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2014/2015

by: Tim Kelley

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

April 26, 2015: Craigie Creek and Dogsled Pass

Due to a record low snowfall in Southcentral Alaska, the low-altitude crust season was a bust.  Nothing.  But a bit of crust skiing has shown up, albeit on a thin snow pack, in the Talkeetna Mountains.  Craigie Creek, on the west side of Hatcher Pass, has offered some good crust cruising.

 
April 3, 2015: The Nipple Top Drop

My wife and I attempted to travel the MacLaren Trail from Lake Louise to the MacLaren River Lodge.  But trail conditions were very bad and we bailed.  Looking for a backup option we went to Tyone Lake and found the snowmobile trail that went up Nipple Top Mountain (yeah, that's its real name).  My wife snowmobiled to the top and I skied. 

Once on top of the mountain, I turned my skis around and began what I call the "Nipple Top Drop" ... an 800 foot descent, followed by a 30 mile run-out back to the Lake Louise Lodge.  When we got back to Tyone Lake, my wife took off to the lodge and then she skied out to meet me.  A beauty day on the Nipple!

GPS track: 33 miles, summit to lodge. This ski route is cool because from the summit of Nipple Top you can see your destination - 33 trail miles away. Leaving the Nipple behind.  The snowmobile trail up and down Nipple Top is mostly gradual and skis well. GPS track.  I could have shortened the ski by staying west of my route.
My wife just before leaving me at Lake Tyone.  Old cabin across from the old Tyone Native village site. Trail heading down the east side of Susitna Lake. My wife leads the way back to the Lake Louise Lodge.
 
March 22, 2015: Eureka Lodge to Lake Louise Lodge

A classic Glenn Highway point to point ski is the trip from Eureka Lodge to Lake Louise Lodge.  I hadn't done this trip in over 20 years, so I figured it was time to visit this trail again.  My wife kicked me out at Eureka Lodge and then she drove to the Lake Louise Lodge, where we planned on spending the night.  Once at the lodge, my wife went skiing on the lake trails while I skied to Lake Louise.

Trail conditions were great, yet vulnerable, on this 43 mile route.  The trail consisted primarily of 6 to 10 inches of packed snow.  Such a shallow snow depth doesn't give this trail much time to survive in warm temps.  The temperatures were in the 30's this day.  A beautiul day ... I skied the whole route in a T-shirt.

GPS track: 43 miles. Signs where the Eureka - John Lake Trail leaves the Glenn Highway. Looking back, towards Gunsight Mountain, on the way to John Lake. Approaching the Little Nelchina River.
The only bare spot was the south facing river bluff of the Nelchina. John Lake.  Quite a few cabins here. Very lumpy backcountry conditions.  The trail was good, but only 6-10 inches of packed snow. Looking back, Gunsight Mountain in the distance.
Moore Lake Loop trail intersection.  23 miles into the ski trip. Some nice trail heading towards Lake Louise ... ... and the not so nice trail in the usual location. Fast skiing on lakes as you approach Lake Louise.
   
       
Mendeltna Trail & Caribou Lake Trail
The day after I skied from Eureka to Lake Louise, my wife and I checked out the Mendeltna and Caribou Lake Trails near Lake Louise.  When it's a clear spring day in the Copper River Valley ... this is a great place to ski!
For spring skiing trips, there are lots of options in the Eureka - Lake Louise area.  It's a long drive to get there (~135 miles to Eureka), so you can get more ski for your drive if you stay overnight up there at a lodge/rental cabin.  Some places to stay that have great skiing right out the front door are Lake Louise Lodge, the Slide Mountain Lodge, Mendeltna Creek Lodge and the Eureka Lodge.
 
Mid March, 2015: Dollar Creek

I tried skiing from the Kroto Creek parking lot, out the Petersville Road to Forks and then out Dollar Creek Trail to try and get to Cache Creek.  I'd seen a trail from the big rocks at the start of the Pickle Creek Trail heading towards Cache Creek before.  But not much of a trail this year.  No miners had been through the route and hardly any snowmobile traffic due to low snow.  Got tired of skiing through brush (would rather ski over it).  Will try another year.  Oh well, a nice day in the Peters Hills.  Quiet, didn't see anyone in outside of the parking lot.

Miners named the creek in this area "Dollar Creek", because they found a dollar's worth of gold in every pan.  That was 100 years ago when gold was $35 and ounce.  So 1/35th of an ounce today is about $34 ($1200/35).  So Dollar Creek became 30 Dollar Creek over time.  But 30 dollars today probably has around the same purchasing power of 1 dollar 100 years ago.  So, no need to change the name of this creek.

GPS track, approx 30 miles out and back. I parked next to the Korean Snowmobile Club of Alaska trailer. Miners had been hauling supplies to Collinsville, so the trail was in good shape.
Start of the Dollar Creek Trail. Big glacial erratics at the junction of the Pickle Creek Trail (that leads down to the Kahiltna River). Lots of cabin for sale signs. Likely due to recent bum winters and the gloomy economic horizon.
A sign for snowmobilers to the Kenny Creek Lodge.  Mt. McKinley in the background. For many years I had passed by the Trapper Creek Pizza Pub.  What an idiot I was for not checking this place out.  My wife and I finally went there earlier this year.  Great pizza.
 
March 1, 2015: Willow Swamp And River Trails Loop

I headed up to Willow for a 36 mile ski loop.  I call this the "Cory Smith Loop", as Cory has skied it a couple of times.  I had skied these trails before, but never together as this particular loop.  I added a side trip to try to find how people access their cabins on the Big Su south of Rolly Creek.  So I put in a little over 40 miles on this day.

I parked at the Crystal Lake parking lot and skied: Crystal Lake - Vera Lake - Willow Swamp - Big Swamp - Fish Creek Trail - Susitna River Trail - Corral Hill Trail - Willow Swamp - Vera Lake - Crystal Lake.

The sloppy mess from the previous weekend had refrozen.  And Willow was blessed with a recent snowfall of 1/4 inch.  Yes, one of our biggest snowfalls this winter!  Lots of frozen ruts in the Big Swamp, but you could skate on crust around them.  The Fish Creek trail was nasty, but the freight haulers' trail on the Susitna was good going.

Not the best conditions I've ever skied in Willow.  But for a winter like we've been having, I can't complain.  Sun, snow and skating ... it was definitely worth the drive to Willow.

Crystal Lake - Willow Swamp - Big Swamp - Fish Creek Trail (dashed line) - Susitna River Trail - Corral Hill Trail - Willow Swamp - Crystal Lake The Willow Trail Committee has a new grooming drag.  So the Willow Swamp Trail was buffed-out nice. The Big Swamp trail was trashed from the prior wet weekend.  But you could skate crust on the side of the trail. Likewise, the Fish Creek Trail was a mess from the previous weekend of Iron Dog traffic on soggy wet slush.
The Susitna River Trail has some new jogs and detours to avoid open water areas. But for the most part, the Susitna River Trail was good skating. The main Susitna River Trail going right next to a hole with a good current.  Hmmmm ... I always stop at the Corral Hill Trail overlook.  Beautiful place and I have traveled past this spot many times by boat.
 

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