Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Goldpan - 12.13.2018

Note: Updated to include another great day at Goldpan Mountain Resort.

Alaska is the land of feast or famine. November brought days of rain, rain, rain to the Kenai Mountains. Fortunately, days of rain at the road mean feet of snow in the alpine, and in early December we finally got the weather window we'd been waiting for.

It was dark and cold as we broke trail out of the Sunburst lot, along Taylor Creek, and up Basketball. Climbing higher, we watched the sun kiss Turnagain's crown jewel:


Not entirely sure about stability and snow, we started with a long, protected spine towards Bertha Creek. Jono offered to go first; we could barely see him through the trail of cold smoke he left behind. It was going to be a good day.


Playing leapfrog down the long spine, I looked up to see a partially submerged Bucky. He'd later say this was the deepest day he's ever skied in the alpine.


At the bottom, we couldn't wait to get back up for another lap, and quickly forgot about the trail-breaking. Crossing a gaping glide crack added fun gymnastics to the skinner. Up top we were joined by Connor and Rey.


Connor had come straight from the night shift, and was ready to get the wiggles out.


Bucky skirted left under a cornice then dipped in and out of the light as his slough ripped around the spine.


Andrew and I traversed past Bucky's line then looked across to see Rey disappearing into the white room:


We dropped into the shady face towards the boys waiting below. With the skin track already in, another lap was the obvious choice.


Andrew and I spooned Bucky's tracks from the last lap then watched Jono dropping over the edge of the bowling ball into the heart of the face.


Slough poured off the rocks and funneled down the gullies as he worked the complex terrain.


Bucky dropped the spine next to Jono's, porpoising in and out of the snow as he bounced down the pillowed face. That man can rip. To his right Reynaldo was working on his disappearing act again:


Meanwhile Connor was making quick work a cool fluted feature:


After sending six people down Goldpan three times there wasn't much snow left on the face; and the December shadows were getting long. It was time to trend to towards the parking lot, so we started breaking trail towards Superbowl. In the purple evening light we looked across at Connor and Rey on top of Cornbiscuit.


Bucky boosted the cornice into the untouched purple pow of Superbowl.


Superbowl was deeper than Goldpan. After a day spent racing sloughs down steep spines, alpenglow soul-turns hit the spot. But it wasn't dark yet, and we chased after Connor as he put in one last skin track up Magnum. By the top the stars were twinkling above us, and the moon was rising over Taylor Pass. In the fading light we skied by braille towards the road.


Back in the empty parking lot it was 1 degree - perfect for icing those tired joints.

Update:
To celebrate the end of 2020 we returned to Goldpan for a New Years double dip. Just like last time, a cold inversion hung over the pass as we pulled into the dark Sunburst parking lot and started the cold approach to Taylor Pass. Connor and Jordan caught us at the pass, and we booted Basketball's north ridge together. It was the usual mess of frozen, loose, and slippery shale. Knowing more than one athlete who's slipped and tumbled back down that game of Russian Roulette, I was extra careful front-pointing in the loose razor blades.

At the summit of Goldpan Peak we headed for the long rib dividing the two bowls of the Pan - aptly named the "Panhandle". Its been windy at Turnagain lately and the spine itself was scoured firm. We realized the guts would be the place to be today.
Photo Nyssa Landres

We were both pretty stoked on what we'd found, so set about installing an efficient skin track for easy recycling. Along the ridge from Magnum we could see FIFTEEN people headed our way. Knowing things were about to get busy, we ripped our skins at the ridge and skied a quick sunny lap back into the bowl. 

As we transitioned to skin up for more, Neil came ripping down to join us. Already one COVID test into his day, he was only a lap behind. 

With the ski area affect in full force we skinned past the crowd and towards the less visible lines east of the Panhandle. Neil:

I'd never skied this side of Goldpan before and was impressed. They're significantly longer than western bowl, and have a steeper and rockier feel more reminiscent of the 'Gach than Turnagain. Nyssa: 

Luckily tucked out of sight, the eastern bowl were left alone for us, and we cranked laps exploring the chutes and ridges in between.
Photo Neil Liotta

Then as the snow turned from gold to alpenglow we found Josh and Nikki sunbathing in the afternoon light. 
Photo Neil Liotta

It was time to ski out of the sun and into the shade for one last wind protected chute in the Pan. 
Photo Nyssa Landres

I watched Neil and Nyssa porpoise in and out of the pastel pow then chased them west up the skintrack to Superbowl before a dusky lap down Magnum's west face. 9,000 vertical feet after leaving it, we were back in the 1 degree parking lot shivering over icy beers.
Photo Nyssa Landres

The next day started as deja vu in the dark, cold, and empty Sunburst parking lot for another chilly beginning to the day. Seems others decided to sleep in on New Years. Imagine. A couple hours later we were on top of Pastoral eating an early lunch and basking in the sun. 

The hope had been to ski south off Pastoral towards Granddaddy and Tommy Moe Run. But, the south face chutes had been eaten by the wind, leaving windboard and talus in its wake. We changed plans and skied the northwest face before heading for the sneaky pass to Devil's Mistress. 

After a short stretch of slippery shale and tundra we were rewarded with an untracked bowl. 

Nyssa dropped first, confirming that the sheltered aspect was holding lovely snow.

Dmitry picked a steep fin 50 yards further along the ridge. In the sun behind Dmitry are the lines we skied the previous day.

Watching his hips and hands drag along the spine as he dropped into the abyss, I realized just how steep his line was.

From Mistress we headed south for runs on Tommy Moe and Granddaddy. From the top of their shared peak we looked back at Goldpan to count 60 sets of tracks!

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