Sunday, April 23, 2023

A Tale of Two Trails: Same Trail, Different Days

Post by Corrine

When I woke in the middle of the night at Moose Creek Cabin, nature was calling. Quietly but insistently.

It was 2 AM and I had a full bladder. Bummer. I was so warm and cozy tucked into my sleeping bag. But I couldn’t just roll over and go back to sleep. Reluctantly, I got up and stumbled out the door. That’s when Nature really let me know she was there.

Outside the cabin I was met by a howling wind and snow blowing sideways. The path to the outhouse, perfectly fine the previous evening, was difficult to follow due to drifting snow. My footprints showed there was over an inch of snow already. I quickly did my business and hurried back to the cozy cabin and my warm sleeping bag. 

The forecast for the White Mountains National Recreation Area had called for wind and some snow, but if it was like this at 2 AM what would it be like in the morning when it was time to bike back to the Wickersham Dome Trailhead? I lay in my sleeping bag listening to the wind get even stronger and worried. Would we have to push our bikes the entire 16 miles? Would we be able find the trail in the open areas? There wasn’t any use in worrying since I couldn’t change the weather, but I still had a hard time getting back to sleep. I finally heard Eric stirring at about 5:30 AM so we both decided to get up and get going for the probable long slog. What a difference a few hours can make. 

Adapting to Conditions

A month ago, I had reserved Moose Creek Cabin hoping that my friend Nikki and I could finally, after three years of trying, complete our quest: bike from our house to the White Mountains. It would be all trails all the way, only a couple of road crossings, more than 30 miles. I love living in Fairbanks!

Unfortunately, trail conditions weren’t good. We had had a couple of snowstorms and it seemed there was minimal snowmachine traffic on those trails. No good for a nice fatbike ride. My trip with Nikki was a no-go. Neither of us wanted long sections of bike-pushing. 

But I still had the Moose Creek Cabin reserved. Nikki wasn’t interested in biking from Wickersham Dome Trailhead, as she has done that many times. I wasn’t all that hot on the idea either. But Eric needed a break. He had overcommitted himself the past few weeks with volunteer obligations. He said he was going, with or without me. I started chewing on the idea.


Moose Creek Cabin

 I checked the BLM site and read that the trail crew had groomed most of the trails the past week. And we had had had a few of warm sunny days and cool nights so the trails should be hard and fast. Unfortunately, the weather forecast was a little iffy. Friday looked good with cloudy skies and highs around 40, but the forecast said a cold front was moving in Friday night with 20 mph winds and a couple of inches of new snow. In fact, there was a weather advisory for blowing snow and low visibility. That didn’t sound good.

Then again, the wind was supposed to come from the northeast, so it would mostly be a tailwind and maybe things wouldn’t get bad until later Saturday? With those optimistic thoughts, I decided to join Eric.

So much snow and drifting in the Whites this year.  I've never seen this sign so buried! Moose Creek connector definitely a no-go

Day 1: As Good as It Gets

We got a bit of a late start due to a dentist appointment that I scheduled long ago (forgetting about the big bike-from-home plan with Nikki). While driving to the trailhead, Eric and I checked the trail Nikki and I would have taken to the Whites. It crosses the Elliott Highway north of Haystack Mountain. The trail was covered with several inches of unbroken snow. Nikki and I had made the right call to bail on our trip. 

Eric and I were at the trailhead and ready to go by 11:30. As we had hoped, the trail was hard-packed. And there was almost no wind. But the temperature was so warm that we spent all day wearing just vests and no coats. We even had to fold back our poagies to cool off our hands, which were sans gloves. Finally, a perfect spring biking day! We made it to the cabin in just two-and-a-half hours of nice riding.

I dropped off my gear then headed back up the trail. I’m training for the Unbound XL, which is only six weeks away, so I wanted to get in more miles. I ended up only going another three miles down the trail before turning back because the trail started getting soft in the late afternoon. I did check out the connector trail to Haystack, which Nikki and I would have used. Like the Chatanika Valley trail, it was not bikeable. 

