Saturday, March 18, 2017

Cooper Landing Spring Break with Alyeska Add-on

Last year with so litte snow we decided to do a Cooper Landing Spring break to get some early season hiking in. This year we ended up there by different circumstances.  Our goal was to go to Alyeska Resort and downhill ski/snowboard, but the resort was full when we called a couple weeks before break.  Lots of people stay in Anchorage and drive the 45 minutes to an hour to Girdwood, but we really didn't want to go to Anchorage so we decided to stay at our usual motel in Cooper Landing, the Sunrise Inn, and drive to Alyeska from there--also about an hour drive.  It ended up working out very nicely for timing and enjoyment, and we got to explore some new places as well.

No new snow for weeks made for a firm base, despite 346" of snow so far this year at Alyeska 
Waaaaaay up there is the top of Alyeska's aeriel tram.  On the other side of it is "the bowl".
A little closer view shows the North Face, supposedly the longest continuous double black diamond in North America
Moose Meadows is an outdoor playland at the base of Alyeska:  groomed cross-country ski trails, marked as multi-use for fat-tire bikers, hikers, snowshoers, runners and more.

Moose Meadows in the other directions, with the biking single-track on the left.
Bike trails wove throughout the woods all over.

The Alyeska snowcat trail is also multiuse and made for a fine, fast ski mostly uphill one way, and mostly downhill back!

We decided to let Denver snowboard for the day and we explored the many multi-use trails around Alyeska Resort.  It was almost deserted in the morning, but after noon when the temperatures rose out of the single digits folks came out enforce. Bikers, skiers and walkers populated the trails simultaneously, which only worked  with a dose of patience as sometimes families blocked the trail, dogs jumped on me as I skied or skiers came zipping down  hill as I was about to head up.  

All in all, these newly developed trails add a lot to Girdwood and for us, the value of Alyeska Resort. 

A quick hour back to Cooper Landing after a day on the slopes and trails got us back to our comfy hotel room.  A delicious St. Patrick's Day dessert at the Sunrise Inn Restaurant topped the day off nicely.


Heading out the next day, we weighed our choices of trails to hike and opted for Fuller Lake. Denver hadn't done it for 10 years since we'd used it as a practice run before backpacking the Chilkoot Trail. Again, no new snow for weeks plus cold temperatures keeping the thaw cycle to a minimum made for almost perfect walking conditions: hard packed, crunchy snow with good traction.  The only non-perfect part was the temperatures, which were -3 when we got up in the morning and were hovering at about 6 above by time we started hiking. Sunshine and 3 miles of uphill hiking got us to a sweat fairly quickly despite the cold temps and both Doug and Denver stripped down to 2 layers of shirt, no jacket.

Snowmachine tracks had helped pack down the trail and widen it
And more trail...

Lower Fuller Lake winter view

View of Skilak Lake from Fuller Lake Trail

Winter gear:  tights, pants and thermal skirt on the bottom; thermal shirt, wicking layer and two jackets on top; balaclava, hat and neckwarmer to start (now tucked in my waistband, adjusting as temperatures changed); multi-layer gloves; sunglasses

Overall, it was an active and outdoorsy quick get-away which we enjoyed despite cold temperatures. Dressing right was important, but having calm and sunny weather was preferable to last year's expedition to Alyeska when it was pouring rain and 32 degrees and windy. That can be miserable to be in and difficult to warm up once chilled. Meanwhile, we're reveling in a "real winter"!  And the greatest revelation for me was that we can go hiking all year round and don't need to wait till the snow is gone. In fact, we've found winter hiking conditions to be better than summer (lack of bugs and bogs), so we may make this our new winter hobby!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Visit to Nikiski

The Region III 3A basketball tournament was this past weekend in Nikiski. I decided to keep Doug company as he did his supervision duties. The draw for me was that across the parking lot from Nikiski Middle/High School there is a cross-country ski trail.  My kids have moaned for years about how brutal the hills are here as a cross-country running course, but I have never actually been out on the trail here. So this was my golden opportunity!

I was disappointed at first to discover that only half of the trails were groomed; the rest were ungroomed. The first day there I headed out on fishscale (waxless) skis and decided to take the ungroomed trail. It was delightful to explore, and while it took some concentration to maneuver on the steep hills with 90 degree turns at the bottom with ungroomed snow, I only fell once!

The second day I headed out on skate skis and explored all the groomed trails in the morning. Thirty minutes took me over most of them twice.  After watching the Homer girls play, I headed back out for a snowshoe on the ungroomed trails I'd skiied the day before.  It was interesting to note how much more difficult snowshoing is than skiing. Gliding gets me down a hill quickly, but on snowshoes I have to step every single step.

Here is a brief photo gallery of some scenery on the trail.  It is a small little system, but provided me a couple days of skiing and snowshoing with the trails all to myself!

A view of the Nikiski track and stadium from the trail
Moose impressions abounded along the ungroomed trails, along with droppings and hoofprints.
Some strong winds must have blown up sand onto the trail. It was a very small section that was dirty snow.
An oil rig dominates the skyline near the trail.
The thunk thunk of helicopters going to the offshore rigs was nearly constant.
A couple boats off shore.
This was a hill I sweated up. Taking a picture was a great excuse to stop and catch my breath!
Snowshoe tracks, looking down the hill (opposite direction of the last one!)

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Moose-y Scenery

The high school ski team had their end-of-season banquet at the Homer Elks Lodge on Monday night.  We were treated to a gorgeous sunset and a wandering moose!

Moose silhouetted above Bishop's Beach with Mt. Douglas in the background

Beautiful view of Kenai Mountains, Kachemak Bay and a moose at sunset.
(And a spruce tree hit by the spruce aphids.)