Posts Tagged ‘skiing’

A Packraft and Ski Trip on Beaver Creek

Saturday, October 24th, 2015

Winter has finally arrived here in Fairbanks, and while we now have enough snow to ski in some areas, the water levels on the rivers has been unusually high, probably due to all our late season rain. After some discussion, Heath, and I hatched a plan to float Beaver Creek from Nome Creek to Borealis Cabin, then to hike out to the Wickersham Dome mile 28. A few days before the trip we received word that the winter trail had enough snow to ski, and that snowmachines had been out on the trails, and so we switched up our plans and added skis in the mix. I was pretty worried about Nome Creek road, but fortunately I was able to get in touch with a musher to lives in the area, who said the road was still drivable. Hoping for the best, we headed out early in the morning, hoping to make it in without major trouble. The road turned out to in okay shape, with only a few sketchy sections, and Heath’s wife Audrey dropped us uneventfully. A huge thank you to Audrey for helping with the car shuttle!

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The water levels on Nome Creek were about what I expected, given the gauge was reading 2.7-ish, though there was a lot more shore ice than I was expected – uh-oh! We left Audrey to drive back to town, and headed down the creek.

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I was very excited to do my first “seal launch” in a packraft – sliding into the water from ice was super cool!

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Pretty soon we had to portage around a section of the creek with ice all the way across, but otherwise the floating was fun, and the contrast of the snow with the dark water and trees was amazing. After a few more portages we made it to confluence with Nome Creek, where, alas, the volume of water coming in from the main channel was less that I would have liked to see. It wasn’t the end of the world though, and the floating was still pretty fast. Heath is a pretty consistent paddler, so we spent much of the float paddling away.

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I did learn I made a serous tactical error when picking my gloves. I have a pair of three fingered diving gloves, but I couldn’t find them, and so resorted to using some thinner neoprene gloves I could actually find. Alas, they were not warm enough, and I spent most of the float dealing with cold fingers – my own fault for not being more prepared! I did discover that I could make my hands much warmer by moving the cuff of my dry suit past my wrist, which did wonders for keeping my hands warm.

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We saw a fairly diverse amount of wildlife, including 4 moose, a beaver, ducks, lots of grayling, and at fairly close range, a bear. The bear encounter was pretty funny.  We came around a bend, and Heath was up front.  Just as he came up on a stand of trees, I noticed a very large brown bear leaning out over the bank, appearing from my point of view to be looking down at Heath, getting ready to jump at him. Heath was digging around in his deck bag, and for a few seconds I thought he was digging out his camera to get a photo, then decided he hadn’t seen it and shouted something silly like “Heath – bear!” Heath then turned around, with a sandwich in his hand and we both started “Hey Bearing”. Fortunately, after one short growl, the bear took off and we didn’t see it again. It definitely provided a nice adrenaline boost!

The float was a very interesting experience. As the day progressed, we started seeing more and more ice, and by the end of the day the river was at times packed with small pieces of ice, and a few larger bits.

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Occasionally it was hard to paddle, as there wasn’t always room get your paddle into the water. Fortunately Beaver Creek is pretty mellow and there are not any rapids of note, and wide enough that there were few sweepers. It was an awesome experience, listening to the hiss of the ice bumping around as we floated along. We did have to portage one small ice jam, which fortunately wasn’t a big deal. Ice built up on our packs and our paddles, but didn’t seem to stick to the boats at all. I was a bit worried that my boat would be punctured by a sharp piece of ice, but that didn’t happen, and eventually I just started plowing though the ice. Alas, we spent the last few hours on the river in the dark, which made for a bit of a stressful end to the float. I was very happy to see Borealis cabin! On the upside, while trying to see how deep the water was I saw a huge grayling just off the edge of the shore ice. After looking around, it soon became apparent there were grayling everywhere, and by the light of our headlamps they stood out in the water like ghosts – an amazing sight!

