Thursday, April 4, 2024

Mount Ben Stewart Ski - 3.24.2024

After a great tour around Sheep Creek on the Juneau mainland the day before, on Sunday we headed up the Eaglecrest road for a tour centered around Mount Ben Stewart. From the parking lot we skinned up the softening groomers of the ski area towards Cropley Lake. At the lake we looked up at the cooking corn in the Cropley Chute above us. 

With the chute looking deliciously soft and sunny, we couldn't resist a lap there, so skinned past it towards the pass to ascend from the back side.

As we gained elevation, Stephens Passage and Admiralty Island sprawled out below us. Maybe its because at heart I'll always be a Rocky Mountain kid, but I just can't get tired of feasting my eyes on these sparkling inside channels of salt water.

Soon, we were standing on the knob above the chute and peering over the edge in search of the entrance to the line. Tucked between a rock wall and a mix of edgeable moss, blueberry bushes, and tundra ready for summer, we found what we were looking for.

Friday, January 12, 2024

Paradise Pass Weekend - July 2023

On a gorgeous weekend in July of 2023, Nyssa, Erin, Tom, and I drove south from Anchorage towards Girdwood. The weekend would start like so many others have for so many people: at the Crow Pass Trailhead at the top of the Crow Creek Road. With a general plan centered on a loop around Synthesizer Peak, we shouldered our light weekend packs and started hiking towards Crow Pass.

The climb to the pass brought back many familiar memories of trail running, peak bagging, backpacking, and backcountry skiing in this little corner of our paradise. At the pass there was still a bit of the last winter’s snow as we left the Girdwood Valley behind and began to descend towards Raven Creek.

About a mile below the pass we left the heavily used trail behind and followed a social trail contouring into the Clear Glacier drainage. I have always liked the perspective that this trail has of the Raven Glacier.

The Clear Glacier creek was swollen by gray summer meltwater, and we carefully crossed it before continuing to sidehill under Peak 5465 towards Paradise Pass. Perched far above the Raven Creek valley, we stopped for lunch on a beautiful alpine bench draped in wildflowers. Above us, we looked up at the ant-sized specks of people working their way from Paradise Peak to Delgga Mountain. Then we continued to follow the drainage to Paradise Pass. The ascent to the pass was straightforward and we were soon looking towards Moraine Pass and the headwaters of Camp Creek draining away from us.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Tenderfoot Ski - 1.7.2024

The winter has been stormy so far. Actually, the last year has been stormy. No, that's not quite right either. The last year and a half has been stormy. Its been a practice in getting away from the usual haunts and getting creative.

Last weekend brought another storm, on top of another storm with sea level rain, on top of now buried surface hoar. We wanted somewhere with some contrast, a smaller load on the BSH, and a new adventure. With those factors in mind, we headed past Turnagain to Summit Lake. Japanese Trees was an option, but it seemed like that side of the pass might have seen more wind, and a little more vertical would be nice. 

We settled for Tenderfoot on the east side of Summit Lake. Pulling into the cramped excuse for a parking lot, we squeezed into the last spot between the six cars that were already there. Geared up and sliding out of the parking lot, we skinned past the old rope tow, and into the forest. Bodies wiggly from a week of  office time quickly brought us to the top of the ridge. We skied down the wind swept alpine ridge then dropped south towards Tenderfoot Creek.

The settled pow from the last storm cycle was creamy and smooth. Nyssa:

Skinning up for the second lap, we looked north towards Turnagain Arm and south towards Moose Pass where fingers of snow from the incoming storm were already creeping through the gaps in the Kenai Mountains. With the incised terrain trap of the creek, we were all hesitant to be the first ones to drop from higher on the ridge. As we approached the top, a group of boarders dropped in above us. We were stoked to clean up their leftovers.

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Ewe Peak & Concerto Peak Ski - 5.6.2023

For years I've heard whispers of the giant couloir on the north side of Concerto. Tucked into no-man's land in the east fork of Ship Creek, I'd generally thought it too far away to merit attention.

