Saturday, March 21, 2020

Byron Peak Skiing - 2.4.2017

Updated 3.21.2020 to include another great day.

Portage is sick: as storms collide with the huge mountains jutting out of the ocean they lift and dump ridiculous amounts of snow. Then, the snow pours back off the peaks as glaciers. The problem with the proximity to the ocean is the wind it often brings.

So, after finding stable, deep, and perfect powder on Wolverine, we knew it was time to focus on the Portage zone.

At the parking lot it was 3 degrees, but by the time we could look back down on the lake we were above the inversion. Once on the glacier we roped up and Alex took the lead as we snaked to the climbers left of the lower icefall. People often approach Bryon by ascending the east ridge from the lake, we decided against this due to obvious wind loading.

Past the severe cracking and associated slow travel, we were able to move faster. Even by early February its crazy how much snow has accumulated around Portage, we crossed snow bridges that were 10 feet thick!

We switched to booting to climb the steep headwall between the east ridge and the summit block. Above the headwall, we put our skis back on.

From here the views to the north, east, and southeast were incredible. Looking east towards the Whittier Glacier. Some people refer to these three peaks as the "Three Wise Men", I've had mixed results skiing them.

To the north we could see into the heart of 20 Mile. What a stacked zone!

Now on the upper plateau we skirted another icefall and moved towards the summit block.

After a short boot we were on the west summit. To some its worth noting that the west peak is a few feet lower than the east peak. But, we're not climbers, and the west peak has better skiing. To the southeast we had a great view of Carpathian's north face. An exit couloir threads through down the face through a jumble of seracs and cliffs.

Below us were Shakespeare Shoulder, Baird, Portage Glacier, and the Prince William Sound stretching away into the distance.

Dropping into the steep north face was a bit intimidating: even on stable days there's always the concern of a wind pocket in the back of your mind. But, it was perfect settled pow. By the time I was at the bottom of the face Nathan Ord had caught up with me.


Nathan Jenson:

After dealing with a binding failure, we wrapped around the corner into another awesome pitch of skiing.

More Nathan Ord:

Below the second pitch we were able to cross a smooth spot on the glacier and rejoin our up-route. Alex:

Then, in the last light of the day there was one more great pitch of skiing. Nathan Jenson:

Byron is some of the best bang for the buck adventure skiing I've ever done. But, it has potentially huge objective hazard: cornices, avalanches, crevasses, and serac fall. Pick a day where the conditions are on your side, and remember that lines like this can take a few tries.

Just like every year, hitting the zones close to the ocean is a waiting game: if its not actively snowing or avalanching, then its probably windy. So, when Friday's forecast called for clear and calm, Nyssa and I had Portage on the mind.

We were delayed by rock blasting on the Seward highway, but after a nice snooze in the warm sun  the road reopened, and we were hustling out of the parking lot by 1 PM. A true Alaskan start.

Last time we skied Byron was with a big group. Switchbacking up the face on a rope was a tedious and slow chore. With a better handle of the crevassing and just the two of us, the rope stayed in our bags and we made fast work of the lower face. Two hours after leaving the car we were looking down on Whittier:

Skinning over the hard, windswept snow on the upper plateau was fast and were soon booting up the summit cone. Nyssa called it a "nubbin", but I think that's selling it short.

About 3.5 hours after leaving the car we were on the summit, eating fig bars, and prepping to drop into the north face.

The views from the top were yummy and it was fun to daydream back on past adventures (and misadventures), and dream about future ones. Isthmus still remains on the hit list as do many of the skinny couloirs slashed into the walls of the Skookum Glacier's deep gorge:

Skiing firm rime over the edge onto face felt like sliding over the side of a bowling ball. I'd forgotten just how steep that top pitch is. Nyssa making it look easy:

We worked our way thru the rime chutes then skirted the crevasses lower on the face. If anyone is interested, there is a Gopro and pair of goggles in that crevasse.

At the bottom of the face we recollected, dreamed about skiing Carpathian sooner than later, then dropped into the next pitch. I don't think I'll ever get over how incredible it is to have places like this within an hour of home.

Last time we skied Byron we traversed hard right to avoid the jumble of the icefall. This time, estimating a 75% chance it would go, we skied into the tumbling blue blocks.

And, with the exception of one small downclimb/huck the line through the maze went!

We coasted back to the car, turned on the reggae, cracked our beers, and started the countdown for the next good day above Portage.

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