Sunday, May 3, 2020

Alpenglow - 3.15.2020

We knew Sunday would be a memorable adventure when it started with a pair of skins forgotten at the Powder Hut. Tulio is a hero, and after a brief donut delay at Tesoro were back on the road. 

After a missed couple drive-bys on the Hope Road, we pulled off at the the Third Canyon takeout and parked on what was available of the shoulder. There had been discussion about waders, rubber boots, or packrafts, but no one actually wanted to carry any of that and we packed optimism instead. 

A few minutes of downhill skinning brought us to the fortunately frozen river, and the beginning of the uphill. I had expected and even hoped for a bit of bushwhacking, so was disappointed to find little underbrush and devils club in the woods. Dang, too easy.


Following the tracks of a wayward snowshoer thru the crusty snow in the woods, progress was fast and we soon emerged out of the old growth and onto Alpenglow's long west shoulder.

Photo: Dmitry Surnin

It was fun to be on the ridge with new views of delicious Seward Highway memories. In front of Dmitry is Falls Creek where there have been many debaucherous days of "moving snow", jump turns, and face shots. Tucked right behind him is the Goats Head Soup coolie that is so rarely in. many of us finally skied it this winter; backcountry skiing is such a waiting game, I can't wait to see what will be in next year.


The initial fun of the west ridge quickly turned into a tedious tightrope between overhung cornices to the north and a giant and unstable terrain trap to the south. Forward progress brought the gut wrenching whompf of collapsing weak layers beneath our feet. Although the ridge itself was not steep enough to slide, it required constant vigilance to make sure we never strayed onto the steep south face or unsupported cornice. 

Photo: Dmitry Surnin

The uncertainty was bad enough that probing every feet was necessary to make sure that we had terra firma under us at all times. 


Travel here was slow and mentally exhausting. We were all glad when the cornice ended and the ridge tilted into a safer and more efficient spine towards the summit block.


We weren't out of the woods yet, higher up was a steep unsupported section that potentially held an unstable slab. Arriving at this crux I was relieved to find stable and nearly impenetrable rime. Well. I was relieved about the stability. Crampons and a whippet would have been nice though. After kicking, kicking, and kicking steps into the concrete I popped out above and watched while the boys followed. 


From there a short chute up the south face brought us to the summit and 360 degrees of Kenai and Chugach views. From Bird to Girdwood stretched the stairmaster that is Penguin Ridge. Penguin Ridge is anchored on the north end by the corn, powder, and steep skiing of Penguin. Rising behind Penguin Ridge was Bird Peak, one of my all-time favorites: the perfect ratio of skiing, slogging, and bears.


Above Girdwood, Big League and Virgin Creek dwarfed Alyeska. I'm dreaming of the day when conditions align to connect Big League, Little League, and the east face of Alyeska.


Just past Big League was Peterson Creek and its Shoulder of Death. 


And behind Peterson were Spine Cell and Jelly Cell. These have been on the hit-list since before I moved here and continue to allude me. Its cool to live somewhere that is big and complex enough that there are lines within an hour of home that I still dream about. I'll still likely be dreaming about some of these 10 years from now.


One more of Spine Cell 😻


Perhaps I should give up on using a sled for this zone. Anyways, seven miles of flat approach only takes two hours of skinning.


I took many pictures from the top of Alpenglow, and its hard to include them all, I could go on forever. But, Carpathian, the crown jewel of Portage can't be forgotten.


Nor can Isthmus, a great overnight objective, or a day trip with a sled.


After refueling and deflating it was time to ski.

Photo: Dmitry Surnin

The north face might go from the summit on a fat year, but not this one, so after making sure we were standing on the exact top, we dropped south. Connor:


Dmitry:


Then, after a dozen turns in the sun, we wrapped around the rocks and into the shade of the huge north face.


The entrance had been shiny with hard rime, but after a few turns the snow softened into nice grandma skin. Apparently "grandma skin" is not a totally mainstream term - it means old pow, but is longer to say and more confusing.


The face reminded us of Bird Peak: steep turns on a once glaciated face towards the telltale moraines and ice carved U-shape below. Dmitry:


Connor:


Leapfrogging down, we pulled off in a safe zone on a flute to watch Connor rip into the sun a thousand feet below us and still several thousand feet above the water.


We stopped briefly in the sun of the hanging valley to remove the unnecessary insulation of our puffy jackets and take one last look at the iconic face.

Photo: Dmitry Surnin

Connor and Tony:


Then it was time for some of the most fun (and definitely longest) tree skiing I've done in Southcentral AK. The avy chutes towards the ocean had all the pillows, natural half pipes, log grinds, blind rolls, and ice chunks that an adventure skier could ask for. Dmitry:


Scraping to a halt at the sea ice, we were right on time for the scheduled negative low tide. Unfortunately five to twenty five of ice were now sitting on that cruiser beach walking.

Photo: Dmitry Surnin

Does it look firm? Its not, think crotch deep mud-slushie.


We'd walk on top of the ice just long enough to start to trust it, only to get crushed by a waste-deep plunge followed by crawling through the quagmire.


On the bright-side, it was very scenic. Tony and Dmitry tiptoeing on top of the goo:


Times like these are the most memorable. I'll be laughing about this alder rappel for a long time.


Compared to other recent incidents, this rappel went very very smoothly.


After a couple hours and a few miles of slushmageddon, the cliffs forcing us to stay on the "beach" relented and we crawled back into the woods.


The woods were a huge improvement and, again, almost too straightforward. We climbed the low shoulder, skinned down, over, under and thru fallen trees, and popped out on the Hope Road in no time. APB: leave the beach and skin through the woods as soon as you can.
 

What a great day. Skiing to the ocean and walking the beach back has great symmetry - we had zero regrets about doing it. But, I doubt any of us will be doing it again soon. 

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