Thursday, November 2, 2023

Ewe Peak & Concerto Peak Ski - 5.6.2023

For years I've heard whispers of the giant couloir on the north side of Concerto. Tucked into no-man's land in the east fork of Ship Creek, I'd generally thought it too far away to merit attention.

But, the skiing around Ship Creek was great this year, and after a sneaking a peek of Ewe from Koktoya last weekend I was finally hungry. Leaving the Harp parking lot early on a spring day, we cruised up a mostly supportable crust towards the giants of the South Fork of Eagle River.

The ptarmigan were loudly celebrating the arrival of spring as we slid past the dwarf willows of the U-shaped valley, across Eagle Lake, and into the deep gorge between Eagle and Cantata peaks. After a few hours and a few more blisters, we were gaining elevation and onto the Flute Glacier.

On the Flute we found cold snow which immediately adhered to our skins like a heavy layer cake.

With scraping, cursing, and time, our skins adjusted from spring back to winter and we transitioned from hip-flexor wrecking glopping back to smooth sliding. A storm was hanging over the head of the Flute, enshrining the glacier in snow and wind, and making the mountains seem bigger and otherworldly.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Prince of Wales Deer Hunt - November 2022

Southeast Alaska is a special place. For me, the magic of this northern rainforest is because it seems to be another world, or perhaps another universe, from the high desert of the Rocky Mountains where I grew up.

I love deer hunting in Southeast, and for years have dreamed of trip to Prince of Wales Island to chase the ghosts of the rainforest that are Sitka Blacktail Deer. Last November, Mike, Ethan, Ian and I were lucky enough to go.

Ethan and Ian flew north from California, Mike from Nevada, while I flew south from Anchorage to rendezvous in Ketchikan. We planned to take the airport ferry into town, find our rental vehicle, shop for supplies, then ferry to Prince of Wales.

First off was the task of locating our Turo 4Runner in the Ketchikan airport parking lot. Mike arrived in ahead of us and knew we had a black 4Runner reserved, so tried the doors on the first one he found. It was unlocked and the keys were stashed above the visor. It was a rusty beater with floors covered in trash, but apparently this was the best I could find. Upon turning the key in the ignition he discovered the battery was dead. A look at the license plate revealed this wasn't our rental. Just like most cars in small town AK - unlocked and with the keys in them. Imagine where he would be if it had started.

Now in possession of the correct vehicle, and hungry and excited, we were ready for a supply run. We bought way too many tortillas, eggs, and sausages, barely crammed our gear and ourselves into the truck, then headed for the ferry.

With the SUV parked below the deck, we climbed upstairs and kicked back for the cruise to POW. Ferries are a different style than the cramped, loud, and uncomfortable utilitarian boats that we usually use; I always enjoy their comfort, space, and perspective high above the water.

Monday, October 16, 2023

Indian Pass Skiing - January 2023

Between a wasteland of sastrugi at Hatcher and a layer cake of persistent weak layers at Turnagain, midwinter 2023 required creativity to make the most of our backcountry skiing mecca. Our attention turned to the mountains of Indian Pass, and we slowly worked our way into the zone.

First, we spent days digging pits, testing the snowpack, and bingeing on Falls Creek. The heavy early season snow had bent the alders into a tube to crawl through as the long winter night eroded into first light.

Leaving the caves of shrubs behind, we climbed into the Falls Creek basin. The storm cycle had brought down new avalanches everywhere along the approach. Some had filled the creek with 20 feet of debris and others left pulverized piles of shattered alder Lincoln Logs.

We'd hoped that the big chute dropping west from the summit of Falls Peak would be in play, but it was one of the few things that hadn't flushed. Without big rock walls steadily spindrifting to clean out any lurking instabilities, there was no way we'd be climbing into the mouth of that monster.

Instead we headed towards where most days here start: the north chute of Falls Peak. Wading upwards through the deep snow, we watched the rising sun bathe South Yuyanq’ Ch’ex in pink then gold morning light.