We arrived at Borealis, and I was very happy to take my dry suit off and enjoy a nice warm, dry cabin. I had brought an InReach gadget that allows (supposedly!) two way texting using satellites, but alas, after two hours of fiddling I couldn’t get it to receive texts, just to send them.

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I have had it work great in the past, but this time I couldn’t for the life of me get it to stay connected to my smartphone, which was a huge bummer as we were pretty worried about Audrey making the drive back out on Nome Creek road, and I was sort of counting on it to arrange a ride back with my friend Tom. Fortunately the tracking feature was working, however the messaging part was a bust. YMMV. I am not sure I am taking it on any more trips..

The next morning we headed out, crossed the creek in the pack rafts, and started over to the winter trail. There is a little creek that is often not very well frozen a half mile or so from the main river, so we dragged our pack rafts behind us like sleds, which worked great. Pack rafts apparently make pretty good sleds!

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The creek turned out to be frozen, but I was excited to see snowmachine tracks on the other side – the trail was broken out! We packed up, put on skis, and enjoyed a fantastic ski out. The snow was fast, and the skiing was great, considering there was only 10″ of snow.

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We zoomed out, enjoying the fast snow.

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I was annoyed to find out that my packrafting pack, a older Arc’teryx waterproof pack, is moderately horrible for skiing – its skinny tall shape and minimal suspension made it very tipsy and it was constantly trying to tip me over. I survived though, and really enjoyed the ski out. At about halfway Heath got enough cell signal to receive emails and to learn Audrey made it out safely, and I called our ride, Tom, to make sure he was still going to pick us up, and that he knew the skiing was fantastic, and should come early and get some skiing in. Tom said he was on his way, and we ran into him about 3 miles from the parking lot, out for his second ski of the year. The remainder of the ski was uneventful, though I did have a crash right in front of Lance Mackey who was training his dog team with a 4-wheeler. I think he was amused, but I felt pretty self conscious trying to get up with a heavy pack while he was waiting for me to get out of the way.

A huge thank you to Audrey and Tom for providing rides – this trip wouldn’t have been possible without you guys, and major kudos to Heath for coming up with the original idea and making the trip possible!

Heath said several times this trip is definitely something to do again, and I 100% agree – it was a fantastic experience.

I think I would do a few things differently:

  • I would bring “real gloves” or something a lot warmer than the thin gloves I brought. If anyone has suggestions I would love to hear them.
  • I would bring something to help get out of the water and onto the ice.  I think a several foot board with a leash with some 16d nails in it would be very handy, or perhaps the small ice picks like ice fisherman use.  The board could probably be burned once the floating was done, and the nails salvaged.
  • I debated bringing my dry suit, and ended up bringing it, and was very happy I did.  It made this trip possible, and more importantly fun – it would have been fairly miserable without it unless I was very, very careful to stay dry.
  • Heath used Alpacka’s semi-dry suit, and loved it.  I think I have one of those in my future!
  • I would leave earlier so the end of the day floating in the dark wouldn’t be necessary.  I might try camping at the put in to get an early start, or breaking the float up into two days.
  • Other versions of this trip abound: coming out to the Colorado creek trailhead, to mile 28 via Crowberry, or back to Nome Creek would be fun and possible.  I expect the winter trail would be skiable in the more remote areas, but of course it wouldn’t be broken out.
  • I wouldn’t do this trip if there were lots of ice at the put-in, it is a long way out via any of the reasonable bail-out points.
  • I need to rework my pack attachment system for winter floats. I use two straps with “ladder buckles”, but they iced up and were very hard to undo.  Heath used P-cord and it seemed like he had fewer problems.
  • I used Surly junk straps to attach the skis to my boat; that was a mistake, as they took forever to get off, because they were so iced up.

Sorry for such a long post — this trip was fabulous and I thought it deserved enough words to do it justice!

Winter..

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

We have been having a strange winter this year, complete with rain and ice storms, and many January days near freezing. It hasn’t been good for skiers, but the warm snaps have made for fantastic trails.

