Thursday, February 18, 2021

Peak 5100 Skiing - 3.22.2020

Note: Updated to include a sunny weekend in Two Mile Creek.

Some of the best days of backcountry skiing are the those spent easily linking valleys and peaks - climbing one valley wall then effortlessly skiing deeper. One March day in the Mint Valley was just that as we connected lap after lap around Delia Creek and Peak 5100.

In the cold of the clear early morning we skinned out of the dark parking lot and into the hanging valley north of Delia Creek. We followed our skintrack from a few days before which was barely visible under a thick blanket of new snow. 

Photo: Brandon Schmidt

We wrapped upwards around the back of the valley and into the sun. At the top we soaked up the warm spring light and views of the big peaks rising from the Little Su, then transitioned to descend back into the shade.

Photo: Brandon Schmidt

When Brandon and his skis slid over the dark edge we knew it was going to be a good day. There was no sign of a surface slab as the faceted pow sloughed lighted away from his turns. 

Going from one safe spot to the next we worked our way down the curving banana chute. Erin:

Photo: Brandon Schmidt

From the bottom we watched Erin cranked deep turn after glorious turn thru the apron.

Back at up-track from an hour before, it was time to reap the rewards from the early work and yoyo up.

Photo: Brandon Schmidt

The top brought more crisp sun and we decided to stay in it a little longer by skiing east. Delia Peak is center left while Peak 5100 is center; they both have several skiable aspects that are perfect for lapping once a couple up-tracks are installed.

Photo: Brandon Schmidt

Following the theme of easy travel, the route would take us deeper towards Delia and 5100. Nyssa:

And with that was another flop from spring warmth to wintery shade. We hustled to transition and start the spiral towards the summit of Peak 5100. Above me are 5100's north chutes, many of these can be safely entered by sneaking around the school bus cornices:

Photo: Brandon Schmidt

The spiral brought us to a sub ridge of the peak, and back into the light. 

Photo: Brandon Schmidt

Sticking with the easy-travel theme, we used the far side of the ridge to move into another valley. Nyssa and Erin found a fun sneak chute to rip. Erin:


After three laps, our directional travel had finally brought us to the last piece of the curl to 5100. Tucked away on the left sub-peak of Delia is a bonus chute that not only looks like a whale (according to Josh), but is also a great way to squeeze out more easy vert. Its lurking under the fin on the left:

Photo: Brandon Schmidt

Nyssa lead the charge and put in a zipper of a skintrack to the saddle from where we were drooling over Delia's west. 

From the summit Lone Tree Gulch stretched towards the heart of the Mint Valley. Souvenir is visible as the bears ears on the horizon, as is Arcose Peak. What a stacked zone, and still so much to explore.

After breaking trail, Nyssa earned first tracks.

With the magic carpet already established, it only made sense to go back for more. Like I said, the skin was a zipper.

Up next was the north face of 5100. Finding our way around the behemoth dangling cornices was a bit tedious and took some back and forth as we, tiptoed, peered, and then triangulated a work around. It was worth the effort.

But. Wait. Wait. Wait. I think we missed one! 

Photo: Brandon Schmidt

The only logical solution was to take advantage of our spiraling skintrack and go back up for more. Finding the trapdoor thru the cornices took probing, poking, and pole-whacking. Again, it was worth it. Nyssa:


Unfortunately there are only so many hours of March daylight and we were running low, so we starting breaking a long trail ascending towards the ridge overlooking Gold Mint. Well aware of the lurking deep instabilities, Brandon and Nyssa stretched out hundreds of yards behind me. Catching up at the top, they were all smiles.

A the end of the day, its these smiles that mean the most.

And with those smiles plastered on our faces we slipped into two thousand feet of powder painted in golden evening light towards the parking lot, LaCroix, and beer.

One of the things that makes Anchorage a backcountry skiing mecca is the number of distinctly different zones around us. When a couple of em are in bad shape one is usually still good. This has been the case lately. As the Kenai and Gach get crushed by the wind event after wind event, we have taken refuge from the cyclone at Hatcher.

Its still extreme low tide in the Talkeetnas, so after harvesting all the blueberries on the grassy slopes of the Valley of Sin, Sabrina, Nyssa and I went looking for more smooth tundra on Arcose Ridge. We used our favorite approach up the hanging valley of Twin Lakes before dropping into the smooth faces above Two Mile Creek.

Cherishing the midwinter joy of skiing sunny slopes, we lapped the face while it still had morning sun.


We tiptoed tenderly thru thin snow at the top of each run, before opening it up as we entered the filled in gullies.

Photo: Nyssa Landres

After three laps the fleeing sun chased us back into the shade, and we chased wolverine tracks towards a west facing bowl of spinelets and ridges that was starting to come into the light.

Ahead of us we could see Josh, Nikki, and Lucas breaking trail towards the same destination. Turns out they were doing a better job of chasing wolverines and had seen the giant mountain weasel breaking its own trail towards Delia Peak:

Photo: Josh Gray

We caught Josh and Nikki at the bottom of the bowl as they transitioned for another lap. We don't get to ski with these two enough, and were stoked to get to put a skinner in with them. From the wide ridge at the top we each picked our line of choice then slipped into the sunny face. Nyssa:

With burning legs we rendezvoused at the bottom and discussed another lap. The day was headed in the direction of 10,000 vertical feet, but Sabrina accommodated our neurosis and let us jog up for another lap. Gotta catch em all!

Photo Josh Gray

Then with the shadows lengthening, and the snow turning gold in the last light we all headed back up for one last long lap towards the Little Su.

Before dropping we looked back proudly at the thoroughly skied bowl.

Photo: Josh Gray

On Saturday we had done a good job of putting in lots of skintracks and then not using them again. With Sunday's tired legs we decided to return to our freshly installed highways. This time we were joined by Tony, and the Kiester siblings Seth and Shey. The Kiesters were some of the first people I met in Anchorage, and it was fun chatting about mutual memories and connections from AK and CB.

Seth, Tony, and I have had many memorable misadventures over the years, its always a treat to ski with these two, reminisce, and talk conspiracy theories. Tony:

We started Sunday playing the same game as the day before and lapping the glorious morning sun behind Twin Lakes. Its definitely getting to be sunscreen season.

Sunny snow and the lack of trail breaking received the Nyssa seal of approval:

With a storm brushing past us to the south, we knew we'd eventually lose sunlight. So, as the sun moved off the sunny east slopes we decided to drop back into Twin Lakes instead of heading farther from the parking lot.

Then as the blanket of patchy clouds floated in front of the sun, we dropped into a few milky laps in Delia Creek. Nyssa:

Suddenly it was 5 PM - time to race back to the parking lot for drinks, and then begin the hunt for diablo breadsticks.

1 comment:

  1. Haha, looks like a fun day. I hit that northwest chute on 5100, I think one storm cycle before this (and utilized your skintrack in the valley to the west), and got pretty much that exact same picture of my buddy :)