Monday, February 8, 2021

Valley of Sin Skiing - April 2012

Note: Updated to include another indulgent double dip in the Valley of Sin.

After an exciting tour checking out Hatcher Pass on the previous day, our friends Danny and Emma joined us for another day at Hatcher. This time we decided to head to the valley to the southeast of where we had skied the day before. We followed an existing skin track up a face that must have already had at least 200 sets of tracks down it.

More rad views, never made it back to this zone, but it will happen someday!

Hatcher Pass is one of those zones where all of the terrain clearly visible from the parking lot gets hammered by skiers, while the bigger terrain barely gets touched. Nick drops into our first run (just out of sight of the parking lot, of course):

Which ended up being soft settled powder, the plethora of tracks essentially stopped just to the right of where we skied. I dropped last and skied this great rib to the valley floor. My tracks:

At the valley floor we headed for the bigger terrain farther up the valley:

As we continued farther back we saw more and more evidence of slides on almost every aspect.

Although these slides appeared to have happened immediately after the last storm, it was a sign not to push it in bigger terrain. Instead, we headed for a wide east facing ramp to avoid the terrain traps we had seen father back. Eventually the bootpack up the ridge to the ramp turned into rock climbing, which, although very entertaining, not everyone was stoked on. So, we dropped; Nick's turns started out tentatively, but soon he was charging:

Remembering the sustained pitch and soft snow of our first lap, we headed back to our ridgeline from earlier in the day. Crossing the valley we came across these strange tracks involving a bird, a furry animal, fur, and blood. Notice the furry animal tracks entering from top right and the awesome tracks of the bird's wings swooping in from the top left!

After reenacting how the transformation of life from mammal to aves probably occurred, a steep bootpack brought us to the ridgeline:

And before long we were back on top. Nick drops into more untracked:

Then I ran away from the snow dragon that was chasing me:

Somehow I managed to hit about 10 buried rocks on my way to the valley floor, which for fear of their well-being, I relayed back to the rest of the group. But, apparently I'm a rock magnet, no one else found a single one of these sharks. They did find some great snow though. Danny making the rest of us look bad:


To think, just around the corner, and we'd be sharing the snow with 200 of our closest friends.

After three long, soft, untracked laps we headed back to the parking lot. Nick looking even more sexy than usual (And I didn't think it was possible...):

With another great day in the books we headed down to spend the evening with Emma's awesome family in Anchorage.

The next day, with cloudy weather forecast for the coast, we decided to head back for more sinful skiing 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.

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 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.

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!

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 incredible bears!

After a nine year absence I returned to the Valley of Sin for another gluttonous powder harvest. The last month has been filled with death, injuries, and close calls in the mountains of the western US. Combine that with cold arctic air flowing in from the north, and Tony and I were just looking to enjoy the sun. 

From the Fishhook lot we followed the ridge skywards towards Hatch Peak. Once past tracks from the last few days we dropped south into the sunny face. It was everything we hoped for - soulful turns in consistent square pow. 

Going back up for another course was the obvious choice. This time we climbed higher to the summit of Hatch then dropping south down the untracked bowl. Skiing at Hatcher with Tony is a history in local lore. What's this run called? Its the Valley of of course its named after something sinful.

It was a sunny Saturday, and everybody was out and about nipping at our heels, so we fled farther into the valley for Halibut Tail. As we climbed the pass between 4068, Tony edified me on how the old school crew named it Women's Bowl cause Nancy P would lap it while the boys hunted rocks on the north face. From the summit we peered into the face and along Bald Mountain Ridge before dropping into glittery powder on Sunnyside.

We shivered in the shady hollow below Government Peak and remarked on the apt name of its "Frostbite" SNOTEL then raced for the sun of 4068. On the skintrack we caught Nancy and the Poacher who'd been dining on its sunny south face. Those guys know where the powder hides, so following their lead was an easy decision. 

It was so good we had to go back for a second course through the rolling meadows then dropping to the icy valley floor.

As the shadows inched up the peaks around us, we climbed 4068 one last time for a sinful serving of dessert down its north face towards the car. 

Sunday morning found us in the Independence Mine parking lot chasing nimis for breakfast. We said hi to Tony N then followed the sun up the Eldorado skintrack.

Photo Brandon Schmidt

At the top of Skyscraper we caught Jeff and Logan who were on dining on the same menu of overindulgence in sunny pow. They knew better than to ski the rocks of the summit, and we could only laugh as we anxiously scraped and lurched over the rocks and blueberry bushes of the thin snowpack until reaching the gut of the chute.

The run was not without near disaster as we watched Jordan send the rocky choke below as Jeff and Logan cheered loudly from the road. Having learned our lesson on skiing rocky terrain in a low tide zone on a low tide year, we followed Jeff and Logan towards Hatch Peak and the smoothish grassy slopes of the Valley of Sin.

Hungry for more ardenter, we pointed our skis for the huge easterly catcher's mitt into the sun. Terrain traps stacked on terrain traps, this is a line that is rarely in play. Without myriad tracks already on and around the face we wouldn't have touched it. Jordan:

The wide fin down the middle of the mitt was a dream of soft sunny snow. At the bottom we realized what a rare opportunity this was, and knew we had to head up for seconds. Coming out of the dark and dreary months of early winter, the February sunlight felt like an oven in the single digit temps.

Photo Brandon Schmidt

We chatted with Josh, Nikki and Bill at the peak, then chased the shadows down the double fall line pinky finger of the mitt.

Regrouping at the creek, everyone was stoked on getting not one, but too servings of a look, but don't touch zone.

Hatch Peak was getting busy, and feeling that we'd been greedy enough, we decided to follow Jeff and Logan towards the north face of Halibut Tail.
Photo Brandon Schmidt

Some of us must have been hungry as the uptrack chatter focused on kimchi, seaweed salad, and rice bowls. I guess its time to buy another 11 pound box of kimchi. From the top we looked down into the rocky den where the family of brown bears from 2012 are hopefully still be hibernating. 

The north face of Halibut's Tail wasn't as steep as it seemed in 2012, but it was just as deep as the last couple runs. In the cold heart of the face, I could feel the frigid powder searing against my legs as it flowed past.

Photo Brandon Schmidt

Staring down the barrel of another 8,000 foot day, it was time to set our sights in the general direction of the parking lot, and we climbed for the summit of 4068. But, again we were tempted by sin, and dropped into the sunny west face.

This time we'd finally had our fill, and chatting with several groups of friends, we climbed 4068 for one last long lap towards the cars.
Photo Brandon Schmidt

1 comment:

  1. I thought going North to Washington was pretty cool but it looks like there's more Northern exploring to do. Love the backcountry booters, and I'm glad you didn't get eaten.