Friday, April 8, 2022

Silvertip Skiing - 12.13.2015

Note: updated below the original post to include a version of the Silvertip Traverse in March 2022.
After a great window of high pressure, last week brought two and a half feet of new snow to the top of Turnagain Pass.

Waking up in the morning dusk, we followed the old mining road up the creek. 

But, the high pressure had a downside, it left a weak surface for the new storm snow to bond to. As it slowly got lighter, we were treated to a view of Twin Peaks:

By the time we reached the upper basin, there was a foot of new snow sitting on a settled base. 

Wanting to take advantage of the new snow, but to avoid the danger associated with a thick slab we headed to the southern end of Turnagain Pass.
Avoiding potential avy danger, we followed the north ridge towards the summit. On the skyline is TT43, one of my favorites.

As storms flow through Portage and turn south towards Turnagain Pass, they drop the majority of their moisture as they rise over the pass. Slightly shadowed by the pass proper, Silvertip would be a good mix between soft and stable.

Following the ridge brought the bite of the cold easterly winds that were ushering in the next storm. Photo: Khalial Withen.

Just short of the summit, the winds became significantly stronger. It really felt like December in Alaska. So, we dropped into the endless east face. Zack went first:

Khalial skiing by braille:

Looking south towards Juneau Creek, funny to think that the Summit Lake zone is just a stone's throw away.

Photo: Khalial Withen

Working our way down, the minimal winter light continued to be...minimal, and the snow just got better.

Out of the punishing winds of the ridge and off the face we stopped for lunch in the huge basin. Between bites of pizza and smoked salmon, Zack and I vehemently defended the benefits to moral fiber of alpine starts.

With the forecast blizzard beginning to move in, it was time for the crew to point our the skis towards home.

3.20.2022 Update:
Just like the original post above, this time we headed towards the interior of the Kenai Peninsula with the goal of trying to take advantage of the thinner snowpack there. Turnagain has been hamstrung by one buried surface hoar layer after another, and by working the Summit zone we hoped to find a slab that was thin enough to manage.

We left a shuttle car at Silvertip Creek, then skinned out of the Manitoba lot with the goal of skiing the north sides of Manitoba, Silvertip, and Twin Peaks for the Toba-Tip-Twin Traverse.  

As we all know, the beginning of 2022 has been extra stormy in the Girdwood and Kenai zones; it felt great to have the spring sun flood into our retinas and highlight the beauty of the mountains. Matt and the upper reaches of Juneau Creek - I've had some good berry bear hunting misadventures back there:

Per usual, the south side of Manitoba already had lots of tracks on it, but peering into the steeper north face we found only untouched snow. Dropping north off the peak is a far cry from the sunny side: replacing hippy pow with a complex of chutes and avalanche terrain. Here's the other Mat surfing the main chute on a day we did this linkup years ago.

As opposed to the adjacent chutes, we decided to give the bowl a go. Matt:

The bowl was lovely dry and faceted pow and we ripped top to bottom from the warm sun into the cold shade of the valley's temperature inversion. Erin:

Doing this traverse years ago we made the mistake of following the ridge from Manitoba to Silvertip. Below is a picture from that day with an alarmingly large missing chunk of cornice and some missing boot tracks too. As most people know that close call is seared in my mind; I don't see a reason to go on that ridge again.

To avoid that ridge of death we planned to instead boot up the Block Creek headwall. Fortunately the headwall had recently run big, so we employed our go to trick of ascending via the bed surface.

Matt took the lead and soon had us up the apron and into the steeper terrain of the face where Erin took over trail breaking duties. 

We all had a hard enough time just keeping up with Erin's booter and in no time were nearing the top where there was the hang fire of a wind pillow that we'd need to work horizontally around. Everyone's seen how you can safely bootpack straight up a slope, then it slides on the first couple turns as you create a long crack across the face. Knowing we were creating a crack that could potentially propagate, we went one by one across the slope until we were on the ridge.

The mountains spilled out around us as we skinned over the crackly rime of Silvertip's summit ridge.

Below us we looked down on our tracks from the first lap of the day; in the shade next to our tracks are the shady chutes I've skied before.

30 minutes later we were on the summit. I'd never been on the tippy top of Silvertip before and was impressed with the summit. Its a little perch of a nest that hangs over a rime cliff dropping straight into the north face. Standing on top and peering off felt exposed. We ate a snack and took an inventory of the mountains around us as we transitioned for our descent into the north face. To the south we looked at the complex north face of Spirit Walker, I'd like to link up one of those north chutes with its classic west face.

Turning left and to the east we looked deep into the Isthmus Icefield with its namesake peak highlighting the skyline. Isthmus Peak is one of my all-time favorite Southcentral AK weekends.

Under Isthmus we drooled over West Groundhog:

And, next to it, East Groundhog and its Captain's Chair face:

Looking north we drooled over Goldpan and the endless peaks of the Chugach. Kickstep's epic southwest face is tucked over on the right too.

It is possible to ski straight off the summit into the north face, but its an exposed line and there was obviously a large windslab sitting on buried surface hoar - that line would have to wait for another day. Instead we dropped down the ridge for a bit to one of the chutes wrapping into the face. There was another group working their way up the ridge - of course we knew them - it was Brandon and some of his friends who we don't see enough of.

Even in the more sheltered chute there was still a fat slab confirming our decision not to drop straight from the summit...especially given that the summit line looked a little thin:

In the old glacial basin between Silvertip and Twin Peaks we slapped on our skins for the climb to the last summit in our intended trio traverse. Unfortunately as we approached the summit ridge we felt the snow collapse repeatedly under us. Stopping to dig a pit we found propagating BSH 15 inches down. That's a thick slab anywhere and we were about to be working a 3,000 vertical foot face into a huge terrain trap. Bailing from there and heading towards the road was the only decision.

I'd never skied the rolly polly terrain of old moraines that drop from the north basin to the creek, and was pretty impressed with how fun they were - like this cool alder spinelet that Nyssa is shredding:

Regardless of not making it quite to the top of Twin Peaks this time it was still a helluva long run to finish the day. We lounged happily in the sun on the side of the road, talked about spring plans, and tried not to get hit by too much road grime while waiting for Nyssa and Matt to run the shuttle.

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