I have been attempting to put as many miles on the snow bike as I can in preparation for the ITI, but I have probibly not been getting as much time in as I need. Such is life.. but it is hard to complain with the fantastic weather we have been having, and the wonderful trails.

I managed to escape for day to put in a 75 mile day ride in the Whites, which was fantastic.

Near freezing on the hills, and near zero in the valleys – not much to complain about.

One of the better rides I have enjoyed this winter, and I wished it never ended. If I would had a way to let folks know I would be out longer I would have probably extended the ride to the whole loop. Alas.. but it was still a fantastic day!

I hope everything is enjoying their winter!

The Dunbar to Tolovana!

Saturday, April 13th, 2013

I have wanted to ski the Dunbar Trail to Tolovana Hotsprings for years now, and I finally got a chance! Tom, Remus, and I set out early on a fine Sunday morning, driving up to the end of Murphy Dome, then strapping on our skis (or in Remus’s case, dog booties) and headed down the trail.

The first 10 miles or so were all downhill to the Chatanika River. Once down to the Chatanika, it was not entirely clear how to get to the Dunbar, so Tom and I wandered around for a while, passing though a surprising large subdivision filled with cabins of all shapes and sizes looking for trails that were heading in the right direction and not marked with “No Trespassing!” signs. Eventually we hit the river, then headed down it a ways hoping to see were the Dunbar crosses. After about a half hour we turned around and headed back after not seeing anything. We retraced our ski tracks and heading up river we quickly found were the dunbar crosses, and turned off the river and headed to the hotsprings.

The trail was in amazingly good shape, nice and firm making for great skiing. The trail was surprisingly scenic for a winter trail though black spruce forest and swamp. The dunbar is pretty straight, occasionally making small jogs for no apparent reason. However the trail occasionally cut off the dunbar to follow a swamp or lake for a while for some chance of scenery. At one point we crossed a strange bridge in the middle of nowhere – sort of amusing, as to get to the bridge you had to cross a ton of very wet swamp, several small creeks, and the Chatanika River.

At about half way the dunbar climbs up a short hill, and near the top there was a wall tent platform, but alas no wall tent.

As I understand it, the folks running Tolovana Hotsprings have a warming tent here, which I am sure is very welcome in the colder parts of the winter. We enjoyed a bag of pre-cooked bacon to celebrate being half way, then zoomed down the hill. On the other side of the hill the trail got a bit narrower and a bit more overgrown, but otherwise was still very easy to follow.

Remus was a bit bemused by the length of this trip – after about 30 miles I think he started lying down and taking a nap when ever we stopped.

There were a couple small wind blown lakes that we had to cross and we had to be careful we didn’t miss were the trail exited the lake.

Eventually we reached the turn off for Tolovana, and headed to the hotsprings.

The trail from the Dunbar crosses some large open fields and swamps that were very beatiful when lit by the low angle evening sun.

Where the trail crosses the Tolovana River I was amazed how incised the banks are, and wrote off pack-rafting the Tolovana River, as the views of the banks would get old quickly I think. The drop down to the river and back up was very steep, and called for a bit of walking.

The sun went behind the hill just as we crossed the final swamp before the short climb to Tolovana.

As soon as we hit the trail up to the hot-springs Remus realized were we were, and spent the final mile running ahead and looking back at us, giving us “hurry up, we are almost there!” look about a thousand times. It must be hard to be a dog, and not know when you head off for a walk if it is going to be 5 miles or 50.

We finally arrived at the hotsprings just before sunset where we meet up with Henry, who had came in the short way, and had the cabin warmed up and water ready for us. I immediately started cooking dinner, and after chowing down we all headed off to enjoy the hot waters. The next day we spent the day eating, talking, soaking, and goofing off.

Henry entertained us with many stories of his bike racing days, and discussion of all things bike related among other things. My favorite tub at Tolovana, the middle one, had a huge amount of alge growing in it but Tom bravely volunteered to clean it up.

I took a short walk over to the airstrip, but eventually turned back as the lounging footwear I had brought, crocs, where filling with snow even with the plastic bags I had over my socks. The evening was spent with more chatting, eating, and soaking. The next day we headed out the short way to the Eliot Highway in a few inches of fresh snow, and back to town.

