Friday, January 18, 2013

Winter Dreams

The heavy rains of the past week kept many Juneau residents inside. I was scheduled to teach cross country ski lessons at Eaglecrest last Saturday and Sunday, so I spent two full days skiing and it wasn't too bad. My students were eager to learn, and when I wasn't teaching I enjoyed the nicely groomed Lower Loop trail, working on both my classic and skate skiing. Scott and I made a few runs on the mountain Sunday morning, but were defeated by the low visibility and wet conditions. I'd rather beat myself to a pulp classic skiing 20 or 30 km than sit on the chairlift in the rain.

When I didn't have to be at the ski area to teach, I started thinking about the rest of this winter. We've had a great start, and I've done my fair share of training for the Tour of Anchorage in March as well as working on my teaching and skiing skills. I will continue to spend many hours on the groomed trails, rain or shine, until the Tour is over and lessons have stopped, but I must confess that I've started to dream about other places to go on my skis beyond the Lower Loop, Mendenhall Campground, and Mendenhall Lake.
A winter dream come true - new tracks in soft, fresh snow
Here is an alphabetical list of many of the places a person can go on cross country skis. Maybe some of these will fuel your own winter dreams and give you some ideas of fun places to go cross country skiing.

Dan Moller Trail —Climbs steadily up through woods and meadows to the Dan Moller Bowl, known toold-timers as 3rd Cabin, site of Juneau's first alpine ski area equipped with arope tow. Recommended for intermediate to advanced skiers, this area is a fun place to practice telemarking. The trail back down is full of whoop-de-doos. Also open to snowmachines. Experienced backcountry travelers can cross over Mt. Troy and down into Fish Creek and Eaglecrest Ski Area.

Dredge Lake Easily accessible classic skiing on almost flat trails.

Eagle Beach State ParkThis area is truly a gem, with short, easy trails for anyone to enjoy in a remote park setting and unparalleled views of the Chilkat mountains gleaming with snow across Lynn Canal. These trails are groomed on a somewhat regular basis.

Eagle River Trail —A little more challenging than skiing up the Herbert River trail, but worth the effort when you reach the Eagle Glacier cabin and lake.

How cold does it have to be to safely ski tour on the frozen Eagle River?
How about -15 F.?
Eaglecrest lower nordic loop — A 6k loop with twists, turns, uphills, and downhills, but still skiable for all levels. This trail was widened, straightened, and improved over the past couple of years, and Eaglecrest is doing an excellent job of keeping this trail groomed for skate and classic skiing.

Eaglecrest upper nordic loop — Also known as Hilda Meadows, this is a more challenging loop accessible by hiking up one of the lower Eaglecrest alpine runs (Trickster or Sneaky) or getting a ride on the Hooter chair lift (not recommended for beginners!). Not always groomed – check with Eaglecrest before heading up.

When the Upper Loop at Eaglecrest is groomed, it can be great skiing.
Herbert River Trail This popular summer hiking trail becomes an easy ski tour in the winter when the snow cover is adequate. Most fun when the river is frozen and there is good snow cover all the way up to Herbert Glacier, but skiers should be aware of the danger of possible open water and overflow.

Ski touring along the Herbert River Trail
Mendenhall Campground and Mendenhall LakeA good area to spend time with family and friends for a casual Sunday morning outing or skate ski 'til you drop! Groomed daily for skate and classic skiing by the Juneau Nordic Ski Club volunteers. Please join and support winter trail grooming. Go to for more information and for up to the minute trail grooming reports.

Peterson Creek Trail —This trail is challenging at first but then opens up into nice meadows and finally leads to the USFS Peterson Creek cabin. You can drop your overnight pack at the cabin after skiing up the trail in the morning and then spend the afternoon exploring the Auke Mountain/Spaulding meadow area in the woods andmeadows above the cabin.

Auke Mountain meadows heading down towards Peterson Lake
Spaulding Meadows —Hike up the Spaulding Trail a few miles, then put on your nordic skis and spend the day in cross country heaven with rolling meadows surrounded by mountain views. I recommend hiking up and down the trail which can be steep and narrow in spots. You can try going up the Muir Cabin trail, which branches off the Spaulding Trail about one mile up. This leads to meadows which are closer to Auke Mountain.You can make a loop by skiing out Peterson Creek trail (a very full day). Lake Creek trail is another way to access Spaulding Meadows, but this trail is maintained and used by the local snowmachine club, so be aware of motorized traffic on the trail and move out of the way of snowmachines as they pass.
Spaulding Meadows is the most beautiful place in the world to cross country ski
There are many more trails to explore and enjoy in Juneau. Keep in mind avalanche safety when you venture on the slopes. I strongly suggest that you avoid the Perseverance /Granite Creek Trail area during the winter, as well as the Sheep Creek valley area, unless you are educated and properly equipped to properly assess and deal with hazardous snow conditions.

