AMDS Outdoor Adventures - 01/17/02
by Ken Baehr
Denali - "The Great One"
I can’t believe it’s January 17th and I am heading for Susitna Landing for my first ride of the season. It has been a weird winter. We got our first snowfall in mid October. We were all excited that it would be an early, long, and great riding season. Both Chuck and I raced out to the storage lot to get our machines and tune them up, ready to ride. Then it got warm. Then it got cold again. We called around to our favorite riding spots only to learn, “we could ride if absolutely necessary, but conditions were marginal at best.” Our friends at the lodge said that the trails were OK to haul supplies and get from point A to B, but there was not enough snow to cover the rocks and stumps along the way. Craig Seibert at Gate Creek Cabins put it best, “You can ride, but you better have a good parts budget.” Finally it snowed in earnest at the beginning of this week. Now there is three to four feet of new snow everywhere. I talked to Ron Wilson at Susitna Landing, and he invited me to come up for the weekend end to do some exploring. He is marking and grooming about forty miles of trail around the landing. He and Craig Seibert decided to see if they could punch a trail through from Gate Creek to the Landing via Amber Lake. An old logging map showed a trail that ran close to the lake. If it was still there, and we could find it, it would make a great trail for riding. Besides, he needed my back in case we got stuck breaking trail. I planned my arrival at the landing for just about suppertime. When I got there, Marylyn did not disappoint. As I walked into the kitchen, she was hovering over a tray of huge New York Steaks ready for the grill. Ron had his new GPS in hand and was busy trying to figure out how to load the topo maps we needed into it. About four hours later, with a belly full of great food, a head full of Ron’s never ending stories, and a GPS successfully loaded with maps, I crashed in the guest room. We would get an early start in the morning.
I awoke Friday morning to a crisp seventeen degrees and clearing skies. It would be great riding weather. We loaded Ron’s Skandic Super Wide Track onto my trailer and aimed the truck at Petersville. When we got to Gate Creek Cabins, we found Craig doing battle with a stubborn well pump. It was pumping more mud than water, and driving Craig nuts. Somehow, despite the frustration he was still grinning from ear to ear as always. He put down his wrench and said simply, “Screw it; let’s go ride.” Ron and I offloaded our machines while Craig topped off the fuel on his. Craig introduced us to his friend Rob who had ridden in the Amber Lake area before and could help find the logging road. The four of us drove off in line, Ron and Craig on their Skandic Super Wides, me on my Summit 600, and Rob on his Polaris wide track.
Rob & Marilyn Wilson
The snow conditions were strange. There was a layer of one to two feet of fluffy powder that was crusted over by a one-inch thick layer of ice that had been created by warm rain the previous week. On top of that was a layer of new snow about six inches deep. At first I didn’t notice anything different. The two super wide tracks were packing down the surface snow and creating a great trail for me to ride on. It was only when I broke out of their tracks to break my own trail that I got the sensation of riding on breaking glass. At slow and moderate speeds, my skis would penetrate the surface layer of snow and break the ice layer beneath it. I could hear it cracking underneath me. Every once in a while my ski tip would catch a piece of the broken ice and flip it into the air. Most of them bounced harmlessly off my shoulder, but one good-sized chuck smacked me right in the middle of my forehead. I was glad to be wearing a helmet to say the least. When I sped up to 25 mph or faster, I would plane on top of the surface snow. It felt like I was riding on pillows. We found the logging road and followed it south for about six miles. Just about the time we thought that we had it made, and that we would have an easy run all the way to the lake, the road made an abrupt dead end at a derelict log cabin that had not seen an occupant for some 20 to 30 years. Craig felt sure that we could work our way through the woods and find a line of swamps and marshes that would take us the rest of the way to the lake. We all agreed to give it a try. I was totally impressed with how the Super Wide Tracks performed. With my mountain machine I could break trail, and climb the ridgelines. However, I had to have both power and momentum to get up the hills. That limited my ability to maneuver through the trees. The Super Wides could literally putt through the trees at one or two miles per hour, break trail and climb the hills, all at the same time. They could even back up in reverse on tight turns. Once they made a path it was easy for Rob and I to follow. We continued to aim south for another three miles or so. According to the topo map we got within about two miles of the lake, and about a half a mile from a seismic trail that would make for easy riding. We all agreed, however, that the trail we had broken to too difficult for beginning riders. We would have to find an easier route. Ron suggested that he and I start out from Amber Lake and head north. We could find a route that would be a less challenging link up with the logging road. That will be next week’s ride. With the light fading, we headed back to Gate Creek with two more days of riding ahead of us.
