Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Jack River Packraft - June 2016

For my birthday last year we mountain biked for two hours, then ran six miles barefoot on the beach, then went climbing, then did a class III float, and finished with a sunset hike. This year, after throwing around a few equally unreasonable ideas we settled on the Jack River over Caribou Pass as a logistically feasible combination of birthday fun.

Starting along the Parks Highway 3.6 miles south of Cantwell, we followed an ATV/bear/moose trail across the flats and were soon gaining elevation.

ATV trails are an interesting contradiction for non-motorized users: they leave eroded scars on the landscape, but without them, vegetated trail-less areas would be nearly impenetrable. Perhaps they are the true multi-use trail? Andalyn is probably debating this conundrum here:

At 3,000 feet we began to sidehill and wrapped SE into a valley towards the pass to the Middle Fork Chulitna drainage. As sidehilling goes it was quite pleasant.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

North Marcus Baker - May 2016

Marcus Baker is scary. Rising 13,000 feet straight out of the Prince William Sound, it turns benign southerly winds into storms, storms into blizzards, and blizzards into monsters. There are so many stories: 11 days in a snow cave, snow caves filling in too fast to dig out, time to dig mansions underground. So, when forecast run after forecast run showed a strong high pressure window forming, the destination seemed obvious.

Next up was putting together a last minute team with the requisite rope, glacier, skiing, and avalanche experience for a smash and grab mission. Mary and Sarah were available, and as usual, up for anything. After a frantic night of packing we pulled into Mike Meekin's Sheep Mountain air strip 8 AM on Friday. First, Mike would take me out with the gear, then the ladies would follow. Lifting off the gravel airstrip above budding trees it was hard to believe it could be winter anywhere. 5 minutes later, the cracked surface of the Matanuska Glacier was below us.

Melt ponds already forming on the glacier surface:

Mike briefly distracted me from the scenery because he had just returned from a packraft/SuperCub brown bear hunt that he had to show me pictures of. Looking up from his phone, the glacier started to curve away to the south.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Sheep Glacier - April 2016

Its 6:30 on Saturday morning and rain is pattering down on the roof above my bed. We're supposed to be flying into the High Talkeetnas this morning - its hard to believe it will happen with the rain. A call to Last Frontier Air Ventures reveals that its actually "blue" up north and go time.

In Palmer we scramble to jam our glorified car-camping gear into the helicopter and do a safety briefing. Andalyn notices that the finger the pilot repeatedly uses to point at the rotor doesn't have its tip. After a liability waver that looks more like a volunteer signup for a trail crew party we're off the ground and above the snowless Matanuska Valley. At Granite Creek Patrick turns north into the mountains. Popping over the first ridge, there's mountain...

...after snowy mountain.

A few minutes later, the Sheep Glacier comes into view: its big, smooth, and ringed by glaciated peaks and granite spires quintessential to the Talkeetna Mountains.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Eagle Peak - 3.14.2016

by Ethan Vimont. 

7 PM the night before.... I sit silently, staring blankly at a cup of water feeling very tired, and feeling proud for struggling up 17,000 feet in the last two days. I also find myself ready for a nice break the next day. I begin imagining sleeping in when Mike's very alert and not tired voice breaks in with something like: "Yowza! (this may not be an exact quote) it looks like our weather window is just about up. If we want to ski something big this week, tomorrow it is! You ready for Eagle Peak?! Boing, boing, pant, pant, vvvrrrrrrrrrrrr...." (Mike occasionally vibrates when he gets excited). Then he does a few standing backflips in his kitchen to demonstrate how excited he is for another huge day.

"Ummm... Okay." I figured asking any details in my exhausted state might talk me out of doing something silly and fun, so I decide to wait to ask those until I'd had some dinner.

After I had given my body some calories Mike informed me that Eagle Peak would involve a few mile approach, a thousand feet of bushwhacking, and a total climb of 7,000 feet. Good thing I waited to ask, but I had committed, and as any good politician will tell you once you make up your mind, you mustn't change it.

It did not disappoint, and 20 hours later we got this:
Mike and Brady just having a laugh at how much good suffering the climb had been.

Mike may be holding me up in this picture. Photo: Brady Deal

But, first we actually had to climb it. Mike had easily convinced Brady to come along. Early in the morning we headed up Eagle Valley, and began a pleasant walk along the trail which was literally a sheet of ice. We quickly reached the river, and found a handy ice bridge to skip across.

Photo: Brady Deal

Monday, April 4, 2016

Mount Pleasant - 3.12.2016

I picked Ethan up at the airport on Friday night at 10, by 7 the next morning we were headed for Eagle River. Getting the Eagle River giants is hard: snowpack information is limited, days are big, consequences are high, and you are dealing with a dryer, cooler and hence, less stable snowpack than many of our go-to areas.

But, we'd been working our way into the zones over the last month, and with the help of the Anchorage Avalanche Center, Alex and I were optimistic about deep stability. Plus, there was a nice refresh of snow from the previous week.

Snacktime on the glacier. 

Nearing the head of the valley we left the lobes of intertwined rock and ice and started up the long south gully of Pleasant. Here's Alex forgetting that other people might like to do switchbacks instead of going straight up. However, straight is more efficient.