Skiing a Section of the Yukon Quest Trail

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

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One Response to “Skiing a Section of the Yukon Quest Trail”

  1. spruceboy says:

    The verbiage on overflow is a little too verbose, but such is life – I am sure everyone will survive.

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