Saturday, October 22, 2022

Rabbit Creek - Skiing Peaks 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 & Yuyanq’ Ch’ex - 5.2.2015

Note: updated below the original post to include a spring evening and a day tour at the Anchorage Ski Club in April 2022.

By early May the already shallow low-elevation snowpack was melting out. Higher, there was still snow, but getting there was a challenge. The other issue was the convective showers that had been passing through each afternoon. Had the precip fallen as snow or rain? 

We decided to try the Front Range, planning to test snow conditions in the S Coulior before heading for bigger sheltered north facing lines. As we started to climb the S Couloir, snow conditions were not ideal: a thin rain crust underlain by as much as 9 inches of graupel. Maybe it would be better higher? Nope.

Reaching an spatially variable windslab high in the couloir, we called it, skied down, and reassessed.

A corn tour was settled on. So, we headed for Ptarmigan Pass and the southern gulleys of Peak 4. We walked...

and jumped...

... and eventually dropped into a long corn run towards Rabbit Creek. Alex:

Watching Ken ski is rad: he is technically strong, controlled, and smooth. I need more Ken in my life!

After Peak 4 we threw our skis on our backs and traversed to the top of Peak 3. I did my best to not get dropped by Ken and Alex as they ran up the bootpack.

Not much snow left down there, Ken dropping into Peak 3:

At the bottom the process repeated itself: skis on backs, hike to next peak. Along the way Alex and I made a rule against running in ski boots; Alex sure can walk fast. One last line on Flattop:

I'd love to do this as the full 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 tour; dropping from the summits of Ptarmigan, Peaks 4, 3, and 2, before finishing with Flattop.

April 2022 Evening Skiing Update:
Spring is a magical time in Anchorage: the days are long, corn snow consistently forms in the evenings, and we northern creatures are injected with frenetic energy as the bright light pours into our corneas. We can't get enough of our renewed evening freedom and after work run straight to the mountains to play - its the desk jockey dream.

On one such splendid spring evening, Levi and I left work (probably a little early) and headed up Canyon Road to the Anchorage Social Club that forms as long the sunsets bath the peaks of Rabbit Creek in gleaming golden light. Climbing the highway that is the Peak 3 skin track, we passed Eric, Emily, and friends sessioning a jump and lounging in the sun, then Sam caught us near the top, next we found the infamous Gnarly Noodler, Dave Bass, on the peak for a summit beer.

We looked west over our fair city by the sea as it glittered in the angular light, then turned our attention east towards the seemingly endless Chugach and Kenai mountains extending all the way to the Pacific Ocean. There are so many priceless experiences for all of us in these mountains, and we tumbled down memory lane we reminiscing about each special experience in this place we are so fortunate to call home. Tipping the last drop of the brew down our throats, we carved together into the heavy spring snow. With no avalanche hazard and members of the community spread across the mountainside, it almost felt like a ski area, except better.

In the gully at the bottom, we popped out of our skis to reapply our skins dripping with warm meltwater, then talk about what next. Probably knowing better than to chase after Dave, Levi decided to call it a day and surfed towards the "parking lot" ie. road crammed with too many questionably parked Subarus and Tacomas. I'd actually never skied Peak 2 (gosh there is just so much to do around here), and suggested a down-valley linkup starting with our lap on Peak 3 to then include 2 then to 1 then back up the road to the car. As usual Dave was game, and took off leaving me in the dust doing everything I could just to keep up.

By the top, my legs were shaking from chasing Dave the gazelle and my maxed out engine had injected that single beer straight into my veins. Peak 2 was awesome - slightly out of sight of the parking lot, it gets way less skier traffic, and the snow was smooth corn instead of the mogully Peak 3 resort.

Then, like déjà vu all over again, I raced to get my skins on my skis and scamper up the hill after the springbok and his dog. On top of Flattop, we'd left the ski club behind, replaced by the hikers of Anchorage who were also injected with spring fever. We watched some high schoolers butt slide the steep headwall of Flattop, then followed their body prints on our skis. 

Limboing under alders and sliding backseat across marginally slippery grass, we skied till we were nearly at the road. We waded thru the last bushes, then at the road I jogged after Dave and back up to our parked Subarus as Anchoragites bathed in the glow of spring drove past us on their way home to our dear ski town.

