I’m sorry, this post is long and tedious.  Last weekend’s events are in such contrast to the week prior that I’m struggling to put them into some sensible form of order.

I did very little last week.  I only left the house to ski Hatcher Pass or early morning rum drinks at Kim’s house for the Champions League games.  Two days of sleeping in a tent while exploring crust and sustrugi in Valdez the weekend before sapped my motivation, so I just kind of lounged around.  When Max offered the chance to snowmachine to his cabin on Chelatna Lake I jumped at the opportunity to take a break from the Chugach and explore the snow elsewhere.

As I had to teach CPR Friday morning, and Max had to work, we got a latter start then we had planned.  When we arrived in the parking lot, I broke the recoil spring housing on my starter.  Luckily my starter was fixed by borrowing a washer from elsewhere on the sled. We left with the sun shinning, but from lower in the sky then we had hoped.

 The trail to Chelatna is about 50 miles.  It alternates between open powder fields and bumpy trails through thick trees.  It took us a little more then two and half hours, the entirety of which I spent pushing myself to go faster so Max and Mikey wouldn’t freeze waiting for me.

Mikey with the frozen head of a moose

Mikey with the frozen head of a moose

At about the halfway mark Mikey found the head of a moose half buried in the snow next to the trail.  The final 15 mile were completely untracked, getting face shots on the snowmachine in the dark while racing across frozen swamps buried beneath 6 feet of snow was a new experience.  Max and Mikey found the way, I simply followed their tracks after they’d disappeared into the dark.  The riding was quite fun, bouncing over drifts and skipping across creeks, but also completely disorienting.  I had no idea where I was, or which direction I was going, as I couldn’t see more then 2 feet on either side.  My headlight illuminated nothing but approaching drifts, each followed by a scary dark void.  I just followed the tracks in front of me, and hoped.  As we arrived, the lights from the Cabin were the first I’d seen that night, and I was relieved I hadn’t wrecked myself in an unseen hole back in dark.

We woke up early on Saturday, which gave us time to eat breakfast (despite eating a pork tenderloin feast before bed), shovel a few roofs, work on my snowmachine, and get fueled up before heading out for the day.  We quickly abandoned our original plans, after I got myself stuck 3 times in 10 minutes, turned around, and spent the rest of the morning in the hills and swamps directly behind the cabin, before returning home for lunch.  After some hot dogs and another quick fixing of my starter, we headed for a huge open bowl across the lake.  

Mikey and Max took a direct route, far above my skill level, so I followed Max’s dad, Bernie, on a mellower route, wrapping around the hill through sparsely treed meadows and then slowly climbing through light alders before finally reaching a huge wide bowl, which as we looked up, with both the right and left walls turning gently together while rising upwards too meet at a point, reminded me of the bow of a ship.  The middle of the bowl was filled with great sledding, the sides (pictured above) littered with great skiing.  Once there Mikey’s sled began having problems and with another feast on the menu we didn’t stay long.

Sunday was clear and calm, the wind disguised our tracks, but left the snow unscarred.  Mikey, adjusting from two weeks of working nights on the slope got us up at the crack of dawn (around 9 these days) and after a fueling up we headed back out.  We took the same route from the previous day, with a few variations.  The touring at high speed, through  idyllic forest scenes of long winding through swamps, scattered exclusively with stubby black spruce, and filled with 6 feet of new snow, light enough to feel bottomless, and still show hints of the terrain (beaver dams, small creeks, erratic glacial boulders) it concealed, all standing before flawless views of the Alaska range brought giant smiles to our faces.  Once we reached the bowl Max and Mikey cruised around for a while, I lounged around, soaked in the sun and tried to capture some of their antics on camera.  On the filming mission I failed, as the camera was having all sorts of focusing issues, of which I’m entirely to blame, hopefully something can be salvaged and will be up here in a few days.  After a trip back to the cabin we headed home. I followed Bernie on the return trip, Max and Mikey left a half hour later as Mikey had to change the jets on his sled.  The trail home had this strange return to civilization feel, which I recognized from sunday evenings in the car coming home from a weekend away, but was transported to a snowmobile ride.  Starting out through open swamps, the number of tracks slowly increasing the further we went; and finishing on bumpy trails, passing and being passed by countless people.  

I really can’t wait to get back and do some skiing in this area.  We should have some video up soon.  Thanks for reading,  so until next time…

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