Monday, June 10, 2024

Tikishla, Knoya, Kanchee, Nunaka Dome Skiing - 4.14.2022

Note: updated below the original post to include another great afternoon above Muldoon on 4.7.2024

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.

4.7.2024 Update:

Saturday morning found Nyssa and I in the Peters Creek parking lot with the unfortunately reality of a day planned around our sled, but a freshly locked closed sign in front of us.

How did we know it was fresh? Well, the CSP trail status website listed it as open that morning. And, it had been unlocked just one hour earlier when Seth and his powder pony had departed the parking lot in front of us.

Peters Creek does not provide easy ski access without a sled, nor were there other good ski conditions close by, so it was time to call an audible and jump back in the truck.

Having burned a solid chunk of the morning, and gasoline for that matter, on the tow out to Peters Creek, we needed something close to Anchorage.

The peaks above our old haunts of Muldoon were just what we were looking for. Once done returning the sled to our driveway where it was less likely to be stolen (or attacked) than the trailhead, we were eventually skiing out of the Dome trailhead.

The falling snow of the previous night began to clear above us as we crossed the gorge and skinned away from the creek and into a winter wonderland.

The wonder of the new snow soon became a drag as the strong spring sun began to bake the fresh snow. With each step we accumulated what seemed like pound after pound of storm snow super-glued to our wet skins.

It is incredible how these evil, high-heeled, snow anchors can shred hip flexors and morale. In the pain cave of the weighted slog I was reminded of a particularly hilarious glopping incident with a middle-aged birthday-boy friend.  His meltdown on a similarly beautiful day climaxed in a frantic announcement that he just wanted to be at home on his deck drinking beer.

After a couple miles of redlining with 20 pounds on our feet, we gave up on our nonfunctional skins and switched to booting as we reached the south face of Knoya.

It was a sign of the times that breaking trail up the mellow slopes with skis on our backs was a relief from skinning.

At the summit ridge, the clouds closed around us and winter returned. Following Nyssa's tracks thru the drifted snow as wind-driven snowflakes bit my face made me feel free in a wild world.

Peering west over the summit of Knoya, we looked down to find another group of skiers enjoying the loaded gully below. We watched them rip the deep snow, then followed suit.


With the sun obscured by clouds hanging from the peaks, the catalyst for the snow-epoxy was weakened and glopping reduced to level safe from sending us to the insane asylum.

On top of Kanchee, we picked our way thru the wind-scoured rocks and into the steep northwest headwall.

I like this line - its steep and complex - a bit like a scaled up version of Peak 3.


We farmed powder turns until the bowl ran out of slope, then began our last climb of the day up Nunaka Dome.

The northwest face of Nunaka Dome holds snow much better than its wind-ravaged compatriots on the Anchorage Front, and for no particular reason I've wanted to ski it for years. 

I was psyched to stand on top of this little dome and look down at the sheltered slope below.

Not too bad.

The blue-square turns brought us to the military road which we'd follow back to the old hood.

Skiing down this road is a funny little treat that tickles me just right - there's very few reasons to end up here on skis and you have to get it before it melts out for the year.

Skating, shuffling, and noodling down the road we came across a rare sight in the Anchorage Bowl. Appearing out of the woods from all directions were the fresh tracks of a pack of wolves rendezvousing on the trail.

With the overnight snow, these big snowshoe footprints were no more than a handful of hours old.

Souls filled by the rare tracks of this wild pack of ghosts so close to our city, we crawled through the Charlie Brown trees of the Muldoon Swamp to emerg at Little Dipper Park where our car was waiting.

Another great adventure above our one-of-a-kind ski town.


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