HOA LogoDestinationsTravel MallTravel LinksGlobal Travel

NORTHERN (AND I MEAN WAY NORTH) SNOWMOBILING

story and photos by Vicki Andersen

 

So you consider yourself an avid snowmobiler, or perhaps have only sampled it’s enchantment on a few occasions. If you’re a die-hard enthusiast you probably pride yourself upon the trails you’ve ridden, the vistas you’ve seen, the hills you’ve challenged and conquered. If your sledding experience has been as an add-on adventure to some vacation, you’ve probably done it at a locale such as Jackson Hole or Lake Tahoe. But I’ll bet you never sampled the pleasures of riding up north. In the way far north. North as in Alaska.
 
Limiteless Possibilities

We headed northeastward from Anchorage along the Glenn Highway to Mile Post 92. Innumerable trailheads dot a one-hundred-mile-stretch of this Highway, winding their way into the Talkeetna Mountains or alongside the massive Matanuska Glacier. Almost all the trails in this area are old gold mining paths, trudged into the landscape by man and mule. If long distance riding is your desire, you can head for Nome, a mere 1,500-mile trip... one way. And be sure to pack extra gas.

We chose Boulder Creek, which begins with a run through nicely spaced alder trees and up and down small knolls. A few miles of this frolic brought us to the namesake drainage and a 15-mile run on top of, or (depending on the conditions) alongside the river. A side excursion provided a brief respite at “Meehan’s Motel”, the very epitome of the rustic, one-room, no-lock-on-the-door, backwoods Alaskan structure. Prepare a meal, build a fire, spend the night -- you can “help yourself” at Meehan’s. All they ask is that you treat it with respect and leave it like you found it. It was breathtaking to ride in the draw between the ragged spires of Anthracite Ridge and the massive Talkeetnas. We were dwarfed by a colossal frozen waterfall towering more than 50 feet above us
Icefall Along Boulder Creek Drainage
 

 

Boulder Creek’s Superbowl
Glacial River in the Superbowl


Climbing steep ascents toward Chitna Pass and weaving our way between huge rock outcroppings, suddenly before us stretched The Super Bowl. In every direction, as far as we could see, massive bowls enticed us to play. When our eyes finally resumed normal size and the drool began to freeze on our chins, we climbed onto a small rise and gazed into one of the most stunning sights I’ve ever encountered. What seemed to be a river flowing out of the mountains appeared to be frozen in mid-flow -- a glacial river of such color and translucent beauty I’m sure is not to be found in the contiguous United States.

We’d hoped to see moose on this outing, and we did pass a few of the antlered critters on our way in. Ripping to and fro, amusing ourselves along the river bottom on our way out, our guide suddenly veered north and we quickly followed. And there were the moose. Daddy mooses and mommy mooses and baby mooses. Moose wandering down the hill and browsing in the trees and munching on all manner of tasty tidbits. It was dinner time, and once they decided we looked neither edible nor menacing, we were ignored. It seemed a fitting end to a amazing day.

Ski Tips Up at Hatcher Pass
Endless Hillclimbs

Rumors of the snowmobiling at Hatcher Pass have been whispered about in the Lower 48, but actually riding this area will surpass anything you can possibly imagine. A passion for hillclimbing is not mandatory, but if the chance to sample a countless variety of verticals stimulates your senses, make your travel plans right now. Located about 45 minutes north of Anchorage, there is a vast and endless variety of terrain to delight almost everyone who has spent at least a little time on a sled.

We unloaded at the Gold Mint Trailhead and headed up Archangel Valley. Snaring about two miles of groomed trail and a thousand feet of vertical brought us to Fishhook Trailhead and Hatcher Pass Lodge. The route then skirts Willow Creek and provides sidehilling opportunities on the flanks of Bald Mountain Ridge on the south side and in the foothills of the Talkeetna Mountains on the north side.

As the ride progressed, we came upon countless trails branching into side valleys, creek draws and onto broad ridges, continually arousing our hunger. Enticing terrain and a luscious snowpack provided limitless views across Deception Creek into the Susitna River basin. The Alaska Range stretched along the western horizon, and every direction offered long processions of white peaks proudly glistening in the sunlight. Hatcher Pass is unquestionably Heaven for sledheads.

Petersville
Forks Roadhouse

Riding in the shadows of “The High One” (Denali to the locals, Mt. McKinley to Outsiders) was another dream, so we headed to the Petersville/Trapper Creek area, about 125 miles north of Anchorage. Unloading at the Kroto Creek lot, we attempted to see how much of the nearly 250 square miles of ungroomed, unmarked riding we could devour in a day.

A lot of it was spent exploring dead-end swamps, huge machine-swallowing drifts hidden in the clusters of willow stands, and riding to the top of rolling hills to plot our next course of adventure. There is so much area to delve into, you can temporarily lose your sense of direction even riding with knowledgeable folks. Fortunately ours was a jolly group of enthusiasts who sincerely love the sport and the Petersville area, so the day was never boring or mundane.

On a clear day you have an unobstructed view of North America’s tallest peak, towering to 20,320 feet. This was not one of those days, another reason that found us searching out every tall mound we could find. The frozen, snow-covered lakes and swamps provide expansive areas for wide-open running, with gentle hills that are easily scaleable. A visit to this region should include a stop at The Forks Roadhouse, 20 snowbound miles from the closest road. Built in the 1930s, this is one of the original roadhouses that provided bed and board to early Alaskan travelers and their dogsled teams. It’s still a great place to thaw your hinny by the fire, then belly up to the bar and pass some time with the locals.

In just about every corner of Alaska you’ll find “snowmachiners” and their “snowmachines” at work and play. Despite the popular misconception of those not-in-the-know, the south-central portion of our 49th State does not resemble a deep-freeze badly in need of defrosting. In fact, this region is blessed with a more hospitable climate than the Midwestern U.S. thanks to the moderating marine influence of the Gulf of Alaska. The cost of hopping a plane, nestling into comfortable and modern accommodations, feasting on a wide variety of delectable cuisine, and hooking up with some rental machines and a guide is comparable to spending a week in the Islands. It’s very easy to discover this northern snowmobile paradise.
 
Oldie in Talkeetna


Vicki Andersen may be reached at: skicat1@comcast.net.

 

 

 

HOA LogoDestinationsTravel MallTravel LinksGlobal Travel