Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Wolverine Peak Ski - 4.10.2020

It was April and we were all chomping at the bit. But, I was tired from my solo Bench Peak slog the previous day, and was looking for more vertical and less horizontal. So, Connor, Jordan, and I settled on a circumnavigation of a Turnagain classic - Wolverine.

We parked at the Eddies lot and followed the familiar trail into the woods before leaving the Iditarod Trail and contouring into Wolverine Creek. 

Leaving the hemlock forest behind, we startled two moose who, cautious of hungry bears, high-tailed it up the north face of Eddies. Oddly, the moose were still postholing towards the heavens as we skinned out of sight. 

Under Wolverine's iconic northwest-facing catcher's mitt we turned left and started climbing. I'd found good snow in the mid elevations of Bench the previous day, and hoped for the same, but no luck. By the the upper face we were front-pointing on a nearly unskiable mix of rime, ice, icy windboard, and debris.

Photo: Connor Johnson

Snow conditions were a far cry from when Mike, Waldo, George and I skied the line years ago:
Photo: Mike Ausman

But, as we all know, soft snow is really just a bonus, and we kept hacking steps towards the summit.

Photo: Connor Johnson

Another thing that's better than soft snow: scrambling in hard boots.

The hard snow helped make quick work of the climb, and we were soon taking in the views from the northeast corner of Turnagain Pass. Across Wolverine Creek we could see the tilted layers that form the stacked double fall line chutes of Eddies North

Photo: Connor Johnson

Holding spines, bowls, chutes, and crevasses, Explorer is a snow globe of AK skiing:

No one was particularly stoked at the thought of skiing the ice spines we'd just climbed, and we discussed our options.

In the shade below a chute dropping into the Flower Box seemed like it might go.

Photo: Connor Johnson

We gave it a go. If nothing else the snow was soft.

Photo: Connor Johnson

Skiing closer and closer to the roll, it looked more and more like a cliff. We peered over, sidestepped around, and tried to traverse. No two ways about it: our chute terminated in a 100 footer. As I have experienced firsthand, sending 100 footers is a great (ie traumatic) way to shatter bones (and cartilage).

Booting back up was the less painful option. Then, in search of a continuous line, we tackled the tedious task of traversing the exposed ridge.

Photo: Connor Johnson

After a nerve wracking 30 minutes of clinging to near-vertical rime we made it to continuous snow and skied towards the hanging valley above Twentymile River; I've heard there are carnivorous plants back there.

Photo: Connor Johnson


Directly above Jordan is our first attempt. Glad we didn't ski off that edge!

The soft not-above-a-cliff snow was rejuvenating and we were stoked to continue our loop of the massif. Tossing on our skins, we climbed towards another shoulder of the peak and were rewarded with a shady bowl.

The snow was okay, but more importantly it dropped us at the west face of Wolverine.

The west face is one of those rare lines that is steeper than it looks, and the angle ramped up as we booted higher.

Connor and Jordan led the charge as we transitioned from the face to the west summit ridge. The ridge was a real treat - a rib of snow hanging 2,000 feet above the creek below.

Sitting on the corniced summit knob, we looked at many special memories guarded by the huge peaks of the zone. Bench:

The Pregnant Woman:

Isthmus. What a great weekend adventure. You can do it with a sled, but I think that's less rewarding.

Carpathian and the Skookum Glacier. I love that line through the Skookum icefall, and I'd love to ski the south face of Carpathian.

After refueling on fig bars we dragged ourselves away from daydreaming and towards skiing. Jordan:


The west face was awesome: steep and soft with fun slough. We cranked directional turns as the loose snow poured past us. I'd like to link this up without skiing over large cliffs or clinging to rimed cornices. Jordan:

All too soon we were hooting through the last mellow turns and into the shade of Shark's Fin. Which is when we realized that one more short skinner up the fin, would give us one more long run.

On top of the fin we wondered what those mountain climbing moose had gotten up to. Following their tracks with our eyes we found one stuck between cliffs and alders way above the valley floor.

Where was the other? What was that brown blob down by the creek? And what were those giant craters in the snow. It was the other moose. The swamp donkey had tomahawked down 1,500 vertical feet of mountainside, bushes, and cliffs leaving a trail of hair behind.

Rumor has it that someone went back to harvest a backstrap and a quarter off that moose. They found its neck snapped and twisted in a knot but the meat unharmed. Hopefully a brown bear had the rest for breakfast. 

After a moment of silence for the flying steak we cruised ripe corn towards the Iditarod trail.

An hour later we were back at the car, sipping cider, and savoring a new memory.

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