Archive for February, 2010

The Uninspired Ski

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010


I had a Monday off and had plans to do a 40 mile out and back, but these plans fell though, leaving me with the day off and no firm plans… I was uninspired to try anything new and ended up doing one of my “standard” long day skis, a loop from the mile 28 trailhead of the White Mountains NRA, heading out to Moose Creek Cabin, across on the Moose Creek connector trail to the Wickersham Trail Shelter, then back out to to the mile 28 Trailhead. The trails where in fairly good shape, except for some dirt that is starting to show though on the hills.

The day started out quite fast, and I made it to Moose Creek cabin in three hours and ten minutes, which is quite fast for me, but it started snowing short after I started down the Moose Creek trail, slowing this down a fair bit.

I ended up doing this 35 mile loop in around 8 hours, 7 hours of which I was actually traveling, at least according to my GPS. The GPS has turned out to be a wonderful tool for reducing the number and length of stops – keeping its “Time Stopped” counter low is very motivational.

A family trip to Colorado Creek Cabin

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

On a wonderfully warm and sunny Saturday, the famly and I plus some friends headed out to Colorado Creek Cabin for the weekend. Colorado Creek cabin is perfect for family trips – its not a very long trip, only six miles, the cabin is fairly spacious, and the surrounding area provides lots of distractions. Trusten and his daughter Robin snowmachined, while the rest of us (the twins, Nancy, and her niece Rabiah) skied out. The twins did not actually ski, but instead rode in the comfort of the Chariot, and had a wonderful nap on the ride in.

I am always amused by the girls and how they view shortish ski trips – they get in the chariot, go to sleep, we ski to the destination, then they wake up .. Ta Da – we are there – like magic!
I pulled the twins on the way in and out. The trail into the cabin is fairly flat (besides a short climb near the beginning of the trail), and is a pretty fast ski normally. The trail winds though a valley of black spruce and crosses two small creeks, and is normally not all that exciting of a ski. Pulling the twins changed things a bit, as the extra weight made the uphills harder, and the down hills faster.. Quite a workout.
The first stream crossing normally has a bit of overflow. On the way in it was very manageable.

On the way out it was a different scene – all tore up with about a foot of water and broken ice. I had to take the skis off and tip the chariot way back, but we made it without the twins getting wet. Or in the twins case, even waking up from slumber land.
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Once we made it to the cabin the Twins where pried out of their comfortable conveyance, they helped me gather firewood, start a fire, and get the dogs situated, and other cabin chores.

There was also the lots of snacking – riding in the chariot apparently generates quite an appetite!

Soon the rest of the crowd arrived and the fun begin. Our niece Rabiah was visiting from Boston and did a great job on the ski despite rough trail conditions.

The trail continues on past the cabin, up a large hill with a huge number of switchbacks, just steep enough for good sledding. Everyone spent several hours going up and down the hill on the sled we brought..

Eventually everyone retired to the cabin, where the younger generation where taught to play go fish by Nancy ( Lizzy kept insisting on asking people for cards she did not have, much to everyones amusement) among other entertainments. Trusten wowed us all with his fantastic sandwich retaining method – rubber bands.

After a good nights sleep everyone enjoyed pancakes and bacon (no bacon for nancy though – its hard being a vegetarian). I should point out that it was a good night of sleep for me, as I slept outside with the dogs – apparently Lizzy kept throwing off her covers, waking up, and complaining she was cold – its time for the twins to use sleeping bags it appears!
The ski out was fast, except of the broken up overflow. I ended up wading around in foot deep water and having to chance my socks, but it was not the end of the world. While heading back to town we stopped at Mias – the place of the perfect hamburger, and there was much happyness!

The White Mountains Loop

Friday, February 19th, 2010

On a sunny and warm Sunday morning, Ms Marsh, Tom, and I set off to do a leisurely ski of the White Mountains 100 course. Our plan was to ski the first day to Crowberry Cabin, then on to Windy Gap cabin, then out. This would make for two fairly mellow days and one longish day, approximately 26 miles, 34 miles, then a 40 mile day – all very doable. I was really looking forward to the section from Cache Mountain Cabin to Windy Gap Cabin, as I have never traveled this area before and was told it was quite beautiful. The other factor is that I would probably end up doing this section in the dark and would like to have some idea about the trail before attempting to blast though it at high speed by headlamp.

The first day started quite pleasantly, with a fast trail and wonderfully sunny and warm weather.

It was a bit too hot for Remus, alas. He is really only happy in sub 0f weather.

We zoomed down the trail and eventually stopped for a bite to eat at Moose Creek cabin. We passed two snowmachiners on the trail and a solo skier, but other wise we had the trail to our selves. The trail was super smooth and fast and made for fantastic skiing.