Thanks Tom and Henry for a truly wonderful trip, and to Nancy for letting me skip out on parenting duties for two nights. I have not skied much this year, and I think this trip just about doubled my season’s milage. Perhaps it is not recommended to do that in one 50 mile push, but I survived with minimal damage – hurrah!

The route in from Murphy Dome is about 46 miles, and took us about 13 hours which included a fair number of snack stops and several miles of extra wandering around. It was good skiing, but would have been top notch snowbiking, at least when we did it. There are a couple of tricky spots, but otherwise it was fairly straightforward. There are a number of small lakes and swamps to cross, and it looked like it could be easy to loose the trail in those spots, so budget some time for that.

And Now, Skiing!

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

I took a bit of a break from biking and did a short ski in the Angel Creek valley near Chena Hotsprings, with Tom and Remus. It was fantastic way to spend an afternoon.

Our recent snow dump has given us a fair bit of white fluffy goodness.. a little over a foot or so of new stuff in this location.

We stopped briefly at the new Lower Angel Creek cabin and peeked inside. The new cabin has wonderful view and is very large. It should make a nice option for larger groups and families. Wonderful job State Parks!

A Iditarod Trail Invitational writeup is coming soon, I have been slacking.

The (really this time) last ski trip of the season – Kanuti

Monday, April 25th, 2011

I had figured the ski season was pretty much done, as the snow was melting at the house and the trails were now much too soft to bike on, and pretty mushy for skiing, but just as I was getting ready to put the skis away I was invited to join some folks headed out to Kanuti Hotsprings on skis. I had never been out that way and decided to join them, and before I knew it I was headed north to near the Arctic Circle with Tom and Ms Marsh. The drive was uneventful, but scenic, and near our destination, a bit windy.

The plan was for us to meet up with the rest of our party, camp along the road somewhere, and in the morning ski into the hotsprings. We ended up running a bit ahead of the rest of our party, and while waiting I got a bit bored and attempted to find a slightly better place to park, and was soon stuck.

Fortunately right after I got stuck the rest of our party, Tim and Andrea, arrived. Tim was kind enough to pull me out (thanks Tim!). We then convoyed to our night’s destination, a pull-off near a snow fence, then set up our tents and hit the sack. It was pretty windy that night, and by the time morning came my tent, a large spacious car camping tent that is alas not very wind resistant, had been nearly flattened by the wind. The wind was strong enough that everyone almost bailed on the trip, but we decided to stick it out, and that was for the best. Soon after we packed up camp the wind died down, the sun came out, and for the next two days the weather was wonderful.
The ski started out near an abandoned gift shop at Mile 103 of the Dalton Highway. For the first several miles we climbed up several small hills over a hard wind blown crust, which made for good skiing.

The wind blown crust was amazing – hard enough so we didn’t break though but soft enough that it was possible to edge on it without a lot of work, making for fun and fairly fast skiing. This was pretty good news, as there was no sign of any packed trail, or in fact of any other travelers.

Eventually we had to head back into the trees to side hill around Caribou Mountain, and with the trees we lost our crust and gained lots and lots of powder. The trail breaking began in earnest at this point, and soon we were wading though knee deep snow, with occasional sections of crust that provided a welcome respite.

Most of our skiing we were following a rough “route” rather than a trail – there are not a lot of trees on the route so we were pretty free to go where ever the skiing was the best. It is not possible to avoid the trees for a section where we side-hilled along Caribou Mountain.

A more detailed map can be found here:
We had been told there was a cut trail of some sort that is kept clear by some snowmachiners who use the hot-springs on an infrequent basis. Fortunately the cut trail was fairly easy to follow, and was well marked by blazes.

Breaking trail was a lot of work, but rewarding in its own way. Eventually we broke back out of the trees and back into the more open areas, which had intermittent crust, making for much faster skiing.

