Packrafting Beaver Creek Again

June 8th, 2021

I love Beaver Creek! I try to do the classic Nome Creek to Summit trail float and hike once a year or so in some form. It is beautiful and the logistics are simple so it makes a great easy packrafting trip.

Four years ago our whole family packrafted (google says it should be spelled pack-rafting, but what does google know? 🙂 ) Beaver Creek, floating down to the Summit Trail and hiking out to the Wickersham Dome trailhead. It was a mixed bag – the twins had fun for sections, but Lizzy in particular hated the brush and didn’t enjoy the packrafting with two people in a boat that much. The weather was not ideal – we got hailed on several times during the float and rained on a fair bit. This year we ended up with a Memorial day weekend without commitments and so I started aggressively pushing to do something fun outside. Doing a repeat of the Beaver Creek came up, and Molly seemed excited about it once I pointed out they could be in their own boats, and that BLM had trimmed the dense (!!) brush in the first eight miles from the river. Lizzy was not excited about the hiking part because of all the brush in the trail, and “packrafting is dumb”. Her irritation about the brush is understandable as it was in her face when she hiked it four years ago, which is a lot worse than having it waist level like it is on me. Her disliking of packrafting is also sort of understandable, as the the only trip the twins have been on they didn’t get to control their own boats and were in double boats, so there wasn’t much to do besides bob around and be cold. Eventually a compromise was reached, and we decided Molly and I would float Beaver Creek, then Nancy and Lizzy would meet us half way on the hike out. My friends Tom and Amanda were going to join us.

Alas, as the trip came closer Tom hurt his back and the forecast was for unseasonably cold weather. Yikes! Tom’s back issues were abating but not well enough for the hike, but Molly was still up for it, and the weather was to go back to the normal sun by the time we were hiking so we charged ahead. Our friend Heath dropped us off at the put in were our car read 37f with a stiff breeze. Molly was in my boat with a white water skirt, and I was in an open double boat (alpacka calls them double ducks). After a bit of messing around we got inflated and were soon floating down the river.

Beaver Creek 2021 Beaver Creek 2021

Much to my surprise Molly was quite warm sealed into the boat with a skirt. I was not though – my feet were very cold by the end of the day.

Beaver Creek 2021

The float down beaver creek was uneventful but fun. Molly seemed to pickup the packrafting basics quickly, and my worries of her flipping or getting into wood in Beaver Creeks class I (maybe II if one is very generous) whitewater didn’t come to pass. The twins have been doing an internship with the Alaska Songbird Institute helping monitor Tree Swallows, and have developed a keen interest in birds.

Beaver Creek 2021

There were lots and lots of birds to see. Bald eagles, a few other large birds of prey, tons of ducks and other waterfowl.

Beaver Creek 2021

lots of wolf tracks on the river..

Beaver Creek 2021

The brief bit of winter trail near the river looked great.. the other side was a different story though.

A few miles upstream of our take out in a straight line the river had cut off a long oxbow and was now taking a new channel, leaving a deep backwater pool were the river used to flow. Seeing the river evolve was pretty neat!

Beaver Creek 2021

Beaver Creek 2021

The “too much floating look”..

Our plans were to float most of the way to the takeout then camp on the river, but the float was faster than I expected, and in around eight hours we pulled into Borealis-LeFevre cabin just across from the take out. The place was a bit of a mess – very muddy, with TP and trash littering the grass around the cabin, but the warm of a woodstove was very appreciated. It took several hours for my feet to recover from the cold float.

Beaver Creek 2021

Beaver Creek 2021

Mystery drift wood..

Beaver Creek 2021

The previous visitors had left the new window open and the shutters unlatched, and as we arrived they were banging in the wind – I was bummed to see it left like that. BLM had just put a new opening window in this winter (I think? Maybe it was earlier..) and it still has a screen free of holes. An opening window with a screen without holes is quite a luxury in this cabins, but it is going to be a short-lived one if folks leave it open all summer. A bit of sweeping and picking up, the fire started, and the place was warm and cozy. In the morning we loaded up into the double boat, and with two trips we are across the river and hiking out.

