December 31, 2008

21 Below

If you think in absolute terms, ain't no thing, 439 Rankine. Well, 21F above zero (481R) is a lot more pleasant than 21F below zero. With the 21F below at Pete's Creek (Johnson) Trailhead, yours truly was totally worthless and weak with a total skin failure and no tape. Plus I missed the 'normal' up trail and followed a way less than optimal up track. Other than that, we had a great time on Pete's.

Robb was great - didn't berate me once (out loud, anyway). I'm sure it's just the thing he wanted to do, stand around in subzero therms while I repeatedly tried to rejuvenate my skins. 200 vertical feet, fail, rejuvenate 100 vert fail, and so on until it was futile. Thanks to my skin ineptitude, we made it almost to timber line, big day. As I blog this, freshly added glue is curing on my skins. One too many trips before reapplying the glue.

It was good to ski with Robb, even with my double skin failure frustrations. Always amazed at Robb's ability - even just after rehabbing a four fracture foot/ankle/tibia/fibia problem. Fixed-heel me couldn't keep up with free-heeled Robb on the descent.
Frozen eyelids!

December 30, 2008

Nike in my Psyche

The north aspects of Mt. Gordon Lyon are totally hammered with little snow and what remains is sastrugi. Hence, I bailed on my plan to drop the backside. But, the snow on the south facing aspects was sweet and worth a couple of late afternoon laps. There was a pleasant temperature inversion, too.

Arctic Valley is truly a treasure. Road accessible alpine country is relatively rare in Anchorage. Please join the Anchoreage Ski Club and support Alaska's oldest ski organization.

Nike missile sites remain from the Cold War era and sit above the Arctic Valley parking areas. The Nike missiles were decommissioned (I think), and the site now has communications towers, and a weather station. The station temperature was +9F; the thermometer on my car read 11 below in town - a very pleasant 20F inversion!

My psyche.

The Arctic Valley area of the Chugach Front Range is the fastest way to access alpine elevations above Anchorage. Summer tourists will find great hiking and exceptional views of Anchorage, Cook Inlet and the Alaska Range, and skiers will find lift served and back-country experiences. The ski area at Arctic Valley is a lift served area with exceptional back-country access to the Chugach Front Range. Having been blessed with countless powder days at Arctic Valley, I’m an avid advocate of this terrific front range experience.

This area is rich with Alaska skiing history. The Anchorage Ski Club, founded in 1937, operates Alpenglow, home of the eldest lift-served area still operating in Alaska. The Anchorage Ski Club is a nonprofit organization and the area is run by volunteers. The present-day area was established in the 1940’s as a civilian/military cooperative and still operates with cooperation from the United States Army of Fort Richardson. Arctic Valley Road is maintained by the army and patrolled by the well trained Military Police.

Present day Arctic Valley has a one surface lift and two chair-lifts situated in the northwest corner of Chugach State Park. Arctic Valley also has an enchanting 1960’s era day lodge remarkably well maintained and adorned with the best powder bells in ski country. Nozzles from cold war era Nike missiles, mounted upside down, are located within a comfortable ski pole tap of the chair number 2 to ring in the powder! Hearing that reverberation, I think: for whom the powder bell tolls, us of course!

The access road to Arctic Valley crosses Fort Richardson Military Reservation and some areas are marked as restricted. Speaking from experience, it is best to respect the signs. The military operated a chairlift and a surface lift on the southwestern flanks of Rendezvous Peak for many years. The chairlift is still shown on the current version of the USGS map, but both of these lifts have unfortunately been removed.

If powder is your pleasure, get a ticket to Arctic Valley and your powder chances are good. Alaska’s oldest ski patrol, the Denali Patrol, sometimes allows access to outer areas from the lifts. And plenty of back-country ski adventures can be enjoyed without riding the lifts. The Anchorage Ski Club asks that backcountry skiers stay clear of the ski area boundaries.