The final two miles or so took a very long time, as we dropped down into the trees and very deep snow. It was a bit of a slog, but eventually we arrived at the hot-springs and it was a very welcome sight. The hot-springs are in a large open area that is completely snow free, quite a contrast to the surrounding area. After several hours of wading though knee deep snow it is a pretty welcome sight!

The hot-springs appeared to be divided up into several small pools, with a larger pool having a small dam at one end to keep the water deep enough to soak in.

When we arrived there was a fair bit of slime in it, but Andria bravely went to work de-sliming it and it was soon inhabitable.

The water was pretty warm, 102f according to my thermometer, which was more than warm enough to provide a nice hot soak by my standards. After soaking and dinner we all turned in, looking forward to the broken trail and fast skiing on heading out.

Kanuti is a pretty interesting place. The ground around the hot springs is quite warm and gives off noticeable heat. I was surprised to see how warm items like my boots got when I left them on the ground with a jacket over them. Besides the little dam that holds water in for the soaking pool and a few cut trees there are few signs of past visitors. I am pretty curious how many people visit the springs, because while its a bit of a drive from Fairbanks, it is only a day’s hike or ski in. The scenery is top notch, so I would have assumed more folks would make the trek in.

After a good nights sleep the morning arrived clear and wind free – perfect weather for the ski out.

The ski out was pretty fast and much more pleasant that the ski in – no trail breaking and our tracks had set up nice and firm, making for wonderful skiing.

We had wonderful weather for the ski out, with sunny blue skies and next to no wind – perfect skiing weather.

The weather was a bit too nice for Remus, who would have preferred it to be -20f I expect.

The final hill was very fun for me, with lots of gliding downhill on a nice and fast hard wind crust.

Eventually we made to back to the trucks, where lots of snacks and beer complements of the ever prepared Tim waited for us.

This trip was a fantastic way to wrap up the ski season. I owe a bit thanks to Andrea and crew for inviting me along, it was amazingly fun. I am pretty sure it is truly the last ski of the season, as when I arrived back in Fairbanks it was pretty apparent breakup season had arrived with a vengeance.

We didn’t see much wildlife on this trip, besides a very dark colored fox and some gray jays. We did see sign of other animals including the caribou the nearby mountain is named after, but alas didn’t get to see them in person.

There were a few signs of the summer residents in this area. I expect this area is teeming with activity in the warmer months.

Folks interested in duplicating this trip will want to keep in mind that the route we took is the winter route, it would be a depressing slog though wet tussocks in the summer I expect. Sumer travelers can take a route over Caribou Mountain, or so I have been told. The snow was pretty deep, and required a lot of trail breaking – bring friends, the more the better to speed this up.

The last ski trip of the season..

Monday, April 4th, 2011

A week after the Whites 100, I headed back out to the same area for a nice, mellow two night trip, this time on skis. I have not spent a lot of time on skis this year, instead focasing on biking, so I had been looking forward to some good quality spent gliding effortlessly over the snow (vs pushing the bike though the warm mush). Heike, Ms Marsh, Tom, and I headed out of town on a warm and sunny day, and after 60 miles or so of driving, left the trail head at mile 57 of the Eliot highway at around noon. The skiing was fantastic, and the weather was perfect, clear and sunny. Our plan was to spend the first night at Wolf Run Cabin, then head to Caribou Bluff cabin via Windy Gap, and then head back out to the mile 57 trail head. The first day was a fairly mellow 23 mile ski though burned spruce forests..

open tussock fields..

..and eventually across Beaver Creek and to Wolf Run cabin.
There were lots of wolf tracks on Beaver Creek. Perhaps the cabin was aptly named..

We spent the evening eating, goofing off, and generally enjoying being out in the wilderness. In the morning we headed out on our way to Caribou Bluff cabin, a leisurely 20 mile ski. The snow was very fast making for pleasant skiing and the views were fantastic!

A mile or so before reaching Windy Gap we were treated to views of Windy Arch.

The high point of the day was a flat ridge top with a wonderful view of the surrounding mountains.

