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2023/2024

by: Tim Kelley

2024-2025: Spin-Down Mode / Courtesy Post

Back in the mid-1990's I once thought: "Maybe I should try having a cross country skiing website for 27 years."  Well, this website has now been online, in various formats, for 27 years.  After 27 years, I still enjoy getting after it on skis.  But as for having a web presence ... not so much enthusiasm any more.  So, this website is now in 'spin-down mode'.  I will still post ski trip reports here now and then.  But I will not be renewing the web hosting contract for this website when it expires in May 2025.  This is a courtesy/heads-up post for those that use this website for the weather links and as an idea-source for ski trips ... you have until 5/11/2025 before this website goes: 'poof'.  And disappears.

Put this on your list:  For some out of this world crust skiing ... try a trip with A'Le'Inn Galax-Ski Guides.  Based out of Area 51 in Rachel, Nevada, you will ski with the most renown skier of our galaxy, Zoot Cosmophaast, on Jupiter's frozen moon - Crustiglia.  Go and see for yourself why this place is the intergalactic Mecca for crust skiing!  ;-)
 
Early February 2024: Another Gift From The Big Susitna River

It's been 11 years, and here we go again.  While out skiing I noticed on the east bank of Bell Island that the Big Susitna River has now exposed another abandoned gas pipeline.  I remember when this section of pipe was abandoned and a new mile-long stretch of pipe was put under the Big Sus to replace it.  That was 20? years ago(?)  The reason for the pipeline replacement was because the Big Su was eating away Bell Island real estate to where the old pipeline started its trip under the river.  Well, the Big Su has now reached the point that folks in the past were worried about.

11 years ago another Bell Island section of abandoned gas pipeline, downstream from here, was unearthed by the powerful Big Su's meandering channel.  As a result, a 200 to 300 foot section of that pipeline ended up tumbling down the river channel towards the inlet.  A boating hazard from hell.  The runaway pipe was eventually located, cut into segments and hauled out by a firm that the Enstar Natural Gas company contracted.

With this newly exposed pipeline, I don't fault the Enstar Natural Gas company.  I commiserate with them.  I appreciate having natural gas as a source for heat and electricity and I am thankful that Enstar is willing to battle the Big Susitna River, and Turnagain Arm, to deliver the energy that 40% of Alaskans rely on.  But I hope this abandoned pipeline is corralled so it doesn't get loose like the last one did, and create another boating hazard from hell.

Update: I communicated with Enstar regarding this pipeline in the river.  They said that 8 or so years ago they trimmed it back so it didn't stick out into the river.  But now they see (and are amazed like I am) as to how much Bell Island real estate has been chewed away by the Big Su.  They are going to assess what to do about this exposed pipeline segment.
 

Exposed pipeline segment. Location of pipeline.
 
Early January 2024: Mount Susitna Mystery Trail

The USGS map of Mount Susitna shows a trail starting from around mile 5 of Alexander Creek and heading west up the lower east slope of the mountain.

But the trail on the USGS map does not exist.  And no one seems to know the history of this mythical trail.

For 30 years I have occasionally asked people about this trail.  In the past I have talked to folks that lived on Alexander Creek in the 1930s.  They had no knowledge of this trail.  Folks that live out there today say they know nothing about this trail, though they are aware of it showing up on maps.

So perhaps this trail is very old.  And it was overgrown by the 1930s, and that is why early residents of this area didn't know about it.  Or of course, there is the possibility the trail never existed. And it is a cartographic mistake.

But for what it is worth, this is my theory of what the history of this trail could be:  In the early 1900's, perhaps some inquisitive gold prospectors were at Susitna Station, a settlement that once existed on the banks of the Big Susitna River and was a stop for steamboats heading to Talkeetna.  They looked to the west at Mount Susitna and said: "That mountain looks a lot like the Peters Hills where we are finding gold.  So why don't we have a look for gold over there."

A group of prospectors then boated to, and up, Alexander Creek.  At the confluence of Granite Creek they panned for gold 'colors', small gold flakes, and they found a few.  They then followed streams in the Granite Creek drainage that had the most color.  This brought them to a spot 900 feet up Mount Susitna, where they figured the gold source was nearby.  From this point they chose a route that was shorter and drier to get back to Alexander Creek.  And that route became the current day mystery trail.  Maybe this route was used for further travel to this prospecting site.  Or maybe it was used only once.  Either way, this route ended up on the USGS map some how.