Once past Moose Creek cabin the trail climbs up a ridge and winds though a several year old burn and offered us fantastic views.

We reached Crowberry after a little under 7 hours of skiing which included a fair bit of stopping and goofing off. This was my first trip to the new Crowberry cabin. Its a new design without a loft, but it is quite spacious and has tons of room. We had a fantasic evening reading varous magizines including a road bike racing magazine that seemed quite out of place. Tom amused us by reading excerpts from a snow machining pamphlet, which espoused the many virtues of snowmaching (creating world peace and curing cancer, for example).

After a huge dinner we hustled off to bed, eagerly awaiting the alarm summing us to a early start the next morning (some of us anyway).
The next day turned out to be equally warm and sunny, and after a breakfast of pancakes and bacon we where off. The trail out of the cabin was a continuous drop all the way to Beaver Creek. Tom added a bit more “drop” and had a tremendous crash on one of the downhills that did in one of this bindings. Tom then had the distinct pleasure of skiing the rest of the trip with one floppy loose binding.
The trail got progressively rougher as we headed to Cache Mt Cabin, with lots of exposed tussocks. These sections where fairly short though and most of the skiing was quite good.

We encountered our first bit of overflow shortly after crossing Beaver Creek. It was short and dry though, and was quite fast and fun to ski though. I was using my skinny racing style skis, and don’t get too much edging power on overflow, and so have to be careful. If only someone made stiff, narrow, metal edged (or partial metal edged) skis..

We reached Cache Mt Cabin and stopped in to read the log book and have bite to eat. Several years ago I left a book here as a joke, ‘Develop Your Psychic Abilities‘ and it was still here. Strangely, a another book I had left in the cabin as a joke, “The Instant Divorce”, was gone – go figure.
Past Cache Mt Cabin the overflow got a bit more intense, but was still quite passable.

We were now on a section of the trail that I had never skiied, and I was enjoying exploring the area. This section of trail climbs for 12 miles or so, then comes over Cache Mt Divide, and drops down to Windy Gap. The trail up into the divide offered great views and was not particularly steep until the final sections.

The divide was quite scenic and had wonderful views of the surrounding ridges.

I could have spent days exploring this area, but alas we had still had 14 miles or so to go before we reached the cabin, so we didn’t stop very long.

The trail away from the divide was fast and fun – just steep enough for some high speed skiing but not so steep as to be uncontrollable. We reached soon reached the section of trail called the “ice lakes”, where the trail disappears in small valley with wall to wall ice.

A warning to racers in the upcoming White Mountains 100 race – this section was the only section of the trail that was a bit scary for me. I skied most of it, and was out of control for a good portion of the time. The ice has a slight slant to it, and where it is slushy it is very easy to ski under control. Where the ice is hard though, it is very difficult to slow down. Twice I ended up plowing into alders at high speed when I could not slow down. I would treat this section with caution and ovoid the temptation to bomb it, unless you have skis with metal edges.

Tom and Ms Marsh put on stylish bags and yak-traks on their feet and walked this section.

After leaving the ice lakes, the most fun of trail begin (at least for me) – the trail gradually drops down to Windy Gap, winding though big trees and going over a endless series of woop-a-doos. This made for a very fun 9 miles or so of double poling. Eventually we reached Windy Gap Cabin and crashed for the night. The next morning we headed out, and started out with a long section of ice. I skied this section while Tom and Marsh walked it. The skiing was fun and super fast.

The next 10 miles of trail winded though large trees and crosses Fossil Creek numerous times. The first 5 miles or so was a fun roller coaster with lots of small rolling ups and downs which made for fun and fast skiing.

There were a couple of sections of brief overflow. These were pretty hard frozen and dry making for fun skiing. These sections could be a bit tricky during the race when I am sleep deprived.

The ridges in this area are fantastically beautiful.



This section included one of the more interesting trail finds I have encountered – there was a partially eaten wolf or long legged dog carcass on the side of the trail.

Sections of this trail had a huge number of wolf prints – it appeared a small pack of wolves had followed a creek down to the trail then followed the trail up to the windy gap area. There was a couple of bird kills marked by a large cloud of feather so it looked like the wolves were having fairly good hunting.
Eventually we broke out of the thick forest and into a old burn and soon we were past Caraboo Bluff cabin and on the hilly descent to Borealis Cabin.

Shortly after Borealis-LeFevre Cabin we ran into the BLM trail groomers on their way out to Wolf Run cabin, then to Windy Gap Cabin and out. They left the trail wonderfully smooth and fast.

It was getting a bit late, so we pushed on to the trail shelter, had dinner, and then headed out to the parking lot.