After dropping down to Fossil Creek we stopped at Windy Gap cabin where a party of snowmachiners were just getting ready to leave. Heike used her “Super German” powers to snag a couple of beers from them, and hung out for a while in the warm cabin sipping beer. Eventually the beer was consumed and we headed back out on the trail and continued on to Caribou Bluff. This section of trail was very fun, with unbelievable fast snow and wonderful weather. Heike was skating and with the wide smooth trails she disappeared down the trail like a bullet. Eventually I arrived at the cabin, a little toasted from all the sun and the (single – I am a lightweight) beer.

The evening was spent goofing off, reading magazines, and talking. The cabin had a fairly new copy of Velo News which with its lycra clad roadies provided some strange but interesting reading. Others found the copy of US Magazine or the New Scientist to their tastes. Its amazing how much sun we have now, and how bright and warm it is. Remus, alas, had to satisfy himself with a raw hide chew.

This cabin is in a truly beautiful location and I really enjoy spending time here.

After lots of eating and socializing ( sometimes it appears that trips are just a chance to eat junk food without guilt) we hit the sack, and in the morning headed back out to the parking lot. The ski out was fairly uneventful, but scenic. Just after leaving Carabou Bluff we passed a partially eaten moose.

It appeared that the moose was killed by wolves, though someone had placed cut logs around it, as if to arrange seating around it.

Strange, but perhaps they were watching the Ravens, as the snow was covered with their tracks. Remus required some convincing that the moose was not one giant dog treat laid out for his munching pleasure. The rest of the way out was pretty uneventful, mellow ski out. I had not done enough skiing this year, so my feet got a bit tore up by the time we reached the parking lot, but nothing too major.

It was a fantastic trip and a great way to end the ski season. It was fun enough to make me question spending so much time on the snow bike. Almost…

A big thanks to Heike, Tom, and Ms Marsh for making this trip happen – it was a great way to wrap up the season.

Kids in the Whites

Monday, March 7th, 2011

On a brisk spring morning the family, three dogs, and I loaded up into the truck and headed off on a ski trip in the White Mountains. We had been invited out to join the Rozell family and several other folks on a trip out to Eleazar’s Cabin, which is about 12 miles one way. The Rozells have a daughter who is in Lizzy and Molly’s class at Bunnell House, and they were looking forward to spending the weekend together. We had abandoned plans to head out to stiles creek cabin due a large snow fall and high winds that made drifts deep enough that State Park’s trail breakers got stuck right out of the parking lot. Bailing on this trip was quite a disappointment to the girls – they were really looking forward to the trip. Fortuately, the weather for this weekend was quite a bit nicer, with a forecast for a fairly standard Interior Alaska spring – Lows of 0 to -20f at night, and highs of 10 to 20f above. We are now getting lots of sunlight making for bright and warm days. After a bit of a delayed start, we connected with the Rozells at Alaska Coffee Rosters and after getting a bit of caffene, headed out to the trailhead. The trailhead was a bit of a mad house, with a party of snow bikers, a musher, and a large posse of snow machines all in various stages of arriving or departing. We eventually got going after a couple of mishaps, including discovering that one of our party left the poles used to haul their child hauling chariot, leaving us with three kids and only the double chariot that seats two. Fortunately Molly was willing to ride on top of the gear hauling sled so we headed down the trail while one of the adults zipped back to town to retrieve the poles.

The 4 and a half year olds started off the day walking, and were little troopers. The rest of the day was a mix of slow adult walking / fast 4 1/2 year old walking …

and skiing with occasional stops for snacks and drinks.

It was a bit slow at times..

Molly got to ride the “green horse” on the way in and out, and was quite a trooper. She fell off quite a few times, but was quick to jump back on.. generally it worked like this:

Then this..

