Friday, May 12, 2023

Fairangel Valley Skiing - 4.27.2014

Note: updated below the original post to include a glorious Fair Five linkup on 4.2.2023.

By late April the high pressure that had been hanging over Southcentral for a month briefly broke down, but the warmth didn't. This left us with a predicament, how to get above the rain line? We needed something high and north facing, so we picked the highest Archangel of them all: Fairangel Valley. Perched at the top of Archangel Valley, it hides five perfect couliors: the Fair Five.

We planned to skin past the Pinnacle to Dogsled Pass, then drop into Fairangel. Looking back at the Lost Couloir:

Hard to say if that's a rain crust or just a sun crust, better keep going.

Closing in on Dogsled Pass, vaguely soft snow starting to appear.

The view down valley towards the steep and exposed northwest face of the Pinnacle - the kind of line that makes you dizzy to look at.

A slippery climb up the last patch of frozen tundra brought us to the top of Fairangel; and the usual exceptional views of the Alaska Range.

Suspecting a large cornice on top of a large cliff, I began investigating with a few "gentle" taps from my ski pole. Promptly snapping in half, I watched it slowly arc out of sight below. Yep, large drop. Well, it wouldn't be an adventure without something breaking, but ideally a few things...

As indicated by the large cliff, we were not quite at the entrance to the first couloir. The upside being that we got to straddle an exciting knife edge ridge, while trying not to dislodge the teetering cornice. Haley demonstrating proper straddling technique while Malcolm investigates the infamous Sparkle7 post:

After debating the meaning of Sparkle7, we trundled a cornice down the windloaded entrance. Finding no signs of instability, Malcolm dropped, skiing a spine down the center of the couloir. Here, shortly before stopping to put his tech binding back into ski mode:

Back in ski mode, all seemingly fine with his binding.

Into the apron, looks like we made it above the rain!

I followed Malcolm, too stoked to remember the remains of my pole. Fortunately, Haley only needs her poles for going up, thanks for the loaner Haley! Haley bringing up the rear:

With a great first lap in the books, we went back up for more, picking a skinnier line to the skiers right.

Malcolm, most likely running, nearing the top:

Again, it was hard to drag ourselves away from the sun. Well...not that hard.

Great snow and an exciting slough; Haley ripping it up:

Malcolm came down last, his skiing seemed a bit off.

Turns out he had sheared off one of the pins on his heal piece. Apparently, the binding release on the first run was structural. A bit of brainstorming and a "DIN compatible" solution was born:

So, we headed back up! We'll be coming back for this one when everyone has two bindings:

With Malcolm now sporting an old school tele binding, we picked a wider shot to wrap up the day.

Enjoying the late afternoon light from Fairangel Peak; Arcose Ridge in the foreground, Skybuster Peak and the Chugach behind.

Speaking of the Wist List; looking into the Pinnacle Valley.

Which, for future reference, can be easily accessed from Wrongfoot:

The first turn on the new prototype tele binding.

Unphased, reminds me of when he climbed Carpathian without an ice axe.


From there we skied towards Archangel, in itself an adventure: after a prolonged discussion of whether we were over one/many cliffs, we traversed around the cliffs. Spastic traverse tracks visible in there:

Window shopping on the way out, the Pinnacle Valley:

Aptly named:

Before long we were skating down Archangel Road towards the Goldmint parking lot.

Shortly thereafter Malcolm and I were at the parking lot, assuming Haley was right behind us. An hour later we began to wonder where she was; turns out she missed us and headed back towards Independence Mine. Apparently we could all work on our communication, or maybe she just didn't get enough exercise waiting for us all day. But, is it really an adventure without a few problems?

Three lines, three technical difficulties - the ingredients for a great day!

4.2.2023 Update:
Since first skiing in Fairangel Valley nine years ago, I've wanted to go back to get all of the Fair Five chutes in one day. Over the years my attempts we've been thwarted by stability, snow quality, and the infamous flat light of Hatcher.

