Saturday, October 22, 2022

Yuyanq’ Ch’ex Peaks Ski - 4.24.2022

Like every season, spring here has its own strengths and weaknesses. On the positive side, days are long, warm, and sunny. On the negative side, days are long, warm, and sunny. These conditions can make for the smooth and stable snow of melt-freeze cycles, or they can make for unpleasant snow and unstable skiing. We do what we can to forecast the different outcomes, but there's always a little uncertainty. This sunny unknown was the case when Nyssa, Charlie and I skinned away from Canyon Road on a beautiful late April day this year.


First, we headed towards North Yuyanq' Ch'ex figuring that we'd make our gameplan for the day based on what we found there. This corner of the Anchorage Front Range gets hammered by winds arcing through Turnagain Arm as they slosh back and forth between the Prince William Sound and Interior AK. Even late in the year, our ascent chute was scoured to the ground. Maybe someday we'll catch it in the right conditions for a descent.


Nyssa and I had never skied the north couloir that drops from near the summit of the peak, Charlie is a fan, and thinking that it could be the start of a fun day linking up north-facing pinners throughout Chugach State Park we decided to give it a go. It's easy for us Anchorage skiers to scheme up tasty connections on the likes of Homicide, Avalanche, the Ramp, etc. Charlie:

Snow textures are a funny thing: they can tell you so much about the quality, texture, type and even stability of the snow. On the other hand, sometimes...they don't. The snow looked like it might be nice, maybe not sun affected, or maybe we were just being optimistic.


The first turns were edgeable windboard, then dust on ice, then just pockmarked ice - the refrozen scars of solar warming falling from the easterly cliffs above. The farther we descended the worse it got. We'd found the bad side of the long, warm, and sunny spring days. As the line constricted into its hourglass of a choke, we called it quits and stopped. Yeah, sure, we could have made it down the line safely. But what was the point? Another similarly nasty coolie on Homicide? Then more ice axe skiing in the Thin White Line? 


Based on how the sun was battering the shaded snow with ice bombs, the decision was made to search the sunny side for the large, rounded snow crystals of corn snow. Precariously teetering on our toe points on the steep icy slope, we cautiously removed our skis, carefully strapped them to our backpacks, methodically attached our crampons, then started to climb.

Soon we were back on top of the peak staring into its sun-drenched south face where some of our go-to chutes in Falls Creek peeked at us over the ridge.


This time we had better luck finding the high-quality snow conditions that is such a treat. Although, don't get me wrong, I have nothing against the more challenging snow textures of the high peaks that what we often spin as "objective conditions"!

We watched Nyssa ski past PenguinBird Ridge, and peaks crowned with fluffs of clouds while the salt water of Turnagain Arm reflected the Kenai Mountains.


I think we were all satisfied with our change in harvesting plans.


One lap down and we knew slushy spring skiing was the order of the day. Next up was South Yuyanq' Ch'ex. We skinned over supportable and efficient snow transitioning to spring as we shuffled up the basin between the twin peaks. As the route transitioned to slow and slippery skinning across the rime from supercooled liquid water droplets smashing into the mountain, we transitioned to booting.


The view from the ridge stretching from Falls Creek to the summit was superb. Wisps of clouds added a magical feeling like a fantasy, while the gray waters of Turnagain Arm flowing to join the wider Cook Inlet spread away below us.


Maybe it's because at heart I'm a Colorado kid from a landlocked state but skiing over the ocean never gets old for me - and I hope it never will. We watched Nyssa drop first, navigating between crunchy rime and rock ribs towards Rainbow Valley and the ants driving back and forth on the Seward Highway.


Charlie:


It's hard to put into words what makes good corn turns so fun, and maybe that's part of why its special. Properly cooked corn is creamy, edgeable, supportable, consistent, and predictable in an easy way that maybe even perfect powder can't beat. Nyssa:


We skied until reaching the lower angle terrain and weakening snow of the alder line. Then, in the solar collector of the bowl, we stripped off extra layers and turned on the island tunes for the way back up. 


Cresting the divide between Rainbow and Rabbit Lakes we looked for a clean route through the steep rocks to the valley floor and the return to the car. What we found was a lot of questionable cliffs and suspicious-looking snow. I'm sure there was a way down, but from the top we just weren't confident in finding it. 

Instead, we decided to go for an adventure, rolled the dice on finding a ride back to Anchorage on the Seward Highway, and opted for another southerly Rainbow lap, this time to the sea. The sweet corn dessert was lovely - we could slice our edges so damn deep into it, leaving behind incised railroad tracks in the wet snow.


Reaching the alders, we began the exploit of finding a trail and then the road to salvation. We sidestepped up little gullies, waded through isothermal snow, and crawled down alder-choked moose "trails". Finally, we luged down snaking strips of dirty melting snow before reaching the signs of civilization that we were looking for.


30 minutes of easy walking down the Rainbow Valley Road and we were next to the bustling highway chatting with Josh and Nikki who'd pulled over to say hi. They were on their way back from a hard day spent tossing spread eagles at Alyeska and it was nice to catch up with them. Soon Zack came to our rescue and returned us to our cars in Rabbit Creek. Thanks Zack, we owe you! Maybe some of my favorite blueberry-bear blubber brownies as a token of appreciation?

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