Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Ptarmigan - 4.3.2014

Updated below to include an afternoon corn harvest above Rabbit Lakes in spring 2021.

The dishes are piling up in the sink, the house is a mess, and I'm getting behind on my sleep. The conditions and weather have been incredible, and its hard to take a break. As such, I'm about a month and a half behind on blog posts.

By April the days were finally long enough to get out and ski after work. Reading Billy Finley's tasty blog post about bike accessed skiing encouraged us to check out Ptarmigan's S Couloir.

With a post-work nap in the books, I meet the usual suspects at the Glen Alps trailhead. We don't have fat bikes, so we employed a combination of walking, skinning, skating, pushing, and kick and glide for the approach


Per usual, the adventure was filled with familiar faces: we ran into LP, Owen, and Tarah, who we skied Falling water with, on the approach.
 
Then, as we started to climb the apron of the north face, our friend Andy skied down to us. Alaska is a small town.


Looking back towards Alex and Anchorage as we enter the couloir.

Robert doing his usual gazelle imitation as the top of the line starts to come into view:


The top brought the usual incredible views: Carpathian, the Suicides, the Talkeetnas, the Alaska Range, the Chugach. Alex dropping in:


After a rather dire report and a skied out climb we weren't overly optimistic about snow conditions. But, by traversing out of the couloir and onto the hanging snowfield we left the tracks behind. All that was left was steep untracked snow. Robert:


Half way down we split apart. Alex headed back towards the couloir:


I picked a skinny line to the right. This turned out to be a tense experience as I sidestepped across exposed rocks and ice to reach the line.


But, totally worth it!


Once I rejoined the boys we continued into the apron.


Not down yet!


And of course, any good day in Southcentral isn't complete without views of Foraker, Hunter, and Denali.


May 2021 Update:
Just back from the Aleutians, I wasn't quite ready to call it quits on ski season, and as usual Nyssa was game. After getting shutdown the day before by rockfall, wet slides, and unreasonable crevasse hazard above Whittier, we went back to an old faithful.

Rising above Canyon Road, the steep, and rocky west face of Ptarmigan is one of the first rad lines you see driving the highway into town from the south. Its a go-to for the Front Range crew, and has been on my mind for years, so I was amped to check it out as we scrambled out of the parking lot. About one half mile from the parking lot we ran into snow and switched from our tennies to our skins. Well...it was mostly snow.


Crossing the rambling tracks of brown bears shaking off hibernation and looking for their first big breakfast, we skinned up the summer trail before turning north to ascend the snowfields draped across the peak's lower flanks.


As the pitch steepened into the summit cone, the snowfields constricted into chutes lined by crumbling brown Chugach choss splattered with the greens, grays, and blacks of lichens clinging to life in the wind-battered alpine.


Stemming between unsupportable snow and the rock edges, a finger of steep snow brought us to just under the summit where we left our skis to walk the last 50 feet to the top.


Nyssa says 50 degrees is the perfect temperature, but coming off winter and a blustery trip to the Aleutians, 40 degrees felt like the surface of the sun. I have no idea how I used to tolerate baking in the thin atmosphere of Colorado.


Recharged on gummy bears, we looked past the Suicides towards AlpenglowCarpathianIsthmus, and so many other memories. Offering corn, couloirs, and fall-you-die terrain, North and South Suicide are a playground for any intrepid Anchorage skier. I've yet to ski off the summit of either peak, and am looking forward to it. 


Done cataloging memories and future vision quests, we slid down the scree to our skis and the transition to the fun part.


Cooked by a month of spring sun and hot temps the first few turns were rocky and tight - perfect for quick jumps turns on supportable corn!


After those first turns the chute opened up into quality steep skiing. 


We ski so much steep alpine terrain in the middle of winter - which is an incredible privilege - but with steep winter snows comes moving snow. Often lots and lots of it. Skiing steep terrain without the constant mitigation for large snow dragons trying to grab, throw into rocks, and bury us in terrain traps was a spring treat.


This winter we've spent a lot of time talking about how to enjoy the mountains we love and a pretty dangerous sport in an acceptably safe way. One of those ways is working to really fine tunie our ski form, and it felt great to see Nyssa's strong technique as she came ripping down to me.


Out of the rock walls and into the wide apron below we played a game of tag towards the parking lot as the twin summits at the head of the valley framed our perspective.


This was my 8th winter skiing in Southcentral AK, and every year has brought new peaks, new adventures, and new zones. Skiing a new line in literally our backyard was such a treat and a reminder of how lucky we are with the limitless options we have here.

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