Sunday, May 13, 2012

Hatcher Pass - 4.14.2012

Well...its certainly taken me a while to write this, life has been a bit of a whirlwind lately. So, here it is, our last great day of AK 2012:

With cloudy weather forecast for the coast, we decided to head back for another day at Hatcher Pass. This time our good friend and gracious host, Lauren, joined us for the day. With its plethora of steep terrain and good snow we headed back to the same valley as the day before.

The day started out with a rather terrifying and icy downhill skin, which, as Nick noted, is probably about what it feels like to ski for the first time.


But, we were soon through that and back on our skin track from the previous day. The boisterous willow ptarmigan:


Just like the entire last week, the weather was perfect: we climbed in our shirts while enjoying the incredible views south towards Anchorage and the Chugach. After an hour and a half we reached our first line and dropped towards the valley floor.

Lauren making strong turns:




I found a fun drop to end the run:

Photo: Lauren Panasewicz

After 1500 vertical feet of untracked pow we continued farther up the valley:


Eventually we came across these suspicious tracks, which we wisely followed for a mile.


Before coming across the owner:


and her cub:


For better or for worse, these grizzly bears had decided to camp out right at the bottom of this awesome zone that we had hoped to ski:


Needless to say, we gave the bears a wide berth and kept going in search of another zone. Nick took a quick break from skinning to toss a backflip:


...then we continued to the very end of the valley:


With another feature-filled zone in sight we headed up.


At the top, we were treated to incredible light to the south as the next storm moved in:


Without hesitating, Nick dropped first, hitting at least three drops before stopping at the bottom:


Lauren followed with graceful telemark turns down to Nick:




Standing at the top, I was last to drop. This is a moment I will remember for a long time. To the south, I could nearly see to Anchorage, the clouds were coming in and beautiful, long, angular streams of light were filtering to the valley floor.

With one last glance at the incredible beauty around me, I headed down to meet Lauren and Nick. Although not the gnarliest line I've skied, this run stands out to me because I only briefly saw it from below and because of the number of fun hits fit into one run.




I joined Nick and Lauren at the bottom as the light became milky and the shadows softer.


After a quick snack and a moment in the beautiful light we were skinning again:


Our last face of the day:


Since spotting this face our first day at Hatcher Pass I couldn't wait to ski it. Unfortunately, as we prepared to descend the light went from milky to...well...very flat. Highest on the ridge, I skied first. Needless to say, skiing a 45 degree spine with no contrast was a bit alarming.

A sample of said lighting:


Nick followed, unfazed by the flat light. At the bottom he happily informed me that jumping into his own moving slough provided the contrast he needed to see!



Lauren brought up the rear:


Yep, that was great!


After our third run the clouds had moved in and we knew our light was done for the day. With smiles on our faces we skirted the bears and skied down the valley towards the parking lot.

This is one of my favorite days of this winter: incredible light, incredible friends, incredible snow, incredible terrain and bears!