Thursday, July 14, 2022

Return to TT43 - 1.5.2019

Note: updated below the original post to include a Gulch Creek link-up in January 2022.
Watching old school GoPro video of Jimmy Kase ripping the TT43 spines on teles in midwinter light sold me on Alaska. After years of waiting for snow, stability, and weather to align we finally got to experience it.

As we drove south thru the pass, the bottom fell out of the thermometer. By the time we parked at Bertha Creek it was -8 degrees. Next up, was finding a way across the creek. Matt found a crossing and lead the charge across the cold water creek. Eventually the twig he was standing on collapsed, but he hovered over the water and kept his feet dry.

In retrospect, parking at Cornbiscuit and using the bridge would have been straightforward. Still, it was drier than skiing TT43 with Matt and Nick years ago:

We followed ptarmigan and hare tracks across the valley and up the climb to Seattle Ridge. Above the valley inversion the temperature rose to 10 degrees. Tropical.

From the ridge we looked across at a scrapbook of ski memories. Matt with dreamy south face pf Pastoral Peak in the morning light.

Brady led the charge towards the summit pyramid.

As we chased Charlie and Brady towards the summit, the shadowed spines and ribs of the New World appeared below us.

Looking north we drooled over the king lines of Kern Creek. I'm still hung up on Low Bush Peak.

In the cold, dry air the skyline shimmered as the moist, warm snowpack faceted away into a mirage.

Before we knew it we were on the last ridge and memorizing the complex face.

And then we were standing on top of the spine. Everyone was taken aback as it curved, squeezed, and rolled out of sight towards and Silvertip and Twin Peaks.

I dropped past the mushroomed cornice, stopping on the knife-edge as Brady ripped down.

Matt was next. Alaska boys sure can ski.

Matt leapfrogged past us, disappearing off the spine into oblivion. Seconds later he came shooting into the apron with his slough in hot pursuit.

Brady was the next.

He followed the spine as it tightened around him.

Then it was time for Charlie and I to navigate the perched pillows guarding the lower face. We wrapped thru the complex constrictions and the spine fell away below. Charlie:

Charlie pulled off in a safe zone and let me rip the Alaskan velvet past him. Then he chased me.

Still thousands of feet above the valley floor, and laughing with joy, we put our skins on and headed up for a double dip. Brady and Matt broke trail to the the ridge where it was time for another trip down memory lane. In the soft afternoon light, Carpathian dwarfed Pastoral and the "baby" spines of Goldpan. What do you do when Goldpan starts to seems small?

South of Carpathian, the spined massif dividing the Spencer and Spencer Tributary glaciers looked tempting. That's the Granddaddy and the Tommy Moe Run in the foreground. Ask Billy Finley for a history lesson on that.

To the north, the Girdwood Valley was just a stone's throw away. The Goat Couloir cornice was already the size of New Sagaya; I think Brian and Sam were skiing the X above the Raven Glacier that day too.

I looked towards Johnson Pass as Brady dropped over the cornice:

In the perfect light each turn was more beautiful than the last.

The spine rolled and rolled away as he made turn after perfect turn.

As he disappeared behind the fins below Matt raced after him.

Charlie provided moral support at the top while I hemmed and hawed before dropping into another dream line.

The he played tag with Matt's turns through the pillowed terrain.

What a zone.

Done with the upper face, we party skied the lower bowl towards Sixmile Creek, chasing a flock of moose towards beaver ponds covered in giant hoar frost.

At the flats we followed the steaming creek towards the Silvertip bridge. There were rabbit tracks, sign, and warrens everywhere. Andrew better get down there before George shoots them all.

Once to the road the only thing left was to hitchhike to the car. We quickly gave up on looking cold and pretending to shiver in favor of being cold and shivering. That worked better.

Back at the car it was -11 degrees. What's the windchill for a pickup truck going 65 mph at -11 degrees: -48 degrees. No wonder Charlie was cold.

Winter 2022 Update:
Spring and summer in AK is a manic time of year. Fueled by the midnight sun I become a caffeinated wreck who finds myself craving projects at 12:30 AM - I think I'm beginning to know what meth is like. Every week my self inflicted sleep deficit grows; my blogging backlog is not far behind it. Hopefully I never catch up on this backlog as the memories of one great adventure after the next pile up, but between midnight mania, midnight fishing, and midnight real estate mini-empirism here is my monthly effort to catch up with a look back at a sort of soft, sort of stable, and sort of sunny January day at Turnagain.

