Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Tanaina Peak Ski - 2.15.2020

Note: updated below the original post to include a great linkup with the impressive north face of Koktoya on 4.23.2023.

Filled with so many glorious powder days this year has been incredible, but its been a little low on the satisfaction of slogging. By the middle of February we were starting to feel the itch for the long days, tired legs, and adventure of objective skiing.

Per usual, little beta existed about conditions in the Front Range, but I suspected that the inset couloirs of the zone were filling with stable snow. The weekend started with the old faithful of Front Range coolies, and with a good day there, we knew it was time to head deeper.

Rolling into the Dome parking lot at 9:00 on Saturday morning, Nyssa's car was already covered in a dusting of new snow. It wasn't until Tikishla Pass that we caught them.

Peering over the edge of the pass, I immediately thought: "this is stupid, I'm going home". Everyone else felt about the same. Below us was the classic shallow continental setup of windslab over depth hoar. However, with some creative discussion we agreed to avoid the slab by ice skating down the wind-scoured scree next to the face. Perfect.

We slid down the loose rock into the fog below. As the slope angle slacked off we ventured onto the snow and were immediately greeted by a giant whompf. Yep, glad we avoided the steeper snow!

In the dense fog of the Snowhawk Valley it was tricky telling which way was up, let alone where to go. Needless to say I've gone in much straighter lines.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Lynx Peak Ski - 1.11.2020

Note: updated below the original post to include the north face of Lynx plus Three Bell Spire on 4.1.2023.

As we climbed out of the Webfoot couloir in the fading afternoon light a few weeks ago the Reed Lakes Valley was painted purple, pink, and gold by winter light. Looking at Montana Peak, I smiled back on the ridiculous day we had there a couple years ago, and drooled over the southwest face of Lynx Peak.

The image of Lynx was still burned in my retinas on the following Friday, so Zack, Nyssa, and Eric agreed to forgo easy powder skiing in favor of a long cold approach for variable wind-affect.

The Pinnacle was getting the first soft light of the morning as we turned away from Archangel and towards Reed Lakes. Its amazing to think that snow sticks to the other side of that vertical block. At least sort of.

Done with the approach to the approach, we wound up through the boulder fields of the valley as the arctic air carried by the north winds bit into our faces. Looking behind me, Nyssa looked more like an icicle than a human.

Behind Eric is Higher Spire which Alex, Alec, and I skied a few years ago - it links up nicely with several other nice lines behind the Snowbird.

Clearwater Creek Packraft - August 2023

As the place that I first learned to hunt big game in Alaska, the willowy valleys and small bald peaks of the Clearwaters are special to me.  The Clearwater Creek loop has remained lurking on my list for what seems like forever due to the drive-to-play ratio, proximity to other classics, water levels, crowds of hunters, and especially the ebb and flow of time.

With the Denali Highway deserted by a closed caribou hunt, a rainy weekend in August of 2023 seemed like the perfect time to finally check this little loop off the list. After the usual Friday night scramble to frantically pack and get out of town, we raced north on the Parks Highway through the pouring rain. By 1:00 AM, we were at the East Fork Chulitna bridge and ahead of the rain, so decided it was time to camp for the night.

The morning dawned dry with a hint of beautifully crisp fall air as we finished the drive. Stashing our packs at the Windy Creek gravel pit, we drove east down the gravel "highway" to the Clearwater Creek bridge. 

We parked the truck and started pedaling back down the blissfully abandoned road towards Windy. Normally this time of year here is a madhouse of hunters, ATVs, and trucks; it was a treat to slow down and appreciate this beautiful path across the doorsteps of the Eastern Alaska Range. 

Before long the dark clouds racing in from the south had caught us, and we finished the bike shuttle in Goretex and pouring rain. At the gravel pit we waded into the bushes to trade our bikes for hidden packs then started up the Windy Creek Road. Previously I've heard of people doing this loop via Valdez Creek, but that way is a bit longer, and we were tight on time. That being said, I'd love to explore Valdez Creek more in the future.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Koktoya Peak Ski - 4.23.2023

Last spring we stood on the summit of Temptation and looked south into the Anchorage Front Range. There were many familiar lines tucked into the nooks and crannies of our mountains, plus one I hadn't noticed before: a steep rock hallway chiseled into the north face of Koktoya.

The image of that obscure couloir has been glued to my gray matter ever since. On a Sunday in late April, Tony, Carolyn, the Pattersons, and I skinned out of the Dome parking lot to give it a go. As we wound uphill through the well-grazed willows of the north fork of Campbell Creek, there were bear tracks everywhere.

While Tony and I pontificated about the mysterious ways of the Weather Service, Carolyn was paying attention to her surroundings. She watched as a brown bear easily ran past us as we climbed into the U-shaped valley. I love that we can have such wild experiences in our backyard.

Reaching the far end of Long Lake, we paused to slop on sunscreen, snack, and ponder how we had now gone seven miles without doing any skiing. Then, we started winding up the bulbous rolls at the base of Koktoya.

The sunny south face was corning into edgeable and tacky snow which made for efficient skinning. It seemed too easy and I almost wished that my skins were glopping, slipping, or maybe even doing both. Almost.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Benevolent & Baneful Ski - 4.21.2023

Benevolent has been on my mind since we first attempted it on an impossibly cold day earlier this winter. On that February day we'd hoped to snag the peak before the spring sun arrived and started baking the southerly couloir and its solar-collector walls. We sure didn't have any sun effect to worry about, but we were scared off by arctic winds blowing plumes of snow into the confined terrain trap.

Each day, as time continued its endless tick forwards and the sun rose higher into the sky, Nyssa and I waited for a corn cycle that could bring safe conditions to our objective. We'd need perfect timing. More than a few warm days and the snow would be turned into a landfill of wet slide debris and rock fall. Less melt-freeze cycles and we'd be dealing with cold snow instabilities in a thin and unknown snowpack.

In late April we decided it was time to try again. Ripping the Skandic across the frozen lake, we passed Iris and Kevin as they skated towards the Eklutna Traverse. At the East Fork trailhead we parked the powder pony and skinned along the river waking from winter.

Reaching the falls, we debated the best way to enter Red Dot Creek. In February we'd groveled up the alders on climbers right of the falls. Although totally safe, it had been a pain in the ass. This time we decided to ascend to the left. Nyssa quickly found flagging that led to an alder-tube that made for "relatively efficient" progress.

As we crawled upward, the tube turned into a steep chute with a bit of water ice. Stemming up this bullshit mix of moss, ice, gravel, and frangewhacke, I realized how vertical it was when I looked between my legs to see Nyssa straight below me.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Goats Head Soup Ski - 3.11.2020

Note: updated below the original post to include a great day of bad snow and good fun on 5.7.2023.

Backcountry skiing is the game of patience. We spend years staring at lines and waiting for them to come in. There are so many factors: stability, weather, work schedules, partners, motivation, and thin snowpacks to name a few.

For the couloir above Goats Head Soup, its takes something we haven't had in awhile along Turnagain Arm - consistent snow to sea level. But, every time we round the bend at Windy Corner, we crane our necks, try not to swerve into oncoming traffic, and hope for a fleeting glimpse of snow snaking down the 4,000 foot line to the ocean.

In early March, when Andy and Connor figured out that it was in, Tony and I weren't going to miss our chance.

We left work early with bad cases of powder fever, parked at the Windy Corner lot, skinned the Turnagain Arm Trail to the gully, then popped out of the alder tube into the lower chute.

Andy and Lance were ahead of us, and we followed their tracks as they took the subtle left-hand turn into the upper couloir.

Booting upwards, the brown and orange rock walls grew around us.