Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sunny day in Chickaloon

Bill and I went for a day of snowshoeing from our cabin in Chickaloon up towards Castle Mountain which is about a 15 mile RT and over 2000 feet in elevation. We follow a horse trail and then a rodd for a mile, the rest of the way is a muddy summer trail, it was pretty good since at least one snowmachine had been on it. At the top there is an old hunter's cabin on a ridge but protected by alder bushes.Otherwise it would have been toughbraking trail from the old mining road another 3 miles of deep unbroken snow. The day couldn't have been more beautiful. I spent most of the time looking for animal tracks and taking lots of pictures. You sure wouldn't have to starve around here, lots of bunnies. We actually saw one, they are hard to spot since their winter coat is white. We saw a set of wolf tracks on the mountain the other day. We also found two moose beds where they felt pretty safe and had a pretty good view of their surroundings.
We had started at noon and got back just when there was alpenglow on Castle Mountain.
Bill and I are headed to Willow on Saturday for the Willow Winter Carnival bike race and hope to ride there for a couple of days and ride up the Yentna River.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Lake Louise Trails

Bill and I had a great time out at Lake Louise. It is a large lake at 2300 feet in the Copper River Basin. We rented a cabin at Lake Louise Lodge so we could plug in the van from Naomi, a very nice hostess. We started out at 1pm and rode off across the lake for 4 miles then took the Crosswind Lake Trail. I have never seen a trail so busy with animal tracks, it was covered the entire way with moose, wolf, fox, rabbit, pine marten and caribou tracks. The lakes we had to cross had a hard wind crust that was rideable. After three hours of riding we turned around and made it to the lodge before eight to have a burger. At some point it had started snowing on us on the way back. I was happy that it took us as long to go out as it took to come back keeping a steady pace 5 mph with a soft trail and a loaded bike. The next morning there was 2-3 inches of fresh snow on the ground. I wasn't sure if we would be able to ride with the new snow on top of the wind drifts. After breakfast we decided to give it a try and headed out on the lake trail that follows the length of the first lake for about 8 miles. The lake system is over 20 miles long.
The pedaling was slow, but it was rideable, the lighting was flat and it seemed like riding on a white cloud without a point of reference. I was following for a while, then it was my time to brake trail. I was having vertigo looking down where my front tire was moving through the snow. I decided to look out far ahead to the next marker and that seemed to work. I felt for the packed part of the trail under the fresh snow with the front tire. Gently moving from side to side to stay on the hardest part of the trail. Finding the best line can be difficult on lakes or rivers where snowmachines spread out even more so with flat light.
Later a little blue hole in the sky appeared above us where we could see more contoures in the snow.

There is cabins all around the lake on the shores and of course it wasn't a weekend either. But we sure had a great time. Temperature was down to -17 F and just below 0 F the second day with a quartering wind.

Lake Louise is a great place for winter biking and we didn't see anyone on the trail the first day and then a couple of snowmachines the second day. The local people were amazed to see someone on fattired bikes headed out on the trails. They have a 15 foot wide groomer and groom over 100 miles of trails regularly. This year has been a low snow year out there and today was the second time they took it out on the trails.


Driving in the Hippie Van we are always dressed for outside temperatures since it doesn't make much heat and you are sitting still. It is part of our training.

in the morning on Glenn Highway

cabin at Lake Louise Lodge

Frosty finish to a good ride

riding in the white abyss

tracks on Lake Louise in 3 inches of fresh snow

The Glenn Highway just before Eureka Lodge on the way back to Chickaloon

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

temperatures dropping rapidly

The latest warm spell was ugly but short. This afternoon it was 30 F here in Chickaloon, now at 8:30 PM it is already -6 F. I don't think I have seen such a significant change in that short of time.
I am exited to got out to Lake Louise tomorrow to do some riding in cold temperatures.
I checked with a lodge out there and they haven't gotten any significant snow. Bill and I hope to follow some of the Copper Basin 300 route a mushing race that happened last week. Snowbiking is new to trail users out there, but they have a large trail system with over 300 miles of groomed trails. It is about 80 miles from here on the way to Glennallen. We have never been there, but we are exited to see some new country and ride new trails.
I talked to Peter Schneiderheinze in McGrath today, he said they had a sprinkle of rain, but no significant snow and the temperatures were back well below 0 F.
From another trail report on Flathorn Lake and the Susitna River, it sounds like there is a bunch of overflow from the warm weather and rain, but with cold temps that should improve and be ok by next week. I hope we can go back out there by next week after some snowmachine traffic over the weekend and some time for the overflow to freeze back up.


Monday, January 21, 2008

Warm Day in Palmer and more snow on the Iditarod Trail

It has warmed up in Southcentral Alaska.
Palmer and Wasilla received some significant amount of rain last night.
Chickaloon stayed below freezing and this morning we had 3 inches of fresh snow!
We had to run some errands in town ( Palmer/Wasilla) and what a mess on the streets it was there. I could hardly wait to get back to Chickaloon to our beautiful winter wonderland. Amazing we are just a little higher here and further up the Matanuska Valley and such a different weather system.
At this hour (10:00PM) it is still 44 F in Palmer. Those winds from Prince William Sound bring that warm air down the Knik River valley.
It is 28 F here in Chickaloon and a pretty moon reflecting in our fresh snow here.
Word from Denali Flying Service in Willow was that there were 2 feet of fresh snow at Shell Lake and a foot and half on the Yentna River.
With these warm temps the trails out of Knik and Point McKenzie should set up good. By Thursday there is a cooling trend in the forecast for Southcentral.
Here are some more pictures from past years at the Knik Glacier.
Hopefully we get to ride out there soon.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Iditarod Trail Ride