The City and Borough of Juneau provides an Urban Avalanche Advisory can be found at  This Web site targets the Mt. Juneau urban avalanche zones but is a useful reference for general avalanche danger in the Juneau area.

Sweet dreams and safe skiing!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Thank You, 2012.

Thank you, 2012. It was a wonderful year.

The ski touring in Spaulding Meadows was exceptionally good last winter

We started the year by skiing and skiing and skiing some more. The Eaglecrest lower loop cross country trail held together well into the spring, and I skied a full loop over the entire trail as late as May 17. The mountain was even more amazing. A friend and I skied from the top of the East ridge all the way to the base of Ptarmigan chair in soft spring snow on June 6.  There was so much snow that in January I did my all-time favorite nighttime cross country ski trip on my beater waxless skis, skiing from the door of my house, down the unplowed street about a ½ mile, and then to the end of the Airport Dike Trail in a blizzard.

Night skiing on the Mendenhall Refuge by the airport

When the snow finally started to melt off of the trails, I started hiking. Some people claim it was a particularly wet, rainy summer. I guess it did rain a bit at the beginning. I remember starting out slow, with short hikes to Point Bridget and the Salmon Creek dam in rain gear and rubber boots. Once I got used to the idea that it was o.k. to be out in the rain and that I wasn’t going to melt, I became bolder and went for longer outings in my waterproof gear, including several loops from Spaulding trail over to the Muir cabin.

Wet stairs on the hill climb to the Salmon Creek dam

We started getting some breaks and I was ready. We celebrated the first dry day of summer with a Mt. Juneau ridge hike, glissading off the ridge into Granite Creek in a personal record-breaking time, and then slogging out through knee deep snow down to Perseverance Trail. When Scott made the mistake of leaving town for a few days on business, I took off for a solo Gastineau-Roberts-Sheep traverse, again traveling so fast over the snowpack on the ridge that it felt more like a short, easy day hike than a 12 mile mountain ridge route. Then I started getting more ideas for hikes.

Firm snow along the Juneau ridge made for fast hiking in June

I ran up Sheep Creek trail to the summit of the Powerline Ridge and peeked over into the Sheep Fork valley and up at Hawthorne Peak, filing away plans for future adventures. We had a beautiful day up on the Grandchild Peaks with a friend, and thanks to the snow we were able to get all the way around to the highest point along the ridge. Mt. McGinnis was next on the list, although we almost didn’t get started due to the fog and clouds. But we went anyway and got so close to a group of mountain goats near the summit we could have hit them with a pebble.

This mountain goat didn't seem to mind while we took his picture

Another favorite summer hike is Mt. Jumbo. We used to do it every 4th of July, followed by partying with the crowds in Douglas. This year I went near the end of July and was amazed to find myself mostly alone on the mountain on a beautiful, sunny day.

Looking at Juneau from the summit of Mount Jumbo

We took a business trip to Utah in August and hiked up hot, dry mountain trails that started at 7,000’ and left us gasping for air and water. When we returned to Juneau, a chance encounter with a friend led to a crazy adventure the very next day scrambling almost 5,000’ up a virtually unmarked route through thick brush and steep slopes to the summit of Mt. Bullard.

A crazy hike with crazy people on Mt. Bullard

I felt the short summer season closing in at the end of August and decided to go for one more classic ridge hike. We picked an epic traverse on a blue sky day – hiking up Blackerby Ridge, over Cairn and Observation Peaks to the Mt. Juneau ridge, then out Granite Creek and Perseverance trail, almost 17 miles and over 8,000’ of total elevation gain.

Observation Peak

I think that one finally did me in, as I came down with the crud that was making its way around town and I felt sick with a bad cough for a few weeks after that. But I rallied for a hike with Scott up Twin Summit Ridge on the last day of summer to celebrate our wedding anniversary.

Twin Summit Ridge

We returned from our annual fall vacation a few days early thanks to Hurricane Sandy. That gave us the perfect opportunity to take advantage of a cold, sunny day. We quickly put together a plan to go up Spaulding trail, across the length of Spaulding Meadows, and out the Montana Creek trail as a final note to a busy hiking season.

Looking at Windfall Lake from the far end of Spaulding Meadows
2012 ended exactly the way it started, because five days after our late October hike, I started skiing and haven’t stopped since then. I skied especially hard the past few days, carving turns on my fat boards in the fresh, deep snow in the mornings and hitting the cross country trails for an afternoon workout, until finally my legs gave out and demanded a day off.

Floating through new, soft snow on the west side of Eaglecrest
So I’m starting the New Year by enjoying a day of rest, and dreaming of new adventures in 2013. I am extremely grateful for my health, my family, my friends, and for this beautiful place that I am lucky enough to call home. Here’s to a safe, healthy, Happy New Year to all!