By William Brennan
Seward Ranger District 

Turnagain Pass segment of the INHT has snow

 

January 12, 2017 | View PDF



The Turnagain Pass segment of the Iditarod National Historic Trail (INHT) has full snow coverage and can be a great option for any type of skis but skate skis (with wider skis being ideal for the deep and soft conditions right now). This relatively new trail currently has no signs marking its way and does not see much traffic, but is in great shape, is easy to follow, and currently has no alders in the way. The trail more or less parallels the Seward Highway on the non-motorized side of the road, leading from the Johnson North Trailhead on the Southern end, to the parking area used to access Eddie’s at milepost 72 towards the base of Turnagain Pass on the northern end, with several other potential access points in between, including by the trail’s halfway point at the large Center Ridge parking lot at the top of Turnagain Pass.

Current conditions are a bit too deep and soft for fat bike traffic, but make for good travel for snowshoers and Nordic skiers looking for more of a backcountry experience. This trail can even be a good option for alpine skiers and snowboarders looking to go for a longer tour away from the crowds of the Tincan trees but are also reluctant to push it into the alpine during periods of heightened avalanche danger or poor snow conditions. I recently had fun skiing from the Johnson North Trailhead to Center Ridge with a pair of tele-skis with fishscales, while my partner was on classic Nordic skis. The snow was soft on the trail, which is largely in the trees, despite this being the day after our December 30th wind event that hammered the upper elevations and scoured away much of our alpine snowpack.

Bridge construction has not yet been completed on this segment of the Iditarod, but during the winter months the creeks can be negotiated. The trail crossings at both Spokane Creek and Bertha Creek are in deep canyons that can be a challenge to cross, but are quite a sight once down inside them.

From end to end this segment of the Iditarod through Turnagain Pass is approximately 11 miles - with the Center Ridge parking lot as a rough halfway point. This past weekend I travelled the southern half, but I have not yet ventured out onto the northern half this winter. If travelling north of the Center Ridge lot be aware that there is significant avalanche exposure in places, particularly on the north side of Tincan. Always be aware of current avalanche conditions, practice safe travel habits, and travel with the appropriate avalanche rescue gear (beacon/shovel/probe).

Not too many Nordic skiers seem to know about this trail yet, but you will occasionally see ski tracks either crossing or joining the trail for short segments - these are typically from alpine skiers and snowboarders on their approach to the higher elevations. This is particularly noticeable on the northernmost mile or so of this trail, which is used as a popular access point for the slope known as Eddie’s. Otherwise expect to have this trail largely to yourself, which is a treat considering the good conditions and easy access.

 

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