But whether this is a lost trail to a fortune of gold, or not ... this trail has value to an xc skier like me.  It is a route that I have never skied.  And a good reason to ski someplace new.

GPS start of the mystery trail, on riverbank seen between skis.  Mount Susitna in background.

 

Recently I gave skiing this ghost trail a go.  But I bailed before I got to the end of the trail, due to time, open water and deteriorating weather.  So I will try again later this winter.

Some things I learned while following the GPS route of this trail:

1) This trail route seems legit.  By that I mean that its placement often makes sense for easiest passage.  There are abundant ancient riverbanks in the woods here.  And the GPS route would consistently land on stream gullies in the old riverbanks that are easier to hike than going straight up the banks.

2) This trail, if it ever existed, was a foot trail.  Vintage machinery couldn't have navigated the steep ridge and ravine in the mid section of this trail, per the mapped route.  Neither could horses or dog teams.

3) This is a remote and sparsely populated area.  But there is one guy however that lives near here and travels all over this area.  When I run into him he tells me where he found my ski tracks. While doing this ski, I happened upon a snowmobile trail of his.  And shortly after that, I ran into him.  No surprise!  I laughed when I met him and said: "Damn!  I can NEVER sneak through your country without you knowing it!"  He said: "That's right!  A chipmunk moves in these woods and I know about it!"  Ha!

To be continued ...

The GPS route of the mystery trail consistently lined up with stream gullies that cut into old riverbanks.  Like here.

Wooded country at the base of Mount Susitna.  A fun place to boondock on skis and chase mysteries.

 

Early November 2023: Fun on Faux-Snow

Recently I was driving by the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.  I had never been there before.  When I got there I noticed a bunch of people walking and driving on the salt flats.  So I figured it would be fun to bike on the salt flats.  And it was.

To this Alaskan, being on the salt flats was similar to traveling on crust snow on a lake.  Fast and smooth travel.  A unique experience.

I've never biked on crust snow.  But now I have biked on crust snow's cousin ... crust salt.  Fun!
I came across these drags which are apparently used for smoothing tracks for speed trials on the Bonneville Speedway. The Bonneville Speedway area is separated from the southern access to the salt flats by a man-made berm.  This keeps people out when events are in progress.  Nothing was going on when I was there. A salt drag.
Satellite view of the Bonneville Salt Flats.  I80 at bottom.  Rest area parking is a good access point.  At the berm, assess if a speed event is going on before continuing north.
 
Ski Season 2023-24: Changes

There is now a search bar under the header of the web pages on this site.  This should make it easier to search the 20 years of ski trip information on this website ... for ideas on new places where you might want to try skiing.

This fall and early winter I will be spending less time in Alaska.  And more time living in a van down by the river.  Well, more likely ... in a van down by a dry wash.  In a desert.  With with my wife, mountain bikes and running shoes.  So ... there will likely be some extended periods of inactivity on this website this ski season as we bounce between AK and the L48.

In early spring we plan on drifting back to Alaska.  We plan on sampling new backcountry xc skiing spots along the way.  I will post skiing-related pictures and commentary from this road trip.

a
Living in a van down by a river ... of ice.
(On our way south.  Salmon Glacier, BC, accessed via Hyder, AK.)
Slickrock ... summer bike crust. You can bike Alaska, and bike from Homer to Nome ... in Utah! Biking Alaska (the trail, in UT)
Not in Alaska anymore ... desert towers. Not in Alaska anymore ... snakes and scorpions. Not in Alaska anymore ... cactus.
Not in Alaska anymore ... high desert riding. Not in Alaska anymore ... mesa rim riding. Not in Alaska anymore ... riding rock.
A van from Alaska comes in for a landing.  Then heads down to the nearest river. Based on the size of this dinosaur track in UT ... pretty sure I'd rather get chased by an Alaskan brown bear than an Allosaurus. A van.  Check.  Down by the river.  Check.
Livin' the Matt Foley dream.
     

Alaska Backcountry XC Skiing