Saturday, August 20, 2022

Telemint Ski - 4.13.2022

Solo backcountry skiing is an uncommon treat for me. What makes it special is also what makes it rare: travel in avalanche terrain is inherently dangerous. We reduce that risk by the shared reliance on the experience, observations, decision making, and rescue abilities of our partners. 

The valuable presence of these treasured partners also inevitably decreases one's connection with the land as its drowned out by the connection with other humans and the slight decrease in awareness that is impossible to avoid when someone has your back.

Winter mountain objectives (and the requisite stable conditions) that are within my solo risk tolerance are few and far between, but Telemint has been on my mind as one such option for awhile. So, on a partnerless weekday when I thought conditions were lining up, I decided to give it a go. 

It was around noon by the time I finally left the Goldmint Parking lot and started the familiar approach up the Little Susitna valley. Fond memories flowed past me as I kicked up the fast crusty spring trail: like Souvenir, which gets hit by gap winds bleeding over from the Matanuska Valley much more than the core of Hatcher Pass does:

In addition to the echoes of days past were lines, peaks and bowls that have been on my to-list list for years and are gonna stay there for at least another year. There's just so much to ski and explore here - its a paradise. Teacup Bowl and its north couloir are ones that we've been staring at forever while exploring the Independence Mine valley:

As the valley curved north, its crown jewels, the Mint Peaks, rose in front of me. Montana Peak and Spearmint:

Montana Peak was a great climb and an adventurous ski that found us racing loose snow avalanches out of the upper Kashwitna River drainage late on a spring day years ago. I'm still plotting about Spearmint, and I'm sure others have it on the mind too.

Farther up the valley I crossed the wandering tracks of another lone traveler: a wolverine whose footprints appeared and disappeared as she travelled from firm spring snow to the softer snow not yet hardened by the oven of the warming sun.

Approaching my turn to the Triplemint glacier valley, Troublemint's jagged ridgeline of spires filled the sky in front of me. Its fun to fantasize about skiing this one, but a lot harder to make it happen.

Seven miles after leaving the car I was at what would be my crux for the day: the steep climb out of the Little Su into the hanging glacial valley of Telemint. This is definitely avalanche terrain, and we've been turned around here before by down-valley winds loading the convex rolls with sensitive pillows of windslab. But, this time my forecast was correct and the slope was guarded from instability by a bulletproof and very slippery sun crust. Kind of like my Verts, I almost never carry my ski crampons, but this time I was glad I did. Short of using my fingernails as claws I wouldn't have made it up this ice rink without the crampons.

With it huts finally soaked in sun after shivering in the dark cold of winter, the Bomber Traverse is a popular option this time of year. Even on a week day, it was packed with people: I counted 19 people on the route before I climbed out of sight. I wonder if I know the dude peeing?!?!

With the help of my crampons digging into the slippery melt-freeze of the skin track I was soon up the steep valley wall and chasing the blown-in shadow of an old skintrack towards the summit. Maybe this skinner was from Tony and Austin who'd been up here recently - they'd skied a cave of a couloir that was fully overhung by a huge flake of peeling granite. That one is definitely on the list.

Working my way higher up the smooth old glacier, more peaks and memories came into view. I looked west at the bulging mass of Lynx Peak which Zack, Erik, Nyssa and I skied on a frigid January day a couple years ago. There's a lot of promising looking lines snaking down this treasure.

Then I looked right and past Lynx to Backdoor Gap and the couloir next to it that draws the eye of skiers away from the less exciting gap.

Like many of the small glaciers hiding in shady pockets of the Talkeetnas, the Telemint was a nice angle for skinning with no obvious crevasse hazards. It wasn't til near the top that I had to throw in some switchbacks.

There were old tracks all the way to the summit, but conditions quickly change, and I've learned my lesson way too many times standing near (and falling off) suspect edges. I carefully probed my way to the top making sure the probe hit terra firm before each step forward. Tony, Connor, and Dmitry will remember a particularly tenuous and thorough day probing our way up Alpenglow.

The extra-thorough summit probing was just another example the kind of careful and in-tune travel that is especially necessary when solo in the mountains. Smiling on the small summit, I sent Nyssa an update, ate a snack, then started to survey the view.

Like every summit, Telemint has its own unique views and I was excited about what new ideas would pop up for me. Nine miles due east I wondered about Lava Mountain; its looks to have some ski potential, and a lot of gnar:

Closer and more realistic as a ski destination were two walls of shaded spines peppered with rock that spilled into a tributary of Moose Creek. I'll put that one on the five-year hit list.

At the head of Moose Creek I could see part of the east couloir that we used to access the summit cone of Montana Peak, boy there was some bad snow that day.

Then I looked west at the familiar terrain of Archangel Valley and the Pinnacle. The terrain around here just links up so nicely...except when it doesn't.

Just beyond the Pinnacle I reminisced over the five couloirs hidden by the walls of Fairangel Valley. One of them is particularly skinny, and may really be only suited for snowblades, or dare I say...plunge stepping?

With my stomach refueled with dirty calories and my mental rolodex crammed with even more bad ski ideas it was time to decide on a way down. I was immediately pulled towards the corn of the south face. A chute just southeast of the summit tempted me, but I just could not prove to myself that it was continuous. I really really did not want to find myself booting solo back up that cooking face if it ended in a cliff.

On the other side of the summit I found a line that I was pretty sure went. I shuffled, clambered, and skinned back and forth at the top until the slightly angles of each view confirmed continuous snow.

Dropping in I found the creamy and wet snow formed by the hot days of the spring sun followed by cold nights of clear sky. Halfway down the line bifurcated splitting north towards Tony and Austin's cave-oir. I peeked in, but this aspect did not have the high certainty stability of the corn, so I continued my southerly route.

Descending to the basin below, I looked back up at my line, and the line I had considered that definitely did not go to the lookers right of the summit.

Then it was time to let me skis run and enjoy flowing through the rolling mushroom patch of scree and talus covered in pillows of snow back to the Little Su.

Just short of the creek my ski popped off as I bounced from one pillow to the next. I chased after on one poorly-balanced ski it as the escapee sledded towards the deep pools of the creek, then breathed a sigh of relief as it came to a stop just short of a swim lesson. I thought about a similar story where Robert lost a ski to the snow bridges of Ship Creek and had to finish Arctic to Indian on one ski. This was a lucky reminder to clean all the ice out of my tech fittings...and, more obviously, make sure my leashes are properly attached. 

Back to the trail and with both my skis reattached I started the rolling double pole to the car. It was the same trail as it had been a few hours ago, but traveling the opposite direction brought a new set of views. I was particularly intrigued by some lines on the north side of Delia that Zack has been talking about:

It was spring at the car as I changed out of my sweaty and perennially stinky winter wear into more appropriate and less smelly clothing for the baking sun. As I drove down the Hatcher Pass road the adventure wasn't over yet: there was a bat flying down the road in front of me. Admittedly this picture looks totally fake, but its a good reminder that seeing wildlife and wild things is really just a matter of putting in a lot of time outside - and something I try to remind myself of every time my feet are cold, the trailbreaking is deep, and the alders are particularly thick.

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