December 31, 2010

Kruser's Alyeska

Good conditions at the lifts even with the Kruser scale adjustment.  Markman and Kruser divulged the secrets of North Face untracked pockets.  Creamy top layer with cold snow underneath.  With a one to two tram wait most of the day, the good crew ran the ascension machine back-to-back all day without significant down time.

The Kruser scale adjustment is like Fahrenheit to Celsius; zero C just doesn't feel the same as zero F. Everyone has an individual tolerance, and Kruser has a notoriously high pain threshold.  He is skiing day 76 of this 'season'.  Seventy-six is not a typo.  He shrugs and says that number includes backcountry and skating, like it's only partial credit, and he 'only' has 30 at the lifts. 

Season is another Kruser conundrum because as he loudly proclaims, "It's never over!" He's on consecutive month 293 or something like that, but I've started counting years anyway.  October 2011 will be 25 years of skiing every month consecutively.  Rumor has it this next milestone will be celebrated on skis.

December 28, 2010


After our reconnoiter a couple of days prior, Kyle and I were glad to go to back to Pete's Creek headwaters.  Clear skies and one degree above zero (F) at our dawn departure from the Johnson Trailhead pull out.  We entered the dark hemlock forest and emerged in a brilliant light and much warmer temperatures.
We extended the glacier trail to the saddle overlooking Center and Bench Creeks.  From ridge of Peak 4173 we ventured down toward Center Creek with trepidation into a classic bowl funneling into an avalanche ravine.  Several consecutive green light days influenced our decision to our venture up Pete's Creek to begin with, but we felt like we were at the end of a gun barrel on 4173 south side. 
Looking Up the Gun Barrel
The south side had variable snow with some hollow-sounding wind pack, exposed Thanksgiving Rain Crust (TRC), along with some excellent powder.  We hustled back up to the saddle to ski the dark side.
Extremities of Pete's North
Kyle Liking It
Entering Pete's Darkside

Kyle Liking It Again
One Last Look
We lapped the shady side of Pete's Creek headwaters in the most consistently sweet powder we've skied in several weeks.  We stretched a 4th ascent up to the saddle at sunset and enjoyed the 3300 ft vertical run home.  The lowest 400 ft vertical is challenging with a lot tracks set up on the TRC on steep slopes with partially buried alders.  The Johnson Trailhead was still only 2 deg F when we returned.

December 26, 2010

Pete's Creek

No fresh snow at the Johnson Pass trailhead with temperature of 7 deg F and no wind at 9:30 a.m.  Pete's North had a glide crack with an opening more than 50 feet wide.  The snow pack was only about 2-1/2 feet deep at the wide crack.  Just up valley from the wide glide crack, the snow had avalanched some time ago and run about 600 feet vertical to the valley floor.
Glide Crack - Snowpack thickness from pole tip to my hand
Kyle and yours truly skied back to the Pete's Creek headwaters glacier where we found beautiful powder and sporadic crust patches.  We couldn't resist making a few laps on the Pete's North ridge before heading back to the glacier.  Snow quality above 2500 ft elevation was inconsistent on Pete's North ridge, and below the snow quality was best below tree line.  The temperature was 7 deg at the car when we returned, same as our departure. 
Kyle ready for a sunset ski home

December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas 2010!

Mount Gordon Lyon was sunny and warm with its temperature inversion hovering above Anchorage.  The wonderful winter weather was contrasted by the breakable crust snow.  By a good margin, today's breakable crust was the toughest of the season. 
Worried about Arctic Valley
Would ski packing this slope keep it from blowing away?
My daughter and I made a Christmas afternoon lap up and down Mt. Gordon Lyon under the winter sun.  Snow conditions were downright tough, but tougher than the conditions was that young woman who paced me up the hill.  Up she went, called by the sunshine without a whisper of wind. 
Blue Sky, Sunshine
With effort, we cranked a few telemarks through the crust.  The descent had me muttering, but nary a complaint from my partner.  All rosy cheeked and cheery she was, a bright and inspiring soul that one.
Temperature was increasing, 15F at departure, 25F on our sunset return.  No wind.  Snow was crusty icy breakable crust.
Princess of the Chugach

December 23, 2010

Seven Below Superbowl

Seven degrees below zero Fahrenheit was cold enough at our predawn departure for Superbowl from the Cornbiscuit Creek (unnamed on USGS map) trailhead.  Geno and yours truly bundled up and trod up the well worn trail.  With the last snowfall at Turnagain Pass 20 days prior, there are a gazillion tracks, down and up. 
Superbowl Side of Cornbiscuit
Emerging from Darkness
As many tracks as there are, we had no problem finding broken trail for the uptrack and untracked descents.  We toured up Superbowl, planning to spend the day there but succombing to the sunshine, we lapped a sweet south-facing line into Bertha Creek.  We skied out the Bertha Creek drainage, traversing well above the creek to Cornbiscuit's northwest face picking up 20-turn fall line shots of incredibly good snow here and there along the traverse.  We made one final trudge back up the northwest face and skied down to the highway in the dusky alpenglow.

