Sunday, June 12, 2022

Temptation Ski - 2.16.2020

Note: updated below the original post to include an evening summit lap on the south face in April 2022.
After a really satisfying Saturday slog on Tanaina, all I wanted was more. So, by 7:30 the next morning we were headed to Hiland Road and Temptation.

Admittedly, Temptation would be easier from the Artic Valley Road. However, that seemed like a waste of the 9 hours of daylight we had to work with. Best to add several thousand vertical feet and a few miles. By the time we were done with the first unnecessary climb to Rendezvous Ridge, the Tordrillos were glowing across the inlet in morning light.

Meanwhile, Temptation's couloirs remained shaded by their deep rock walls.

No one would call the snowpack of the Front Range stable, and safely skiing towards Ship Creek was a process. So was skinning downhill thru the final section of alder gymnastics and beaver ponds. To add insult to bushwhacking injury, we both iced our skins on the soggy ponds. I couldn't help wondering what was wrong with us as we scrapped our skis in the zero degree temps. Ripping laps at Alyeska would have been far easier.

Refueled with gas station power rings (thanks to Malcolm for this descriptive term for donuts) and now with functioning skins we briefly joined the Arctic to Indian trail before climbing out of the valley and towards the peak.

The huge north face brought us back into the cold shade as we approached the apron of the line.

At the top of the apron we stopped to strap our skis to our packs. Behind us our first lap and basically everywhere else was sunny. Who likes sunlight anyways?

Above, it was hard to believe the line actually went, instead seemingly ending in hundreds of feet of vertical rock.

Fortunately we were saved from rock climbing in our ski boots by a hard dog leg in the chute.

Things got even better when our couloir ended with a short traverse leading into another gully to the top. I remember a similar bifurcating couloir that we skied in Montana Creek years ago. That day also involved lots of shooting at ptarmigan with a silenced pistol.

The split is visible in the middle of the picture below. The skiers left might go, especially on snowblades.

We made quick work off the final gully and were soon basking on the ridge. We were separated from the summit by about 500 feet of sketchy traversing thru unstable snow, and I was happy to at least pretend to be a skier and not a peakbagger.

Just like the previous day, my eyes were drawn north towards Ram Valley and Peters Creek. In front of those is Hanging Valley which Brady, Sarah, and I wallowed up on a cold nipple-deep day.

Andrew measured that long C-shaped gully on the south side of Raina as a full mile of turns. Hiding in front of Raina and Peeking is Cumulus, which seems like a minnow in the pond of bruisers that is Eagle River.

Despite being only a mile or two from Tanaina, Temptation brought different views and accompanying great memories. Eagle Peak seemed almost within reach; Ethan, Brady and I had a great time crawling through alders to ski that one.

The sunny ridge was nice, but we needed to keep moving unless we wanted to finish in the dark, so we finished lunch, squeezed thru the tight entrance, and dropped in.

Typical of big couloirs that constantly have spindrift tumbling down, the snow was a mix of powder, supportable crust, and not supportable crust. Just the right mix to make me feel like a horrible skier.

What a rad ski - the coolie was way deeper and longer than I'd expected.

As we worked our way down, the slough-cone built up and the skiing got better. Seth says "Slough Cone" was his high school nickname. I still need to cross check that claim. He's also claimed to have one testicle, I'm not going to check that.

Gentle enough to not steadily spindrift, the apron had the best snow of the line.

From under the big amphitheater we party skied down the moraine, through the alder glades, and past piles of moose poop to Ship Creek.

Then it was time for one more long climb back towards Hiland Road. I don't know if I would have made it without Spotify's Hip Hop Don't Stop playlist.

Sliding back into the dusky parking lot, I reflected on how objective skiing is not always the constant smiles of lap after lap at the resort, but it makes sweet memories that you smile about forever.

Spring 2022 Update:
Like it often is, spring 2022 was bonkers for the lucky skiers of Southcentral AK. With a fat snowpack in the mountains above Anchorage, we tried to take maximum advantage of our local "half-day" options. After a dreamy Tikishla - Knoya - Kanchee linkup a week before with Bob, I was excited to sneak out of work early and head back up the North Fork of Campbell Creek.

