Monday, March 27, 2023

Matterhorn Peak East Couloir Ski - 3.18.2023

It was Friday night after a few great days spent exploring around Mount Rose and we were huddled in Kristen and Mike's kitchen trying to decide what to ski next. Will was headed to Boundary Peak which sounded great, and we appreciated the invite, but the 4 hour drive each way wasn't very compatible with our plans. Then Kristen mentioned the Hoover Wilderness and started showing us pictures.

I'd never heard of the Hoover, but pictures of giant granite walls and white spires of rock rising from the desert floor to above 12,000 feet were an easy sell. A few frantic calls to confirm the road was open and it was settled - we hoped to check out one of the aesthetic couloirs ringing the vertical summit massif of the Matterhorn Peak.

As we drove south on I-395 in the morning, my expectations were low. But, when we turned west at Bridgeport and the sharp peaks and spires of the Sawtooth Ridge came into view, I couldn't contain my stoke.

We followed the winding road and its growing snowbanks to the end of Twin Lakes, accidentally parked in front of a buried no parking sign, and skinned off across the lake. With every steep closer, the Sierra Crest seemed to grow bigger above us.

Any sign of the summer trail was buried under a ridiculous amount of snow from a winter of atmospheric rivers, so we did our best to figure out the ideal route into Horse Creek. The Matterhorn is the jagged fang on the skyline center right:

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Mount Rose Highway Skiing - March 2023

Driving east thru the nuclear winter of the Cascades on Tuesday night, I started to wonder if I was going to make it to Reno. My rental bounced off giant piles of slush in the near zero visibility of the atmospheric river storm that alternated between heavy sideways snow and heavy sideways rain.

Finally, around 1:00 AM I crawled into Mike and Kristen's house very relieved and somewhat surprised that I wasn't stuffed into a snowbank somewhere in Lassen County. Mike and Kristen are old friends who I've known since first encountering Mike's sharpied Colorado 14ers shirt in freshman geology. From skiing 14ers on graduation day, to spearfishing in the warm waters of Hawaii, to hiding from brown bears while deer hunting in AK, we have so many shared memories together. In the morning it was nice to catch up with them while they quickly downloaded me on current conditions in the Sierras before heading to work.

Solo and in a totally new-to-me climate and snowpack, I decided to dip my toes in with a day at Mount Rose Ski Area. Driving out of town, and leaving the desert behind, I was impressed with the huge snowbanks of the Sierras rising above me.

The rare inbounds day was a leg burner for me, and a good chance to interrogate as many strangers as I could about local conditions. I could only laugh at myself as most of these reasonable people couldn't answer my unusually specific questions about the climate history of the area. At the same time I was starting to form a mental model of the snowpack here, and was stoked on the challenge of operating out of my comfort zone.

The next morning after a nice breakfast date with Nyssa, I headed into the backcountry of the Mount Rose Highway. From the Tamarack Lake parking lot, I scrambled over the ten foot snowbank, then skinned towards Tamarack Peak. Coming from sea level, I couldn't believe the impact the elevation was having on me, and struggled to keep my heartbeat below the aerobic threshold.

From the peak I looked down on the deep blue waters of the lake.

Operating alone in this unfamiliar terrain, I spent extra time thinking about escape routes and likely avalanche behavior before spooning existing tracks into Tamarack's north bowl.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Anchorage Ski Outlook - 3.22.2023

THURS - FRI: warm, mostly cloudy, snowy (high confidence).
Thursday light snow and winds taper off for the mountains around the PWS (favoring Portage/Whittier), before a moderate Hatcher storm arrives Friday. Rain/snow mix near sea level on Thurs. Winds increase Friday especially for Hatcher where they will be strong.
WEEKEND: dry, warm, sunnier Saturday (moderate confidence).
Colder mornings, warm afternoons, and strong sun affect. Gap winds Fri night & Sat for Valdez, Portage/Whitter, and Seward. Temps warm Sunday as cloud cover increases. Light snow possible Sunday PM for Hatcher Pass and the Anchorage/Eagle River Front Range.

EARLY NEXT WEEK: partly sunny, warm, snow possible (low confidence).
Snow possible Mon/Tues for Hatcher Pass and the ANC/ER FRange (likely light). Partly sunny elsewhere - low confidence in timing of sun. Strong sun affect when its out. Light ridgetop winds. 

Monday, March 13, 2023

Goat Couloir Ski - 12.30.2022

Goat Couloir is one of so many Southcentral AK ski classics that has been on my radar forever, but seems to just keep getting pushed down the list by other objectives. It’s tricky given its solar aspect and the high winds that rip through the Crow Pass gap. Plus, there's the teetering schoolbus cornices that are always threatening to peel off and bounce down the line.

Goat as seen from TT43 in January 2019.

On a calm gray day in late December, Nyssa and I thought we had a window for good snow and acceptable stability to go goat hunting. Plus, the striking rock walls of the couloir would hopefully provide some much needed visual reference under the contrastless faint light of a dark midwinter day.

Skinning away from the Crow Creek winter parking, the alders stood tall and unencumbered by snow. We followed a tube through the thickets, then started the tedious skin up the creek. We tried not to slip off of the rickety ice bridges and plunge our skins into the open water as we high stepped up the boulders of the ravine.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Nest Peak Ski - 2.19.2023

This past December, we began to notice unusual stability and snow quality in the south end of the Anchorage Front Range. Since then, we've been focused on taking advantage of these rare midwinter conditions. As this Eye of Sauron has focused, we've ventured deeper into the mountains of Bird, Ship, and Indian.

On a rare sunny Saturday in February we skinned out of the Penguin parking lot hoping to check out the north couloir and west face of Nest Peak. 

Intense snowfall the day before had coated the birch trees in flakes the size of silver dollars, leaving behind a magical tube of winter as we followed the trail up Penguin Creek. The first few miles of the well-worn ATV trail were fast until the path ended and we waded into the downed windowmakers, devils club, and alders of the forest.

Reaching the top of the old growth, we began to traverse towards the hanging valley under the west face of Bird Peak that we hoped would take us to the final pitch up Nest. This contouring route behind Penguin Ridge was about what you would expect: inefficient, bushy, and tedious.

Slithering under alders, falling into trapdoors of facets, and tiptoeing across slabs sitting on facets, we emerged into the hanging valley. There we were surprised to see a group of moose who were equally surprised to see us. Honestly, they had a far better reason to be confused than we did.

Passing the swamp donkeys, we climbed into the featureless cloud layer. This pea soup was a small problem as we'd have to roll the dice on the right route thru the gullies of Nest's east face.