November 23, 2014

2014 Late Start to Tincan Winter

Alaska's most popular backcountry skiing (and boot packing) destination must be Tincan Ridge at Turnagain Pass. And, rainy weather at the road and stormy in the alpine did not dissuade seven powder-starved souls that endured the weather and the hike.  By late November, a normal winter would have well worn ski track and boot packer track in a good snow pack from the Seward Highway through the forest and up to the alpine bowl. But 2014 snows are late, and hiking the first 300-ft vertical was required.
Drizzly, Drippy FUN!
Skinning was possible just above the intersection of the Iditarod and Tincan Ridge Trails. Kruser, Doc and yours truly wandered around semi-lost in the alpine whiteout above timberline, but relied our combined experience of nearly 100 seasons of skiing this mountain, plus a brief window of visibility, to persevere to our normal Tincan turnaround. The visibility window vanished for our descent, but the alpine bowl snow skied really well. Even though the vertigo-inducing whiteout had us asking ourselves if we were moving or motionless a few times, we remained upright and enjoyed the first lap so much, we returned for another.
Our Blustery Turnaround
Knuckle draggers outnumbered the skiers 4 to 3, skinners outnumbered post-holers 4 to 3, men outnumbered women 7 to 0 and humans to dogs 7 to 1.
Doc Dropping In
Kruser brought his waterproof camera and collected all of the photocredits. And he deserves all of the rallying credit as yours truly's will was wilted by the rain at the road. Thanks Kruser! Your rally call led me to powder!
Fondly recalling this route from free-heeling days with sub-70 mm wide skis at the widest ski tip, we had a terrific time on our contemporary alpine touring gear with skis exceeding 100 mm at the under-foot narrowest width. During our ascent, we imagined the way back down would be hideous. But, we enjoyed the skiing all the way down to the Iditarod Trail, and the 2" fresh snow made the hiking more tolerable than we had imagined.




While the fresh snow made our hike out a lot easier, we still managed to get muddy boots hiking across the unfrozen meadow.

November 1, 2014

Return to Patrick's Line

October skiing at Crow Pass, Alaska became a tradition because this place has accessible glacial terrain and early snow. Halloween 2014 continued the tradition for Kruser and yours truly with an excellent tour up the Summit Mountain Glacier, down Patrick's Line toward Raven Glacier and back home via Crow Pass. For us, the Crow Pass ski trip tradition goes back to the early 1980's. 
Long Time Since We've Skinned from Trail Head in October
Boney, but Skinnable

Windy Corner
On many a trip nowadays, one of us will recall our conversation from the 1980's that asked the question, "Do you think we'll be doing this when we're in our 40's?" At the time, forty years old seemed far too old to be doing what we were doing in our 20's. The reader must do the math, but the answer has been affirmative plus a good number of years.

But contemplating the question in greater depth, the answer is not simple mathematics. The gear we used in in the early 80's - leather boots, skinny skis, and 3-pin bindings would probably yield a failed trip, i.e. broken bodies, 30 years after the question was originally posed. Our current technology of wide and lightweight skis, fixed heels for the descent, stiff boots, and nearly frictionless pivot for the ascent has increased yours truly's 'ability' and enabled this trip well beyond my 40's.

And, with age comes satisfaction with the knowledge that what some lesser experienced have concluded "no-go due to crevasses", can be a safely skiable, untracked powder paradise if you know where, and where not to go.
Moraine - Jewel Mountain (Right)
Toe of Jewel Glacier
You gotta go to know - after viewing the weather update in bed at 6:00 a.m., I had to repeat this thought a few times before finally rousing to go. The weather forecast was accurate: blustery and snowy. But, we managed to find enough windows to see and thoroughly enjoy the route. Knowing the route helped 'seeing it' with the in-and-out visibility. There are numerous crevasses deep enough to kill - this trip is not recommended. Crevasses and snow bridges change over time - we found some surprises requiring extreme caution in our glacier travel method.
"Seeing" the Route


Summit Mtn Glacier
Tracks Lead into a Crevasse
Following our tracks would be very risky - there are many open and deep crevasses. Extreme caution is required to safely navigate Patrick's Line.
Patrick's Line to Raven
Lower Patrick's
Patrick's Line is nuanced below the glacier with swales filled-in with snow and adequate inclination to ski but not so steep that skis hit rocks with more forceful turns.
Raven Glacier - Looking North from Lower Patrick's Line
The 2014 October snowpack was terrific at the trail head and lower portion of the Crow Pass Trail, but up high it is mediocre to thin. The storm Kruser and yours truly endured on our Halloween 2014 trip likely added a significant amount.
Touring Back to the South in Blustery Winds
Crow Pass Cabin - A Welcome Sight on the Return
Great Place for a Break from the 30 mph Winds
Back on the Trail
Open Water on Crow Creek
On Our Way Home
Rocks!
And Other Hazards
Crow Pass has a rich history of mining and skiing, almost 100% compatible - the abandoned mine tram cables an exception. Though my ski bases are worse for a few rocks, the ski home was a lot of fun. For the end of October, coverage on the lower section was as good as I've seen it.

Photocredits: Kruser & YT

October 28, 2014

Pastoral Autumn 2014

Kruser, mw, and yours truly toured to Pastoral in boot-top fresh snow.  The glacier skied well, but we scraped through to rocks or tundra on many turns on the return from Taylor Creek Pass.
An early start
After starting up in the dark, the warm sunshine was a godsend. We had a thin snowpack, but good ski up to the pass. The uptrack to Taylor Creek Pass was great - return was rocky. Beyond the pass, mounting the glacier was tricky and rocky.
mw at Taylor Creek Pass back lit by the rising sun and Pastoral


The concentration of crevasses was worrisome, but not too surprising given the low snowpack of last winter.



mw on the Return Leg at the Glacier Mount
Finding the right place to mount the glacier was tricky, but worth the effort. On the outbound leg, we descended mw's uptrack with skins on - it was rocky.