In early April 2023, with southerly aspects and low elevations transitioning to spring, and a mediocre visibility forecast, it was time to take advantage of the high northerly walls of Fairangel. From the Independence Mine parking lot, we followed the familiar path towards the Pinnacle. On our way, we caught up with Tony's crusher crew of collegiate nordork and downhill racers who had the same idea as us. In our backcountry mecca with many zones, hundreds of valleys, and thousands of lines, its amazing how each weekend the Eye of Sauron will focus on just a handful options.

From the top of the Sparkle 7 Chute we looked down on the sea of clouds flowing up the Cook Inlet towards us.

We peered over the edge at cold winter snow protected by the elevation and shade - just like that warm spring day with Haley and Malcolm years ago.


Our first line is the left of the two chutes. We'd use Tony's killer skintrack to ascend then ski the right chute later in the day. The right chute is also probably the easiest way to return from Fairangel back to the Independence Mine Valley.

Satisfied with the snow conditions and wanting to give the other group room in the valley, we climbed towards the next chute to the left. As we reached the top of the apron, Tony and his giant legs ripped past us. He says the key to such skier tree trunks is medium weight - high reps, I'm taking notes!

The snow from the recent storm had sloughed off the steep rock hallway above us and flushed out parts of the line leaving behind fast booting conditions.

I did my best to chase after Nyssa and Scott as their afterburners accelerated upward and soon we were crawling out of the shady valley and onto the sunny nest at the top.


I dropped first then looked back up to watch the power-trailbreakers ski towards me. Scott:


The sloughed-out bed surface of the choke was firm as we scratched our skis through the tight constriction.

Lower in the chute we harvested the deep piles of fresh slough cones.

Back at the bottom of the basin and done with our second run of the day, the other crew had left the valley. Figuring it would make our lives easier, we followed their skinner up the rightmost chute for a lap. Large fluffy flakes of convective snow showers immersed us as we climbed. The weather was magical - snowflakes hitting my face in the alpine unglues my brain like almost nothing else.

From the top of our third lap we watched the goons from Third Edge lap the dregs of short sloppy seconds below. If these gasoline gluttons insist on flying in popular public areas, its at least nice to watch them burn thousands of dollars to ski mediocre terrain below me. Sadistic, I know.

The third chute was another harvest of delicious settled pow, and we slapped on our skins to now work back climbers-left in the hanging valley.

As the pitch of the climb ramped up, we stubbornly gave up on slippery, steep skinning and booted the last bit to the top.

From the divide between the Fairangel and Pinnacle valleys, we looked east down the Wrongfoot Chute. 

With its easterly aspect, we knew Wrongfoot would be on the edge of the sun effect, but hoped that the giant wall of the Pinnacle-Fairangel ridge would shade it from the powerful spring sun. Scott:

Hiding under the big vertical rock face, we skied creamy pow into the basin below the Pinopsicle Chute.

Time for another ascent and Scott sniffed out an old booter to recycle as we retraced our steps towards the top of Wrongfoot.

Once back on top of Wrongfoot, the glowing orb of the sun was shimmering softly thru the clouds and falling snow.

With another round of big white dendrites ensnaring us in their fractal magic, we dropped back into Fairangel.


Marinating in the joy of the five quality chutes, we absorbed the energy of the mountain amphitheater and transitioned for the climb back towards Independence Mine. 

We merged onto the existing skintrack (thanks again Tony) as the snowfall broke into blue skies.

Popping over the ridge, the moody light of the storm painted the front nine of Hatcher Pass in wild purple light.

We traversed to the head of the Cable Valley then turned north to see the morning's bootpack to the Sparkle 7 entrance.

Then, with the persistent snowflakes falling thru the angular rays of the evening sun, we carved through the large grains of corn towards the parking lot.

No comments:

Post a Comment