Saturday, April 20, 2019

Falls Creek - 4.29.2018

Updated 4.20.2019 to include another great day in Falls Creek. 

Around 2 PM on Saturday the texts starting coming in from Jeff: he and Jeebs were storm skiing untracked pow in Falls Creek. I was sitting in gloomy, windy, and rainy Anchorage mourning getting shut down on the Alaska Range by storm after storm. The forecast was calling for more of the same Saturday night into Sunday, and I wasn't going to miss out on more stormy couloirs. The next day, hiking out of the rainy parking lot in our running shoes, it was hard to imagine winter was up there somewhere.

But, by the time Andrew, Alex, and I had climbed past a sleepy black bear, traded our running shoes for ski boots, and skinned into the alpine, winter was back in full force.


Making a right turn, throwing our skis on our packs, and starting the booter up the first coolie of the day, we began to realize just how good it was going to be. From the top I looked back down at Andrew as the falling snow swirled out of sight below.


Alex ski cut the slope before dropping first. After a foot of rapid loading overnight, we weren't sure how the new snow had bonded, but nothing moved.


As he disappeared into the abyss we listened to his hoots confirming the snow creamy spring pow.


Waiting for the hooting to stop, he had pulled of to the side and we leapfrogged past him.


After such a ridiculous first run we were all itching for more, and headed for the East Indianhouse Chute.


Given the visibility, finding it was a shot in the dark, but eventually it appeared above us.


The last two hours had brought more snow and wind, and the balance was beginning to tip towards unstable snow. Working our way up through the deep snow, we tucked against the rock walls as slough dragons came roaring past us.


At the top the boys happily tunneled through the vertical wall of drifted snow, and into the hurricane of the Turnagain Arm winds.


Below us the Arm was a black and white world of wind, snow, and water.


Inspired by a quick lesson on hip checks, cornice bombs, and ski cuts, Andrew took the lead on avalanche mitigation:


Then, as he cut the slope a pocket of unstable snow ripped out below him. A few turns later another pocket ripped out at our feet.


With these small, predictable slides a new strategy began: ski cut, watch slide, ski deep pile of slough, repeat.


At the bottom we discussed where to go next. There was the west Indianhouse pinner, but with 100 foot visibility it was easy to imagine climbing up, down, and sideways thru the steep and discontinuous snow and rock of the west face. The Falls Creek knob was a more straightforward option. As we waded thru the snow to the top, there was no sign of Jeff and Jeebs' tracks from the day before.


Topping out and peering into the tight rock walls below, a steady waterfall of new snow and spindrift poured off the cliffs and loaded the couloir. Alex ski cut the slope and watched as it fractured wall to wall, and shattered blocks of snow the size of microwaves tumbled away from him.


Skiing down the tight hallway of rock, we saw that the slide hadn't been a small pocket like earlier in the day, but had run full extent past the apron and across the lake at the bottom.


Given the volume of teetering dense new snow that had been released, we were happy to rip soft bed surface and not worry about managing moving snow in the confined space of the couloir.


The firm and stable bed surface of our previous line was an efficient and safe route back up. So, with spindrift tumbling down around us we retraced our steps to the top of the knob. Then dropped south into our fourth and final run of the day. Andrew:


Happily soaked by the endless snowfall, it was time to head down to the car and towards a warm shower.


Update:
Like last year, late April brought a series of strong storms to Southcentral. Feet of new snow stacked up in the Chugach Mountains and Hatcher Pass. With the new snow falling on a variety of weak layers and continued stormy weather, we went back to our storm-skiing standby.

As we reached the alpine, the weather rolled in and out. From the top of the first line the weather cleared for a snowy view of Turnagain Arm and Penguin. Then we dropped into the creamy snow, tucking out of the way as storm slab after storm slab ripped down the line.


Moving over to the east Indianhouse coolie the snow got even deeper. Before dropping in, Alex and Dmitry cut the cornice, and we watched as the snow-bomb triggered another slide that ripped out of sight into the swirling snow.


We'd never skied the west Indianhouse couloir and decided this caked day was as fat as it would get. The snow within the tight walls was preposterously deep. I couldn't help but wonder why we'd again failed to bring our verts for the exact conditions they're designed for. Swimming up to our necks in snow, the only way to proceed was tunneling upward with an avy shovel.

Photo: Dmitry Surnin

One hundred feet from the top, the walls choked down even further, becoming too tight to ski. Totally soaked from the swim, we dropped our packs and wallowed to the top. Stemming between the vertical rock and the mushroomed cornice, I was able to climb the vertical finish to the ridge.


Skiing the ridiculously tight corridor was actually more doable than I'd expected. Connor in one of the tighter spots:


For dessert we finished our day on the Falls Lake couloir. There was hero snow in the protected line; and we hooted and hollered as Connor ripped the entire thing in about 6 turns complete with a large slough dragon in hot pursuit.


As we transitioned back to booting in the valley below, the bore tide came rushing up Turnagain Arm. Maybe there were some surfers tucked somewhere into that wave.


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