The only place rideable after the recent snows is out of Knik Lake for us since it is used by local mushers and snowmachines. Rideable it was, but a bit slow. We averaged 4.5 mph for our 32 mile ride to the Point McKenzie Store and back. We ran into a bunch of Susitna 100 racers that were training as well out there on part of the new course they use this year.
The folks that run the store and restaurant are super nice people and make great hamburgers.
After one of those I rode back in just my base layer and a light vest at 18 F on our way back to Knik. The foot of snow that fell on the trail is the consistency of powdered milk despite all the traffic on the trail and not setting up.The Aurora 50/50 mushing race and the Klondike 300 from the Tug Bar had started in the morning and parts of the trail had been groomed. It was a big workout for a short ride on the trail. I have seen this kind of snow, but worse in 2006 between Nikolai and McGrath. The trail would not set up even after lots of snowmachines on the trail. There was a significant warm up in the forecast for today, it was 47 in Palmer, 26 in Wasilla, those warm temps usually really help set up the trails. It is 25 degrees here in Chickaloon.
By Wednesday it is supposed to cool off again. We hope to do our first ride this year to the Knik Glacier next week, one of our all time favorite rides. It is a 42 mile ride on gravel bars, crossing creeks and main channels of the Knik River and finally the huge glacier lake with frozen ice bergs and the 4 mile wide head wall of the Knik Glacier.
I had a broken spoke on my front wheel yesterday, I made it back to the parking lot without major issues though. Bill is rebuilding my wheel today.


Pictures from past years to the Knik Glacier

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Snowshoeing in Chickloon

Bill and I snowshoed today from our cabin in Chickaloon since we have 6 inches of fresh snow on the ground. The temperature today was 20 F, it felt really warm, I just needed my base layer to stay warm hiking up the hill. Just two days ago it was -20 F. We had planned to go out to the Susitna and Yentna Rivers with loaded bikes, but we had some issues with our vehicles and water when it got cold here, so we were busy with fixing those problems and didn't get to go. That was during the latest cold spell and I had been so exited to go when it was really cold. Oh, well, cabin life. Today made up for it, we saw a lot of moose tracks on the trail, it is part of the Matanuska moose range and often on our snowshoe days I have seen several "moose beds" in the snow where they actually bed down to sleep in the snow. Those animals make a lot of heat, amazing the hard crust they leave in a depression in the snow. Well, on one of our bivis I had found the same thing under my Zrest sleeping pad and thought it was time to get a new one after dozens of times of sleeping out. I have used the same pad summer and winter for all of our trips for five years. Amazing the difference with my new Zrest.
Both days we also saw some fox and martin tracks out there.
Castle Mountain was glowing red when we got near the top.
I fell pretty lucky to live here and have this wilderness playground right in our backyard without driving anywhere or ever crossing a road.
With the fresh snow it will be a while before we can ride our bikes again.
Hopefully after this weekend and some snowmachine traffic we can hit the Iditarod Trail again.


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Winter Trails Day Hatcher Pass

Bill and I went to Hatcher Pass for Winter Trails Day where folks came out to test gear, snowshoe, cross country ski and have a good time. It was -2 F when we got there at 11:00 am.
They also held a snow downhill race where 11 bikers ran each three runs on the groomed downhill course. It was a beautiful sunny day up there. Later a group of about 10 of us went for ride on the groomed trails in the Moose Meadows. By the time we got back the temperature was down to -5 F and dropping. It is going to be a cold night in the Mat Su Valley.
Bill and I are off to the Deshka Landing to do some more riding on the Susitna and Yentna River.

More tomorow.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Yentna River Ride

Bill and I rode from Point McKenzie to Flathorn Lake and up the trail across the Dismal Swamp and on all the way up the Yentna River to Luce's.
The trail is in great shape all the way right now with some softer sections on the river and less snow than usual for this time of the year.
The Knik 200 sled dog race had started the day before and we met some of the last teams in the race returning to Knik. We enjoyed a burger at Luce's and after spending the night we headed back down the trail to Point McKenzie early at dawn. On the Susitna River we saw two wolves in a distance on the jumbled up ice. This year the rivers froze more jumbled than other years, it is fun to ride through it on a bike. Looking at some of the tracks that some of the mushers had left behind jumping off ice ridges, I don't think they enjoyed it quite as much as I did. By the time we got to Flathorn Lake we got into a snow swirl for a while pushing across the lake since I thought I wanted to push the bike some so I wouldn't forget what that was like. The trails have just been too good for biking so far. In 2006 I pushed my bike pretty much from Puntilla to McGrath, 170 miles. The year before I estimated that we had only pushed the bikes for 30 or 40 miles. That was on Snowcat rims with the Geax Sedona tires, now I have a Fatbike with bigger rims and tires. I have really enjoyed having the bigger tires, I can ride softer trails.
There was one spot on the Susitna River where the trail had fallen in and our tracks from the day before had disappeared. The river was blocked off and flagged, now there was only an 18 inch wide ice bridge of trail left to cross. Dave Luce said that he sees the first snowmachiners usually by mid November. This year the rivers froze much later and nobody traveled on the rivers until mid December.
Every time we go out on the trail it is like a new place and I could never get tired of it.
The morning light out there on the river was special, in the race it has been dark both times on that section of trail, I didn't get to see much.
Now I know the river section isn't quite as monotonous and boring as I thought.