. These are "ptarmigan pits" (or maybe - "bird bunkers").  When I walked up to them a ptarmigan flew out of one of the holes (left picture).  But soon he decided that I was not a threat.  So he walked back to his pit, fluffed his feathers and laid down.  Can you see him in the middle picture?
Looking north and east from the Dome.  Ski route is from right to left, ascending the drainage on the left of the picture.
Nearing the pass.  The Dome in the distance. Looking up the Snowhawk Valley,  Just left of the center point of this picture is the Upper Snowhawk Cabin. Typical nasty Snowhawk Trail.  Downhill skiing in a snowshoe trench through the alders. Remains of the old Lower Snowhawk Cabin.  Arctic Valley in the distance. Good skate skiing on the military roads to the powerline at the water plant.
Skiing the powerline towards Bicentennial Park.  The Dome is in the center of this picture.  Route went over The Dome and behind the mountain on the left.
Google Earth view of this ski route.
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Alaska Backcountry XC Skiing