Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Moonlight Basin - 1.27.2018

Saturday started with the chilling whompf of our extended column test failing and propagating 85 cm down on buried surface hoar. We were standing on a 40 degree slope on Crudbusters with 2,000 feet
of avalanche terrain above us. And, it was -10 degrees. The margin for error was too small for us to risk awakening this sleeping dragon. It was time to call an audible and head for the maritime snowpack of milepost 24.

Skinning out of the second parking lot of the day, the views weren't bad:

Photo: Rachel Heath

In our snowpit half-way up, we were happy to find two meters of dense, consolidated snow and stable test results. I love maritime snowpacks. Just below the pass between Little Odessey and the Goodwills, the snow became wind affected. So, we transitioned from uphill to downhill. I dropped first into the creamy snow:


Andrew brought up the rear, bringing along his seal of approval.
Photo: Rachel Heath

Rice Mountain - 1.28.2018

Driving through Thompson Pass on Sunday morning, new natural avalanches were everywhere. If all these slides weren't enough, the slide across our intended skintrack up the Worthington Glacier definitely nixed that plan.

Brainstorming in the parking lot outside the Tsaina Lodge, Ryan from the Valdez Avy Center pulled up. He recommended checking out the trees around Tiekel Creek. Beta from the local forecaster - what good luck! At the parking lot below Rice Mountain, Taylor was already there. So were Courtney and Tobey. Seemed like the place to be. We chased Taylor up the skin track as twin sundogs floated in front of Mt Tiekel.

Photo: Rachel Heath

Parhelions (AKA sundogs) flank the sun in a 22 degree halo. The angle is a function of the refraction of atmospheric ice crystals acting like prisms to bend sunlight in the atmosphere. Larger ice crystals wobble more as they fall, producing larger sundogs.

At treeline we stopped to dig a pit. Just like the previous day, the unsettling whompf of failure and propagation on deeply buried surface hoar had the hair on the back of our necks standing straight up. With ongoing wind loading in the alpine and complex and unfamiliar terrain, we decided to stick to the trees below.

Dropping into the well spaced forest of birch and spruce filled with soft snow, the trees seemed like a good choice. Andrew was stoked about it too. Or maybe he was just stoked about sundog science?

Photo: Rachel Heath

Ready for more dreamy tree skiing, we headed back up the skinner.

Photo: Rachel Heath

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Archangel Valley Linkup - 1.20.2018

On Monday, I followed Zack down a steep, rocky, and blind couloir on the Pinnacle that I was sure didn't go. When it did, I realized that all five north facing valleys of Archangel could be linked together into one tour by a series of couloirs.

It wasn't hard to convince Brady, Alex, and Neil to forgo good snow and sun at Turnagain to try it. By sunrise we were high above Dogsled Pass and wrapping towards the entrance to Fairangel Valley. Across the way, the Mint peaks were lit up in the morning light.


In the cold morning air, Brady dropped first:


Buttressed by big granite walls, the aesthetic couloirs of Fairangel Valley hold a special place in my heart. Maybe someday conditions will line up to ski the Fair Five in one day.

Photo: Brady Deal

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Tokositna Packraft - 9.30.2017

It was 12:30 AM on Saturday and the six of us were bouncing down the Petersville Road. Between wildly swerving around potholes, and cringing as the Subaru scraped over loose cobbles, I kept imaging a very large brown beach ball bouncing down the road in front of us. I was seeing things, why would there be such a thing bouncing just out sight? Just in case, we sped up, and there it was - a brown bear so fat it could barely keep its belly off the ground as it bumbled down the road.

What a way to start the weekend! We camped just past the old townsite, and after shaking the ice off our sleeping bags, were chasing Nathan and Charlie thru the frosty willows and up into the Peters Hills.


At the ridgeline Charlie and Nathan were waiting for us.


We followed the undulating ridge north. Ahead we could see a flock of ptarmigan that had made the mistake of turning white before the snow arrived. Peering into the cloudy peaks in front of Mount Foraker, I kept thinking about the wild trip to Little Switzerland that Amy invited me on years ago.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Bull River - 6.4.2017

After doing Moody Creek the day before, we headed south for the Bull River. Our Saturday hadn't really ended until well into Sunday, so we didn't get an early start. Then a series of confrontations with campground employees further delayed things.

By early afternoon we had parked at the bridge over the Middle Fork Chulitna and were hiking west on the trail.


Looking east, I was drooling over couloirs guarded by rocky spires in the headwaters of the Chulitna and Honolulu Creek.


I don't know how often these lines are actually safe to ski. In such a cold and relatively shallow snowpack, limited further by few observations, its hard to pull the trigger and gamble on that zone. Maybe someday.