Nope, not bikeable

Eric, meanwhile, gathered firewood. Or, as he likes to say, he “appeased the cabin gods.” He sacrificed six dead trees, cut them up (using his special “sacrificial saw,” i.e., a folding saw much superior to the cabin bow saws) and fed several rounds into the “sacred oven” (aka woodstove.) I rolled my eyes, but Eric swears it works. As proof, he pointed out that the gods warmed the cabin for us. Hard to argue with that. Really hard.

Appeasing the cabin gods with firewood

We spent the rest of the evening reading and doing puzzles and just relaxing. I love that about cabin trips. Time to just do nothing. At 9 PM, as we got ready for bed, it was still calm and warm outside; but by 2 AM, when I had to go to the outhouse, the weather had really changed. What a difference in just a few hours! It was just as predicted, but I had really hoped that the meteorologists were going to be wrong this time!

Day 2: Battling the Drifts

By morning, the temperature had fallen to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, and the wind had picked up to about 20 mph with a lot stronger gusts. We decided to get going early as we weren’t sure how much bike-pushing we would have to do.

And, wow, the trail had really changed overnight. The day before, it had been smooth and easy. Not so much this morning. Only an inch or so of snow had fallen, but the drifting was knee-deep in places. 

Eric was able to ride through half of this drift.

Not this drift

Amazingly, we were able to ride way more than we expected. The snow was light, fluffy, and mostly unconsolidated. We plowed through many of the drifts by pedaling hard and keeping our momentum up. The really big drifts, not so much, but we were able to do a lot more riding than pushing. Most of the steeper climbs and descents were in the trees, so we just had to deal with the inch or so of new snow in those areas. The trail under the snow was still hard-packed, so we were able to ride most everything. 

The wind continued to blow hard. At times Eric was just a couple of minutes ahead of me, but his tracks would already be filled in by the time I got to the same spot. Fortunately, the wind was mostly coming from behind us, so it helped push us along. And the sun was shining and felt warm. If we didn’t face into the wind or stop in a windy spot for too long, we were warm. 

The day was beautiful with the new snow and the blue skies. But all the work pedaling or pushing through the drifts wore on our legs. 

But this trip was a good reminder that just a day can make a huge difference in trail conditions.   

Trail on day 1

Same area of trail on day 2

We were happy to descend the final mile downhill to the trailhead, arriving less than 24 hours after we had left the parking lot. It was another great overnight trip in the Whites, probably the last for this year.

Although you never know. There is still a ton of snow in the mountains and the temperatures aren’t warming up very quickly. We might just be back out there again!




  1. Where there is a will, there is a way. Or so it is said. But sometimes, there's quite a bit of snow in the way. You managed to get through though. Good on you!

    1. Since I assumed we might be pushing our bikes the entire way, I was pleasantly surprised that we could ride most of the trail - albeit quite a bit slower than on the way in! Corrine

  2. Can you explain where that Haystack trail starts? We were at the Crowberry cabin last week and read lots of accounts of taking that trail, but we don't know how to find it! Thank you.

    1. It meets into the Trail Creek Trail about 1/2 mile up from Moose Creek Cabin. There is a sign there. It's about 10 miles over to Haystack subdivision. Corrine

    2. Ah cool. And if you are leaving from the Haystack subdivision where is the trailhead? Again, thanks for the info!

    3. The trail starts off the end of Haystack Mountain Road. Here’s a Google Maps link:

    4. Oh awesome. Thank you!

  3. Ooof, I can relate! I wondered who else was out there last weekend. I went out to Colorado Creek, my first trip in awhile due to my health. What a fun weekend I picked. It was exciting! Those drifts were crazy.
    Good luck with your training, Corrine! Eric, I love your cabin firewood ritual!

    1. Thanks, Andrea! Keep up the faith...and the fire!