Kenny Creek Lodge, and Bob & Sylvia Quaintance
Ron loaded his machine on Robs trailer and got a ride back to the Landing. I took my trailer three miles down Petersville Road to the Kroto Creek Trail Head and offloaded my machine one more time. I was anxious to get to Kenny Creek Lodge, formerly McKinley Snowmobile Adventures. I wanted to meet the new owners, Bob and Sylvia Quaintance. I was a little concerned. It was dark by now and a thick fog had rolled in. I was not looking forward to riding into the lodge alone. It was too easy to drift off the trail in the fog and find a hole or open water. Getting unstuck is easy with two people, but can be almost impossible for one. As luck would have it, I met a couple that were going to the lodge and did not know the way. We joined up and I led them to the lodge without incident. It was actually a nice ride. As they say, there is safety in numbers.
Chuck Maas on his Ski-Doo Summit 800
Chuck Maas, (brother-in-law, friend, and riding partner) arrived Saturday morning. He brought my wife Kay and her machine on his trailer. We were ready to ride. The fog had lifted, and the sun was out. The temperature was a balmy 25 degrees. The snow conditions were excellent. With just a little more elevation, and a little heavier snowfall, conditions north of Petersville Road were better that what we had found the day before. There was no ice crust. To add the proverbial icing to the cake, Denali was out in all her glory, a white giant contrasted against an azure blue sky. We decided to ride north along the Safari Lake Trail to Bunco Lake. I also had a new GPS and wanted to run some of our favorite trails to get waypoints entered while the weather was good. Although the snow conditions were excellent, the snow depth was still two to four feet. This was an advantage for marking trails. When the snow is really deep, six to ten feet plus, you can go anywhere. Alder patches are completely covered over, and normally impassable ravines are super highways. With modest snow cover, we were forced to follow the established trail through the trees and creek beds. That made it an excellent opportunity to lay down GPS routes to our favorite destinations.
Ken takes a picture of Kay, and Ken adjusting his GPS
We ended up having a great ride. After we left the lodge, we entered a section of swampland created by runoff from Mt McKinley. Here we could run the packed trail as fast as we wanted. The visibility was unlimited and the swamps were as smooth as glass. When we reached the ditch at Deep Creek, the snow got deeper, and fewer people had ridden the trail. We got a chance to play and ride is an expanse of fresh new powder. We then intersected with the Safari Lake Trail near Cat Ballou Lodge and rode it to Bunco Lake. We could stay on the trail for a smooth easy ride, or we could jump off and hit the powder fields on either side of the trail. It was fun. All along the way we stopped to take pictures or just enjoy the view. As we approached Little Bunco Lake we did run into some overflow on the lake. In previous years, that would have sent us looking for an alternate route. Kaytie’s 500 fan with ¾ inch track would not handle the overflow with any margin for error. The added horsepower of her new 500 liquid cooled engine, a 1½ inch deep lug track, and much improved riding skill made it simple. We just wicked it up a bit and water skipped over the top of the overflow. The machines get on step and ride on top of the water just like a boat skimming across the surface of a lake. As a side note, some folks even race snowmachines on the local lakes during the summer. As long as they don’t stop, it works great. If they do stop, the only option is to deploy a marker buoy. Anyway, we had a great ride and returned to the Kenny Creek to try out more of Bob and Sylvia’s new menu.
Sunrise at Petersville
Both Bob and Sylvia share in the cooking chores. We tried a sampling of pancakes, eggs, French toast and bacon for breakfast, and hamburgers, fried chicken, BLTs and home fries for dinner. The food was good, reasonably priced and served with big smiles and lots of conversation. Kenny Creek Lodge gets my vote as a great family lodge. It’s a place you can relax, eat well, enjoy good company and not have to take out a second mortgage to pay the bill. Bob and Sylvia had really worked hard to make the lodge squeaky-clean and comfortable. We plan to go back, a lot.
Well, that was our weekend. The snow was good, the weather superb and our machines performed flawlessly. What more could I ask? How about we’ll do it all again next week.
~ Ken Baehr