June 28, 2010

Mists of Crow Pass

Verdant slopes of Crow Pass with ribbons of snow would be a dull grey or brown if not for the misty moist coastal climate overlooking the rainforest. Wildflower blooms would quickly fade to a dry husk, if they bloomed at all, if not for the frequent precipitation and cool days. Glaciers would rapidly recede and cease to exist, even at this northerly latitude, if not for the frequent cloud cover. All this wondrous surrounding, we owe to the rain, the mist and the clouds.

Yet we summerskiers, saturated and dripping, yearned for the brilliant, shining orb. Our blinded eyes wished to see the vista, hidden shrouded beneath the blanket of mist. We wanted the essential element of this climate to temporarily depart. We were wet.

We knew deep crevasses existed here, but could not see them. We heard the echo of our yell and the rocks clattering in rockfall, but could not view the cliff. We set a beautiful sinusoid down the slope, but could not look back above and admire our tracks.

Geno and yours truly completed the mission to the saddle near the top of Summit Glacier above Crow Pass. We skied well below the 'normal ski elevation' if I may call it that. The normal ski elevation would be the now collapsed shack at the base of the Jewel Glacier moraine.

Below the Barnes-Jewel saddle, Geno skied down the swale beneath the 'High Road' trail. This is the swale we descend for the Raven-Milk Loop egress; it was skiable from the saddle to within 100 ft vertical of the 'Low Road' Crow Pass Trail.

I happily made the trip in the mists of Crow Pass. But, a little more visibility and a little less wetness would suit me. Raven-Milk Loop is still on the list for this summer!

June 21, 2010

Kruser's Quest

Kruser will make it to 25, I think. 25 years. A milestone.

Whether it is Portillo, Chile, or Crow Pass, Alaska, September 2011 will mark the milestone, the happy occasion of Kruser's three hundredth consecutive month on skis, 25 years of skiing every month of every year. As impressive as it truly is, I don't really think it is about a number; and I'm not really sure, but perhaps it is something like this:
Kruser's quest, To be free,
Is said best: Live to ski!

June 13, 2010

Todd's Bowl

If the texture of the wind slab was classic, so was its hollow sound - the mountain's equivalent of beating a drumroll before battle. All it took to know that the slab was sitting on nothing but rotten snow was a ski pole. When pushed through the more resistant wind slab, the pole plunged effortlessly through depth hoar all the way to the ground, as though a trapdoor had sprung open. This kind of layering asks for attention almost anywhere, but loaded in a smooth, treeless bowl that holds a 40-degree angle for the first seven hundred vertical feet and has curving side walls barring easy escape, it demands reverence. Todd might as well have stepped in front of a bus. - Jill Fredston, Snowstruck (Harcourt 2005)

Todd Frankiewicz was killed on Tincan Mountain in an avalanche December 6, 1988. We call this place where he died, "Todd's Bowl."

Kruser and yours truly trekked to Todd's in June 2010 and skied it without incident.

Although conditions at Todd's Bowl in late spring are much less risky than in winter, ski cutting the top of the slope propagated a slushy snow flow down the mountain for several minutes. The slushy slurry flowing below the ski cut was heavy and could knock a man down, but getting buried by the slow motion slide was very easy to avoid.

We enjoyed Todd's Bowl so much that we climbed back to the Tincan common summit, and skied the front or normal side. Snow conditions are great for mid-June and skiing to within 100 feet of the car is easy. We started up at 9 a.m. and were sinking 1-3" into the ample snowpack. If we have some clear nights, perhaps the snowpack (6-ft +/- at tree line) will set up and last a little longer.

Jill Fredston's Snowstruck: in the grip of avalanches (Harcourt 2005) is an intensely personal perspective on snow safety, accumulated from her fusion of professional and personal life in Alaska's avalanche forecasting, mountain rescue team, and marriage to fellow forecaster/rescuer Doug Fesler. Fredston's prose take the reader far beyond the technical analysis of snow safety to the despair of those close to avalanche victims and the sadness of those would-be rescuers who complete body recovery missions. Snowstruck is a must read for the backcountry skier.

Photo credits: Kruser