December 29, 2008

Return to Rusty

It was good to be back in the track. The Rusty uptrack was pleasant after the pain of setting it. Clear and colder, -5F. Added a layer.

A lap in the shadows on the "back side". COLD.

Yesterday's track from the saddle.

Entered the Rusty sunny side about 300 ft higher than yesterday. Crust was semi-supportable. Oh well, you gotta go to know. The snow below was soft and worthy of a short lap. On the way home, I began to question the wisdom of taking that last lap, arriving at 5 p.m. with a 3:48 sunset, but headlamp in the pack was unneeded insurance with the inspirational alpenglow.

Yesterday's track down Rusty Gulley. Skied great again today!

The Chugach Front Range Area falls mostly along the western and northern periphery of Chugach State Park. This park has skiing terrain from gently rolling cross-country touring delight, skate-skiing, rugged touring, yo-yo powder skiing, and multi-day trips from slogs to climbs with extreme exposure. I have probably spent more skiing time in this area than all of the other areas because I fortunately live on a property within earshot of the common boundary of Chugach State Park and Far North Bicentennial Park in Anchorage. Far North Bicenntenial Park has exceptional groomed skate and classic skiing trails, wildnerness touring, a 300-foot vertical chair lift (good place to learn), and even a ski jump.

The Chugach Front Range alpine has a notoriously unreliable snowpack above tree line. The ephemerality of the above tree line powder has a yin-yang balance to the remarkably reliable snow quality below tree line.

The quickest access to powder from Anchorage is, of course, the Anchorage hillside tail heads. The Anchorage bowl is bounded on the east by Chugach State Park, and there are several ways to access the Chugach front range from Anchorage. Starting from the north and working south, the front range access points are: Hiland Road, Arctic Valley Road, Stuckagain Heights, Prospect Heights, Upper O’Malley, Upper Huffman, Glen Alps, Canyon Road, and Clark Road.

This beta bit is a sampling of the "Anchorage Powder Guide to the Untracked". Enjoy the untracked.

December 28, 2008

Trusty Rusty - Chugach State Park

Clear and cold, zero fahrenheit, and vapor-like snow. Starting out with a flexible plan, the trip turned into a terrific time; definitely worth repeating. Rusty is a flank of Wolverine Peak in Chugach State Park. It is relatively easy to reach, though the "front side" (southwest aspect) has what appear to be impenetrable brush from a looker's perspective.

I had checked out the southwest aspect yesterday, and even made a feeble attempt at ascending it, but bailed before making much progress. So, today I decided to go up the "back side", the northern aspect, the one I've reported skiing earlier this season.

A closer look at the "back side" where the uptrack is now set.

Looking across Campell Creek from the Rusty saddle, down the SW aspect.

Planning to ski the top 500 feet or so above the brush, and then climb back to the saddle, I found a gulley that drew me in. The gulley could be a terrain trap, but the snow is very stable, and the incline above the gulley was over 35 degrees in a small area. Skiing into the gulley got me stoked.

Looking up the SW aspect.

A few turns into the gulley brought the realization that there was no going back. The gulley was super fun, and I mentally prepared for some serious bushwhacking. From my view from below, the day before, there appeared to be broad swaths of interwoven alders. After 300 or 400 ft vertical in the gulley, the alders choked it out and exit was necessary. I luckily stumbled on an old moose trail (they don't really like bushwhacking either) and followed it. Before long I popped out on the Middle Fork Trail with very little brush beating.

Going home.

December 27, 2008

Chugach State Park - Middle Fork

After the snow cat powder palooza yesterday, touring the Middlefork Trail in Chugach State Park was another beauty in the skiing spectrum. Temperatures in the 5 to 10 deg. F range, called for an added layer and cold wax. The recent 8" fresh snow from a couple of days ago had settled a little, and skied beautifully.