And finally this:

And we were back in business.
After a full day of slow travel we reached the cabin, were we caught up with the rest of the adults, hung out, ate, and generally had fun. The twins were super excited to explore the cabin, climbing around in the loft, going up and down the ladders, and otherwise having lots of fun. Eventually everyone called it a night. The next morning I was surprised to be the first one up at a little before 8. I am not a big fan of sleeping in on trips – I can always sleep in at home, but alas not every day for me involves so much outside play time. Everyone else was soon roused and we got the morning rituals started. After breakfast we headed off down the trail, though this time we had enough places for all the kids as the person sent back to town with to obtain the missing chariot parts had arrived with the missing parts. Nancy headed off with the twins, with the goal of reaching the big hill climbing up out of the valley, sometimes referred to as the “Wickersham Wall”, before nap time and having the little people walk up it.

Molly had a melt down when told that she would have to ride in the Chariot, claiming that she wanted to walk the entire way out. This provided some of the adults great amusement – a kid actually angry that she was not going to get to walk the whole 11 miles out under her own power, rather than complaining endlessly about having to walk at all.. Anyway, they zoomed down the hill while I hung out at the cabin a bit longer, cleaning up and lazying about. After giving the kids and Nancy a 20 minute or so head start, I set off, and caught up with everyone just before the big climb. The rest of the trip out was fairly uneventful. On the way in we were past by a party of snowmachine supported bikers, and on the way out we were past by the same bikers shuttling out via snowmachine.. apparently the trail was too soft for snow biking, which does not bode well for the upcoming Whites 100 race.

A big thanks to the Rozells for inviting us out and providing the inspiration- it was a very fun trip

Thoughts on Skiing vs Biking

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

I have been spending a lot of time on the snow bike and not much time on the skis. This is bit unusual for me – normally this time of year I spend almost all my outside play time on skis, and has got me thinking a bit about the differences between snow biking and skiing. There is a local 30 mile loop made by combining two local trails, the Eldorado Creek trail and Oconner Creek trails with a a couple of random connector trails that start at the door of my house. Its a pretty fun loop, with a bit of altitude gain and a long downhill.

If you live in the area these trails are well worth exploring – lots of good skiing and biking, with enough variation in the trails to keep things interesting.

The two main trails are connected at the top by some trails run along the power lines that run near Old Murphy Dome road at the top..

And the Goldstream Trail at the bottom.

The Goldstream Trail is often the coldest part of this loop, and can have some very funky cloud and inversion formations.

I take a couple of smaller trails to get to the start of the loop, including a trail called the “Dredge Swath” trail, which was originally a trail made to haul gold dredges from Ester to the some mines along Goldstream Creek. For a long time I thought folks were calling it the “Dread Swath”… perhaps because I am hearing comprehension impaired. I did spend some time thinking about what was dreadful about it though..

This loop has become my default bike or ski route when I am looking for a longish day trip. On skis it takes about 7 hours, on a bike it takes between three and a half to four and half hours. I do this loop once or twice a week, and it is very fun. On a bike do the loop in a counter-clockwise manner to I can ride up the less steep climb on the Oconner Creek Trail, and down the much steeper Eldorado Creek trail. When skiing I do it the other way – ski up the steeper section and down the less steep hills.

Hills feel very different on the bike vs the ski – on a bike long downhills are very cold as the only thing I have to do is ride the brakes. On skis downhills require quite a bit of lower leg effort which keeps me nice and warm even for long cold downhills. Going up on the bike is a lot more work, mainly because the more effort I put in the faster I go, while on skis there is not much more reward for expending extra effort, so I tend to just cruse. This means I can really wipe myself out on the bike, yet never really seem to get tired while skiing. I am sure if my ski form was better, or if I could skate things would be a bit different.. but with my current skiing form its hard to get wore out.

Other surprising differences include how easy it is to duck under low hanging branches while skiing and how hard it is to dodge those branches while biking.

Bikes are a lot more complicated mechanically than skis are, which means the chance of breaking something is a alot higher. I have not had any troubles so far, but perhaps I have been lucky. The worst thing that has happned to me so far is icy brakes, which look pretty troublesome, but still work fine.

Skiing is much faster when the snow is soft, but when the snow is cold and hard it much faster to bike… both ways are fun though.

