Wheeling Alaska's Boulder Creek Trail
At 656,000 square miles, Alaska dwarfs every other state in the Union. Add 39 mountain ranges, including the highest peak in North America (Denali at 20,320 feet), more than 100,000 glaciers, and an abundance of wildlife, and Alaska appears even vaster than the area would indicate. Even with an area this expansive, wheelers in Alaska face many of the access issues the rest of us do in the Lower 48. Roads (paved and unpaved) cover only 25 percent of the state, and an increasing number of those roads are being closed to motorized access. We recently joined members of the Alaska 4x4 Network as they explored the Talkeetna Range in an effort to find a route through Chitna Pass and minimize impact on the Puritan Creek Trail.
The Puritan Creek Trail leads to Boulder Creek deep within the mountains, 100 miles northwest of Anchorage. This area is classic Alaska wheeling: remote, technical, and varied. The landscape is similar to what you might find near Ouray, Colorado, or Kalispell, Montana-except it goes on for hundreds of miles in any direction.
After several miles of relatively easy two-track, we reached the crux of the trail. A half-mile gauntlet of mud, rocks, and water separated us from the valley where Boulder Creek flowed. The slick, steep downhill section of trail was dotted with large boulders that were difficult to navigate with muddy tires. The trail then split into three routes, with a bottomless mud pit to the left, another shallower pit in the center, and a steep rock pile on the right. After losing one vehicle in the bottomless pit and suffering carnage from the rock pile, most of the group opted for the center route. More mud greeted us, but it was more watery and had a rocky bottom so it was much easier to traverse. Another deep mud pit then needed to be crossed before reaching Boulder Creek.
Our plan was to find a trail that would connect Boulder Creek to the Hicks Lake Trail, creating a loop and cutting traffic on the trail in half, thus minimizing impact. We headed north to explore farther up Boulder Creek and look for a route across Chitna Pass. "Hikers cross Chitna Pass on a regular basis, but we still haven't discovered a route for vehicles," explained our guide, Curtis Anderson from Alaska Jeep Parts.
In addition to locking differentials and aggressive tires, most of the vehicles in the group had wide fender flares and snorkels, and after traversing the trail it was easy to see why. Alaska trails are as diverse as the state itself, with a water crossings, deep mud, and rocks sized from pebbles to boulders.
Unfortunately, we weren't as successful as Ferdinand Magellan and failed to find the pass during our expedition. Anderson told us that there is discussion of building a pipeline in this area, which would likely provide the necessary connection between Boulder Creek and Hicks Lake if a preexisting route cannot be found. Members of the Alaska 4x4 Network have vowed to continue their exploration of this area, and we hope that by the time we return they can guide us all the way through the Puritan Creek Trail to Boulder Creek and on to Hicks Lake, allowing us to visit even more of those breathtaking 656,000 square miles without the need to backtrack across the same trails.