Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Isthmus Icefield Traverse - April 2017

In early April we decided to ski from Moose Pass to Whittier. I don't remember the impetus - was it the raincrust that we hoped would make for fast travel? Or were we worried Grant Lake would melt out soon? Maybe it was that Andalyn had been talking about wanting to do some big days.

After dropping a car in Whittier, we drove south to Moose Pass, parked, and walked across the railroad tracks towards Grant Lake. The old mining road brought us to the lake overlook:


The bobsled descent back to the lake confirmed my belief that cross country skiing is the most dangerous kind of skiing. The lake was icy and fast, so we made efficient time skating, pushing, and coasting across it.


Behind us Bear, Resurrection, and Mount Ascension rose above Seward.


At the lake inlet we ate lunch then tried to continue up the stream. Tiptoeing back and forth across snow bridges and submerged rocks it quickly became clear that following the stream was becoming inefficient.


Leaving the stream, we skinned along a bench north of the creek. Even if the creek is frozen, this is probably the better option as I think there is a large waterfall.


There was some back and forth to find a good way through the contours and trees of the bench. It could have been worse - in the summer this section turns people into walking blobs of welts, cuts, and bites.


After a couple miles of sinuous bushwhacking the valley opened up and we dropped back down. One last look back at Moose Pass:


After a few beautiful miles the valley tightened up into another gorge.


Once above the gorge, the upper valley sprawled out around us.


We followed the wandering tracks of a solitary wolverine the last mile to the pass to Snow River Glacier.


Jeff talks about how the rolling bedreck terrain here is one of his favorites in the summer. Its nice in the winter too, though I'd love to come back for a swim when the tarns melt out.


We wanted to keep going for awhile, but that would have meant camping in the biting katabatic winds of the glacier, so we found a flat shelf and set up shop for the night.


Last light from camp. I like the buried avalanche crown whose signature is visible beneath the new snow.


In the morning, with about 30 miles to go Alex and Nathan had us up and kicking towards Trail Glacier. I took a lot of pictures of their hineys as we chased them north that weekend.


At the pass we snuck thru a cool wind scoop. Wind scoops are an interesting signature of glacier ablation: as winds scour the snow away they prevent ice buildup just as warm temps would melt out the ice.


Alex and Nathan dreaming about Ismus' southwest face. Alex is telling Nate that it would be reasonable to do Ismus out and back from Whittier in a day. Nate is telling Alex that it would be more reasonable to do that with our sleds.


Crossing Trail Glacier was brief, but I thought it was really cool. The lower glacier lives within a gorge carved during colder times.


The upper glacier has an exciting wall of double fall line chutes similar to The Books of Thompson Pass. Here's what the top of them is like; I should have stopped sooner for a better picture, but I was having too much fun slogging.


We had lunch and an Easter egg hunt at the top of the Spencer Glacier. From there we looked north at another fun zone - one of these fins had ski tracks on it:


Coasting down the Spencer was an improvement from the morning's plodding. Once around the corner and onto the flat north fork we made good time by kicking and gliding. Before long, the terrain rose towards the shoulder of Carpathian. This is when the views became really jaw-dropping. Andalyn above Blackstone Bay:


Looking back at the north face of Ismus. I really want to sled out there (sorry Alex) and snag the north and south faces of Ismus.


This huge wall rises thousands of feet out of the Spencer, and is part of a zone that is a bigger version of Turnagain: more snow, more vert, and less people. Its funny to think of Turnagain as the "little league".


Past the shoulder of Carpathian, we were onto the Burns Glacier and happily gliding downhill. The enthusiasm stalled as the glacier rolled below us - the lower Burns was about 500 vertical feet lower than depicted on the topo; and steep, breakable raincrust on cross country skis is...good for balance. Too bad there were no slednecks to enjoy our chaos.


The unexpected bonus 500 vertical feet out from the Burns to the Whittier Glacier was concerning as some wanted to be at school/work in the morning and making evening tunnel was going to be tight. Fortunately, the climb went quickly. Everyone happy to be done with the uphill:


You can imagine what the last descent thru refrozen mank to Whittier was like. Eventually everyone gave up on jump turning down breakable crust and started walking. Back at the car, we had 10 minutes to spare for the tunnel!