Beaver Creek 2021

BLM had done a fantastic job clearing the trail. The dense brush of our last hike is gone, leaving a nice clear trail – yay!

Beaver Creek 2021

Beaver Creek 2021

Beaver Creek 2021


It was wonderful to see all the clearing that had been done – they really put a lot of effort into it! It has turned brushy hike were it is hard to follow the trail into a fun and pleasant easy to follow trail. As forecasted the weather warmed up, and Molly and I enjoyed a fantastic (but longer than I remembered) hike to meet up with Nancy, Lizzy, and the dogs.

Beaver Creek 2021

Molly’s snow field crossing technique..

Beaver Creek 2021


Along the way we found a small pool with magically delicious “mountain water” as Molly put it that she hoarded for the rest of the hike. A mile or so from our meetup point the brush came back and we had to smash though a brief but dense thicket – I expect the trail clearing crew ran out of time and didn’t clear the whole thing.


Beaver Creek 2021

The remaining brushy section..

The evening was spent reading books, playing games, petting the dogs, and searching for water, as alas the water catchment’s barrel had split open.

The next day we hiked out, with Lizzy setting a blazing pace.

Beaver Creek 2021 Beaver Creek 2021 Beaver Creek 2021 Beaver Creek 2021

We had a question from a man in a kilt who upon seeing our paddles and life jackets asked about the trail up from the river, and was excited to be informed the brush was mostly trimmed out. Apparently we were not the only group put off by the thick brush. Lizzy I think ended up being sad she missed the float – I don’t think it entirely dawned on her how much difference having your own boat would have made fun wise. She and Nancy still had fun though, and the group of us arrived at the parking lot tired, muddy, and happy. I did have one freak out /breakdown as folks were getting in the car in regards to the mud free-ness (or lack there of) of their shoes – my apologies Nancy!


As a postscript, after checking with BLM to make sure it was ok, the following Friday I hauled in two new trash cans to function as rain barrels and a roll of hardware cloth to wrap around them to keep them from getting chewed up. Someone had put in a trash bag in the split barrel meanwhile and it was mostly holding water again. I swapped out the split trash can with a new one, stashed the extra, and hauled the broken one out. Hopefully it will several seasons.

Beaver Creek 2021

Happy summer everyone!

Taking a swiftwater rescue class..

June 3rd, 2021

Years ago I took white water class from Jim Gonski of the Alaska Kayak Academy. It was a mixed success – the time spent in the water outside of the boats was really valuable. I didn’t get much out of the paddling part though. I think that was a mix of me being a bad student and Jim’s limited time in packrafts at that point.

When I learned Luc Mehl was going to be teaching some packraft specific swift-water rescue classes this summer I jumped at the opportunity, and signed up.

The class was taught under the umbrella of the Swiftwater Safety Institute, and we were supposed to take a bunch of online training provided by this before the class started. The training had me pretty worried – there was extensive discussion of rigging, gear, and other stuff that didn’t seem very practical for packrafting. I can’t see a situation besides a day trip where I would be taking a pulley and all that rope needed to setup a z-drag for example. At one point the instructor in the training videos talks about how he always carries three knifes in his pfd – two river knifes and a knife to use for normal use like cutting things. I couldn’t help but wonder how useful this class was going to be for me..

I shouldn’t have been worried – Luc spent almost no time talking about rigging, but instead spent the time on a pretty good mix of time spent in the water swimming, re-entry, rescue techniques (foot entrapment was discussed at length), and paddling skills. He also had the best description of how to exit eddies I had ever heard – I had been doing it completely wrong, and had missed some pretty basic stuff like how to hold/orientate the paddle. When Luc was discussing “risks”, he was careful to relate them to how they match up to whitewater accident statistics which was super useful. As an example, according to the stats presented by Luc, entrapment in the rigging of packrafts and stuff attached to them is a leading cause of accidents. I knew that that was an issue, I just hadn’t thought that though how this would rate risk wise. I am never really at good of a student for this in person classes, as I am a pretty shy introvert, but I think I got a lot out of it.

