Last week, we took a full day ride out to Jim Creek and rode all the way to the glacier. This was a first for me. While we used to spend a lot of time out there when I was a kid and have flown the area many times in the last few years, the ride was a great experience.
The area that I refer to here as "Jim Creek" is officially called "Knik River Public Use Area", and is generally considered the area between the Knik River bridge and the Knik Glacier. The area has alternately gone from an area considered to be a trouble spot and a family friendly area. In current times, there are regular Alaska State Trooper patrols which go through the area to ensure a safe atmosphere and several off road clubs clean the area, clearing abandon cars and general waste. It is a dramatic change from 10 years ago, when burned out stolen cars were seen regularly, and a change that is welcome. A google images search will yield more than enough pictures of what I am referring to.
Along the trail, the wildlife is abundant. One of our goals while we were up there was to get at least one spring bear for the freezer. We mostly stayed off of the river bed during the journey hoping that we would have better luck in the soggier terrain. Although we saw plenty of goats and moose, the only bear sign we saw was a lonely set of tracks well off the main travelling area. I am certain this is in part because even though the weather seems right, it is just a little bit too early still. We will probably end up going at least a few times in May and continuing to see how the trail conditions are. If you get a chance and are headed up that way, don't forget to bring your phone and a phone charger. I missed out on some great opportunities to take some pictures because my phone died.
Get out, get on the trail, and have a blast!
As many people already know at this point, 4 days ago the Motherlode Lodge in Hatcher Pass was burned to the ground. It is a particularly sad event for many people because of so many fond memories passing by the local checkpoint and events at the Lodge itself, with at least one of my friends getting married there.
Constructed as a Roadhouse in 1942, there isn't a ton of information to be gleaned from the internet on the lodge itself. I suspect this is in part because while Hatcher Pass is a location that so many people in The Valley are familiar with, there aren't many outside of here that know much about area at all.
A little bit of browsing on the Alaska Lost Ski Areas Project (which is an awesome website but be warned you might lose a couple of hours reading about some areas that you didn't know about before) tells a lot of the story that I would wager even the saltiest of locals don't know about. There is a gallery of images there that shows the remains of the ski rope lift that was erected by Victor Cottini sometime after 1942 or 1943. After expanding the lodge to further accommodate miners in the area, Mr Cottini sold the property in 1958. He died in 1967, leaving family who still remains in the area. A wonderful write up by Carole Wegner can be found at Last Frontier Magazine (no affiliation with my website) where she talks about growing up living in the Lodge.
After the lodge was sold to the Betts family in 1958, it was maintained as a lodge and the ski area was operated in the winter time. At some time during their ownership period, the ski lift fell into disrepair and the lodge changed hands several more times. The records that I have found are sparse at best. Per the notes at the bottom of the ALSAP page, Bill Betts has passed away but Marie Betts lives in Wasilla to this day.
In 1991, the Roadhouse changed hands again to Jill Reese. In recent times, the lodge was undergoing renovations due to vandalism but was not insured according to public comments by the owner. On April 17th, when firefighters arrived on scene, the only action that they were able to take was to contain the blaze due to the property being outside of their fire area.
Our family has planned on spending more time up in Hatcher Pass this summer and fall. We plan on spending time with the girls berry picking and enjoying all that we can up there. It will be sad to see this landmark gone for sure, I had looked forward to it reopening some day.
The trail system on the south side of Mt Baldy are in really good shape the past two days. I went out yesterday with a friend of mine and made it to Bench Lake in only 35 minutes. The light snow this winter means that there is not a lot of run off to soften up the trail system above the frozen ground. The mud is only a few inches deep in almost all of the trails that we went on, with the deepest mud only about 8 inches deep. Because the trail was in such good condition, Jeremy Cooper (also from Century 21 and a good friend) and I decided to take a run up some of the trails that were too soft to make it into last fall on our limited schedule. We were not disappointed. We left from the Sitze Road Trailhead and made it all the way to Moose Meadows in only a couple of hours. We had hoped to make it at least half that far in the entire day so I figure we did pretty darn good for ourselves. We would have liked to come across a black bear to put in the freezer, but we were lacking in even seeing any signs. It is probably just a little bit too early still.
This trail system is not for novices. If this is your first time on a four wheeler or side by side, I would highly recommend bringing someone more experienced along with you. It is a great area to build up your experience if you are careful. The entire trail system can be walked out if you end up rolling your machine or get hurt. In our 9 miles of trail, we were never more than few miles from the road if there was an emergency. Some of the more technical portions of the trail can actually be really fun. There are some steep uphills which get pretty slick and some steep downhills which require careful consideration before driving down.
