Thursday, March 7, 2019

Raina Peak Ski - 5.5.2018

Updated 3.7.2019 to include another great day in Ram Valley. 

For weeks the weather has been stuck on repeat as the conveyor belt of southwest flow plows storm after storm into our mountains. Last weekend it finally looked like we'd get a break in the weather. The catch was finding a zone that hadn't been overloaded by the recent snowfall, wasn't still snowing, and had options protected from the wind. We decided that spot was Falling Water where we could skin higher and higher until reaching the balance between dust on crust and fat storm slab. On Saturday morning, entering the upper amphitheater, we'd struck the jackpot. 

Still cautious about wind loading up high, we started with the tightest and most protected couloir that disappeared out of sight above us:

At the top of the apron, we loaded our skis on our backs and booted into the protected walls. The spring powder was cold, deep, and consistent. Kate wondered what witchcraft we'd used to conjure up such magical snow. I prefer to think of it as Jedi mind tricks.

At the top, we waited for Erik to clamber over the cornice and take care of some unfinished business. Returning a new man, he reported ripping winds on the backside. Happy to be hidden from the wind, and excited for the run ahead, we ripped our skins, chiseled the ice out of our tech fittings, and watched as Alyse dropped first into the creamy pow.

Hooting and hollering, we followed her. Kate:

The snow was every bit as good as we'd hoped for. Covered by the sloughing new snow, even the hard spots we'd found on the way up had turned into powder. Witchcraft!

Energized by the first run, and feeling more confident about stability, we headed for the fatter coolie dropping from skiers right of Raina's summit. By the time my skis were on my pack, Erik and Kate were already motoring ahead.

Nearing the ridgeline, we again became cautious of possible windloading from above. The group tucked into a safe zone behind a rock as I wallowed to the top.

Peering over the edge, the southwest wind was still ripping as fingers of the storm reached out towards us from the high Chugach. Korohusk and its twin pinners were just visible as shadows in the storm, Mount Pleasant's hidden glacier was peeking out from its lair in the north couloir, and at the headwaters of Peter's Creek, Mount Rumble seemed impossibly large.

Alyse popped over the edge next, happy to be done wallowing for the day. Behind her is the entrance to Peking's north couloirs.

At almost 7,000 feet, it didn't feel like spring, and we hurried to get out of the persistent winds. I ski cut the pillowed entrance, and when nothing moved, watched as Alyse ripped by.

The wider line was not as protected from the wind, so we snaked our way from one soft pocket to the next. Meanwhile, having a few close calls with diving ski tips in between the sections of pow.

Not that we had anything to complain about:

Satisfied with two beautiful lines filled with soft snow, it was time to work our way down the valley and back towards home. Skiing under our first line of the day, we laughed about witchcraft, black magic, and Jedi mind tricks.

Before long we were down the rock glacier, past the lower wall of chutes, across the rolling moraines, and putting our shoes on for the evening jaunt back to the car.

Early season snowfall brought a relatively fat snowpack to the peaks around Eagle River. Reports started trickling in of Thanksgiving couloir skiing, so in early December 2018 we went to check out Cumulus. Skinning into the valley, we realized that skiing in the early winter sun sounded way better than the darkness of Cumulus's north face. We turned north and booted up the long gully on Raina's south face.

At the top, Andrew's GPS had logged the length of the line at 0.8 miles. Erik dropped first into the snaking line:

By springtime when its usually Ram Valley season, this line is mess of mank, wet slide debris, and crusts. It was a treat to get it in midwinter conditions.

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