Sunday, May 2, 2021

Whittier Glacier Skiing - 4.5.2013

Updated on 5.2.2021 to journal a day of spring skiing above the ocean - very different conditions than the last time we visited!
After an amazing line on TT43 the previous day, we were all excited to get back out, and decided to check out some of the amazing terrain we had seen around Whittier. A sled bump up the glacier brought us to the bottom of the zone.

Photo: Matt Cameron

Not a bad place to wait for the rest of the crew.

Photo: Matt Cameron

With this face in mind we headed towards the ridge:

Looking back towards Nick, Danny and the Portage Glacier valley:

Photo: Matt Cameron

Reaching the ridge, we were greeted by the absolutely jaw-dropping views of Blackstone Bay:

Photo: Matt Cameron

Not bad summit views:

After discussing line choices from the top of the bowling ball, I dropped first. First turn in, breakable crust. Second turn, breakable crust - I was sure it would get better, but nope - breakable crust the whole way down the steepest pitch I've been on in my life. For reference, it was like taking Crested Butte's Rambo, tilting it up 10 degrees, moving it 5 miles up a glacier, then throwing a terrifying breakable crust on it. After listening to my turns, the boys tried a different aspect.

Matt feeling the pitch:

Nick holds on:

Matt making some darn challenging conditions look easy:

Danny working into the mellower pitches

wow...that was gnarly...

After one of the more intense ski experiences of our lives, we headed for a mellower ramp to recuperate. A sled assisted bootpack brought us back to the ridgeline.

Photo: Matt Cameron

Good snow and great views on the second run:

Nick in the apron:

With the next storm rolling in, we had time for one last run. Danny goes over the edge as Matt watches from below:

As the weather went from milky to cloudy we called it a day.

But, not before a quick stop in the harbor to check out some cute otters.

Quite a day - there's a lot of great terrain around Whittier, but its seemingly common gap winds make it hard to hit in the right conditions.

In late March 2021, Nyssa, Scott and I returned to Whittier Glacier. Southcentral Alaska had been torched by tropical temps then settled into a great melt-freeze cycle. It was time to avoid the hard crusts hiding in the shade and harvest corn. 

By 11 AM we were thru the Bear Valley Tunnel, past the Begich Towers, and parking at the end of the road. There was still feet of snow at sea level and we chased Scott out of the trailhead as the blue waters of Passage Canal fell away behind us.

With the warm spring sun we'd be playing the aspangulation game, and headed for Baird Peak hoping to ski its southeast face as it softened first in the morning sun. However, the mountains had different plans, and the SE face was mostly melted out. We probably could have a picked our way thru the face, but covered in dark rock soaking up the sun, it was no place to be. Creativity and flexibility are cornerstones of backcountry skiing, so instead we skinned for Cummings Peak then dropped towards Blackstone Bay.

Skiing towards Blackstone was a rush. The pitch steepened as we descended giving the illusion of falling off an edge into the emerald water.

We descended until the snow became too warm and soft to safely continue lower, then transitioned for the climb back up the shoulder of Cummings.

With the sun transiting the sky above us, south aspects were now softening, and we dropped into another perfect lap of corn above Blackstone. Corn can come in all shapes, sizes, and textures, and we were impressed with how smooth this lap's texture worked out to be.

At the top of the Burns we stopped so Scott could pose for his next Land Rover commercial and play the air guitar. Unfortunately I missed the picture of him rocking and rolling - that would have looked really good on a US Ski Team billboard.

We applied more sunscreen then climbed back up for more.

Up next was a descent into the Burns Glacier gorge. Incised between the surrounding peaks, and filled by the shrinking glacier, a snowy canyon has been left behind. The recent heat wave had left large drainage runnels in the snow making for low angle micro-spine corn skiing.

With the afternoon sun beginning to soften west faces, we moved towards the western ramps feeding the Whittier Glacier. Sneaking under a dripping cornice and over a bergshrund the size of houses we gained the ridge.

Then tipped back into the rolling terrain down to the glacier.

If you're wondering why Scott is behind its because he's squeezing in a bonus run and lapping us. Don't be deceived, we spent the rest of the day chasing after him on shaking legs. 


Eventually we started to exhaust the new runs to ski, so moved north for one long last lap towards town.

This one was the steepest of the day, and at 5:30 PM was just starting to soften up. Growing up in Colorado where the corn is often ripe by 10 AM, corn for dinner still blows me away. Carving the tilted edgeable turns was a great way to end the day.

We reunited on the low angle terrain of the glacier, talked about how spoiled living in Alaska has made us, and then with the mountains reflecting in the water of Passage Cannel we party skied to the car.

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