November 28, 2010

Skiing Serene on Wolverine

The season got off to an odd start.  Skiing the Talkeetna Mountains in September through mid-November is the norm, followed by the Kenai Mountains and the Anchorage Chugach Front Range.  But, this season, Talkeetnas snowpack did not materialize, and Turnagain Pass in the Kenai Mtns had a huge early season snowfall offering an epic early season, while the Anchorage Front Range snowpack was about normal.  Thanksgiving week started with a state-wide meltdown, a warm rain storm followed by a nice snowfall on Thanksgiving day.  Now a couple of days later, another 3" settled on the Anchorage (northern) Hillside at Stuckagain.  The combination of the rain saturated base with a high density 6-inch layer, followed by another 6 inches of moderate density, with 3 inches of super light smoke-like powder on top has created a near perfect early season snowpack for touring on the Anchorage Hillside.  Telemarking today on the flanks of Wolverine Peak via Backdoor Trail was the perfect antidote for any angst. 

Snow crystals seemed to appear out of thin air and shimmer in the cold hazy sunshine while slowly settling toward the white blanket.  Not a breath of wind stirred, and the city sounds were hushed in the winter quiet.  The steady cadence of a squeaky binding harmonized by heavy breathing kept the rhythm of the skin track on a steady ascent, broken only by the switchback.

The speed of descent was startling.  My skis turned with ease and felt like a near weightless flight through the ether of cold, smokey snow.  Sinusoidal arcing down the slope left a wake of sparkling crystals suspended mid-air and defined the powder seekers' grail, that euphoric sensation of floating down the mountain in ephemerality.

November 27, 2010

Tender Tri-Tip

The major meltdown with rain a few thousand feet up the mountains had taken its toll - both on the snowpack and our emotional wellbeing.  Then Thanksgiving 2010 brought a beautiful storm with bountiful snow, and all was right in the world again.  A fresh foot cures a lot of ills, but it wasn't quite enough to totally heal the snowpack on Tenderfoot Ridge. 

mw and yours truly set out from the Summit Lake skin track near dawn.  As we ascended, we noticed the icy rain crust not far under the surface.  The top half foot of the beautiful, light and powdery snowpack rested upon a heinous crust.  But, there was enough fluff to keep us happy, especially in the gullies.
Summit Station
We dropped from 3400 ft el on Tenderfoot Ridge down to Tenderfoot Creek and crossed it to the Tri-Tips side.  We couldn't resist the skin track up Tri-Tip.  High up on Tri-Tip, the crust with most of the snow blown off made climbing painfully difficult.
Open Water in Tenderfoot Creek
On inclines greater than 20 degrees, or so, we consistently felt the rain crust on the descents.  Descents were fast on the scritchy base, but holding an edge was easy, and we were joyous flying down the gullies. 

mw contemplates Tri-Tip

November 26, 2010

Front Range Sunshine on Canyon Road

With 10" fresh powder at Stuckagain, Canyon Road sunshine and powder had an irrestable allure.  But from a distance of a few miles, the plumes were apparent.  Maybe it is fog, I hoped.  Fog was in the forecast, right?  Maybe it's fog.

The wind had worked the alpine snow to a soft slab with surgary powder below the 2-inch thick top layer.  The meltdown from last week had formed an icy base which lay beneath a foot of the wind-worked snow.  The skiing was sub-five, but the sunshine was a nine and pleasant enough to induce a second lap.

November 21, 2010


Lucky 13

In our case, it was 13 degrees Fahrenheit at our predawn Tincan parking lot departure.  Some 2900 ft higher on Sunburst Ridge, the temperature was 38F at the same time.  Temperature inversion was welcome after our chilly start. 
Kruser had dialed in the south lines off Tincan Common and route back over the prior couple of days, so we had to go back.  Tincan Common was totally tracked, even mogulled in places, but several south lines still provided the untracked experience.  Numerous glide cracks, abundant topographic microfeatures, and some cliffs created some anxious descents, but the great snow made it worth three laps. 
 The southeast aspects had a bit of suncrust, but the due south and southwest aspects were still smokey even though above-freezing ambient inversion temperature had persisted for a couple of days.

November 14, 2010

Eddy's Exploration

We were exploring, experiencing new territory, pushing our boundaries to new frontiers.

