Sunday, February 8, 2015

Pinnacle Ski Tour - 2.1.2015

Tucked away at the top of Archangel, Fairangel Valley is one of my favorite places. With our non-stop window of high pressure, Alex and I wanted to visit the hidden gem.

The Lost Couloir behind us, a great low-vis line. 

Pulling into the Independence Mine parking lot last Sunday, we were greeted by strong winds flowing down the valley. Well, crap, there was high pressure parked squarely over the Gulf of Alaska, these weren't gaps winds. Hopefully just local katabatic winds from the night air draining from the mountains?

Still a bit thin in the Talkeetnas.
The winds persisted as we approached the last steep pitch into Fairangel, and crossing above a small convexity, cracks exploded from Alex's feet. We needed to figure out what was going on before moving on. I found a test slope that matched the aspect, elevation, and pitch of Fairangel. It slid as I skinned under it.

The winds we had felt in the parking lot weren't just a brief morning phenomena, they were outflow winds pouring across the Talkeetnas. We needed to change our gameplan, and picked the south face of the Pinnacle. 

We were able to stay out of significant loading and were soon on the ridge atop a beautiful north-facing couloir that dropped away from us into Archangel.

Knowing that the north facing terrain likely harbored deep instabilities that a wind slab could trigger, we continued our snowpack evaluation with a run back down the south face.

From there we headed to the "Far Side". More great views from the top; Marcus Baker in the distance - that one can't come soon enough.

Beginning to have a better feel for the snowpack, we dropped back towards our old skin track.

Then we set off for our earlier skin track up the Pinnacle. Looking back at the second run of the day with Benign, Bellicose, Bold, and Pioneer behind. One of these days that enormous west face of the Pinnacle will be in.

Still thin in the Talkeetnas; Alex running up the skin track with Gold Chord in the background.

At the top we discussed dropping North. We agreed that through a series of progressive ski cuts across the upper chute we could safely avoid any possible windslabs.

Through the upper section without any moving snow, Alex decided to add some excitement to the day. At first I was confused why he suddenly dove towards an unknown object. That unknown object was his rapidly escaping ski. Its Alex, so he caught it.

The rest of the run was absolutely sublime: settled powder guarded by huge rock walls.


Still going:

At the bottom we discussed our options. We could ski out Archangel and face the very unlikely odds of getting a ride back up Hatcher Pass at 5:30 on Super Bowl Sunday.

Or, we could skin back up towards the saddle that would obviously drop us back into the Independence Mine Valley.

Obviously, the saddle did not drop us into the right valley, however, we could see the saddle that would have:

So, we began the race against the approaching darkness.

At this point I had a serious case of saggy face syndrome, and really just wanted to be out of my ski boots.

After a period spent booting up dirt, under large boulders, across frozen grass, and through rotten snow we were on top and ready to drop south towards Gold Cord Lake and salvation. Redoubt and a suspiciously flat Illiamna; welcome to mesa country.

Standing on top with the last few minutes of "light", how could we regret the extra time we'd spent investigating the wolverine den back in Archangel?

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