Archive for November, 2009

A training day..

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

On a fine Monday morning Tom and I headed off for a 32 mile day trip, an out-and-back to Moose Creek Cabin in the White Mountains NRA. We are considering doing the White Mountains 100 and thought it would be a good idea to get some longish day ski trips in as training. It was a great day for a long ski – fairly warm and relatively calm by white mountains standards.
The area received a dump of snow the week prior and the trails were much improved.  The first 8 miles or so were quite well beaten down and after that the the trail was a bit narrow for fun skiing on the downhills but otherwise was in great shape. 

The final quarter of a mile or so to moose creek cabin was quite windy – this section of trail crosses a large open field and always provides a fantastic view.

We stopped at Moose Creek cabin for a bite to eat and got a little more excitement that we anticipated.  After we had been at the cabin for 15 minutes or so two snow machiners who had passed us earlier rushed up and joined us in the cabin.  One of the riders had hit a stump while riding in the 12″ of powder and was thrown off his machine, apparently breaking his wrist in the progress.  We helped him wrap up his wrist, gave him some ibuprofen,  and Tom loaned him a much larger mitten so he could keep his enlarged wrist warm..  He turned down my suggestions for splinting his wrist and headed back out to ride back to the mile 28 parking lot one handed.   I expect that was a supremely unpleasant ride out.

Our ski out was, on the other hand, fairly pleasant, but tiring of course.  As Tom put it, “I think I have earned a huge dinner and a nice lie down.”

According to our gps we had a moving average of 4.8 miles per hour and we beat my prevous personal best of 3 and a half hours into Moose Creek cabin, which was quite rewarding and a fantasic first training ski.

Stiles Creek Trail day ski

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

On a nippy Monday morning Tom and I set off for a day ski out to Stiles Creek Cabin in the Chena River SRA. It was fairly cold (-20f according to the thermometer at Pleasant Valley Store) but otherwise quite an excellent ski.

The Stiles Creek Trail had undergone some re-routing and we were looking forward to skiing the new sections.  The re-route made for some fantastic skiing.  Before the reroute the trail dropped off the final hill and descended steeply.  The new sections cut back and forth though the old trail and make the steep sections (once described to me by a fairly good skier as “the most terrifying thing I have ever skied”) very ski-able and quite fun.    This was quite a contrast to the original trail which could be quite terrifyingly fast.

Polar and Remus had a wonderful time running around and enjoying the smells.

Once we reached the top we were treated with fantastic views of the nearby ridges.    Once of the nice things about this trail is that it crosses a wide variety of the forest types that the greater Fairbanks area offers – it goes though birch groves, poplar trees, black spruce forest swamp, white spruce stands, and a small section of alpine ridge top.

The trail has a lot of climbing on the way into the cabin but the reward for this is a fair number of fun downhill sections on the way out.

After 8 miles or so we reached Stiles Creek cabin and ducked inside to warm up.  After about 30 minutes we had the cabin above freezing..  Which was enough to start drying off Toms pants.

The rest of the ski out was quite fun and much faster as there is a lot of downhill.
As mentioned earlier, the reroute makes for much more fun skiing. There were two sections on the old trail that were quite unpleasant. On the way in the drop off the ridge to the cabin was pretty hairy – it was steep and the trail was canted downhill which when combined together made for less than fun skiing. On the way out the final drop off the ridge was very steep and fast, with mistakes potentially rewarded by the trunks of large birch trees – this also made for less than fun skiing. Both these issues are fixed with the reroutes – the final decent to the cabin was rerouted with enough switch backs such that it is easily ski-able and the drop off the main ridge on the way out was also rerouted such that it is a lot less steep and with wide enough turns for easy skiing. Hurray! Major kudos to DNR for improving this trail!

More pictures follow, for the photo inclined.

The trail at the its high point.

Afternoon sun.

The sunset as we skied out.  We skied the last couple of miles in the dark, alas.

An Evening at Moose Creek Cabin

Monday, November 9th, 2009

On a brisk Saturday morning Tom, Marsh, and I left mile 28 trail head on the Eliot Highway to ski into Moose Creek Cabin
for a overnight ski trip. This was our first cabin trip of the ski season and it was wonderful to be back on skis again.  The route was roughly 16 miles one way, plus or minus a mile depending on what signs you believe.