As an extra bonus we floated the section of the Nenana just above McKinley Village. It is a completely new to me section of river, with lots of interesting river features – Yay!

The class is well worth taking – anyone doing pack-rafting would benefit. I think Luc is going to run more classes this summer – if you have the opportunity take one of them! The SSI schedule is here.

Whites Loop

January 19th, 2021

Photos from biking the White Mountains 100 course as a two night overnight trip. The trail was great, with warm weather and mostly great trails.

One item of note – few miles below Windy Gap there is a new reroute, with a good 400ft+ climb instead of a gentle downhill grade, but on the upside, no ice or overflow.

Whites Loop

A quick trip to Caribou Bluff..

December 12th, 2020

Photos from a overnight trip to Caribou Bluff cabin in the White Mountains NRA. No words, just photos today.

New Bike Day!

December 7th, 2020

My daughters say the only thing I care about are bikes and dogs. I of course think they are exaggerating, but bikes (and dogs) are important to me.

My first snow bike was a Surly 1X1 I got in the 2009 time frame. It was second or third hand from an UAF grad student who built it then decided he didn’t really enjoy riding it. When I got it it was set up as a fixie, with no brakes and a really tall gear. Also the guy I got it from was at least four inches taller than me – the bike was huge!

2009

2009

The bike and I never really got along – a fixie in snow was a disaster (whack, whack went the pedals into my shins as I pushed it), and once a single speed freehub was added, I soon realized I didn’t like only having one gear. The Nokian Gazzaloddi tires were so stiff that once I rode several miles at sub -20f with the rear tire completely flat and didn’t notice. It did convince me though that a real snow bike would be a great idea.

I kicked around getting a “real snow bike”, experimented with SnowCat rims on my summer bike, and dinked around with other options, but nothing really worked that well. Eventually snowbikes became more “normal” and in 2010 I jumped in, buying a shiny new fancy bike from Fatback. It had a E13 fancy pants crank, UMA70mm rims, a three by nine drivetrain, and a 170mm spaced rear hub. So fancy! I think when I got it from Fatback the only one they had in my size was a shiny nickel plated bling bike.

2010

Soon after it arrived into my eager hands I took it on a overnight trip to Wolf Run Cabin in the White Mountains NRA .. which was a bit of a failure, as after 5 miles the trail went from really nice to completely unbroken, and I had to bike back out, switch to skis.

131129_175951562422981_3729697_o

Fortunately, other adventures with more riding ensued, and I was in love. In 2011 I did my first bike race – the susitna 100! It was fun, and a great learning experience.

2011

Then the white mountains in 2011, and the Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI) in 2012. Alas, just before the ITI I noticed the frame had cracked.. Fatback/Speedway cycles was great about it – they set me up very last minute on a new frame, which was way beyond what was necessary. Then I pushed my bike to Skwentna over the course of 3 days, riding it only for a maybe 15 miles on the road.

The next year I actually road it Skwentna, and then on to Mcgrath..

2013
2013

I had that bike for several years, and had some great adventures on it. Lots of trips around Fairbanks, two rides to McGrath on the Iditarod Trail, several White Mountains 100.

2014

Then wider tires became available, so I moved on to a 190 spaced frame, swapping the parts over to the new frame. That bike rode to Mcgrath, and had lots of other adventures. It even just showed up in an article. The wheels live on, and are on Nancy’s (my wife) bike.

2014 2013

Then, in 2015 I was lured into the 1×11 world, and it was new bike time!

DSC02086

DSC02107

DSC02425

Alas, I rode to Mcgrath that year on the Iditarod trail, and it was really snow free. So many tussocks!

