Saturday, February 11, 2012

Skiing the Yukon Quest trail

From the Steese Highway to Chena Hot Springs Road. This is a trip that I've wanted to do for more than a decade. Early February is the only time the trail is broken, for the Quest. I've packed my bag for this trip at least three times; each time the weather has been too bad for a quick passage. Either too cold or too windy, usually both, on Rosebud Summit, the high treeless divide in the middle of the route. This time, when Ed Plumb picked me up, he said words that were hard to believe: "It's 28 above on Eagle Summit."

Starting out, we found a few relics from Yukon Quest mushers who passed this way less than a week ago. They are still moving over the snow (now in Canada) after starting the race in Fairbanks a week ago.

After a sunny, fast ski down to Birch Creek, we started to climb the buttress of a ridge that led above treeline. Here was some lovely sastrugi, wind-packed snow that shows what that ridge is normally like. We were snacking in peace on our trip. No wind, sunshine. No rush.

Our trip above treeline was pleasant and warm. Felt like April.

The weather was so benign we — Ed, Lisa Beattie, Andy Sterns and me — stopped for a snack in the windiest spot.

The trail was bare up top; we took off our skis for most of the rocky patches.

The descent from Rosebud.

Boulder Creek had some glacier overflow, but easy to ski around.

Yukon Quest markers, picked up by trail sweepers and ready for next year. Stowed by a tree about 100 miles from town.

Spirit of the woods.

Intersection of Boulder Creek and the North Fork of the Chena. Snow was so fast that we wouldn't need our headlamps to cover the 28.4 miles.

Lisa spotted a great gray owl.

The sun set about an hour before we were looking at the stars from the rock pool in Chena Hot Springs.

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