Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Chum Bucket Ski - 1.30.2022

Spring and summer in AK is a manic time of year. Fueled by the midnight sun I become a caffeinated wreck who finds myself craving projects at 12:30 AM - I think I'm beginning to know what meth is like. Every week my self inflicted sleep deficit grows; my blogging backlog is not far behind it. Hopefully I never catch up on this backlog as the memories of one great adventure after the next pile up, but between midnight mania, midnight fishing, and midnight real estate mini-empirism here is an effort to catch up with a look back at a sort of soft, sort of stable, and sort of sunny January day at Turnagain.

Mid-winter at Turnagain was beset with storm after storm followed by surface hoar after buried surface hoar event. It was frustrating and had me wondering why I was pretending to work as a corporate drone in this unstable and dark land.

Swimming thru the classic fog of a midwinter inversion.

By late January we finally got a break in the cycle with a brief window of calm, cold, and clear weather. Well. Sort of clear. The "problem" with these calm midwinter periods following nuclear winter events is they leave the air full of moisture, and with no wind to scoop the soup out it becomes fog. You can get above the fog, but its particularly annoying when you are also navigating a considerable avalanche day with BSH 18 inches down. So, as we swam thru the fog of the Cornbiscuit parking lot and felt our way across the bridge, we knew it would be tricky finding a safe way up Seattle Ridge to Gulch Creek and eventually TT43. Using a combination of jedi mind tricks and black magic Tom located fresh avalanches debris whose bed surface we could safely follow to the top.

As we climbed higher, breaks in the clam chowder began to appear, teasing us with windows into Lynx Creek:

By the ridgeline we were just above the sea of clouds and chasing the sun towards the sunny south steeps of the Chum Bucket.

To the best of my knowledge, the etymology of the "the Chum Bucket" comes from a single sentence on Dongshow Productions (one of the top AK ski-stoke blogs of all time). Cresting the ridge and peering into the steep and complex terrain of the bucket, my first thought was: "oh hell no, there is absolutely no way I am going in there".

On a considerable day with a thick slab teetering on buried goose feathers of weak snow, the wind-loaded flutes, spines, and ribs of Gulch Creek looked like a great way to get caught in an avalanche. After hemming and hawing about what in the world we were doing there, we decided to rely on the tried and true strategy of skiing terrain that had avalanched during the storm cycle.

Peering into a steep chute at the top of the basin, we confirmed a mid-storm crown before each ski-cutting the starting zone. Tom:

With the snow holding to its precarious balance we continued into the abyss. Nyssa and Tom stuck to the safer flushed-out chute while I could not resist skiing the rimey warts of the flute next to it. Nyssa:

Needless to say I hit more rocks than them. Even more needless to say, I did more damage to my skis.

We skied until we were enveloped by the clouds hanging in the valley, then headed up for more. On the way up we stuck to the same program as the way down: boot up what had already slid down.

Behind the iron legs of Nyssa and Tom I just did my best to keep up, and soon they had us back on top for another lap. This time we moved deeper into the zone to sample a hanging flute draining into a chute. Tom did the honors of dropping first:

I followed, then pulled off in a safe zone as Nyssa worked her slough as she went zooming past.

As the face transitioned to a chute, we tucked into a safe zone to watch Tom rip past. He makes a hell of a ski model.

Just getting into Gulch Creek is a process and January days are short; two laps down and it was time for us to start working our way back to the road. 

On the way back to the road we of course couldn't resist egressing via TT43. As we skinned south along the ridge we looked back at where we had started the day. I'm looking forward to coming back here to thoroughly cover the Chum Bucket with tracks.

Funneling winds in both directions, the southwest corner of Turnagain Pass is a vortex of cold air. We shivered at the top of TT43 as we looked into the enormous terrain trap below us. Unlike the previous two laps, TT43 had not slid during the storm and would be a real test of stability. So, we sent the lightest skier first. Nyssa:

In the wild purple and gold light of midwinter she made it look great as she arced perfect turns down the untouched pow pow of the basin. This is exactly what I though Alaska was gonna be like when I was a dreaming spring chicken in Colorado.

In the welterweight class of slope testers, Tom was up next:

He made a few turns on the relative safety of a spine, then stopped as the snow separated from the slope and flowed away from him.

Considerable avalanche danger indeed.

We watched as the avalanche stepped across the bowl and ripped past Nyssa who had wisely picked a safe zone in an area that had already slid. A good reminder on the importance of a good, real, and really good safe zone.

Knowing that, for a variety of reasons mainly involved my propensity for dislodging snow, my pressure bulb would be bigger than Tom's, I made sure to ski terrain where the snow would drain away from me if it slid.

We recouped at Nyssa's safe spot in the basin, chatted about how Tom's wife would feel about his avalanche, then skied another two thousand feet of cold smoke to the moose sanctuary of the Six Mile meadows. In the single digit temps of the valley bottom we ran across the creek, then put on all our clothes in preparation for thumbing it back up the road to our car.

It was nearly dark when our hitch hiking salvation arrived in the form of a Jeep Gladiator captained by Josiah. Josiah told us he'd slammed on the brakes thinking that we were a moose in last light of the short January day. Then, after offering us Natty Ice Lemonades, and with Nyssa and Tom shivering in the back of his truck, he drove us back to our Subie. What a guy!

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