2015

ZZZZ0313

ZZZZ0327

Tussocks! I cracked the seat tube in two places riding over the tussocks between Rohn and Nikolai, but didn’t release it until the following winter when I was trying to track down a creak and looked down the seat tube and there were a few cracks. Then more were discovered when I took the frame bag off. It turns out the only thing holding it together was the seatpost. Thank god for long seat posts – I had ridden the Whites 100 with this bike after the ITI, probably with the crack in place! It wasn’t as bad as some folks had it though – at least two other people snapped their frames in a similar location and at least one person had to lower their seat so the break was supported by their seatpost so thier bike didn’t snap in half.

Fatback was super nice about handling the broken frame and warrantied it, letting me trade up to a fancy pants carbon frame. Alas it was going to arrive until the early spring, leaving me without a bike for several months. So, on an impulse I got a Surly Ice Cream Truck. Surly had one of their ICT models on super clearance – I can’t resist a sale! Hopefully it would tide me over and provide a backup and commuting snow bike once my new super carbon frame arrived.

2017

Up to this point I had just ridden Fatback fat bikes. The Ice Cream Truck was a bit of an eye opener. It rode fine, but it wasn’t as nice riding in snow as the other snow bikes I had ridden. It wasn’t bad, it just didn’t ride as well. Unexciting to ride on snow, and more work in soft snow. It was fun ride on dirt though, fun enough I got some summer wheels built for it. I then talked to a frame builder about getting a custom steel frame in hopes of getting the perfect bike, made from steel and having the long term durability that a steel bike would bring me… But I was pretty worried I would get just what I asked for, but not what I wanted. At the time there was lots of discussion online about the “perfect” snow bike that looked awesome but were very different from either the Fatback’s that I enjoyed, or the Ice Cream Truck that I was “meh”ed about. Worried that I would spend a lot of time and money on a bike that rode more on the “meh” side of things, I gave that up.

The new carbon Corvus Fatback frame I got in 2016 rode like a dream. I took it to Nome twice.

2016

Untitled

DSC04289

DSC04506 DSC03969

DSC03902

Nearly to Mcgrath Topkok This was my first carbon bike, and I rode it like mad. I put a ton of miles on it – two rides to Nome, plus two years of training and exploring on it. Alas, the last trip to Nome was a bit rough on it, and it came back really scraped up from the shipping company. New frame time again! This bike rode even nicer than the last one – sweet! 2018

2018

2020

That bike has been on lots of adventures.. It has been to Nome via the southern route, from Fairbanks to Eagle, and Eagle to Central on the Yukon Quest trail, and many other fun places.

Eagle to Central
Wood Island brownie snowman guards on the Yukon Quest trail.

I am really attached to it now. However, after the last ride on the Yukon Quest trail, where it was banged around a bit on the flight to Eagle, and even more jostled around when it got ride in a trailer filled with with the YQ mile 101 checkpoint outhouses from Central to Fairbanks I figured it was time to start looking at something more durable than carbon.

Jeff Oatley (ITI record holder and super biker extraordinar) suggested I go talk to Greg Matyas of Fatback and see if they would be willing to make a small run of steel or titanium frames. Boom, six months later a steel frame arrived in my eager hands, designed by Fatback and made by Meriwether Cycles. Lots of parts scrounging ensued as I tracked down part from every bike shop in town, and finally it was rideable.

My first ride on it was in late evening in the dark on a five mile loop in my backyard. In the winter I try to take the dogs on it once a day, or twice if I am lucky. The bike rode fantastic!

IMG_20201126_133318616~2

The following weekend I made it out to the White Mountains NRA, and got a bit of riding in.

Cache Mt Solo Trip
Shiloh approves of the new bike..

Cache Mt Solo Trip

Some (rather uninspired) shots from my garage (aka the Shep the SHop/shED)

DSC02469
The rear brake mount is where it “should” be, IMHO, so the cables stay ice free -yay!

DSC02467

A beautiful fork, complete with front rackmounts – double yay!

DSC02475

A beautiful bolt on frame bag, from Tyson F!

