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Matanuska’s Obscene Heirloom: Hunting Alaskan Thunderf*ck

Photo Taylor Kent


Matanuska’s Obscene Heirloom: Hunting Alaskan Thunderf*ck

A rose by any f*cking name? Alaskan Thunderf*ck may have a name you can’t use in polite company, but it’s also got a reputation reaching back decades. A recent attempt to hunt down a surviving line of ATF lead to an epic taste test of five strains claiming the famous name.

Nothing grows in Alaska like it does in the Matanuska Valley — well, nothing you’d find suitable to eat without the Last Frontier equivalent of a knife fight. Here, hundreds of farming families from the Midwest tried to make a go of it during the Depression. Only a few dozen stayed, but their descendants today grow some of the biggest cabbages, potatoes and other cold weather-tolerant crops in the United States: a few years ago, a dentist presented a 117.95-pound cabbage — that’s a lot of cole slaw.

Up the river from Anchorage, a little town called Wasilla produced a famous mayor who occasionally still appears on Fox News. And here in the Matansuka Valley, sometime in the past fifty years, somebody — nobody can agree on who it was or where they came from — planted the first crop of what was once the USA’s most famous native strain of cannabis; the original Alaskan Thunderf*ck.

A man known only as “Nordhoff” described ATF to a High Times writer who visited the valley in the 1970s:

“This weed is so strong it grows through the snow to find the sun. Its growing period is only five months long, counting the snow time, and it grows eight feet high. Farmers in the Valley plant it alongside patches of cabbage so big it takes two men to carry them, tomatoes so big you have to cut them off with a chainsaw.”

With massive bear-paw-sized buds, Nordhoff said ATF was “the finest pot grown in the 50 states.” The High Times writer, there on the scene with a pair of marijuana dealers, declared Nordhoff’s description no hyperbole.

That’s the legend. But like most legends, finding tangible proof in the here-and-now can be like chasing Bigfoot.

Nobody can seem to say what happened to Nordhoff. A modern-day High Times writer heard tell of two men who may know the strain. One tried unsuccessfully to trademark the name “Matanuska Thunderf*ck” in 2014; the other may be hiding out somewhere in the Alaskan bush, like a pot-growing “Grizzly Man.”

But this is the era of big business in cannabis. Thunderf*ck is an instantly recognizable name with deep marijuana bona fides — if you could find a real cut, it would have instant value among strain-conscious breeders and marijuana marketers. So it’s in demand.

The Thunderf*ck Whisperer

The Alaska Dispatch News recently spent some time with Roger Cobb, an ATF expert who first smoked the strain back in 1989. Back then, he remembers walking in rooms full of the stuff. But that source was busted.

Now, a generation and many hundreds of outlaw indoor grow cycles later, Cobb is in demand as a “Thunderf*ck-listener”–he’ll smoke your stuff and tell you if it’s the real ATF, a distant relative, or a total pretender.

Cobb was enlisted by Rob Bass, a local grower, to participate in a blind taste-test of several strains to see which — if any — had some relationship to the original ATF.

So what made ATF so special in an era when nobody had heard of terpenes and trichomes? Some descriptions make it sound like a Kush, with earthy notes and strong hints of lemon and pine. Others are right out of a hybrid’s book, with an intense head-strong euphoria melting into a mellow body relaxation.

But just as likely, some cynics say, is that Thunderf*ck was shorthand merely for “decent weed grown in Alaska.”

There are some seeds available online and some strains in Lower 48-based dispensaries with the name, but at least one Alaska grower says they’re all bunk.

“I don’t buy it,” grower Justin Roland told the Dispatch-News.

Further compounding the problem is that the only metric by which one can judge whether ATF is still among us (or vanished forever) is the least scientific of all: memory. Only old-school marijuana consumers with a four-decade history know for certain they’ve smoked the stuff. Are a stoner Baby Boomer’s taste and senses trustworthy?


Last summer, the search for ATF was narrowed down to five finalists, collected from all over the valley. Bass grew all five, right next to one another, and presented them to Cobb and his other judges for the smoke-test. All five-fingered the same plant as the real Alaskan Thunderf*ck — the entry from Wasilla.

But is it the real deal? At this point, the answer is a resounding, “probably.” As for when can we see some in California, Colorado and other cannabis markets beyond the Land of the Midnight Sun — that’ll have to wait.

TELL US, have you ever smoked Alaskan Thunderf*ck?



  1. Norman Falat

    April 11, 2017 at 3:07 am

    So you asked if It’s still around. Yes it is!!! I smoked some here in Penticton BC Canada. I must say it’s a heavy hitter! One Dookie is all you want if you need to do any driving or important activity. I was hit so hard that I thanked myself for not having a second one. I have driven safely under the influence for 35+ years and yet I would not drive had I smoked two joints. Kicks you in the head very good. Stay safe only smoke at home not for people that want to be safe doing anything that could harm you. Awesome experience though. More than most people want or need.

  2. Shadar

    February 24, 2017 at 11:21 am

    I’ve bought some stuff in WA that was labeled as ATF, and it was just OK. Nothing extraordinary but nice. Which based on this article suggests that it wasn’t AK grade stuff. Might not even be related to the original.

    You can’t trust what most growers tell you about strains. Some budtenders try stuff and can sometimes tell you a bit more, but most budtenders aren’t the experts they pretend to be. They usually just tell you what the growers told them, often from their web page. Or they are just guessing. Even worse, unless you have a relationship with the budtender, they’ll try to convince you to buy stuff that isn’t moving well. You have to call them on their game.

    Growers would love to provide something that’ll demand a premium price or sell especially well, but that’s getting harder. There is such a sea of weed out there from so many growers, and a dozen growers offering Blue Dream for sale isn’t my idea of a diverse market. Often the great stuff and the average stuff is selling for the same price, so you can’t judge by that.

    But even the growers often don’t know what they’re growing. They just know what they were told when they got their seeds or clones. Maybe the old hippie covered in dirt and resin who does the actual growing might know something doesn’t look right, but if the cannabinoids test out OK, it sells under whatever strain name the owner decides. Or based on his input or market demand, the owners change the strain name to something else.

    My approach these days is to buy a wide variety of strains from a limited set of growers I like, and when I find something that’s really extraordinary, I immediately go back and buy more. Unfortunately, in WA, where everything arrives at the store sealed in airtight bags, you can’t judge it properly before buying. You can tell some things by looking through the plastic, but I rely on my nose, and it’s impossible to get a sniff these days without buying a package and taking home to try. Can’t legally open it in the shop.

    Also, odds are the next delivery of supposedly the same strain is going to be something else, especially if it comes from another grower. Thankfully the bags all have dates and lot numbers on them, so when I find really good stuff, I take a closeup pict of the label and then hunt around for more of the same batch. A half dozen local shops usually will have the same stuff.

    But that said, there is a lot of decent weed out there in the WA shops. Even good weed. But if you are trying to be discriminating and have the experience to be so, and you want the very, very best, it’s hard to sort it out without buying lots of different one gram packets and trying them.

    Which is not such a bad thing overall.

    • Patrick amador

      April 11, 2017 at 6:42 am

      When you buy weed from dispensaries your not getting 100 of the bud first it’s over trimmed then it’s rolled and shakes to release all its kief then all your left to buy is good smelling bud robbed of its potency

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