Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Mystery and A1 Ski - February 2021

It was early February and the backcountry communities of the western US had been rocked by accident after accident. Those accidents had extended across people we know and places we love, making the thought of heading into big avalanche terrain particularly unappealing.

While the mountains take away, they also heal. So, joined by Najeeby, Dmitry and I headed out for a mellow day of mountain therapy on A1. Reaching the bumpy ridgeline sloping towards the summit, we climbed above the thick valley fog.

Photo Dmitry Surnin

Leaving the wisps of cold moisture behind, many memories and future dreams appeared around us. To the south were the long north faces of Mount Alyeska and Little League dropping into the cold and dark of Winner Creek.

Following the rolling ridge higher, the giants of Upper 20 Mile came into view. Peak 5825 rises almost 6,000 feet straight out of Lake Carmen; the large pile of snow and ice reminds me of Carpathian, I'd love to ski it someday:

Approaching the summit cone we peered into endless zones around the Lake George and Colony glaciers. Hopefully someday I will have a plane to help explore these.

Lurking directly behind A1 was MysteryMountain. We were all drawn to its steep sunny face, but reminded ourselves of the goal to enjoy the sun, the mountains, and each other.

We left our skis at the top of the line, then booted the 50 yards to the 360 degree views from the true summit.

We spun slowly to drool over myriad lines around us. To the east was Spine Cell. I've wanted this one for years, and have probably missed a few chances at it. But, backcountry skiing requires so many separate factors to line up. If you are in it for the long game you have to be patient.

In front of Spine Cell we refocused our eyes on Kinnikinic:

And in front of Kinnikinic was the trifecta of Nagoon:


...and Highbush. Dreaming about the countless options in the Punchbowl zone, we talked about camping back there for a few days of peakbagging and skiing. 

From our perch we watched Andy and Lance pop out on the top of Northstar Point. Nine people would ski the Northstar couloir that day. Above them is the exposed summit pyramid of Bird Peak that Dmitry and I had a great day on a couple years ago. Its a must-do Girdwood slog.

Full on lunch of fig bars, corn dogs, and views, we skied south off the summit and into the sunny glacier lap as Andy watched from above.

Photo: Andy Resseguie

It was good enough we had to go back for seconds. This was Dmitry's third day on skis, I wonder what he'll ski on his 10th.

We milked the creamy pow until the icy fog of the inversion burned our faces, then transitioned back to skinning for the climb to Sunnyside.

Back on the ridge, we stared across at the complex and incomprehensible spines of Nagoon's west face. Then we dropped into the long run back to the car.

The next couple weeks were spent surfing blueberry bushes and grass on low tide at Hatcher, but Mystery was still on the mind. Carefully and neurotically watching the weather, we saw that the 21st would bring sun to Girdwood while leaving Hatcher in flat light rock soup. It was time to go back.

Skinning up the cat track with Nyssa, Jordan, and Charlie, the blue sky greeted us as it filtered through the branches of the temperate rainforest.

Photo: Charlie Procknow

Cat tracks sure are efficient ways to stack miles, and before we knew it we were on top of Sunnyside and shuffling towards the A1 ridge.

This time, as the pitch of the ridge tilted up towards the summit of A1, we left it and traversed behind the peak towards Mystery. The Chugach and Kenai mountains were hammered by windstorm after windstorm, so we were relieved to find shallow settled powder in the protected southern bowls of the approach.

Photo: Jordan Huckabay

Once past A1, we started the final climb of Mystery's summit. With an elevation of 5,300 feet, the peak rises over 5,000 feet above the parking lot miles away.

Like every new summit, Mystery Mountain brought us new and unique views. To the north, Longspur Peak looked particularly rugged. I'm not sure if a clean ski line goes down that face, but the sense of newness and unknown that it brought was special to us.

We contemplated how Mystery would (or wouldn't) link up with the rest of the peaks crowning Winner Creek, then skied south off the edge of the bowling ball. 

The steep, protected bowl skied well, but we ran out of good snow as we began the climb back towards A1. At this point Jordan proudly whipped out his Dyneema crampons; wise man - I need to start carrying a pair of these around. 

Having survived the bulletproof booter, we again dropped south, this time into the protected snow of the A1 glacier.

Brian had been there minutes before us; it was fun hypothesizing who the mysterious solo randowarrior could be. Not many suspects.

Chasing the vertical, we dropped past the glacier, skiing until we were at the cat track.

But, the day was young, so Charlie enthusiastically broke trail up for more.

On top of Sunnyside I argued for dropping into Winner Creek. For better or for worse, the memory of our last dark, cold slog out of there was still fresh in the minds of Nyssa and Jordan, and I was talked off the ledge.

Instead, we compromised on a couple more sunny laps. Not a bad way to finish the day.


  1. Well played and nice storytelling. Please keep it up.


    1. Thanks Lance. Let's get out for a tour one of these years!