December 26, 2008

Powder Palooza Snowcat

Chugach Powder Guides cat trail to the Notch and Sunnyside is well set just north of the Alyeska Resort. Mike Overcast and crew took our party of 10 on a powder palooza. It's always fun skiing with Overcast because he knows his business, knows the terrain, and knows the people. He gives concise instructions in a relaxed but efficiently serious manner. We got a before-dawn start, not too difficult at our latitude on 26-Dec, but nevertheless we got off to a good start.

Beacon instructions before loading, then chugged up the trail about 3 miles up to the "base meadow" where the trail tilts significantly. CPG has set cat trails up both Sunnyside and Notch Mountain. Both had exquisite snow protected from the wind and no tracks.

We had a great party of 10 with a common friend; 9 two-plankers plus 1 knuckledragger. The terrain suits either, and George on his single board happily handled the few flat spots. George, L Dubya, Kruser, All Hike Mike, Markman, Joe, Turk, CD, Chris Dubya, & yours truly had a fine time, but with an unfortunate reminder of one very, very sore disk that unexpectedly cropped up.

Ray expertly manuevered the Bombardier. Mike & Mike guided us to the sweet snow. Thanks to Kruser for images.

Lots of smiles.

December 24, 2008

Touring & Turning in Chugach State Park

We're having a fantastic season! With another 4" on east Anchorage, the snowpack is coming along. The alpine in the Chugach front range is typically pretty much wind hammered, but the Near Point alpine bowl skied surprisingly well (but not well enough for multiple laps), and the snow just below the brush line is almost perfect.

Like a frozen wave, Near Point summit is developing a little cornice. The sunshine doesn't carry a lot of heat this time of year, but it brings forth a warm spirit.

Below the brush line, snow quality is excellent!

Our winter city.

There are terrific lines above, though it might not look like it from here. It takes a little care, but connecting the spaces is pretty easy.

South side of Near Point has lots of room for turns.

December 23, 2008

Powder Perfect

Backdoor Trail skied perfectly with the 4" that fell this afternoon. Vertically dropping flakes falling in 15 deg F air. It came down as the trip progressed, so the trail out had a fresh inch, and the trail back had a fresh inch, too. What could be more perfect?

Snowflakes falling vertically, building up, filling the imperfections in the trail, making it perfect. How will tomorrow's sunrise greet us? Perfect snow on the eve of the perfect King's birth.

Rejoice for love! Rejoice for snow.
Jesus loves you, this I know.


December 22, 2008

Sweet Pete's

Title is literal. The track was good, and the snow was sweet, especially below tree line.

J-Rock & yours truly tracked it out. But, it should be replenished by morning as it was snowing an inch per hour when we left at 4 p.m.

Conditions similar to 20-Dec, mostly excellent snow in the alpine with an occasional wind licked area. Snow in the trees was mindless.

December 21, 2008

Kern Creek Exploration

Johnny Rocketship, Joe, Brian & yours truly followed the skin track up Kern Creek. We started at the Chugach National Forest sign pull out on the Seward Highway at Seward milepost 86, Anchorage milepost 41. It was an exploratory trip as none of us had ever been up Kern Creek. We ascended through the hemlock forest and into the fog.

Even though the trail starts nearly at sea level, there is a good snowpack. But, I have to admit that there was a little alder bashing. (Returned with spruce needles and alder seeds in my jacket, shirt, etc.)

The fog was worrisome as we entered unfamiliar country. We could not see above us, and the winter solstice was short.

We followed the route depicted by the solid blue line, the dashed line is a possible route. It'll have to wait for another day.

December 20, 2008

Pete's Creek - Chugach National Forest

Pete's North has some wind slab on exposed ridge lines, but nearly all of the terrain has terrific soft snow. There were only 3 skiers on Pete's North. Saw 4 knuckledraggers on Pete's South, and 5 skinning below avalanche debris on Lipps.

Wow! The Lipps slide is sobering. Watching those guys skinning below that slope was worrisome, but it didn't go.

Took seriously Lisa Portune's advisory to stay on slopes less than 35 degrees. Measured the line off the summit at 38. Skied lines in the mid to lower 30's.