by Ethan Vimont.
7 PM the night before.... I sit silently, staring blankly at a cup of water feeling very tired, and feeling proud for struggling up 17,000 feet in the last two days. I also find myself ready for a nice break the next day. I begin imagining sleeping in when Mike's very alert and not tired voice breaks in with something like: "Yowza! (this may not be an exact quote) it looks like our weather window is just about up. If we want to ski something big this week, tomorrow it is! You ready for Eagle Peak?! Boing, boing, pant, pant, vvvrrrrrrrrrrrr...." (Mike occasionally vibrates when he gets excited). Then he does a few standing backflips in his kitchen to demonstrate how excited he is for another huge day.
"Ummm... Okay." I figured asking any details in my exhausted state might talk me out of doing something silly and fun, so I decide to wait to ask those until I'd had some dinner.
After I had given my body some calories Mike informed me that Eagle Peak would involve a few mile approach, a thousand feet of bushwhacking, and a total climb of 7,000 feet. Good thing I waited to ask, but I had committed, and as any good politician will tell you once you make up your mind, you mustn't change it.
It did not disappoint, and 20 hours later we got this:
Mike and Brady just having a laugh at how much good suffering the climb had been.
Mike may be holding me up in this picture. Photo: Brady Deal
But, first we actually had to climb it. Mike had easily convinced Brady to come along. Early in the morning we headed up Eagle Valley, and began a pleasant walk along the trail which was literally a sheet of ice. We quickly reached the river, and found a handy ice bridge to skip across.
Photo: Brady Deal
After wandering up Eagle River for a while we found a pleasant and (mostly) frozen stream to walk up towards the valley to Eagle. Brady decided to build some character by breaking through the ice at one point, and soon enough we were approaching a frozen waterfall. We briefly debated free climbing the waterfall with one ice axe each, but decided to take the more manly approach of entering the bush.
There is nothing better than alders and devil's club for brunch...except alders and devil's club with skis sticking several feet over your head! Mike and Brady basically used the Force to navigate the foliage, but I am no Jedi so found the bushwhacking quite difficult. Well, as luck would have it we came across a random trail that some good soul had cut. I was attempting to balance across a fallen log when I heard the news about the trail. I was so sad that the bushwhack might be a bit easier that I decided my best bet was to fall off the log...which I did magnificently.
A few hours of slightly more mild bushwhacking later and we reached the snow! Then it was time for a couple hundred feet of post holing/talus skipping before beginning the skin.
Putting on skins gave us some time to laugh about the good ol' days of bushwhacking from the river...it seemed as if that had only been 10 minutes ago.
As we approached the north face I really got a good taste for what we were up for. Mike and Brady rallying towards it:
I struggle along a nice side hill on the skin track.
Brady expertly surveys the climb ahead.
After getting properly cold at lunch we were ready to heat back up again. Mike and I strapped on ascent plates and verts while Brady snickered at our weakness. The key part of bootpacking is "boot" after all. The lack of a wider footprint did not slow Brady down at all. After a little while and a lot of sweat we were halfway up!
Looking all the way across the inlet at the Tordillos; Hanging Valley is hidden over on the right.
Then we were out of the couloir and onto the hanging snowfield. The initial climb out of the couloir felt very exposed, and was accompanied by good wallowing in unconsolidated fluff on top of steep rocks.
Onto the hanging snowfield. Photo: Brady Deal
A bit later, Mike thought it would be a good idea to dig a snow pit, which he did. The column did not fail no matter how hard Mike whacked it with his shovel. So, the good news was the 60 degree hanging snowfield we were to ski down probably had a stable snow pack.
Surveying the nice visuals from the the snowpit.
By around 4 PM we were at the top!!! Time to take a look around at our incredible surroundings!
The Flute Massif with Turnagain Arm and Kenai Mountains behind.
Looking into the heart of the Chugach.
Very soon it was time to ski down. I was quite anxious before I started down, but once I did I realized that I in fact know how to ski... and I only had to focus on taking it easy.
Just a quick look down the bootpack over the edge of the bowling ball.
Brady dropped first off the summit.
The last bit before the couloir was exciting. At this point the snowfield is split by a knife-thin ridge. On the skiers' right is one steep couloir that ends in 1,000 foot cliff. Skiers' left is the couloir that we want to ski down. The fall line is definitely off the cliff.
Photo: Brady Deal
The last 10 feet involved side stepping down unconsolidated snow which meant side stepping down rocks. Then onto the ridge, and then to watch Brady come on down.
I start down the steep part. Making two turns and then waiting for my slough to rally past. Then repeat.
After two and a half big days, my legs were feeling it. And only 4,000 feet left to ski!
The top of the couloir was steep and narrow. A good time for some well executed jump turns.
Me looking small.
Are Brady's legs actually tired? You can't tell.
Mike's leg looking strong.
Brady disappearing in a cloud of fluff.
Mike loving life. Photo: Brady Deal
Is that a smile or a grimace in pain? Probably the latter.
What a line! The skier is soooo tiny!
Eagle Peak looking just as imposing and huge in the evening light as it did in the morning light.
Then it was reverse bushwhack which was supposed to be easier in ski boots... And I think it was, but I was definitely hobbling by the time we reached the river an hour later. I was very happy to remove those critters.
Photo: Brady Deal
13 hours after we started, we were back at the car after a nice walk down the river breathing the crisp, cool air; enjoying the company, the setting sun, and the beauty of being alive.
Eagle and Polar Bear at Sunset.
Full disclosure: Even Mike Records said that he was intimidated by how big the day was going to be when we started... I have no proof, but it happened.