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Petersville, Alaska

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AMDS Outdoor Adventures - 11/30/99
by Ken Baehr

Image Copyright 1999 by Chuck Maas
Ken at Petersville - Photo by Chuck Maas

This week's ride was a reconnaissance mission. Chuck Maas (my friend of twenty years, and my brother-in-law.) and I had heard conflicting reports about the riding conditions at Petersville. Some said riding was great, while others called it marginal. Our wives thought it too early in the season to ride, so we decided to see for ourselves. We loaded up at 7:30 AM and headed north to mile 114 on the Parks Highway and the trailhead to Petersville. Naturally we stopped for breakfast along the way so that we could time our arrival to coincide with the rising sun. We figured that we would have good light from about 11:00 AM to about 3:30 PM.

We arrived at the parking lot right at about 10:45 AM to discover that most of Anchorage had decided to follow us to the trailhead. The parking lot was full of snowmachiners getting ready for a day's riding. Fortunately, we quickly found a place to park our trailer and off load the machines. It was just as I was offloading my machine that Chuck informed me he had installed a set of carbon fiber reed valves in his Summit 600. I ride the same machine, but he now has about five to eight more horsepower and improved throttle response on his. I guess he planned to explore more than just the snow conditions. We suited up and headed down the trail.

Image Copyright 1999 by Ken Baehr
Chuck Maas w/sled - Photo by Ken Baehr

I was delighted. The Petersville road was relatively smooth, and the snow cover looked good all around us. We made the six-mile run to the McKinley Snowmobile Adventures lodge in about ten minutes. It was a good run. We ran into a little ice here and there, but mostly there was good snow. I was anxious to meet the new owners, Chris and Karen Thurnau. They bought the lodge last spring from Andy and Debbie Eversole. Not only did I want to meet them I also wanted to see what changes they had made to the lodge. It was obvious that they had worked hard through the summer. We spotted the new carpet and floor tile immediately. Later Chris told me had had replaced the beds in the cabins, had upgraded the shower building, and was building a new shop. Not only that, Chris and Karen are both really neat people. They made Chuck and I feel welcome and brewed us a good cup of coffee. Now all I have to do is to remember not to call the lodge "Andy and Debbie's." We finished our coffee and rode out to our next destination, Catballou Lodge. Catballou sits on a hill overlooking the Safari Lake trail and has an unobstructed view of Mt McKinley. It's a gorgeous spot. Chuck had stopped in last season to see it with our wives. I was off doing something else at the time and had never been inside. Anyway, this was my opportunity to check it out. Joe and Jane Smith run the place. They have cabins for rent, and serve good family style food. It's a great place to stop. On this day we only spent a couple of minutes inside. We wanted to ride.

Image Copyright 1999 by Chuck Maas
Chris & Karen Thurnau - Photo by Chuck Maas

We decided to take the Safari Lake trail up to Bunco Lake. That would give us a good twenty-mile run across open swamps. This is the beauty of riding in the Petersville area. Mt McKinley, or Denali as Alaskans call it, rises some 21000 feet above the valley floor. It is snow covered year round and has created numerous glaciers along its south face. During the summer the glaciers melt. Over the last several thousand years, the run-off has carved out hundreds of streams, ponds and swamps in the valleys below. In the winter this makes for great riding. The creeks and ponds are basically oval shaped and orient themselves north and south. Most are a mile or two long, but some are even longer. You can run these areas with an unobstructed view, pick you way through Forrest made possible by a rise in the terrain and then drop down into the next swamp or pond. It is fun. The Safari Lake trail basically runs along several connecting swamps. The good news is that you can go east or west a couple of hundred yards off the trail into the next line of swamps and be in untouched powder. Chuck and I did a little of both. We enjoyed some great trail riding, and did a little powder carving too. Another two feet of snow will make conditions perfect. I am only sorry to report that his new carbon fiber reed valves do improve his throttle response and make him a little quicker out of the hole, not that we are competitive or anything like that.

Image Copyright 1999 by Chuck Maas
Ken carving snow - Photo by Chuck Maas

We turned around at the Tokasitna River and headed back to the lodge for lunch. Chris and Karen were cooking up a storm when we arrived, so we launched into a couple of monster bacon cheeseburgers, and a stack of fries. By the time we got back to the parking lot both Chuck and I were just a touch weary, but satisfied with a really good day of snowmachining. This ride will keep us satisfied at least until the next one.

~ Ken Baehr

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