Dmitry was feeling motivated and raced ahead to break trail until we popped into the refreshing sunlight of the ridgeline. Towards Turnagain Arm, the south chute dropped away below us. It looked delicious, fat, and tempting, but didn't seem to fit with plans for the rest of the day.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Winner Creek Tree Skiing - 2.15.2022

It was a stormy Tuesday in February and Dane, Charlie, and I had the day off work. Well, Dane might have been playing hooky, and I probably was too. At least Charlie had the day off.

We were all hungry for a big day (like always), and looking for options with contrast, we tossed around Alaskan "tree skiing" options - aka chutes and couloirs. The Eagle Lake Chutes had been on our radars for awhile and were tempting. At the same time, we thought of the windloaded catcher's mitt sitting on facets at the top of east chute. 

The chutes would have to wait for another day. Instead we headed for a tour in one of the few actual tree skiing options around - Winner Creek.

Big lazy flakes of snow fell from the sky as we followed the familiar track out of the parking lot. Storm skiing here is often confined to the cat skiing terrain, but we wanted the diversity and escapades that wouldn't come with yo-yoing laps up and down the small bowl. Passing the turn to Notch, we continued up Sunnyside. When we reached the alpine where sharp windblown snow bit our cheeks, we dropped north towards the A1 drainage.

Bouncing between well-spaced glades maddeningly followed by impenetrable thickets, we skied until we ran out of vertical at the gurgling A1 creek. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Tanaina Peak Ski - 2.15.2020

Note: updated below the original post to include a great linkup with the impressive north face of Koktoya on 4.23.2023.

Filled with so many glorious powder days this year has been incredible, but its been a little low on the satisfaction of slogging. By the middle of February we were starting to feel the itch for the long days, tired legs, and adventure of objective skiing.

Per usual, little beta existed about conditions in the Front Range, but I suspected that the inset couloirs of the zone were filling with stable snow. The weekend started with the old faithful of Front Range coolies, and with a good day there, we knew it was time to head deeper.

Rolling into the Dome parking lot at 9:00 on Saturday morning, Nyssa's car was already covered in a dusting of new snow. It wasn't until Tikishla Pass that we caught them.

Peering over the edge of the pass, I immediately thought: "this is stupid, I'm going home". Everyone else felt about the same. Below us was the classic shallow continental setup of windslab over depth hoar. However, with some creative discussion we agreed to avoid the slab by ice skating down the wind-scoured scree next to the face. Perfect.

We slid down the loose rock into the fog below. As the slope angle slacked off we ventured onto the snow and were immediately greeted by a giant whompf. Yep, glad we avoided the steeper snow!

In the dense fog of the Snowhawk Valley it was tricky telling which way was up, let alone where to go. Needless to say I've gone in much straighter lines.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Lynx Peak Ski - 1.11.2020

Note: updated below the original post to include the north face of Lynx plus Three Bell Spire on 4.1.2023.

As we climbed out of the Webfoot couloir in the fading afternoon light a few weeks ago the Reed Lakes Valley was painted purple, pink, and gold by winter light. Looking at Montana Peak, I smiled back on the ridiculous day we had there a couple years ago, and drooled over the southwest face of Lynx Peak.

The image of Lynx was still burned in my retinas on the following Friday, so Zack, Nyssa, and Eric agreed to forgo easy powder skiing in favor of a long cold approach for variable wind-affect.

The Pinnacle was getting the first soft light of the morning as we turned away from Archangel and towards Reed Lakes. Its amazing to think that snow sticks to the other side of that vertical block. At least sort of.

Done with the approach to the approach, we wound up through the boulder fields of the valley as the arctic air carried by the north winds bit into our faces. Looking behind me, Nyssa looked more like an icicle than a human.

Behind Eric is Higher Spire which Alex, Alec, and I skied a few years ago - it links up nicely with several other nice lines behind the Snowbird.