Thursday, July 16, 2020

Penguin Ridge Hike - 9.7.2014

Note: Penguin Ridge is a trip down memory lane. In July 2020 I updated this post to include posts about peaks that I'd been dreaming of in 2014 and are now memories that I will cherish forever.

When Roman Dial describes it as "the best day-hike in the Chugach", you know you should do it. You should also know that Dial's idea of world class "day-hiking" involves burning calves, bushwhacking, and treacherous down climbs. Now I know that.

Penguin Ridge is another one of those adventures that I've been hearing about since the day I got here. Because the hike is all about the views, you want a day with perfect weather. Last week we got that day, so Whint, Kelly, Rachel, Alex, and I set out on the much anticipated hike.

I've really been looking forward to this hike along the skyline of Turnagain Arm. With unobstructed views in all directions, I figured it be both a trip down memory lane, and a chance to plot more memory makers. It was all that, and memorable too.

Shortly after a car drop/bathroom break/blueberry fritter pit stop in Girdwood, we were on the trail from Bird towards Penguin Peak. The fall colors have really started to pop in the last week, here they are just beginning to show across the valley on Bird Ridge.

The first bit of the trail is a rough wake up call. Its steep, slippery, overgrown, and beary. No, not berry. Alex and I both hate mornings, that's probably why we get along, heads down and no talking for the first hour:

The minute we we reached the the ridge and the sun poured onto us, we knew the day was going to be fantastic. Alex with Falls Creek in the background. Note - coupled with the north face of Penguin, the southwest bowl makes for a great combo day of spring pow and corn skiing.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Wolverine - 4.10.2020

It was April and we were all chomping at the bit. But, I was tired from my solo Bench Peak slog the previous day, and was looking for more vertical and less horizontal. So, Connor, Jordan, and I settled on a circumnavigation of a Turnagain classic - Wolverine.

We parked at the Eddies lot and followed the familiar trail into the woods before leaving the Iditarod Trail and contouring into Wolverine Creek. 

Leaving the hemlock forest behind, we startled two moose who, cautious of hungry bears, high-tailed it up the north face of Eddies. Oddly, the moose were still postholing towards the heavens as we skinned out of sight. 

Under Wolverine's iconic northwest-facing catcher's mitt we turned left and started climbing. I'd found good snow in the mid elevations of Bench the previous day, and hoped for the same, but no luck. By the the upper face we were front-pointing on a nearly unskiable mix of rime, ice, icy windboard, and debris.

Photo: Connor Johnson

Monday, June 1, 2020

Bear Crack - 3.9.2020

The first time we tried the Bear Crack we were racing increasing winds. As we closed in on the top, the winds ramped up, and a natural washed over us. Seconds later a bigger one took Nyssa's ski pole for a 500 ft ride. It wasn't the day to be in an incised terrain trap, and we bailed.

On a calmer day a week later, Jordan and I went back for redemption.

As we left the little parking lot next to the lake, large fluffy flakes were drifting down around us, and skinning into the birch forest felt like going through the wardrobe to Narnia.

At the campground we turned left and waded thru devils club and alders towards the base of the line. Below treeline couloirs are rare in these parts, and seeing full grown cottonwoods inside the lower line was confusing. 30 minutes from the parking lot, we were out of the shrubs, prickly things, and trees.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Goats Head Soup - 3.11.2020

Backcountry skiing is the game of patience. We spend years staring at lines and waiting for them to come in. There are so many factors: stability, weather, work schedules, partners, motivation, and thin snowpacks to name a few.

For the couloir above Goats Head Soup, its takes something we haven't had in awhile along Turnagain Arm - consistent snow to sea level. But, every time we round the bend at Windy Corner, we crane our necks, try not to swerve into oncoming traffic, and hope for a fleeting glimpse of snow snaking down the 4,000 foot line to the ocean.

In early March, when Andy and Connor figured out that it was in, Tony and I weren't going to miss our chance.

We left work early with bad cases of powder fever, parked at the Windy Corner lot, skinned the Turnagain Arm Trail to the gully, then popped out of the alder tube into the lower chute.

Andy and Lance were ahead of us, and we followed their tracks as they took the subtle left-hand turn into the upper couloir.

Booting upwards, the brown and orange rock walls grew around us. 

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Alpenglow - 3.15.2020

We knew Sunday would be a memorable adventure when it started with a pair of skins forgotten at the Powder Hut. Tulio is a hero, and after a brief donut delay at Tesoro were back on the road. 

After a missed couple drive-bys on the Hope Road, we pulled off at the the Third Canyon takeout and parked on what was available of the shoulder. There had been discussion about waders, rubber boots, or packrafts, but no one actually wanted to carry any of that and we packed optimism instead. 

A few minutes of downhill skinning brought us to the fortunately frozen river, and the beginning of the uphill. I had expected and even hoped for a bit of bushwhacking, so was disappointed to find little underbrush and devils club in the woods. Dang, too easy.

Following the tracks of a wayward snowshoer thru the crusty snow in the woods, progress was fast and we soon emerged out of the old growth and onto Alpenglow's long west shoulder.

Photo: Dmitry Surnin