4/12/12 Crust Skiing to Skilak Glacier from Justin Wholey on Vimeo.
Usually drawing a line on a map and following it in real life doesn't work the first time, but I lucked out. For the last year I've been wanting to at least get down there for a recon trip. I was encouraged by Tim Kelley's trip down to Skilak Lake in early March and a couple days before my trip. With a stretch of high pressure in Southcentral Alaska I decided I needed to take off work to take advantage. This has been one of my favorite crust skiing trips so far because I haven't heard about anyone skiing to the Skilak Glacier (although I assume I'm not the first).
The 2.5 hour drive to the Upper Skilak Lake Campground within the Kenai National Wildlife refuge was quite the drive from Anchorage, but it was as beautiful as ever. I left the boat launch at 9:30 and found a thin crust of snow on top of lake ice. I found some stress crack I opted to step over rather than ski over. It was smooth cruising through the Irish Channel, and to Skilak River's outlet. I got concerned once i saw the snow cover on the outwash plain; less then 1/4 was covered in snow and there were shallow channels everywhere. I tried to connect as many ramps as I could, but ended up taking my skis off a dozen times on the way in an wading a crossing. My goal at this point was Pothole Lake and I kept finding enough snow to ski.
Once I reached Pothole Lake I could see Skilak Glacier, so despite worries of softening snow I continued up-valley. The snow coverage got better as I followed the river to Skilak Glacier's proglacial lake. After a short ski across the lake I made it to the toe of the glacier. Following the line I drew on the map worked! I didn't hang out too long. It was already 2:30 and I imagined the crust would soften fast, but it didn't. Most of the crust seemed to originate from river ice, and the 2-3 feet of lake ice wasn't going to soften. Once I figured that out I took my time, and even took a side trip to the Doroshin cabin. I arrived back at the car just before 7. The trip was pretty flat, so the fatigue I was expecting never really hit, even though it was 43 miles round trip.
I'm not sure if this is a trip you can ski every spring. I imagine all the snow we got this year helped out. I hope others pick up on this and check out this area. It really stacks up to the other classic crust-skis in Southcentral. It was another amazing day skate skiing through Alaska's backcountry without seeing another soul.
First view of the route from overlook on Skilak Lake Rd.
Skilak Lake and Skilak River outwash plain.
Variations in lake levels.
Skilak River outwash plain.
Skilak Glacier's proglacial lake.
Skilak River cutting through Skilak Glacier;s most recent terminal moraine.
Doroshin Cabin (available to rent)