The strong spring sun had been busy working on the south slopes and there was a lot more bare tundra as we left the Dome parking lot behind and climbed into the valley.

Before the work day was over we were at the top of Tikishla Pass and looking back at our fair city by the sea. It still blows me away that there is a city that offers the career and (relatively) affordable housing options our does right next to so much darn beautiful wild country. 

The backside of Tikishla Pass was, should we say, dry. Most would have called it unskiable. In retrospect walking down it would have been faster, less treacherous, and definitely easier on our skis.

I think that technically qualifies as "continuous snow", right? 

Down the pass and into Snowhawk Valley we merged with the tracks of a wolverine on a mission. Its not that rare to see the tracks of these lonely wanderers in our mountains, but it sure is special when you get to see the live thing. Its a matter of putting in the time outside to get the gift of even a fleeting glimpse at these unicorns of the north.

Following the wolverine up-valley, Tanaina's remote north couloir emerged from the rock face ahead. Nyssa and I previously skied this gem on an incredible weekend that also featured the north side of Temptation.

A good day of backcountry skiing is maybe 5% good skiing with the rest made up of 95% bad snow, bushwhacking, blisters, approaching, egressing, and snacks. Just like any good day this one featured some nearly impossible downhill skinning down a steep and icy sidehill (note the tracks). 

A few hours and seven miles after leaving the parking lot we were done with the approach and starting up the south face of Temptation itself. I remember a Jackson Hole rad-dog pro skier who will remain unnamed telling me that a 3 mile approach is too long. He should try sitting at a desk for work - then 7 miles will seem great for a Friday evening ski. Or we are participating in the niche sport of slogging that is more obscure than competitive eating.

Despite days of solid melt-freeze cycle the thin and spatially variable south face of the peak was an alarming maze of whompfing and settling snow. We generally avoid the thin faces of the continental snowpacked FRange like the plague in the winter, and even in the spring we didn't feel great about it. But, the saving grace was the discontinuous nature of the instability as noted by this small slide we popped as we neared the summit ridge.

Gaining the ridge, it was nice to be off the face and brought with it delicious views deeper into our incredible state park. As Tom puts it: "this place would be a national park anywhere else".

We looked at Koktoya, and then miles past it at the north face of Bird Ridge Overlook where Nyssa, Dmitry, and I had a great day of wallowing and sweating two years ago. Still some more lines for us to go back for there!

Swiveling north to survey the mountains separating the north and south forks of Ship Creek, I reminisced about a couple great camping spots hiding next to emerald tarns there.

Tail Feather, the Wing, Bird's Eye, and the Beak are cool, but they are dwarfed by the giants of Eagle River just to their north. Like Calliope:

And the valley's namesake: Eagle Peak. Skiing the steep hanging snowfield on the top of that peak will put a tickle in your grundle, your toes, or wherever else you feel those sensations.

We finished our dinner of gummy bears, pizza, and Kirkland seltzers then dropped into the long corn of the face.

Kind of like ascent, the face continued to whompf and collapse. Just below Erin you can see the outline of a 50' X 10' slab cracking and settling, but not sliding. Like everything in the avy game, whompfs provide a piece of information in a puzzle that is never complete and doesn't have set rules - like here where we were smack in the middle of a big avy face but the rumbling whompfs weren't producing the large avalanches that they are stereotyped to.

Growing up as a backcountry skiing grasshopper in Colorado where corn often happens at 10:00 in the morning it still blows me away that corn on a south face here can be a 7:00 PM thing. Nyssa:


The hard girls and 2,000 vertical feet of tracks from the summit of Temptation:

The face was a great ski and we were stoked, but the surprise dessert was the party ski down the long backcountry groomer of Snowhawk Valley.

We skied until we ran out of pitch then put on our skins from the climb into the South Fork Chester Creek drainage. A week ago Bob and I had skied from here all the way back to our neighborhood, but in that week the sun had gobbled up the snow to the alpine.

So, instead of the goofy road shred back to the 'hood we traversed past the Dome and back to the parking lot. Running out of snow, we transitioned to running shoes in the evening light, then took one last grateful look into our endless backyard before the jog back to the car.

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