Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Arctic to Indian Skiing - 2.5.2017

Updated below on 1.21.2023 to include an extended version of Arctic to Indian (A2I+), and then again on 3.9.2024 to include Indian to Glen Alps.

Almost everyone around town has done Arctic to Indian. Shoot, most people have done it multiple times, even multiple times each year. However, I unreasonably prioritize backcountry skiing above everything, so I miss out on a lot of other fun things. But, after starting out the weekend by skiing Byron and Wolverine, I was willing to try something else.

The descent down to Ship Creek was one of the most exhilarating things I've done in awhile. It also made me wonder why cross country skiers don't wear helmets. And hockey pads. And how anyone could consider cross country skiing safer than downhill skiing.

We reached Ship Creek and began to follow it upstream just as the sun was starting to touch Temptation Peak. It might be covered in beautiful couloirs and spires, but I still haven't been tempted to brave the bushwhacking and slogging to get there.

First light along the creek was absolutely magical: clouds of mist with each breath, huge crystals of hoar frost formed from the creek's unlimited supply of moisture, and the sun sparkling in the trees. Temps around -5 F were also very similar to those of the previous morning on the way up Byron.

Monday, June 10, 2024

Tikishla, Knoya, Kanchee, Nunaka Dome Skiing - 4.14.2022

Note: updated below the original post to include another great afternoon above Muldoon on 4.7.2024

There is a short window each spring in the Anchorage Front Range as the willow-choked valleys leading to the windswept faces of our peaks transition from bottomless facets and scary windslab, to fast and stable melt-freeze crust, before access is slowed by bare ground and emerging brush.

When the strong April sun began to metamorphose our ever changing snowpack into an efficient and stable crust, Bob and I were focused on taking advantage of it. We both had morning chores to attend to, and corn takes soften in Southcentral AK, so it was early afternoon by the time we were walking out of the Dome parking lot, sliding down the terrifying ice in the shady gorge, then crossing the footbridge into the North Fork of Campbell Creek. From here we hoped to link up Tikishla to Knoya to Kanchee, and if we were lucky, ski all the way back to the neighborhood.

The North Fork doesn't receive much precip to start with. Then you add in the strong downslope winds that pour over the Chugach and scour the valley floors. It doesn't take much sun to vaporize what snow is left. Fortunately dead grass and blueberry bushes are still sort of slippery. 

Reaching relatively continuous snow, or as much as that's a thing in the Front Range, we stopped for lunch. Bob ate delicious looking hummus wraps, while I probably ate something gross like old frozen pizzas - I need to hire Bob as a backcountry baking sensei. 

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.