Mid-winter at Turnagain was beset with storm after storm followed by surface hoar after buried surface hoar event. It was frustrating and had me wondering why I was pretending to work as a corporate drone in an unstable and dark land.

Swimming thru the classic fog of a midwinter inversion.

By late January we finally got a break in the cycle with a brief window of calm, cold, and clear weather. Well. Sort of clear. The "problem" with these calm midwinter periods following nuclear winter events is they leave the air full of moisture, and with no wind to scoop the soup out it becomes fog. You can get above the fog, but its particularly annoying when you are also navigating a considerable avalanche day with BSH 18 inches down. So, as we swam thru the fog of the Cornbiscuit parking lot and felt our way across the bridge, we knew it would be tricky finding a safe way up Seattle Ridge to Gulch Creek and eventually TT43. Using a combination of jedi mind tricks and black magic Tom located fresh avalanches debris whose bed surface we could safely follow to the top.

As we climbed higher, breaks in the clam chowder began to appear, teasing us with windows into Lynx Creek:

By the ridgeline we were just above the sea of clouds and chasing the sun towards the sunny south steeps of the Chum Bucket.

To the best of my knowledge, the etymology of the "the Chum Bucket" comes from a single sentence on Dongshow Productions (one of the top AK ski blogs of all time). Cresting the ridge and peering into the steep and complex terrain of the bucket, my first thought was: "hell no, there is absolutely no way I am going in there".

On a considerable day with a thick slab teetering on buried goose feathers of weak snow, the wind-loaded flutes, spines, and ribs of Gulch Creek looked like a great way to get caught in an avalanche. After hemming and hawing about what in the world we were doing there, we decided to rely on the tried and true strategy of skiing terrain that had avalanched during the storm cycle.

Peering into a steep chute at the top of the basin, we confirmed a mid-storm crown before each ski-cutting the starting zone. Tom:

With the snow holding to its precarious balance we continued into the abyss. Nyssa and Tom stuck to the safer flushed-out chute while I could not resist skiing the rimey warts of the flute next to it. Nyssa:

Needless to say I hit more rocks than them. Even more needless to say, I did more damage to my skis.

We skied until we were enveloped by the clouds hanging in the valley, then headed up for more. On the way up we stuck to the same program as the way down: boot up what had already slid down.

Behind the iron legs of Nyssa and Tom I just did my best to keep up, and soon they had us back on top for another lap. This time we moved deeper into the zone to sample a hanging flute draining into a chute. Tom did the honors of dropping first:

I followed, then pulled off in a safe zone as Nyssa worked her slough as she went zooming past.

As the face transitioned to a chute, we tucked into a safe zone to watch Tom rip past. He makes a hell of a ski model.

Just getting into Gulch Creek is a process and January days are short; two laps down and it was time for us to start working our way back to the road. 

On the way back to the road we of course couldn't resist egressing via TT43. As we skinned south along the ridge we looked back at where we had started the day. I'm looking forward to coming back here to thoroughly cover the Chum Bucket with tracks.

Funneling winds in both directions, the southwest corner of Turnagain Pass is a vortex of cold air. We shivered at the top of TT43 as we looked into the enormous terrain trap below us. Unlike the previous two laps, TT43 had not slid during the storm and would be a real test of stability. So, we sent the lightest skier first. Nyssa:

In the wild gold light of midwinter she made it look great as she arced perfect turns down the untouched pow pow of the basin. This is exactly what I though Alaska was gonna be like when I was a spring chicken in Colorado.

In the welterweight class of slope testers, Tom was up next:

He made a few turns on the relative safety of a spine, then stopped as the snow separated from the slope and flowed away from him.

Considerable avalanche danger indeed.

We watched as the avalanche stepped across the bowl and ripped past Nyssa who had wisely picked a safe zone in an area that had already slid. A good reminder on the importance of a good safe zone.

Knowing that, for a variety of reasons mainly involved my propensity for dislodging snow, my pressure bulb would be bigger than Tom's, I made sure to ski terrain where the snow would drain away from me if it slid.

We recouped at Nyssa's safe spot in the basin, chatted about how Tom's wife would feel about his avalanche, then skied another two thousand feet of cold smoke to the moose sanctuary of the Six Mile meadows. In the single digit temps of the valley bottom we ran across the creek, then put on all our clothes in preparation for thumbing it back up the road to our car.

It was nearly dark when our hitch hiking salvation arrived in the form of a Jeep Gladiator captained by Josiah. Josiah told us he'd slammed on the brakes thinking that we were a moose in last light of the short January day.

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