Thursday, October 22, 2020

Bird Ridge Overlook Ski - 4.4.2020

Its hard to remember exactly why we decided to head for the steep, complex, and sheltered north face of Bird Ridge Overlook on an early April day last spring. I think we were targeting the sweet spot between the winds sweeping the Anchorage Front Range and the hard snow conditions at Turnagain, but it was likely also the appeal of something new.

Leaving the ice of the drippy parking lot it finally felt like spring had arrived. Our climbing skins were fast over the wet snow, but we all struggled to control our body temps as sweaty swamps formed in our clothes. Some items were easy to squeegee (like my eyebrows), or wring out (like Dmitry's buff), but layers buried in deeper, darker, swampier places were destined for a soggy day.

The the air cooled below freezing as we climbed, our skins went from slippery to sticky, and we repeatedly stopped to scrape the bonus training weight. None of us were interested in slowing down just cause mother nature had added 10 pounds to each of our skis, and our hip flexors paid the price.

1.5 miles before Indian Pass Dmitry signed for us to take the turn towards the gap between Bidarka Peak and BRO. I'd never really thought about using this pass before - it provides a great shortcut for skiers looking to access The Beak, BRO, or other area peaks.

From the pass we could see the west face of the Nest that D, Jordan, and Connor had recently skied. If I remember correctly someone used a shovel as an ice ax.

After discussing the proper improper use of avy shovels we dropped into the bowl of mellow pow towards BRO's north amphitheater. This pic of Dmitry skiing on his splitboard is one of my happiest from the year, look at him fly!

Reaching the basin we put our skins back on and began the wrapping climb towards the couloirs.

After half an hour of skinning we were looking down on the south fork of Ship Creek and it was time to switch to booting. We expected the sheltered lines to hold deep snow from spindrift off the surrounding walls.

But, none of us expected to be tunneling through waist deep snow. 

Years ago Robert and Erin turned around high up on this face due to windslab hazard. As we got higher I understood why - its a complex maze of hanging windslabs over exposure. So, we followed a jagged ridge to the top of twin coolies.

Knowing that skiing the line we'd climbed would erase our hard-won booter with slough we aimed for its twin. The line was tighter than what we'd ascended, and it was fun watching from Dmitry and Nyssa crank tight turns thru the choke.

The top of the line had been bed surface, but its storm slab became deep soft pile lower down. Nyssa:

I love that smile.

We ripped the hero pow apron back to the skin track and started back up the dark shaded face for a second course.

Having an established booter for the ascent made the second round much easier, and left us with energy to enjoy the cool overhung rocks leaning above us.

At the top we looked east as Avalanche Mountain floated in and out of sight through the afternoon instability snow showers. I've always thought that Avalanche's Thin White Line would link up nicely with the Ramp and a few other peaks for a point to point couloir connector.

I dropped first, tucked into a safe spot, then turned to watch Dmitry surfing the deep snow. He has such an active style, it makes him fun to watch, and pictures of him look so alive.

Nyssa and Dmitry leap-frogged past, then pulled out of the way so the flowing wall of slough could pass.

We watched each other dip in and out of sight as we disappeared into clouds of cold smoke with each turn.

As the pitch decreased lower on the face we hooted and laughed as we party skied the bowl to the valley floor. Then it was time for one last climb back to Indian Valley. The ski down the trail to the parking lot was a giggly combo of fast luge track, lurching sticky snow, and summersaulting thru surprise wind drifts in the flat light.

I was stoked on the north chutes of Bird Ridge Overlook, and there's another one we missed that I can't wait to go back for. It reminded me of Ram Valley with a long mellow approach for tight and incised lines. With the current limited access to Ram I'm looking forward to the opportunity to explore more comparable zones. 

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