The ski in was quite fun and fairly good skiing given that there was only about 6 inches of snow.  Alas, this is not quite enough to cover the all the rocks and ruts, so the trails in the Whites are at least currently only good for rock skis.  Another few inches of snow would improve things greatly – hopefully more snow will be coming soon.  The dogs pulled some of our stuff in a pulk and were fairly good tempered about hitched to a sled again.

The first 6 miles on Wickersham Creek Trail were in fairly good shape, with only the occasional rock.  It appeared that the trail had only seen limited use, with a couple of snow machine tracks, a set of bike tracks, and one set of ski tracks from someone skate skiing.  I was quite impressed someone could skate the trail given the ruts, and it provided a bit of motivation to get back to skating.

My pulk setup is a bit unusual – the dogs run free behind me and pull a sled with a chain break that slows it down if it starts overtaking them.  This setup works quite well and I have never had it hit the dogs or cause any trauma even on steep hills.  It took a bit of training to get the dogs to stay behind me, but once they got on board it quickly became automatic for them.  On super steep hills (like descending on the final hill into Tolovana for example) I like to rough lock the sled to improve steering, but otherwise it requires no intervention on my part.    I really like this setup, as I can have the dogs haul all the bulky gear, like sleeping bags, straw, and my Lobens.

Once past the turn off to Lee’s cabin on Trail Creek Trail the conditions deteriorated a bit, and the ruts increased a lot.  We had to walk up one of the hills due to all the frozen ruts.  This trail gets a bit of atv use in the summer and it shows.

On the way out a this section was completely unskiable as three dog teams training with atvs doing a out and back training run had pretty much pounded the remaining snow away.

Eventually we reached the cabin, got a fire going, and soon had it nice and warm.   We spent the evening talking, eating, followed by more talking and discussion of future trips plans (Tom and Marsh made a one page list of trips to do next summer), further eating, and finally sleeping.  We are very lucky to have the White Mountains trail system so close to town – it makes going on fun trips so easy!

The dogs had hauled in a turtle cake, which was entirely consumed, much to my surprise – I had brought one of these on a trip a couple of years before and it ended up only being half eaten.  Alas, my backup deserts were not consumed, but such is life.  The White Mountains cabins make winter camping so lazy and fun – instead of being stuck in a frosty cold tent we get to relax in a nice warm cabin listening to the crackle and pop of the spruce logs burning in the stove.  Its a wonderful way to spend a weekend!

We awoke to a light breeze and a thermometer that said -24f. I had originally planned to have a family trip to one of the nearer in cabins this weekend, but after seeing the brisk morning weather was glad that the other families with kids had been too busy for that plan to work out. After a breakfast of pancakes and bacon we headed out to ski back to our car.

The colder weather made for slower skiing, but made for some impressively frosty face masks.

On the way out we stopped by Lees cabin, which is conveniently near the half way point and still warm from the previous tenants, for a quick bite to eat.  I enjoyed a Hostess Fruit Pie – these things have the amazing property of never really freezing.  I am not sure whats in them (I am a bit too scared to read the ingredients – I stopped after hitting “beef tallow”), but they are still quite edible at super cold temperatures and make wonderful snacks for ski trips.  A lot of food becomes tooth breaking hard at cold temps and becomes too hard for my “unhinge jaw, swallow it in one gulp” snacking style.

In a little under 2 hours after leaving Lee’s cabin we reached we hit the parking lot.  Everyone had a wonderful time and our skis (mostly) survived intact.

For those folks who would like to see the pulk in action, I have a short, pixelated video of the setup.  This is my first attempt to actually make and post such a video, and it shows.

A map of the route – better and more complete maps can be found at the White Mountains NRA website.

A post script – perhaps I am getting old and whiny, but I was somewhat underwhelmed by the state of the cabins wood supply, in particular the lack of fire starting supplies and trash that greeted us on arrival. Whats the deal here folks – common courtesy suggests you leave the cabin ready for the next visitor with at least enough wood and tinder to get a fire going and warm up the cabin. BLM doesn’t have magic cabin fairies that flit from cabin to cabin stocking wood and packing out trash – its the visitor’s job to pack out their own trash and to make sure that the next
vistor is greeted with at least enough wood and fire starting material to get a fire going and warm up.  Enough said.

Time to Ski!

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Tom and I did a short day ski trip,  12 to 14 miles depending on which signs you believe, in the White Mountains NRA.  The skiing was fast but fairly marginal, with only around 4 inches of snow.  Ski season has definitely arrived –  wahoo!