We were lost.
Doc Enjoying the Route
No fault of Doc's as I had been to Eddy's a few times and he had not.  After I lost the trail, and then skied in a circle, I'm sure Doc wondered if he ever would make it to Eddy's.  But, we persevered and finally made it after a 2-hour 'exploration' of Eddy's.
Turnagain Arm View Looking Northeast from Eddy's
Below 1500 ft elevation, the snow was crunchy, but above that magic elevation, the snow was excellent.  The slog from the highway was covered well and the alders were mostly bent over and buried, but finding stream crossings is a little more difficult early in the season.  We left our skins on for most of the slog back due to icy breakable crust below 900 ft el.  There is a well worn trail, but the wet gloppy snow that slid from the trees has obscured it in a few places.  After losing the trail outbound, we toured too far southwest and wound up on the west (wrong) side of Ingram Creek canyon, but some route finding put us back on the trail.  It was pretty silly getting so far off track given the GPS-marked route (click to enlarge) I posted a couple of seasons ago.  We had no route finding blunders on the return leg, and our headlamp contingency went unused.
Looking South at Ingram Creek Headwaters
Eddy's Alpine Bowl - Who was Eddy?

November 13, 2010

Mid-Winter Conditions at Arctic Valley!

Mid-winter conditions at Arctic Valley!  Powder, powder, powder in our Anchorage back yard!!! And, rocks.  Only one Tognarifiable gouge today, and it was worthy of a couple of laps, even after Tognarifying my base on the first descent.

Arctic Valley Road is icy slick.  Above the upper most parking area, some very minor brush beating is necessary for the first 100 ft vertical, and crossing some open water at the creeks.  But, powderage on the tundra is nearly midwinter condition.  But of course, I have shredded many a ski base at Arctic Valley in midwinter, but nothing that very hot, extruded p-tex cannot make right.

November 12, 2010

Turnagain Surprise

What a surprise!  Driving along Turnagain Arm in a downpour, we hoped that the snow line was not too high.  Sure enough, a couple of hundred vertical feet below the Tincan parking area, big flakes were falling.  But, the big surprise was what we found at Tincan - a bit of blue sky. 

Nothing short of an excellent outcome, far, far beyond expectations was the blue sky.  It was so good, I couldn't leave.  Kruser, mw and yours truly sloshed down the Seward Highway to the famous pass.  In the mid afternoon, we found Dante and I made a lap with him as Kruser and mw met their early commitments.  Deep powder made the deep fatigue feel so good.

Blogotography:  Kruser & AKJack

November 7, 2010

WOW!  The sunshine absent from Sunburst was found by Markman at Archangel.
Markman on Archangel's Bridge of Death

Big Bo Peep at THE Gate

White Room with Black Curtains: Sunburst

Cream's White Room with black curtains was reprised at Sunburst.  Incredibly good snow, and typical visibility that we love-hate, but love more because the flat light usually brings the deep snow.  Deep pow v. sunshine?  Pow, thank you.   AK Robb, adorable Anna, Dr. Snow, and yours truly met up with the Girdwood faithful and rode through the rain to Turnagain for the sweet snow of November 2011.

Doc Liked the Light
A Lucky Guy's Sweetheart

Powder Doctor:  AK Robb

Tincan Traffic

The new season is here and everyone was ready for it.  There must have been 100 glisse enthusiasts on the hill.  A big party, knuckle dragging post-holers drinking beers, wafting aroma of a distinct burning herb - it is traffic on Tincan.  This is to be expected, but the surprise was how few were enjoying the summit bowl, probably due to the low visibility.  But visibility is over rated, and we had the face shots of the upper bowl to ourselves for extraordinary storm skiing.

Tincan snowpack is ahead of schedule with about 6 feet of snow on the summit ridge.  The lower elevations have enough snowpack to knock down the alders.  The snow falling at the road early in the morning became a light rain as the temperature warmed over the day to the high 30's at the road in the afternoon.  Below 2000 ft elevation, the snow was mashed potatoes-like, but the powder on the top 1200 ft was heavenly.

Our party of 6 included BettyJane, Geno, Eruk, mw, Kruser and yours truly.  Of course, with a big group, we lost track of everyone, but it turned out just fine.

Blogotography Credit:  Kruser