Thursday, August 30, 2018

Falls Creek - 4.29.2018

Around 2 PM on Saturday the texts starting coming in from Jeff: je and Jeebs were storm skiing untracked pow in Falls Creek. I was sitting in gloomy, windy, and rainy Anchorage mourning getting shut down on the Alaska Range by storm after storm. The forecast was calling for more of the same Saturday night into Sunday, and I wasn't going to miss out on more stormy couloirs. The next day, hiking out of the rainy parking lot in our running shoes, it was hard to imagine winter was up there somewhere.

But, by the time Andrew, Alex, and I had climbed past a sleepy black bear, traded our running shoes for ski boots, and skinned into the alpine, winter was back in full force.

Making a right turn, throwing our skis on our packs, and starting the booter up the first coolie of the day, we began to realize just how good it was going to be. From the top I looked back down at Andrew as the falling snow swirled out of sight below.

Alex ski cut the slope before dropping first. After a foot of rapid loading overnight, we weren't sure how the new snow had bonded, but nothing moved.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Aniakchak Traverse - July 2018

Saturday morning started with the buzz of our little plane as we flew over the lakes, rivers, and volcanoes of the Alaska Peninsula. We were on the way to Port Heiden to traverse to Chignik Lagoon. I wondered about the odometer on the dashboard. 25,000 hours. How far is that? 250,000 miles? Or 10 times around the earth. Or, 2000 times as long as our traverse.

We stopped briefly in Ugashik to drop off two elders on the way. It was a quiet day at the post office there:

The old plane bounced back into the sky and over wandering caribou, ponds ornamented with pairs of swans, and ground broken by the ice polygons of permafrost. 45 minutes later, Port Heiden's gravel airstrip came into focus thru the coastal mist. Hopping out, Grant's Village Agent Billie was waiting for us. At the Post Office we said "hi" to Meg, Dan, and Gavin then crawled back into Billie's van for the taxi service to the end of the road. At the river we started hiking towards the caldera.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Honolulu Creek - 7.21.2018

After a prolonged negotiation with Leah, we agreed to an alpine-start at Fire Island at 8:55 on Saturday morning. By 9:30 we were on the road with cookies, scones, and coffee for fuel. We stopped by the Honolulu Creek bridge to check on water levels, chatted up a vanload of curious Indian tourists, hydrated on Bud Light Lime, and by 1:30 were hiking out of the Hurricane Gulch parking lot. After Aniakchak, it felt weird to be walking on a trail made by wheels instead of one made by the terrifyingly large brown bear paws of the Alaska Peninsula. The climb went by quickly and was broken up by a friendly family of rednecks on a six-wheeler followed by a long break under the cloudless skies. It was hard to feel hurried with nearly infinite daylight and perfect weather.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Raina - 5.5.2018

For weeks the weather has been stuck on repeat as the conveyor belt of southwest flow plows storm after storm into our mountains. Last weekend it finally looked like we'd get a break in the weather. The catch was finding a zone that hadn't been overloaded by the recent snowfall, wasn't still snowing, and had options protected from the wind. We decided that spot was Falling Water where we could skin higher and higher until reaching the balance between dust on crust and fat storm slab. On Saturday morning, entering the upper amphitheater, we'd struck the jackpot. 

Still cautious about wind loading up high, we started with the tightest and most protected couloir that disappeared out of sight above us:

At the top of the apron, we loaded our skis on our backs and booted into the protected walls. The spring powder was cold, deep, and consistent. Kate wondered what witchcraft we'd used to conjure up such magical snow. I prefer to think of it as Jedi mind tricks.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Peeking - 5.6.2018

Sunday morning found us in Andrew's dark living room sipping coffee and negotiating ski plans for the day. I wanted to return to the dry powder we'd found in Falling Water the day before; Alex wanted something bigger and badder in the Front Range, and Andrew wanted a "moderate" day. A couple hours and one false start at the Basher Trailhead later, and we were changing from running shoes to ski boots at the entrance to Falling Water. Hidden by a curtain of falling snow is Eagle Peak - what a classy line:

We'd seen Seth's truck at the trailhead and ran to catch them. They too were headed for the X Couloir, so we joined forces and zipped up the booter together. Behind Seth and Kate are the Raina couloirs that we had skied on the previous day.

None of us were entirely sure how wind loaded the entrance would be, but protected under the rock buttress it seemed to have escaped the wind. Kate and Ben dropped first between the incised walls, quickly disappearing around the dogleg.