I picked Ethan up at the airport on Friday night at 10, by 7 the next morning we were headed for Eagle River. Getting the Eagle River giants is hard: snowpack information is limited, days are big, consequences are high, and you are dealing with a dryer, cooler and hence, less stable snowpack than many of our go-to areas.
But, we'd been working our way into the zones over the last month, and with the help of the Anchorage Avalanche Center, Alex and I were optimistic about deep stability. Plus, there was a nice refresh of snow from the previous week.
Snacktime on the glacier.
Nearing the head of the valley we left the lobes of intertwined rock and ice and started up the long south gully of Pleasant. Here's Alex forgetting that other people might like to do switchbacks instead of going straight up. However, straight is more efficient.
The ascent really felt like Alaska: way up on a steep face surrounded by big mountains. Fond memories tucked in back there, next time Ethan will have to check out those incised coolies!
Climbing higher, Eagle and Organ Peaks started to come into view. Ethan, Brady, and I would end up getting Eagle a couple days later. I'm still working on convincing Alex on Organ. Here Ethan is taking advantage of having enough energy to smile. Nothing a few big bluebird days can't fix!
The approach to Pleasant is long, when we topped out it was time for lunch. Sitting on the sun drenched face we dreamed of Eagle River ski descents before dropping into the shaded north face. It wasn't just soft, it was fluffy.
After a great upper pitch, we approached the rollover on the horizon. Skiing over it, the exposed toe of the derelict glacier came into view.
What a truly special spot - a glacier hidden within the walls of a giant couloir.
It would be hard to even dream up a place like this.
Moving down between the big walls, and aware of the exposed choke below, we slowed down. Well, sort of:
After a bit of exploring we found the exit into the apron below.
A handful of sidesteps and quick turns brought us down and thru the icey choke, and we were into the apron laughing about a great start to the day.
Next up was Raina. The climb seemed to go on forever. Higher up, at the transitioning from snow to loose scree, I really felt like it wasn't the mountain, but myself that I was conquering. Fortunately, the views got better with each step.
At the ridge the Alaska Range came into view. Alex is smiling because he thinks his appendix may have just ruptured, which apparently hurts less then right before it ruptures.
Raina has some of my favorite views. In every direction are huge glaciated peaks. Rumble and Bellicose are visible to the east. I wonder if I can convince Alex to ski Bellicose, after all it is right next to Rumble...
Polar Bear and Organ just out of reach across Eagle River. More peaks to add to the hit list.
Bold, Marcus Baker, and Benign to the north. Someday we'll get the Malignant Gully in powder.
Eventually, I satisfied Alex's photo documentation demands and was allowed to drop into the huge north chute of Raina. Zack had skied it days before with seemingly no new snow since, but his tracks had been magically erased and replaced with fluff.
Here's Alex looking good despite still having the sensation of an exploded internal organ.
Ethan looking small in a big world; Peeking is up and to the left.
At the bottom Alex assured us that despite still occasionally doubling over in pain he wanted to keep skiing. Who wouldn't want to in a place like this?
So, we went back up.
Booting steep snow and burning calories seemed to be just the medicine Alex needed. By the top he was back to his normal crusher self - hard to keep up with even when he's breaking trail.
And with the shadows getting longer, and 9,000 feet of vertical climbed, Ethan skied into one last couloir.