Thursday, September 22, 2022

Tikishla Peak Ski - 4.14.2022

There is a short window each spring in the Anchorage Front Range as the willow-choked valleys leading to the windswept faces of our peaks transition from bottomless facets and scary windslab, to fast and stable melt-freeze crust, before access is slowed by bare ground and emerging brush.

When the strong April sun began to metamorphose our ever changing snowpack into an efficient and stable crust, Bob and I were focused on taking advantage of it. We both had morning chores to attend to, and corn takes soften in Southcentral AK, so it was early afternoon by the time we were walking out of the Dome parking lot, sliding down the terrifying ice in the shady gorge, then crossing the footbridge into the North Fork of Campbell Creek. From here we hoped to link up Tikishla to Knoya to Kanchee, and if we were lucky, ski all the way back to the neighborhood.

The North Fork doesn't receive much precip to start with. Then you add in the strong downslope winds that pour over the Chugach and scour the valley floors. It doesn't take much sun to vaporize what snow is left. Fortunately dead grass and blueberry bushes are still sort of slippery. 

Reaching relatively continuous snow, or as much as that's a thing in the Front Range, we stopped for lunch. Bob ate delicious looking hummus wraps, while I probably ate something gross like old frozen pizzas - I need to hire Bob as a backcountry baking sensei. 

We were well past Knoya and about 4.5 miles from the car when we left the valley floor behind and started to climb towards the south face of Tikishla. As we climbed higher Anchorage came into view below us. What a place to live.

We followed sheep tracks across the hanging basin below the peak before climbing the incline towards the summit. At this point it was probably 4 PM and the sunny slope was just starting to soften - I don't think I'll ever get used to how much later this happens than in Colorado

Climbing higher we switched to efficient booting on corn that had spent the last week ripening thru a series of daily melting and freezing.

Now above the valley walls of Campbell Creek, the other icons of the FRange began to rise around us. I looked past Bob at the seemingly impossible Lightning Bolt Couloir striking through the cliffs of O'Malley's north face. There are some other "ski" lines tucked in there too - Brady and Brandon are still working on convincing me to try em out.

To the east of the unreasonable cliffs of O'Malley were the chutes of the Ramp that would appeal to more people who call themselves skiers, as opposed to alpinists.

The firm snow was fast and we zoomed up the east ridge to the summit.

The ridge brought even more views and memories. We looked into the heart of Ship Creek and the craggy ridge dividing it from the South Fork of Eagle River. There are some lines in there that some people would consider skiing. Scott and I skied, but mostly jogged, Calliope a few years ago, he has more slogging ideas back there that I'm looking forward to.

We talked about past and future adventure and misadventure ideas and slogs in Ship Creep, then dropped from the summit into nicely cooked corn.

The summit bowl wasn't anything special, but getting to ski off the summit of a peak is special in and of itself. Once down the bowl we shuffled past the sheep tracks in the hanging basin, then I chased Bob down the long ramp to the valley floor where we would start the climb up Knoya.

We slapped our skins on and climbed up the south gullies of Knoya. I was about ready for dinner, not more gross bars, and it was nice to just put my head down and follow in Bob's tracks. Above Bob is the west face of Tikishla, as well as Tikishla Pass which we've taken to access Temptation and Tanaina; I'd like to ski that west face sometime too - it looks tasty from town.

From the top of Knoya we watched the waxing moon rise above Ship Creek and past the south face of Temptation which Nyssa, Erin, and I would ski the following week.

Then, with the snow starting to glow in the evening light, Bob aired off the peak and into Knoya's west face.

With Kanchee still on our agenda, we didn't ski that far down the basin below Knoya; in the future I'd like rip its surfy gully that continues to descend past Kanchee.

With the evening light getting more magical as it cast lengthening shadows across the skeletons of the peaks, we finished our last climb of the day up Kanchee. Like I often talk about, every summit is special because it brings with it slightly different views into the nooks and crannies of these extraordinary places. After years of staring at it from the Glenn Highway, someday I'd like to ski this curved banana chute dropping north from Tikishla - its nice the bucket list is a bottomless well always refilling with more ideas, obscure ski lines, and unnecessary bushwhacking.

Complex, steep and sloughy, the turns off the summit of Kanchee were my favorites from the day. I watched Bob easily navigate a series of rock shelves then carve a huge slashing turn across the blond snow of the face.

With the setting sun cutting through the haze over the Tordillo Mountains then amplifying as it bounced off the waters of the Cook Inlet, the mountains lit on fire as we started to ski towards the South Fork of Chester Creek.

When we slid onto the road there was still plenty of snow left, and we were jazzed thinking that we'd likely be able to ski all the way to town.

The road was a hilarious Mario game as we skidded across and hopped over patches of dry ground, mud, manky snow, and moose tracks in an effort to ski all the way to the neighborhood. 

We crawled over the fence, looked back up at our golden tracks on Kanchee, shouldered our skis, then stepped onto the street.

Five minutes later we were back at the house with a new mountain memory hanging outside the living room window.


  1. Very sweet, Mike. I live a little vicariously thorough these stories, the way moms often do.