Returning to the car, we found the same temperature as when we departed 6 hours earlier, 7 below.  There was a chilling breeze for much of the day, and I was glad to have an extra layer and big mittens.  The snow quality on Cornbiscuit was exquisite.  We kicked loose sizable sloughs that ran a couple hundred vertical feet.  A few glide cracks are still open and others are filled.  The snowpack upper layers were faceted with zero cohesion. 
Geno in the Warm Solstice Sun

December 22, 2010

Campbell Creek Middle Fork

Glen Alps to Stuckagain is an easy 6-mile ski tour with a gross 2200 feet downhill.  Waxless or wax base skis work well with 800 feet of gentle climbing gradients.  An occasional sidestep or herring bone may help in some conditions.  Present conditions are exceptional with plenty of fluffy snow and a very fast track.  We used VR30 kick wax with a little VR40 underfoot.
Campbell Creek South (Main) Fork Bridge

True Telemarkers

Solstice Sunset at Latitude 61N
The trail is unmarked for the most part and some route finding is necessary, especially between the Near Point Trail and Basher.   Eruk, Doc and yours truly made the trip a little longer yesterday by skiing to the Near Point Homestead site and then telemarking down a rugged winter trail.

December 20, 2010

Solstice 2010

Could it be better?  Maybe, but not much on the Anchorage Hillside. 

After a morning lap on Near Point below timberline, a couple of hours downtown, and an alpine lap at Arctic Valley in the post-sunset alpenglow, the Hillside gets the blue ribbon. 

Touring on the Anchorage Hillside in Chugach State Park is exceptional!  A fresh 6" fell today at a temperature of 10 to 20 deg F, and created nearly ideal conditions.  The track is soft and fast.

Arctic Valley was runner up with 6" fresh, very low density powder on a wind-packed or rain crust, scritchy base, and 11F with an intermittent breeze,   Gullies with a lee shadow from the north wind have caught a little deeper snow.  With a sunset start in a wistful sort of light, Mt Gordon Lyon was a worthwhile lap.  The vivid colors of the solstice sunset were inspirational while setting an uptrack.  Descending in very late alpenglow through the boot top, airy snow was an other worldly experience.  Gliding back toward home, over my shoulder I caught a glimpse of the full moon, just above the horizon, looming large and yellow-orange in a very slight haze. 

Work in town was very necessary, but a distant third place in the powder sweepstakes.

December 19, 2010

Back to Normal

Alpine country of the Anchorage Hillside is back to normal:  snow in the gullies and bare rocks on the ridges.  Chugach State Park main trails are hard and fast, and a little bumpy from the boot packers.  Below tree line, a foot of sugar-like snow rests on the Thanksgiving Rain Crust.  If you look for it, terrific touring conditions can be found.   For a quick 1000 ft vertical tour, the Near Point/Lost Cabin Valley Trail is at the top of the list with some nice 10-turn telemark shortcuts on the downhill.

Wolverine North Buttress
Trail Breaker

Turnagain Ho

Subzero temperatures at the Bertha Creek pull-out about an hour before sunrise had us moving quickly to get on our way up Spokane Creek to Lipps.  The well worn lower trail to Lipps is a little painful just below the power line, and the upper trail has seen a lot of traffic.  Turnagain hoar frost has grown through much of the snowpack resting on the Thanksgiving Rain Crust and has become a nice soft, sugary, and fun-riding top layer.
Lipps Lap
Although plenty of powder seekers have enjoyed her flanks over this dry spell, Eruk, Lucy, DP, Kyle and yours truly found the untracked experience on Lipps.  After lapping the fall line for a couple of Lipps laps, we felt the allure of exploring up valley and decided to tour up toward the Spokane Creek headwaters.  The exploration was a success revealing more Spokane moraine topography than  expected.  We added Spokane Glacier Bowl to the gotta-go-there list.
Click to enlarge
If I understood DP, the peak west of Spokane Gl is named "Grandaddy";  peak 4173 south of Spokane Gl is another one perhaps they call Grandaddy.  Can a Turnagain place name expert please let us know the consensus Grandaddy location?
Uptrack under Grandaddy's South Side
Sunny skies on 18-Dec-2010 with temperatures in the high teens at 2500 to 3500 ft el, and subzero below 1000 ft el.  Eruk and I both lost skins just above the road, but made the first climb with the help of some tape.  Stowing skins next to my base layer during the first run left them rejuvenated, and they stuck for the subsequent three ascents (in 10 to 20F warmer temperatures).  Variable winds occasionally sprayed plumes off the 4000 ft el ridgelines and freeze-dried us as we transitioned around 3500 ft el.

