Saturday, May 13, 2023

The Wedge Ski - 5.8.2019

Note: updated below the original post to include a Thin White Line - Wedge linkup on 4.15.2023.

Yogging out of the Glen Alps parking lot on Wednesday evening my pants seemed to be getting unreasonably wet. Then it started to smell like beer too. I stopped, dug the half spilled beer out of the bottom of my pack, drank it, and continued.

15 minutes later I ran into Maggie who was eating crackers and cheese and watching the ptarmigan/maybe on a Tinder date. The crackers and cheese went nicely with the beer, and after a short chat I was on my way again.

I waded through a few isothermal snowdrifts, found the melted out trail, and continued my yog towards Ship Lake Pass.

As I'm still in denial about the inevitable destruction of my new skins, I waited until about a a mile before the pass to switch from running shoes to skins. At about that time the dinner appetizers came into view:

At the pass, I turned right and wrapped around the backside of the Wedge. To the northwest was O'Malley where I had an interesting evening on Monday.

Behind me was the Ramp where the brothers and I had a great pow evening recently; below was the south fork of Ship Creek and many fond and not so fond Arctic to Indian memories.

By the top, the clouds were swirling in and out, and bustling by on a conveyor belt from the Prince William Sound. Below, I could see a new wet slab avalanche on a sharky face above Green Lake.

Glad to be dropping into the confined and deeper snowpack of the chute, I put on my skis and turned north.

With the snow and wind of the previous night, I was concerned about a possible wind slab, so I ski-cut the entrance and zipped out of the way. Nothing moved - it was time to drop into the cream cheese below. Not a bad appetizer!

Tossing on my skins and jumping on the skintrack, it took less than 45 minutes to get back to the top. This time I listened to a podcast about a lady whose Swiss citizenship request got turned down repeatedly cause she was anti-cowbell. Humans are the weirdest monkeys.

Back on top, I washed my pizza down with a beer while puffy clouds built up over Anchorage.

Then I followed the summit ridge west to the drop-in of the southwest gully.

As opposed to the north side which was just beginning the transition to summer, the south face was lovely corn. It was nice to crank turns and not worry about getting into a race with a wind slab.

However, in the course of blissfully ripping towards the valley I didn't watch where I was going and was soon teetering over a large edge. Woops! Again, thankful for springtime stability.

Sidestepping around the cliff left 750 vertical feet of overcooked corn to the valley floor.

From there it was a quick skate down-valley towards the melted out trail. Ptarmigan's S Couloir looked fat on the way by, lots of good after-work runs to reminisce about on that one.

A little bit past the bridge and I was out of snow. Must be almost time to put away the skis and ride the recycled snow down the rivers in a raft.

4.2.2023 Update:
I always have a hard time motivating to ski Avalanche Mountain's Thin White Line. Its a lot of squeeze for the juice, and I don't like the avalanche hazard of the mid-slope bowl. But, after skiing impossibly deep (and pretty darn dark) snow on Ptarmigan at 9 PM on Tuesday night, we knew we should take advantage of unusually soft conditions around Powerline Pass. To finally sell me on the TWL, we planned to also add in a lap or two on my beloved Wedge while back there. 

Several of us had grown the requisite blisters by the time the five mile approach was over and we'd climbed the access pass between Avalanche and the Wedge. Dropping into the contrastless bowl, we all did our best not to tip over in the flat light, let alone look like we had any idea how to ski.

Somehow having survived the approach, and in the basin under the TWL, we squinted up through the gray light to see that the last storm cycle had pulled out a large natural slide on the northwest face of Avalanche. Snapping our boots and skis to walk mode, we started to ascend the debris.

The recent slide made the snow firmer and the ascent easier, and we were able efficiently skin until reaching the mouth of the upper chute. Here we were above the crown of the big slide, and the climb became a lot harder as we booted up the deep snow.

As we approached the top, the climbing became almost impossible uphill swimming.

The only option left was to tunnel - a tried and true method to get to the top of lines, and get very very wet in the process.

The cornice at the top of the Thin White Line was very large and clearly peeling off the mountain. We cautiously carved out a little nook to transition while trying not to make eye contact with the teetering bomb of snow next to us. 

Then it was time to reap the rewards of our efforts, and drop back into the tight line. It was almost as deep on the way down as it had been on the way up.


I waited at the top for Nyssa, Tom, and Carolyn to ski the upper chute and tuck out of the way, then chased after them. Past the chute, we entered the bowl that inhabits the middle of the face. 

Devoid of the stability characteristics of a chute or couloir, this section of thin continental snowpack sitting on open face is what really scares me about the line. We were glad it had recently ripped big and cleaned itself out.

Skiing to the bottom of the bowl, the run rolled over into the lower chute. 

We watched Tom rip the chute, then milk the powdery apron all the way to Ship Lake. Awesome.

I skied down to Tom, then, as we soaked in the sun, Nyssa and Carolyn skied to us.

From a spot of soggy overflow on the frozen lake we refilled our water bottles, then switchbacked our way towards Ship Lake Pass. The TWL is tucked into the center of the face above: 

What had been cold and dry surface snow was feeling the heat of the spring sun for the first time as it morphed into pounds of wet glop on our skis as we dragged these expensive anchors upward.

Fortunately Tom is unhumanly strong and did most of the hard work of breaking trail thru the hot schmoo to the top of the Wedge. Thanks Tom!

Next up was the awesome north chute of the Wedge. We ski cut the entrance, then watched as Carolyn disappeared into the funnel to the heart of the line.

Skiing after her, we were all reminded how much we love this line hidden in the north cliffs of the Wedge.

With each turn the snow got better, and we regrouped at the bottom to watch everyone ski down. In my Colorado days this line would stand alone as a worthy objective, here it is just part of many of our go-to Anchorage backyard tours.

I lobbied to hit one of the Ramp chutes next (and collect more blisters), but was vetoed in favor of reascending the Wedge for one of its aesthetic southwest Frangewhacke chutes. 

Soon back on top of the peak, we ripped our skins and drank in the huge Chugach Mountains rising to the northeast.

Following the tracks of Levi and Connor from earlier in the day, we found slightly challenging hot pow as we began to descend southwest off the peak. Nyssa made it look easy:

Carolyn did too:


Carving down the glorious spring corn, I remembered how much I like this southwest chute: the run starts as a wide bowl that rolls into the crooked chute framed with brown rock highlighted by the saturated oranges, yellows, and greens of lichen before spitting out the long apron that coasts back towards the Powerline Pass trail.

We coasted until the wide valley was too flat to glide, then, before skating back to our Subarus at Glen Alps, stopped to take in that a gorgeous and wild place like this can exist so close to our dear city. 

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