Today's was suposed to be an easy ride. Temperatures were low, down to -20, and no one wanted to break anything. We decided to stay around Fort Wainwright and explore its trail network, especially some of the muskeg trails that are unpassable in the summer. In attendance was Matt F (Boostlesstj), Nate Lawson with his Isuzu, Samurai Mike and son on his Comanche, and me on my TJ.
We left the FWW gas station right around 10 am and headed for the trails across Chena River from the golf course. We snaked through some trail around there, marvelling at how much narrower the trails were in the winter with all the hardpacked snow on the trail bed. I was up front breaking trail, getting smacked hard with tree branches and dumped with loads of snow on my hood.
The first big obstacle was a sharp, steep hill that goes up from Nautilus Road onto the Approach Hill. I tried it at first but couldn't reach the top, making the trail slick like glass in my attempt. Matt F tried too, as did Mike. The hill was too slick for anyone. We took the little off camber bypass and we all made through, although Nate needed a little tug from Mike's tow strap.
At the top of Approach Hill we played around in this big hole that had a few steep hills in a couple of directions. Nate recorded videos of everybody going up and down the snow, and we had a bit of fun. Leaving that area we decided to try out a muskeg trail that heads north from Approach Hill. Last time we tried this trail during the summer, it was completely muddy and no one wanted to get stuck so we turned around after heading in 100 feet.
This time the muskeg trail was passable, and we all headed into the trail, not knowing really where it led, only knowing a general direction. The snow was pretty thick and the Wrangler Duratracs were doing a great job of breaking through the stuff. We came across a few other trails that crossed this one, and they all seemed passable. It would be a great area to explore on a day with more daylight. We continued on our initial trail, turning left onto another trail only when ours disappeared into a thick forest. Following this other trail we ended up in Sage Hill Road.
We followed Sage Hill road to the Big Hill area, where we had fun playing around again. Matt F was the first one to climb through a short, steep, slippery hill and drove his Jeep all the way to the top of Big Hill. Next Mike followed Matt, having to attempt a few times at conquering the short hill. Speed was the secret, and soon he had made it to the top. Next it was me, and with speed behind me I made it too. Nate stayed below, recording everyone's attempts. Nate drove the bypass to the top of Big Hill, and there we stayed for a while talking, enjoying the Alaskan winter and marvelling at the gorgeous nature in front of us.
We dropped down the backside of Big Hill and played around for a little longer. Mike showed what lockers are for, and with throttle and perseverance managed to climb through the snowy face of a hill, taking him almost 10 minutes to make it to the top. It was slow but impressive. Well done. We all had fun going down the face of Big Hill a few times, and then headed off into the musked again.
Following a snow machine (snowmobile) trail we headed towards the pipeline. The trail was narrow and covered in soft snow, and we had to cross what is probably a very narrow and shallow stream, and then we crossed the pipeline perpendicularly(!!) and stopped for photos. Nate warned us that the trail got even narrower after the pipeline, so we doubled back and headed towards Big Hill.
Byassing Big Hill we headed towards the trails of Sage Hill, moving towards Birch Hill. Arriving at the east side of Birch Hill we made it 1/4 of the way to the top of the hill and hung a left onto a very narrow trail that headed down the hill. The trail proved to be very, very narrow, with snow ladden tree branches hung very low in front of us. I, as trail boss, riding up front, was again dumped on with lots and lots of snow. My hood got so much snow that at one point I had a 4 inch by 3 inch window on my wind screen to look through. This short trail was only a few hundred feet long, but we took it slow due to all the trees and snow, and we all made it out easily.
After that we headed down to the River Road bypass and took that, but instead of going all the way through the bypass we found a narrow logging road heading north and headed that way, which took us to the back of Big Dirt Hill, where we were greeted by a father and his son practicing snowboarding on the fluffy snow covering the hill. Here we stopped, chatted a little bit and parted ways.
Today's ride was fun, a nice exploratory ride, finding where Fort Wainwright's trails lead to, and we even had some moments where we pushed our rigs, trying to go over obstacles that are easy in the summer, but too slippery in the winter. Nate learned the limits of his little Isuzu truck and he was quite satisfied with it, his little truck is pretty cool! Samurai Mike showed us what lockers can do and we were all pretty impressed, his son was having a blast too, but was a bit disappointed that his father forgot (on purpose!) to bring a toboggan: he really wanted to slide down Big Hill. Matt and I had fun exploring these trails we spent whole summer wondering where they lead.
My camera's batteries were frozen for part of the trip, but after a while between me and the seat heaters I had the camera going again...
Samurai Mike reversing from a little trail that went nowhere on Big Hill
Matt F on top of Big Hill
Matt F and Nate on the bottom of Big Hill
Samurai Mike, his Comanche and my TJ
What we saw on top of Big Hill
Everybody stopped to take pictures of that gorgeous sunset
Nate's diesel Isuzu Pup
Poseurs by the pipeline
Alaska's oil flows through here
Narrow snow machine trail
All the snow on my hood after going through the tree and snow gauntlet (that was after half the snow slid off the Jeep)
Samurai Mike's Comanche
The line up on Birch Hill