Outdoors Editor’s note: Trip Report is an ongoing series about trail conditions around Interior Alaska.
Bruce Nelles submitted this trip report about driving a snow-covered U.S. Creek Road in a Dodge Durango.
Party: Bruce Nelles.
Trip Location: White Mountains National Recreation Area.
Trip Date: April 30.
Access: 57 Mile Steese Highway, U.S. Creek turnoff.
Route conditions and highlights: The day began with clear skies and abundant sunshine. I had decided to close out April with a nice trip up into the White Mountains. After checking my emergency supplies and securing food and water, I headed north. I wondered about the road up U.S. Creek Road. I knew full well that there would still be lots of snow up there that could really cause me grief if I happened to get stuck. I’d soon find out. On such a nice day, I was determined to give it a go. And If I didn’t make it, oh well, I’d have a story for the grandkids to share next to the stove some winter night.
The first couple of miles were uneventful, a little muddy with soft roadpack, and I started to think, “Hey, this might not be so bad after all.” Just after that, around the corner I hit the snow line. I stopped and got out and saw that someone else had attempted to make it up there by evidence of their tracks. So I thought, “Hmm, if they can do it, so can I.” And off I went.
As I wound my way up through the hills, the snow got deeper and deeper with nowhere to even think about turning around. With about 2 miles to go, I had lost all ground clearance and was riding atop the snow between the tire tracks in the snow. Finally, the last half-mile came into view and I went all out. It was quite an exhilarating feeling; the end was in sight. I could see the sun up ahead lighting the pullout. The last few hundred yards were crazy. My tires were slipping, and I had the throttle down for max power. And just like that, I was on top. I was in the sunshine with the mountains all around in every direction. It was an awesome feeling. The view was so worth it.
I wandered around taking photos in the beautiful setting sun. Meanwhile, I began to wonder if I’d make it back down the road without sliding off. After the first quarter-mile I realized my doubts were founded. So I crawled along at about 5 mph to avoid sliding off the road. There was a very fine line between staying on the road using gravity and going too fast.
Going through an especially deep snow section, my rig slid out of the tracks sideways into the snow. Both front and back driver’s side tires were buried in the snow. I thought, ‘Oh %@$&*! I’m really screwed now!” I was still at least 7 miles off the highway, and it would be dark soon. Then I remembered that I had left my snow shovel in my rig (after almost taking it out a few days earlier). After some serious digging around and under my rig, I knew it was now or never to try rolling again. With a few Hail Marys, I engaged and slowly pulled back into the road. I had made it out.
Just after midnight I pulled into my driveway, shut off my rig and sat in the quiet. I thought to myself: “Wow, what a day, what a day!”
Update: Things have changed a bit since Nelles' trip. As of Thursday, the Alaska Department of Transportation had plowed U.S. Creek Road almost to the Nome Creek Bridge (about 6.7 miles), but even after it’s been plowed, the driving isn’t easy. Here’s what federal Bureau of Land Management spokesman Craig McCaa stated in an email:
“The road probably has some soft areas and spots needing repairs. Also, turning around at the end of the plowed section may be difficult, especially with a trailer.”
Beyond the bridge, Nome Creek Road is still covered with snow and ice. “It’s still winter out there,” is what the BLM guys report. In the few parts of the road that have melted out, we saw some washouts that will need to be repaired once we can get to them. (We have to fix parts of the road after breakup every year.) Our plan this year, as in years past, is to have the road and campgrounds open by Memorial Day weekend.”