When I reached the parking lot I was greeted by a bunch of Japanese visitors waiting in the parking lot for aurora to photograph. Tom and I made it to the truck first, and waited a while for Ms Marsh to arrive. We had a number of false alarms when we thought we had seen Marsh’s head lamp, only to find it was the aurora watchers taking pictures of things with super bright flashes. Things like the trail signs, trees, the ground, and a pile of straw… there was no aurora to be seen, so perhaps they were making the best of things.

All in all it was a quite fun three days and we got to ski the entire course. Skiing the course is highly recommended for racers – there is no place where anyone with any direction sense could get lost, but there are a few sections were you have to be careful due to ice lakes, overflow, steep descents, and other tricky bits, and its good to get a feel for it before attempting it in a sleep deprived hase.

Skiing a Section of the Yukon Quest Trail

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

On a snowy Monday Tom, Remus, and I headed off to Chena Hotsprings to ski a section of the Yukon Quest trail. The quest had passed though this section of trail two days prior, and the “mini quest”, the Yukon Quest 300, had passed though the day before, so we anticipated the trail to be in pretty good shape and decided today would be a wonderful day to explore it. We skied about 23 miles, in about 8 hours or so including breaks. Not a parciularlly fast showing, as we were slowed by fresh snow and lots of overflow.
We joined the Yukon Quest trail where it leaves Chena Hotsprings road, and heads up the North Fork of the Chena River. In the first mile or so we skied past a number of small houses and vacation cabins and eventually the trail lost its road like feel.
Remus was happy to be joining us, and today I attempted to slow him down a bit by having him carry my down jacket and pants.

The trail had received about a inch to a inch and a half of fresh snow over night, and we were the first to travel the trail since the snow.

The fresh snow slowed us down a bit, but made for a smoother trail. The trail was a bit rough in sections, with a couple of large rocks fully exposed by the low snowfall. We need more snow pretty bad..

The day started snowy, gray, and overcast.

The day ended bright and sunny with a nice blue sky – quite a change.

There was quite a bit of wet overflow on the trail, which slowed us down a lot. We had two options – ski across, which keeps you pretty dry and is pretty fast but requires de-icing the skis after words, or to walk across, which is a bit risky as its hard to tell how hard the crust on the overflow is and if it can support your weight.

If the ice crust on the overflow is not strong enough to hold your weight, then you can end up plunging though and a bit wet – I stepped into overflow almost up to my knees twice. It was not all that cold, so having wet feet was not that big of a deal.

Walking though overflow also requires extensive boot de-icing efforts to get the toe bar free enough of ice to put the skis back on.

I tried wearing pellet bags on my feet and just walking across..

.. But quickly learned that its hard to hold up bags while carrying skis.  An obvious lesson, for sure.

The other option, to just ski straight across, is faster initially but frequently requires you to stop and de-ice your skis.  When the wet skis hit the nice dry snow, the snow generally sticks to your skis making them heavy and robbing them of any glide.   If you actually break though the crust with skis on, extricating yourself can be quite difficult.  On a trip last year Tom broke though some overflow and spent quite a bit of time standing in almost knee deep water trying to get out, and after finding he was trapped by skis getting suck under the ice, spent even more time trying to get them off.  Not pleasant…  I had not brought a ice scraper to de-ice my skis, and was forced to scrape ice off the bottom of my skis with a wax scraper, which was less than ideal.

This was a wonderful overflow refresher course for Tom and I, as the White Mountains 100 goes though several sections that can have large amounts of overflow.   In the past I have carried some light-ish Neos Overboots, which make overflow a snap – take your skis off, put the overboots on, and walk across.   I have not been bringing them of late, as they are light-ish, but not actually “light” – at around 2lbs they are almost as heavy as my sleeping bag.

The rest of the trail was quite fantasic – lots of wonderful views of the near by hills, and when the snow stopped, clear blue skies.  The trail is on a road for the first mile or so, then slowly winds up the North Fork of the Chena, passing numerous small cabins and inholdings, eventually reaching Rosebud summit.  We stopped a mile or so short of the base of the climb to the summit.

This area burned in the 2004 fire season, and most of the forest the trail passed though had been completely burned. We passed only a couple of sections where we passed though stands of unburned trees.

It was quite a fun way to spend a day (leaving out the overflow), and is enjoyable if you do not mind overflow all that much.

There were a number of interesting sights to see along the trail, including a “tree face”.

And a single snow shoe.   Hopefully the owner is not going to require it. Currently in this area snow shoes would be overkill, as the snow is not that deep, and one can get back by just walking though it.

A map of the route.

