Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Pinnacle - 1.4.2020

When I was a young grasshopper in Colorado I drooled over the exploits of Alaskans like Peter Knape, Billy Finley, and Joe Stock. Peter's writing had me dreaming of Turnagain spines in alpenglow. From Billy I was fantasizing about exploring the Chugach. And one of Joe's posts stood out: the Pinnacle.

Since first reading about the Pinnacle, I've been waiting for the right weather, snowpack, partners, and schedules. On Saturday, after seven years, the stars aligned to ski all four sides of the massif.

The morning light was starting to kiss Independence Mine as we approached the Pinnacle. Under the southwest Pinnacle chute we turned right, threw our skis on our packs, and headed up.

Per usual, the southwest chute was a mix of powder, windboard, and breakable crust. As we booted past the col the snow deepened and the pitch ramped up to the summit cone. I began to have visions of peeling backwards off the face and felt like I was going slab climbing not skiing. I made a pact not to become an alpinist. After the 30 minutes of alternating between using our hands as shovels and snow pickets the slope began to back off.

I'd never been on top of the Pinnacle before and was surprised by how big the summit was. I think Zack was stoked about it too.

Above the inversion and in the mid-day sun, the cold melted away to a balmy 0 degrees F.

The 360 degree views from the top brought so many found memories from the last six years. To the west was the iconic Fairangel Ridge where we've had plenty of good and bad days. Particularly memorable are the times Haley, Malcolm and I skied basically everything in Fairangel, and when Zack, Brady, Neil, Alex, and I skied many things across Archangel

After sunny pizza, ice-water, and GUs we bundled up and slid into the shady face. Zack:

Dmitry was third, and as he rolled over the convexity we watched a crack propagate across the face:

Then the snow shattered into blocks and poured into the steep terrain below.

Zack and I had both crossed the slab, it wasn't until the third set of tracks that the buried surface hoar failed. This is exactly why its taken me so many years to even try the Pinnacle.

We regrouped at the col before heading into the deep-freeze of the north couloir.

Dmitry dropped first, surfing the double fall line of the wall:

Once we were all down we rushed to transition to booting and shivered in the dark cold of the bath-tubbed valley inversion.

Everyone was motivated to move fast to warm up; 30 minutes later we were in the sun and transitioning for another run. Many thanks to Dave Bass for teaching us the magic of the 30 minute lap, and more thanks to Will for breaking trail!

Zack and I watched Dmitry and Will rip the variable snow into the Independence Mine Valley, then chased after them. Its amazing how consistently inconsistent the snow of the west gulley is. Zack:

Done with a morning in the shade, everyone was stoked to climb the southwest face in the sun. How can the sun feel so warm when its only 6 degrees above the horizon?

From the ridgeline we drooled over the beautiful west face of Souvenir, and debated the merits of warm skiing in the sun versus the symmetry of a frigid Webfoot lap.

In the end, the cold shade won and we pointed our skis towards the northeast couloir. It was the best snow we'd found all day.

Photo: Dmitry Surnin


It was cool being directly under the big granite face that we'd stood on top of then wrapped around a few hours earlier. Will:

At the bottom, it was time for one last climb and a race against the sun. Behind us Reed Lakes was painted in vivid pink alpenglow. On the horizon were Lynx and Montana peaks. We had a memorable day on Montana Peak a couple years ago, and I still am dreaming about Lynx.

Powered by a promise of one more lap in the sun, we reached the ridge just in time for the last light of the day.

Zack dropped first into the purple sunset.

In the basin we paused to look up at the fourth line of the Pinnacle. Nice to see so many people out enjoying their public lands, and good job to whoever put in that skinner!

Then in the fading light we skied towards the car, beer, and hot dogs. Beyond the Matanuska Valley we could see the giants of Eklutna and Eagle River. So many fun memories over there with many great people. The West Pencil Twin, Bold Peak, and Rumble come to mind. 

Another great day to add to the memory bank, I won't forget this one for awhile!


  1. Good times! I've had some fun on the Pinnacle on the sharp end of a rope in summer, never have summitted in snow season (yet) Keep on rockin!

    1. Mark, I forgot to mention all the time I spent browsing Teletips!

  2. Nice, whatever happened to dongshow?

    1. I guess he started sailing and stopped paying for his domain name. I would gladly pay for that domain name to bring back that piece of AK ski history.