Face to face with the Knik Glacier
Conditions were ideal on March 6 as I skied along the frozen Knik River in a set ski track that had apparently been put in earlier that morning. The sky was deep blue, the sun felt warm on my face and there was no wind coming out of the east at the terminus of Knik Glacier.
I started skiing about 10 a.m. from Hunter Creek near the end of Knik River Road. My goal for the day was to see how close I could get to the glacier’s face, and it was sheer luxury having a set track.
Early into the trip I met two fat-tire bikers — a man and a woman — who were walking their bikes, sometimes on and sometimes off the set trail. Apparently their tires were sinking in too deeply for them to ride.
They told me that the ski track had been made by friends of theirs who were going in about 10 miles toward the gorge that leads to Inner Lake George. The pair said they planned to catch up with their friends and camp. They asked me if there was a hardened snow machine trail nearby.
“If there is,” I replied, “it’s probably in the middle of the valley. The main four- wheeler and snow machine thoroughfare always seems to stay out there.”
I wished them luck and skied on, moving swiftly in the track that hugged the right, or south side of the valley. All of the Knik River’s channels were frozen solid and covered by a four-inch layer of snow, a welcome relief after previous trips that included difficult maneuvering around open water.
Now about four miles into the ski, the Knik Glacier’s vertical face slowly grew larger and larger, as it crouched in front of Mt. Goode and ramped up toward to the Chugach Mountain’s giant — Marcus Baker — out of sight and lying to the northeast.
The set track allowed a fast pace and about four hours into the ski, I was about a mile from the glacier’s face. The sun disappeared behind the mountains to the south and I decided to save the “up close and personal” visit to the glacier for another day, perhaps along with a campout and an extended trip around the bend to Inner Lake George.
The return trip to Hunter Creek wasn’t nearly as easy. The fat-tire bikers had gone in about five miles and camped. In those five miles they completely destroyed the ski track. Their bike’s wide grooves and ruts were now frozen. My skis didn’t know where to go, acting as if they had a mind of their own. It was almost easier to cut a new trail.
I’ve seen more and more of the fat-tire bikers in recent years, but I had no idea what damage they could inflict on a ski trail. A friend had the same thing happen to him recently in the Middle Fork area above Glen Alps.
I arrived back at Hunter Creek about 6:30 p.m., promising myself I’d return — which I did a week later with friend Pete Panarese. The trail was still demolished for the first five miles, and now more icy and difficult to negotiate than ever. We only went in about eight miles, and those last miles in the set ski track, still there, were glorious — thanks to those earlier skiers.
But for the rest of the trail, with its deep ruts and grooves: “No thanks” to the fat-tire bikers. I really believe in tolerance and co-existence regarding other outdoor adventurers, but I don’t think bike trails and ski trails mix, and vice-versa.
But I’ll still go back someday, perhaps next winter, to meet the Knik Glacier face to face.
This column is the opinion of Frank E. Baker, a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River. To contact Frank, email [email protected].