Thursday, July 10, 2014

Crow Pass - 6.22.2014

Whit and Kelly are always coming up with great adventure ideas, but for whatever reason I keep getting thwarted on joining them. So, when they suggested a Crow Pass backpack, I couldn't wait to join. The weather wasn't perfect, so a weekend backpack ended up being a wonderful 35 km day hike.

Looking back down towards the Crow Pass trailhead, fun ski terrain back there.

A couple cool water falls just before the turn to the Jewel Glacier.
Photo: Kelly Bergkessel

Just past the turn off to the Jewel; one happy, soon to be very sore old pup.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Carpathian - 3.29.2014

Author's Note: This is a repost of an article I originally wrote for

Carpathian, the name is filled with intensity and intrigue, but where does it come from? Does it come from the Carpathian Mountains of Romania, perhaps the mythical super humans that inhabit them, or maybe an Indo-European root word for rock? No one seems to know. Regardless, the mysterious power of the name embodies the mountain. Storms pouring into Turnagain Arm from the Prince William Sound pound the Kenai Peninsula’s tallest mountain with precipitation – rain, snow, ice. The extreme weather and the seracs, avalanches, and glacier hazards that come with it mean that it often takes two, three, even four attempts to get up and down Carpathian.

Back in late March, Malcolm and I decided to check it out. Due to my usual early morning grogginess, the day started out as a bit of a circus. I forgot the appropriate allen key to adjust my crampons for my new boots, and my camera was definitely missing its SD card. But, after a refueling stop for power rings (donuts), we were on our way across Portage Lake. Due to its proximity to the coast, the lake is often a nightmare – a wind tunnel of ice fog and ground blizzards. We got lucky, finding calm wind and fast, firm snow.

Three miles later, our faces covered in a fresh layer of rime, we were across the lake and at the base of the Portage Glacier:

Following the advice of a friend, we continued past the toe of the glacier, then climbed one of the lateral moraines which brought us past the terminal ice fall. As we moved up the Portage more glaciers came spilling down towards us.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Kanuti Picture Project

Updated 6.24.2014 - As part of my job I conduct stream gauging at the Kanuti National Wildlife Preserve. At 1.64 million acres Kanuti is roughly the size of the state of Delaware; it provides crucial habitat for bird, mammal, and fish species. Kanuti has no designated trails, campsites, or public use cabins within its boundaries. Its huge and untouched; places like this are why we live here.

If there is enough light to work and enough water to measure, we come to Kanuti nearly every month. Like last summer's Prince William Sound Picture Project, I'll update this post occasionally with unique and memorable moments that stand out.

Thermokarst lakes are sealed by the permafrost underneath them. These worlds provide essential habitat for migrating and breeding birds, and overwintering habitat for fish. With climate change, permafrost is melting and these lakes become "tapped": draining via underground plumbing systems to nearby rivers.

Built in 1969, the 900 km long Hickle Highway was meant to provide a link between the North Slope and the outside world. Within 2 years it was abandoned; but 45 years later it remains a vivid scar on the landscape. Impassible in the summer, a snow road is packed over it in the winter to provide the only ground access to Bettles.

Fractals and branching patterns are everywhere in nature: snowflakes, coastlines, Romanesco brocolli, and river networks. When two first order streams come together, they form a second order stream, etc. Here sloughs along the Knik Arm come together to form higher order sloughs. Branching patterns between streams exemplify the physical parameters that govern a region.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Palmer Creek - 5.24.2014

Palmer Creek is one of those zones that is on everyone's hit list. Early season, mid-season sled access, summer skiing - it has it all. There are challenges though. Early season you're fighting alders. Mid-season the 20 mile sled approach shuts most people down. Late season the approach requires a bike; except for Alex  who runs faster than I bike. Then there's the fact that driving from Anchorage to Hope means your passing countless other epic zones.

But, after skiing a line lower in the valley the previous weekend I was excited to get back. We drove down to Hope the night before, planning to catch some tunes and hit the hay early. No one goes to bed early on a summer Friday night in Hope.

Despite an unplanned late evening we were soon on our bikes inhaling the heavy smoke from the Kenai fire.

An hour on the bikes, a short bushwhack, and one stream crossing later and we were on snow. Almost too easy. Perhaps not quite as warm as Neil was making it look, I was wearing a jacket at this point.

Some cute little old man turns lower down the valley:

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Fairangel Valley - 4.27.2014

By late April the high pressure that had been hanging over Southcentral for a month briefly broke down, but the warmth didn't. This left us with a predicament, how to get above the rain line? We needed something high and north facing, so we picked the highest Archangel of them all: Fairangel Valley. Perched at the top of Archangel Valley, it hides five perfect couliors: the Fair Five.

We planned to skin past the Pinnacle to Dogsled Pass, then drop into Fairangel. Looking back at the Lost Couloir:

Hard to say if that's a rain crust or just a sun crust, better keep going.

Closing in on Dogsled Pass, vaguely soft snow starting to appear.