Updated again to summarize a great of spring skiing in April 2022:
Like every season, spring here has its own strengths and weaknesses. They can be the same: the days are long, warm, and sunny. These conditions can make for the smooth and stable snow of melt-freeze cycles, or they can make for unpleasant snow and unstable skiing. This sunny unknown was the case when Nyssa, Charlie and I skinned away from Canyon Road on a beautiful late April day this year.

First, we headed towards North Yuyanq' Ch'ex figuring that we'd make our gameplan for the day based on what we found there. This corner of the Anchorage Front Range gets hammered by winds arcing through Turnagain Arm; our ascent chute was scoured to the ground.

Nyssa and I had never skied the north couloir that drops from near the summit of the peak, Charlie is a fan, and thinking that it could be the start of a fun day linking up north-facing pinners throughout Chugach State Park we decided to give it a go. The snow looked like it might be nice, maybe not sun affected, or maybe we were just being optimistic?

The first turns were edgeable windboard, then dust on ice, then just pockmarked ice. The farther we descended the worse it got. We'd found the bad side of the long, warm, and sunny spring days. We called it quits and stopped. Yeah, sure, we could have made it down the line safely. But what was the point? More similarly nasty snow? 

Based on how the sun had battered the shaded snow, the decision was made to search the sunny side for the large, rounded snow crystals of corn snow. Precariously teetering on our toe points on the steep icy slope, we cautiously removed our skis, carefully strapped them to our backpacks, methodically attached our crampons, then started to climb. Soon we were back on top of the peak staring into its sun-drenched south face.

This time we had better luck finding the high-quality snow conditions that is such a treat. We watched Nyssa ski past PenguinBird Ridge, and peaks crowned with fluffs of clouds while the salt water of Turnagain Arm reflected the Kenai Mountains.

One lap down and we knew slushy spring skiing was the order of the day. Next up was South Yuyanq' Ch'ex. We skinned over supportable and efficient snow transitioning to spring as we shuffled up the basin between the twin peaks. As the route transitioned to rime from supercooled liquid water droplets smashing into the mountain, we transitioned to booting.

The view from the ridge stretching from Falls Creek to the summit was superb. Wisps of clouds added a magical feeling like a fantasy, while the gray waters of Turnagain Arm flowing to join the wider Cook Inlet spread away below us.

Maybe it's because at heart I'm a Colorado kid from a landlocked state but skiing over the ocean never gets old for me - and I hope it never will. We watched Nyssa drop first, navigating between crunchy rime and rock ribs on her way towards Rainbow Valley and the ants driving back and forth on the Seward Highway. Charlie:

It's hard to put into words what makes good corn turns so fun, and maybe that's part of why its special. Properly cooked corn is creamy, edgeable, supportable, consistent, and predictable in an easy way that maybe even perfect powder can't beat. Nyssa:

We skied until reaching the lower angle terrain and weakening snow of the alder line. Then, in the solar collector of the bowl, we stripped off extra layers and turned on the island tunes for the way back up. 

Cresting the divide between Rainbow and Rabbit Lakes we looked for a clean route through the steep rocks to the valley floor and the return to the car. What we found was a lot of questionable cliffs and suspicious-looking snow. I'm sure there was a way down, but from the top we just weren't confident in finding it. 

Instead, we decided to go for an adventure, rolled the dice on finding a ride back to Anchorage on the Seward Highway, and opted for another southerly Rainbow lap, this time to the sea. The sweet corn dessert was lovely - we could slice our edges so damn deep into it, leaving behind incised railroad tracks in the wet snow.

Reaching the alders, we began the exploit of finding a trail and then the road to salvation. We sidestepped up little gullies, waded through isothermal snow, and crawled down alder-choked moose "trails". Finally, we luged down snaking strips of dirty melting snow before 30 minutes of easy walking down the Rainbow Valley Road to the ocean.

At the bustling highway we chatted with Josh and Nikki who'd pulled over to say hi. They were on their way back from a hard day spent tossing spread eagles at Alyeska and it was nice to catch up with them. Soon Zack came to our rescue and returned us to our cars in Rabbit Creek. Thanks Zack, we owe you! 

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