DSC02474

Hmm, now I am hungry..
DSC02478

There are a few other nice touches in there, like much larger than normal lower rack mounts bolts, that I am way too lazy to photograph. A huge thank you to Greg M at Fatback, Meriwether, and my local bikes shops Beaver and Goldstream sports.

COVID has cramped my winter adventure plans like it has everyone elses and I don’t know where this thing is going to take me, but I am hoping it is going to be fun.


Dreaming of snowy adventures…

An Update

I should probably add a bit of a post script here.

First – In case I make it sound like all Fatback’s bike break: They don’t. I am a 220 lb person who has a really mashing pedal stroke who is clutz. I have worked to clean up / round out my pedalling style, and in addition to making my knees happy, I stopped breaking frames. Yay!

Second: I don’t really have any deep thoughts on snow bike design. I am not a subtle, introspective, or insightful person. When I put spice on my food, I put so much on it my daughters complain it makes their food taste bad when sitting across the table from me. When I clean the house I use so much soap and cleaner sometimes my wife Nancy has to leave as she says the smell gives her a headache. All I know is that the spice makes my food taste good, and lots of soap makes the floor clean. I am probably the same about bikes – I know I like something, but I have really no idea why, or what makes it “good”.
In the winter I have trails I can ride on snow right out of my house. Like, literally – right off my porch. From there I can access a huge winter trail system that extends to the BLM White Mountains (one of my favorite areas in the winter), to the Canadian Border on the Yukon Quest trail, and in some years on to Nome, Kotz, and beyond. I have only been “far” on the Yukon Quest side, but dream of heading out my door and biking to Kotz or beyond in some future trip. Hopefully that will happen..

The trails from my house generally start really good, then can get worse or sometimes if I am really lucky, get better. The same thing goes for trails in the Whites – mostly they are pretty good, with a mix of softer stuff here and there, and some walking. So, the best snow bike for me rides fast on firm trails, but still handles well in soft snow. I also need tires that work good in soft snow, but are not so slow the “fast” sections are not fun. My rides also tend to be pretty long – interesting places to explore tend to be not right my door, or the trail head, but hours away. Everything becomes a compromise at this point.

This is probably why I am so happy with the Fatback’s geometry. It seems (to me anyway) to be a good compromise for my local conditions – it rides great on firm trails, and pretty good in soft snow. Or to put it another way, I am never unhappy with how it rides. The only thing I was unhappy with is the durability of the carbon frame – and this new steel Meriweather/Fatback gives me the best of both worlds. A ride quality I enjoy, in a durable steel frame. Yay!

Your mileage may vary of course.

Cache Mountain Cabin with the dogs

December 2nd, 2020

Cache Mountain Cabin with the dogs

I have been a bit lost as what to do lately. COVID has hit my plans just like it has affected everyone else’s. I don’t have any big races or events planned, nothing to train for.. and no solid plans for winter adventures this season. It isn’t bad – my family and I are healthy, I am still employed, and life is going just fine. Just the idea of no adventures on the horizon has me a bit down and a bit directionless. It isn’t the end of the world, and I am sure I will find an adventure to look forward too..

Cache Mt Solo Trip

Randomly checking the White Mountains NRA reservation system I noticed Cache Mountain Cabin was open and unbooked for Sunday night. After checking with my wife Nancy and my managers (aka Molly and Lizzy) I booked it, packed, and headed out Sunday for a last minute overnight trip.

I was glad I did…

Cache Mt Solo Trip

Great views..

Cache Mt Solo Trip

A big moon..

Cache Mt Solo Trip Cache Mt Solo Trip

And lots of quality time with the dogs. Including Ed(dy) the silly 2 year old pup.

Cache Mt Solo Trip Cache Mt Solo Trip Cache Mt Solo Trip Cache Mt Solo Trip Cache Mt Solo Trip Cache Mt Solo Trip Cache Mt Solo Trip On a new bike.. Cache Mt Solo Trip

The trails were mostly empty Sunday, and I didn’t see anyone Monday.

Stay well!