Saturday, December 31, 2016

Japanuary 2016

Backcountry skiing requires three simple things: snow, weather, and terrain. If you just want snow you could go to Buffalo NY, Moab is usually sunny, and the coast of Hawaii has steep, interesting terrain. The moment the three elements are combined it becomes a complex problem of local weather, repeat avalanche offenders, and snowfall history. Its hard enough somewhere you know like the back of your hand, let alone on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. 

After an incredible time in Hakuba in January 2015, Alex and I couldn't wait to go back. Erik Mehus, Ken Hill, and Josh Wulff were itching to join. There was just one problem: it was raining in Hakuba. So, one week before flying west, we changed our whole trip. 

There were no van rentals left in Hokkaido, so we'd have to drive north from Tokyo - at night, jetlagged, on the wrong side of the road, and with no knowledge of Japanese. Driving away from the airport was terrifying.

Going north there was less and less road and more and more snow.

By dawn we were almost to Hakoda.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Crow Pass to Glen Alps - July 2016

As the crow flies, the Glen Alps and Crow Pass trailheads are less than 20 miles apart. By car, that distance is more than doubled. So why not hike between them?

After setting up a shuttle at Glen Alps we headed for Girdwood and started hiking. Shortly after Crow Pass we left the trail and sidehilled towards the Clear Glacier drainage and Steamroller Pass.

Peter, Evan, and Becca with the Raven and Jewel Glaciers.

Once above the valley, we followed a game trail up the scree to the top Steamroller Pass.


Below us lay a paradise of peacefully grazing sheep and the Archangel Lakes. To avoid any harrowing downclimbs we descended along the right valley wall.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

East Fork Susitna Packraft - September 2016

After a fun caribou hunt in the Clearwater Mountains, Andalyn and Khalial convinced me to return for an adventure the following weekend. As Valdez Creek opened up around us I was glad we were there:


After leaving the Highlander at a deep, long, and intimidating stream crossing we followed the road as it turned into an ATV trail, then into a creek that ATVs sometimes drove up. 5 miles after leaving the car we left the wide valley and hiked up towards the pass to our right.


As soon as we were out of sight of the road, caribou started to appear around us. I still have not come to terms with the fact that caribou seem to prefer to stand broadside to humans. These particular animals probably knew that our ultralight backpacks couldn't fit a quartered caribou.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Aialik Bay - May 2016

What to do for Memorial Day weekend? Zack suggested Marcus Baker - after playing that game of Russian Roulette a few weeks ago, I was not ready to risk getting stuck in a snowcave for a week. We considered skate skiing across the Harding Icefield. Wasting good weather on flat snow seemed a bit of a sin.

We settled on a kayak around Aialik Bay. First, Andalyn and I needed to reserve rental kayaks for the weekend. This would involve convincing the staff at Miller's Landing that we actually had a chance of doing a wet exit and rentry. Fortunately, the person I talked to was a new hire and knew even less about kayaking than me. They seemed to think that field hydrology in small arctic streams would carry over to flailing around in freezing water next to a calving glacier. Maybe it does?

By 6 AM on Saturday, the new employee had done a thorough enough job bungling our reservation, that the last thing the water taxi was worried about was whether or not we could safely operate a kayak. So, there we were, on a deserted beach on a beautiful morning in Aialik Bay.

We paddled across the bay towards a white sand beach. The glassy morning water bent and stretched with big rollers from the Gulf of Alaska. The only disturbance to the surface came from whales spouting in the distance.

Reaching the white sands we hopped out, took a nap, then Andalyn and I went for a walk. Meanwhile, a black bear strolled past Zack and Khalial as they slept in the warm sun. What a great start to an adventure!


Refreshed we jumped back in the boats and continued up the bay. At Holgate Arm we turned left and paddled towards the glaciers.

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.