I don't think that the trails will last in this good of condition for much longer, especially if we get any rain or snow. As the ground thaws out, some of the muddier areas will not have the frozen base and the mud will be deeper. This will make it so that wheelers such as my trusty Sportsman 570 will have a difficult time getting through the entire trail. If you have the opportunity to get through the trail this weekend, it should be a fairly easy ride. Please do a favor to all of the rest of us riders though and stick to the trail system as no one wants to see the hillside be torn up for someone's one time enjoyment. Even better, if you are riding for leisure please bring in some rubber gloves and a garbage bag and if you see rubbish please help clean up the mess that others have inconsiderately left behind. We all benefit from a clean trail system. Thank you in advance and great riding
I have been a little bit overwhelmed lately, so much so that I meant to actually write this and take some fresh pictures last Sunday when the first fly-in of the season happened at Seymour Lake. Unfortunately, I was just way to busy to attend. This is a total bummer for our family but I guess it is ok since we were a little bit concerned about the ice being solid as it was anyway.
Fly-in events are a super exciting event for me because a) obviously they are awesome, and b) who doesn't love something aviation related? Even those that do not get the thrill from flying the plane certainly get a thrill from seeing a cub doing a 20 foot take off or a 20 foot landing, right?
Here is a brief synopsis of the calendar year of fly-in events that I plan on attending (provided there are no scheduling conflicts before then). I actually am going to include the Seymour Lake event just for reference for next year.
Mar 29, 2015 - Alaska Airmen's Association Seymour Lake fly-in. This event is a home-grown event, exclusively for members of the Alaska Airmen's Association. It is a potluck out at Seymour Lake. One of the members maintains a plowed runway directly on the lake which goes directly to his home where he hosts the event. I didn't get back home until everyone was taking off and it was awesome to watch them practice their shortfield takeoffs off of my back porch. There was a yellow cub (I actually think it might have been a J3) which did an awesome takeoff that was fun to watch.
May 2-3, 2015 - The Great Alaska Aviation Gathering. This is the event of events for static displays and industry information in aviation. Both regular poor-boy wanna-be pilots like me and true to life industry experts attend not only to see what is new, but to socialize with other like minded people. On top of all that, it gives me a chance to sit in planes that I will probably never earn the right to fly. And what could beat that? They actually raffle off an aircraft. If you have not ever been, mark it down on your calendar. And not that I specifically want anyone to compete with me for the chance to win an absolutely bad to the bone SuperCub, I do grow tired of seeing them go out of state. Seriously. Go buy a ticket today. The instructions are in the link. The money goes to a really good cause and the chances are really good that you can win.
May 8-10, 2015 - Valdez Fly-in and Air Show. This particular fly-in holds a special place in my heart because it was the first one that we attended in the spring after we bought 9533A. We flew from Anchorage through the pass at Whittier and cruised along the coast to Valdez, then stayed that night in a bed and breakfast. Leila was only a year old at the time so we didn't feel like camping was the best option. I slept like a baby that night because our convoy vehicle which drove the highway (6 hours) was having mechanical difficulties and consequently I had to take a commercial flight back to Anchorage and blast back to Valdez with a different convoy vehicle. It was one of those things in life that I was cursing at the time but Stephanie and I laugh at remembering back on it. We were so young and full of energy back then! The Air Show itself features different highlights each year, the most popular by far is the STOL take off and landing. These videos are uploaded to YouTube most years and I could literally watch these for hours and hours without stopping. Another highlight that is exclusive to pilots in this event is the breakfast on the beach. Other than that, most of the events are a blast for anyone able to make the trip.
June 6, 2015 - 4th Annual Skwentna Fly-In. I will admit it, I have a crush of sorts on Skwentna. In the past I have had the same love affair with Talkeetna, Cooper Landing, Whittier, Seldovia, Homer, and Kasilof. I love small communities. I love basically everything about them. When I go out to the Skwentna Roadhouse, it is not hospitality like you have ever seen anywhere else. They (the owner's name evades me at the moment) literally treat you like you are a personal guest in their personal home. I have not been to their fly-ins but I am certain that they are as warm and welcome as visiting their roadhouse.
Fly-in season is a great opportunity for pilots to get together after the winter thaw and test their springtime skills at everything they will need for hunting season. From flour-bombing to shortfield take off and landing, it is a blast to watch. I hope that you attend at least one of these events this spring and summer.
Here are highlights from last year's STOL competition at Valdez. Skip ahead to 3:29 to see the really fun stuff!