December 12, 2010

Campbell Creek North Fork

Anchorage Hillside touring is very good with cold snow and packed conditions on the main trails.  Eruk, Lucy and yours truly ventured to the Campbell Creek North Fork in the shadow of Near Point and Wolverine Peak.   
North Fork Valley
We skied up the North Fork from Stuckagain Heights, skinned up to the saddle between Wolverine and Near Point, and skied back down the Wolverine Trail to Stuckagain.  Campbell Creek North Fork sees very little traffic.  We saw no one as we followed a solitary snowshoe track up toward Long Lake.  A couple of miles up the canyon, we parted ways with the single snowshoe track and skinned up toward the sunshine.  Campbell Creek North Fork is a shaded valley without sunshine for several weeks each winter.

Snow conditions are seasonally thin in the North Fork valley and on the 'front side'.  Temperatures were in the single digits with a very slight breeze, except at the pass.  Plumes were blowing of the peaks above 4000 ft el, and the snow up high appeared wind-worked.  Below 3000 ft el, the snow was fluffy, but thin.  Big hoar frost crystals have formed on the snow surface.

December 11, 2010

Turnagain Update

Turnagain Pass again had very little to no wind, ideal winter temperatures in the teens to low twenties.  Glade snow is still the best, though the alpine snow quality is catching up.  Some light flurries blew in and out over the day.

Our December day offered 5 hours 35 minutes between sunrise and sunset, but there was plenty of daylight to wend our way toward exhaustion.  J-Rock and yours truly spent 6 hours 40 minutes on skis, starting the day with an ambitious objective of Sharkfin and settling for laps on Eddies.  We luckily happened to depart the parking area with Ron and Todd, and they helped us find our way across Ingram Creek.   They were headed for Wolverine.  Our plan was a lap on Eddies and then over to Sharkfin.  We stayed on Eddies, and we heard some happy hollering over on Sharkfin.

Ingram Creek with a lot of open water
Cutting Eddies Bowl

Tincan Sunset


December 10, 2010

Revisiting Todd's in Powder

Jill Fredston's story of Todd dying at his namesake bowl is haunting, and when J-Rock mentioned Todd's as a possible objective, the thought of Jill's story was unsettling.  But, conditions were good, crew was good, weather was good, snow was good, Todd's Bowl was good. 

Matt was OK with testing the slope, so Jon and I watched him descend with smoke-like contrails.  We descended the bowl and traversed back to the 'front side'.
Gotta be fast to record Matt

J-Rock ready to try Todd's

Temperatures in the teens with no wind.  The skies lightly snowed from time to time and visibility was in and out.  The glades held the best snow, but Todd's Bowl was very good in most places with an occasional crusty area.  Abundant avalanche debris fanned out below most of the north facing couloirs of Tincan ridge. 

December 5, 2010

Cinco de Fresno

The Fresno Five found the pull out at milepost 49 on the Seward Highway at sun up with blue skies and cold temperatures. Fresno Ridge rises 3000 feet above the Seward Highway at Lower Summit Lake and extends 3 miles north with the highway parallel to the massif. A gajillion ski lines run from the ridgeline to the highway, and we five hombres discovered a few.  George, Michael, Josh, Dante and yours truly tracked out our little world of Fresno Ridge, Cinco de Fresno.
Tres Joven Amigos and the two old guys followed
Wind had worked the alpine snow
Velocity Josh


The Sun Also Sets and We Must Descend
  Temperature ranged from 10 to 20F, and winds were mostly calm.  Weather station was a few hundred feet above our highest point.  The snow was best below tree line.  We could feel the rain crust on inclinations of 30 degrees or more.  We had some minor route finding through the alder patches, but they are mostly buried and presented no major problems.