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2014/2015

by: Tim Kelley

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

28 December 2014: Wow.  Still Waiting ... But Making Do

Another month goes by and real winter has not shown up in Southcentral Alaska.  Not much snow.  And sketchy river travel due to thin ice.  We really could use a few weeks of sub-zero F degrees to freeze things up solid.  And we need an old-time blizzard to hammer us with several feet of snow.  Oh well, at least one can dream about a real winter in Alaska.  It could be worse though, at least there is some Su Valley trail skiing.

  A sign that this is a strange winter - six foot tall grass still standing at the end of December.  Usually wind and heavy snow from fall storms has this grass knocked down and buried by this time of the year.  Not this year. Low snow and many open leads on creeks and rivers in Southcentral Alaska.
   
(Left) My wife shows us how to ride up an off-angle riverbank.  The girl can ride!
(Right) With river crossings, like the Big Susitna River, having unpredictable and dangerous ice conditions due to the warm winter ... it doesn't hurt to travel in groups.  Here we are traveling to our cabin with a bunch of cabin neighbors.  Pooling tribal knowledge of routes makes for safe route choices.
Martin Buser out training.  Note the big headlight he has on his dog sled.  Not much snow, enough for mushing (unless you need to place a snow hook). "Hey you little skier down there!  Did I say you could take my picture?!"
 
14 December 2014: Still Waiting ... But Willow Is Coming To Life

Still waiting for "real" winter to arrive.  In Willow, on the West Gateway Trails, there is now a bit of trail skiing.  There is more snow in Willow than Anchorage, though less in Willow than at Hatcher Pass.  The WTC (Willow Trail Committee) is starting to groom their trail system.  Some snowmobile (not much) and dog team traffic are helping to set other area trails in what moderate snow this area has.  If you want to ski for several hours and don't want to go in lots of small circles, this is probably your best bet in Southcentral Alaska right now.  Note: Still lots of open water on the Big Su.

Big Swamp to Willow Trail I usually park at the "smiley face", i.e. Crystal Lake. I saw Iditarod musher Cim Smyth on Flathorn Lake a couple of weeks ago.  Good snow on the lake, but rough trail getting there.
 
The Willow Trail Committe now has a "West Gateway Trails" facebook page.
 
Late November 2014: Waiting ...

... for enough snow to open up the Susitna Valley trails.  Next trip report post will be after that happens. 

Some nice ice this fall on the canoe route of the Nancy Lake State Recreation Area in Willow, Alaska.
 
Early November 2014: Su Valley Ski Trip Recon

I took a break from skiing in Anchorage to go someplace where there is zero snow - the Lower Susitna Valley.  Places like Knik, Wasilla, Pt. Mac, Big Lake and Houston are bone dry for snow.  Not a flake.  But that isn't necessarily bad.  The ground is freezing hard because of no snow and that has the potential to prolong the snow season when it eventually arrives in the Valley.

The reason I went to the Valley was to research a potential ski route.  I wanted to see if the new Pt. Mac railroad extension project had been completed between Ayrshire Road at Pt. Mac and Houston, a distance of about 20 miles.  I found that the rail bed had not been worked all the way to Houston.  But it was close.  The bottom line is I found out what I needed to know for doing a ski from Independence Mine to Pt. Mac or Alexander Creek.  A few years ago I did a fun 86 mile ski from Hatchers to Alexander Creek through Willow.  So this route would be similar, but further to the east.

I put in about 30 miles of mountain biking on this day.  Much of this riding was on a huge railroad bed that didn't exist at this time last year.  If we get good snow coverage this winter, this route will be a snowmobile thoroughfare that should make decent skiing.  Here is a map and current status of the Pt. Mac railroad extension.

This wasn't here last year (south of Ayrshire Road at Pt. Mac) This wasn't here last year (northwest of Big Lake) Still a bit of construction equipment on the rail route. The million dollar, never-used railroad bridge over the rarely-used Historic Iditarod Trail.
According to this sign, I guess you are supposed to call Bristol Palin at her office and ask for permission to go on the newly constructed section of the rail route.  But I didn't call her.  You never know when she might be having a bad day and want to beat you up. Whenever I travel, I like to check out grocery stores.  They tell you a lot about the culture of the clientele.  After seeing a fair number of grocery stores around the world, the Three Bears stores in the Valley never fail to impress me.  Besides being able to buy assault rifles, ammo, muskrat traps and camo along with your groceries, you can buy these crazy signs.  You don't find this stuff in grocery stores in the rest of the world!

Update: The next year there was just enough snow to ski this route, the Railroad to Nowhere.

 
Early October 2014: Pre Ski Season Road Trip

Veteran and wise Anchorage cross country skiers Dick and Anne Mize once told me that a good time to head out of Alaska is in October.  During this time days get short, darkness gets long and snow has usually not yet arrived.  Dick and Anne would regularly head south to Colorado in the early fall to recreate, train and get ready for winter.

I knew that what these two told me was a good idea.  But because of work obligations I never seemed to be able to do this October escape.  This year work was as busy as ever, but I decided to make an escape anyway.  So my wife and I headed to somewhere we had never been before - southern Utah.  Canyon country.  We did a 12 day, 2000 mile road trip and did long(ish) hikes at 7 National Parks/Monuments, hiked in the Uinta Mountains, mountain biked at Moab and paddleboarded on Lake Powell.  It was a fun trip in unique country.  And now I'm ready for snow.

Hiking at Arches National Park. Hiking at Canyonlands National Park.
   
  Mountain biking at Moab.  

Hiking at Natural Bridges National Monument.
Hiking at Capitol Reef National Park. Hiking at Bryce Canyon National Park.
Hiking at Zion National Park.
Hiking at Cedar Break National Monument. Hiking in the Uinta Mountains.
Paddleboarding at Lake Powell.
 

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