For more photos, please see my gallery:

Skiing a Section of the Quest trail

The Twins Go Skiing

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

While Nancy and Ms Marsh where off for a day ski, the twins decided that they must join in the fun and go skiing too. I bundled the twins up, put their ski boots on, and hustled them outside for a brief ski on the local trails.

I could only locate one set of ski poles, and at first the girls took turns.

After a while some short alder branches where pressed into service as ski poles. The branches where more popular than the actual ski poles, and we where back to swapping back and forth.

Molly even braved a short patch of ice on her skis.

It took about an hour for everyone to get tired and cold, and so we headed back inside for a warmup and snacks.

Fun was had by all!

Moved to WordPress

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

So,  I switched to WordPress due to some blogger making some changes.  Hopefully no one will notice any problems or interruptions…

Exploring the Bonnifield Trail

Monday, February 1st, 2010

Tom and I decided to spend a Monday exploring the Bonnifield Trail. The Bonnifield Trail is rumored to head south from Fairbanks to foothills of the Alaska Range and possibly to Blair Lakes and other interesting destinations. We where only interested in a fairly short ski, perhaps 30 miles or so out and back, so we set our goal on a small hill called Clear Creek Butte.
Our ski started at the end of South Cushman and I had more than a little trepidation leaving my truck there.. But things appear to have been cleaned up significantly since I was last in that area, and there was only one burned out car. There was still signs of the old times, including a burned up set of box springs and a number of appliances with a goodly number of bullet holes.. Hopefully the truck would be ok.. I stopped at a classic south cushman spot, complete with a burned and rusting box springs, broken bottle luminaries, and spent shell casings, for a couple of photos.

We skied out to the Tanana, then wandered around for a bit looking for the start of the trail. We ignored the most obvious starting point, the a wide trail blocked by a yellow gate with a blue tent in the middle, but eventually decided that must be it, and started down it.

The start of the Bonnifield was not what I expected – it is about 20 feet wide and straight.

Unfortunately there was not enough snow to cover all the grass, so the skiing was a bit slow.

For the first 7 miles the trail alternated between swamp and birch and poplar groves, but not to put too fine of a point on it, it was a little boring.

To liven up the trip, the military kindly left surprises in the woods for us, in the form of “Dudded Impacted Area” warning signs.

Tom was quite put out by the sign’s poor grammer and the use of “dudded” as a word. Never mind that the area is apparently littered with unexploded ordinance.
The only wildlife we saw was a moose with a large calf and a huge flock of ravens.

Eventually we came to a large intersection, where the trail headed off east off at an angle, and continued straight on. We elected to continue straight on, as the USGS topos have the trail continuing on straight, but a the trail heading off to the east had a large amount of traffic – perhaps a trail to explore in the future. The branch of the trail we continued had a much more promising character.

At this point, we ran into our only other trail users of the day, a posse of military contractors off on some mission of great importance. I chatted with them for a bit, and they told me about a tower on top of clear creek butte, which I was told, right ahead of me. Hmm, I was a bit confused at this point, as we had yet to cross Clear Creek, which is several miles before the butte. They zoomed off on their mission of great important, and we continued on our ski.

It turned out they where confusing Clear Creek Butte with a small hill right next to Clear Creek. Alas, they also confused left and right, and gave us instructions that got us a bit sidetracked for a while, but not too big of a deal, as it gave us some fun skiing on Clear Creek.

Once back on the trail, we headed up to the top of the small hill, and took at look at the tower.

The view from the tower would have been quite fantastic, given a clear day, but alas it was cloudy and overcast, so the view was somewhat limited.

The tower was quite interesting, and I am very curious what it was used for. The climb up was a bit hairy, especially when I realized the top rung of the ladder was held on by parashoot cord.
We wandered around for a while before getting back on the correct trail, as there are a lot of side trails heading off into the flats. Once back on the trail we headed off and skied a couple of more miles before arriving at Clear Creek Butte. The butte was a little anticlimactic, as we didn’t find any tower on it, or anything else interesting, but such is life. After a snack we headed back, and made it back out to the car before dark, hurray! I was very happy to see my truck was intact and without bullet holes and not on fire..

If anyone has any idea where the major side trail heading off to the east goes, or where all the traffic heading up and down clear creek goes to, I would love to know about it.

This area is definitely worth exploring, as it so close to town. With a bit more snow it would provide fantastic skiing. I think I would recommend parking someplace other than the end of South Cushman, if only for your peace of mind. It would add probably 6 miles each way to leave from the Pump House or Pikes, or 4 miles from the Chena Pump boat launch.

It is not a dog friendly ski, as there are lots of traps in the area, including ground sets, so keep the dogs at home!