But, the skiing around Ship Creek was great this year, and after a sneaking a peek of Ewe from Koktoya last weekend I was finally hungry. Leaving the Harp parking lot early on a spring day, we cruised up a mostly supportable crust towards the giants of the South Fork of Eagle River.

The ptarmigan were loudly celebrating the arrival of spring as we slid past the dwarf willows of the U-shaped valley, across Eagle Lake, and into the deep gorge between Eagle and Cantata peaks. After a few hours and a few more blisters, we were gaining elevation and onto the Flute Glacier.

On the Flute we found cold snow which immediately adhered to our skins like a heavy layer cake.

With scraping, cursing, and time, our skins adjusted from spring back to winter and we transitioned from hip-flexor wrecking glopping back to smooth sliding. A storm was hanging over the head of the Flute, enshrining the glacier in snow and wind, and making the mountains seem bigger and otherworldly.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Prince of Wales Deer Hunt - November 2022

Southeast Alaska is a special place. For me, the magic of this northern rainforest is because it seems to be another world, or perhaps another universe, from the high desert of the Rocky Mountains where I grew up.

I love deer hunting in Southeast, and for years have dreamed of trip to Prince of Wales Island to chase the ghosts of the rainforest that are Sitka Blacktail Deer. Last November, Mike, Ethan, Ian and I were lucky enough to go.

Ethan and Ian flew north from California, Mike from Nevada, while I flew south from Anchorage to rendezvous in Ketchikan. We planned to take the airport ferry into town, find our rental vehicle, shop for supplies, then ferry to Prince of Wales.

First off was the task of locating our Turo 4Runner in the Ketchikan airport parking lot. Mike arrived in ahead of us and knew we had a black 4Runner reserved, so tried the doors on the first one he found. It was unlocked and the keys were stashed above the visor. It was a rusty beater with floors covered in trash, but apparently this was the best I could find. Upon turning the key in the ignition he discovered the battery was dead. A look at the license plate revealed this wasn't our rental. Just like most cars in small town AK - unlocked and with the keys in them. Imagine where he would be if it had started.

Now in possession of the correct vehicle, and hungry and excited, we were ready for a supply run. We bought way too many tortillas, eggs, and sausages, barely crammed our gear and ourselves into the truck, then headed for the ferry.

With the SUV parked below the deck, we climbed upstairs and kicked back for the cruise to POW. Ferries are a different style than the cramped, loud, and uncomfortable utilitarian boats that we usually use; I always enjoy their comfort, space, and perspective high above the water.

Monday, October 16, 2023

Indian Pass Skiing - January 2023

Between a wasteland of sastrugi at Hatcher and a layer cake of persistent weak layers at Turnagain, midwinter 2023 required creativity to make the most of our backcountry skiing mecca. Our attention turned to the mountains of Indian Pass, and we slowly worked our way into the zone.

First, we spent days digging pits, testing the snowpack, and bingeing on Falls Creek. The heavy early season snow had bent the alders into a tube to crawl through as the long winter night eroded into first light.

Leaving the caves of shrubs behind, we climbed into the Falls Creek basin. The storm cycle had brought down new avalanches everywhere along the approach. Some had filled the creek with 20 feet of debris and others left pulverized piles of shattered alder Lincoln Logs.

We'd hoped that the big chute dropping west from the summit of Falls Peak would be in play, but it was one of the few things that hadn't flushed. Without big rock walls steadily spindrifting to clean out any lurking instabilities, there was no way we'd be climbing into the mouth of that monster.

Instead we headed towards where most days here start: the north chute of Falls Peak. Wading upwards through the deep snow, we watched the rising sun bathe South Yuyanq’ Ch’ex in pink then gold morning light.

Dmitry was feeling motivated and raced ahead to break trail until we popped into the refreshing sunlight of the ridgeline. Towards Turnagain Arm, the south chute dropped away below us. It looked delicious, fat, and tempting, but didn't seem to fit with plans for the rest of the day.