Its hard to face-plant on skis, but its happens amazingly fast on a snow bike. Several times now I have been zooming along on a snow machine trail only to punch though in front and have a over the bars experience.

Overflow is fun on a bike and skis, though in different ways. On skis it is pretty easy and fast to double pole though frozen or wet overflow, so long as you can slow down enough when required. With metal edges slowing down is no problem. On a bike overflow is pretty fun, however it is a lot easier to slip on the ice on a bike when the ice is hard and smooth. Wet or textured overflow is no problem on the bike, as the texture gives lots of traction. The bike does not ice up much, unlike skis, so once you are off the overflow happiness returns and there are no “memories of overflow past” in the form of slow iced ski bottoms.

Enough randomness for now, hope everyone is having a good weekend!

Bike 0, Ski 1

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

Having received my long awaited Fatback, I was very, very antsy to get it out on the trails and give it a spin. I had taken it out on the local trails for several hours of riding and since it was working well decided to take it along on a trip out to Wolf Run cabin in the Whites. The trail conditions report did not bode well, but I assumed (wrongly it turned out ) that with the new snow and the nice weather folks would be out on snow machines enjoying themselves. On the off chance things didn’t pan out I waxed up my skis and tossed a backpack in the back of the truck. This turned out to be a good call. Heike, Christie, Tom, and I headed out of town and off to the trailhead fairly early Saturday morning after a quick stop for coffee at Alaska Coffee Roasters. The roads are much improved now, but still a bit slick so the driving was slow at times but we arrived intact – hurray! The trail leaving the trailhead looked great, so I packed up the bike while the two skiers (Heike and Christie) got ready to go, and Tom the runner took off down the trail. Eventually I got my bike packed and headed out. The first 5 miles or so of the trail were fantastic – hard and fast with a slight dusting of snow. I took it pretty easy getting used to the bike’s handing while fully loaded. Alas, at mile five things got a bit slower – there is a side trail here that heads out towards the Tolovana River, and all the traffic appeared to be taking the side track, with a single snow machine track heading down the trail. The trail was still rideable, but marginally so. Alas, after several hundred feet the snowmachine turned around and that was the end of the packed trail. The rest of the trail had about 5″ of snow on top of a breakable crust on top of a bit more snow, then a packed trail – good for a bike stand but not riding.

The options were to push the bike another 18 miles or head back to the truck and get skis. I was not thinking the 18 mile push-fest in followed by another 18 mile push out the next day was a good first over-nighter on the bike, so I returned for the skis. Tom joined me and we headed back to the truck while the skiers continued down the trail and off to the cabin.

45 minutes or so later I left the trail head again, this time on skis. 4 hours later we caught up with Heike and Christie who had the good sense to bail on the original plan and had stopped at Colorado Creek cabin. The trail between Colorado Creek cabin and Wolf Run cabin appeared to be completely unbroken – it would have been a long hard slog with a couple of tricky route finding sections, so bailing was a good call – we also knew the cabin was unreserved mid week and were fairly sure we would not be putting anyone out. Regardless it was very nice to step inside out of the wind into a warm, bright cabin. We had a relaxing evening goofing off and talking, and after a night’s sleep and a slow morning, headed back out on the trail.

The ski out was much faster as our tracks were mostly still intact and we were back at the trail head surprisingly quickly. Near the end of the day things cleared up a bit and we got some wonderful views of the surrounding hills and the mid afternoon sun.

A big thanks to Christie and Heike for breaking trail and doing all the cabin chores – it was very nice to ski in with all the work done!

Snow!

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

Ms Marsh, Tom, and I spent the day enjoying a mellow ski out in the White Mountains NRA. The greater Fairbanks area received a lot of snow in the last couple of days, and in the Whites that resulted in about two feet of snow on the ground. Thats about as much snow as we had at the end of the year – Wow!

The skiing was fast and fun. With the warm mid 20’s weather it was strange to see only five snow machines and three parties of skiers, but it was nice to see people out enjoying the snow.