December 31, 2011

Max's New Years Eve

How do great ski trips happen?  Great terrain, great snow, great weather, great partners...  Great spontaneity might not be at the top of the list for things to make a great ski trip, but it was part of one today.  We planned a long trip in the Summit Lake country on an epic mountain; they call it Spirit Walker.  After we embarked on our trek to Spirit Walker, our spirits were drawn elsewhere.  Great partners with judgment, spontaneity, and unanimity elected a course change and we literally turned around to ...
Sunrise on Max's Mountain
As we made our way down the Seward Highway toward Summit Lake, we talked about the great skiing at Summit Lake, and the great number of great places to ski between Anchorage and Summit Lake.  We passed Max's Mountain, and we talked about the stability report for Girdwood:  bombproof, snow report for Girdwood:  heliquality, and the weather report for Girdwood:  about 20 degrees F higher than Summit's minus 7.  Why not go to Max's? 
Our Max's Trackses
Our trip to Max's was even better than we though it would be.  We had great terrain, great snow, good visibility, and great weather relative to other colder places.  J-rock and Nathanael were exceptional partners. 
We were nervous about the final descent through the northern-most rain forest and its scant snowpack - plenty of snowfall, but almost all of it is caught up in the canopy of hemlock boughs.  With blessed karma, we nailed a terrific line through the forest and popped out in the Girdwood neighborhood on Vail.  Max's:  a great ski trip on the eve of 2012's New Years Day.

December 30, 2011

Near Point North Face

After about 100 backcountry runs with Dante, I saw him crash for the first time on a "Manitoba-ish" 25-degree incline on Near Point.  Of course, the crash was prompted by rock lurking beneath the powder.  No, it was more like a boulder, but regardless of the terra firma mass encountered by DP, it was a spectacularly loud crash considering the foot-deep powder we were riding.

DP Carefully Entering Near Point North Face
Near Point summit bowl west face, like Manitoba, is a fine mountain for backcountry skiing.  Manitoba is better, much less rocky, but further from our Anchorage homes.  Near Point is thrilling on lightweight gear, but we were riding the heavy gear today.  A nice trip, Near Point, but a bit of a yawner on heavy gear.  
Ptarmigan Prefer the Near Point Front Side

After the nice-to-see, enjoyable but ho-hum low angle Near Point summit bowl run, albiet with a few rocks, we explored the north face. 

Steep, craggy avalanche chutes and rocky cliffs dominate the Near Point north face.  We checked three entry points and finally found one that seemed workable.  We gingerly tip-toed over a rocky entry and dropped into some fantastic smoke-like powder and rode it down to the valley floor.
Near Point North Face

I paralleled DP's track, but don't float quite as well on two boards.  It was my turn to bounce my board on a rock.  We made a rock-free second lap on the backside when dusk began to set in, so we clambered back up the steep slope to the Near Point west face for our trip back to the house.

December 29, 2011

Knee Deep on Near Point

Near Point in the front range of Anchorage is blanketed with knee deep powder on a soft base.  Yours truly set a skin track up the south flank of Near Point connecting the open areas interspersed among the alder tangles.  It was cold, single digit temperatures (Fahrenheit) with little to no wind.  The snow quality on the tundra above tree line is slightly stiff with a soft wind crust in the beginning stages, but below the brush at 2400 ft elevation, the powder is nearly perfect.  Chugach State Park has some great skiing right now. 

December 27, 2011

More Anchorage Powder

More new snow fell today, another 6" of fresh fluff.  It's been a great season, but far from a record according the Anchorage Daily News.  Doc and I set a ski track on Backdoor Trail with a few minor route adjustments around new deadfall.  Without any skiers for the past couple of weeks and about two feet of fresh snow, trailbreaking was slow.  But, we made it up to the hemlock ridge on Wolverine where we found even more fresh snow that skied fast.

December 26, 2011

Couldn't Last Forever

DP, Eruk and Lucy rallied on Wolverine Bowl to find stiff wind slab resting on a deep soft base.  The exceptional whispy, ultralight snow conditions of 3 days ago vanished with the breeze.   Very good snow conditions remain below tree line, though very slow in the 5F temperature.
Variable consistency of the crust was difficult.  Unconsolidated, cold facets lay beneath the unsupportable crust.  Momentum would just die where the crust stiffened.
Sheep on Wolverine Peak
The sheep had been digging and grazing at my vantage point just before my arrival.

December 25, 2011

A Rusty Christmas Eve

Back to the Anchorage Front Range:  we found exceptional snow quality on Rusty.  Slightly more settled than yesterday, it only ran chin deep on the descent.  It was a bit cooler, 10F.  Snow was knee deep on an icy to rocky base.  Adrian, DP and I made some laps on a northwest-facing couloir/gully of Rusty.  My skis found a few rocks at the top, but there was a good base in the gully.  While the snow was not over-the-head like yesterday, it was very, very good! 

We found significant avalanche rubble at the gully run out.  The rubble was old, icy debris covered with new snow.  It likely had avalanched during (one of ) the prior wind event(s) earlier this month.

December 23, 2011

Over-the-Head Anchorage Front Range

For skiers, Anchorage Front Range peaks are notoriously rocky places that occasionally are blanketed with great powder.  The December 23 front range snowfall was almost beyond description.  Skiers just disappeared in plumes of smokey white.  DP called it the best snow of his life.  Adrian, the Wolverine master, had never seen snow on Wolverine like it.  And it was clearly the best snow yours truly has ever experienced in the Anchorage Front Range, top 10% of my lifetime for all places. 
Adrian's Plume 
Adrian, Sam, Gus and yours truly made it a Stuckagain skifest.  DP skinned up from a not-too-distant neighborhood.  Actually it was a remarkable distance, 14 mile round trip on heavy gear, but not too far for Dante.
Dante's Alpenglow Shot of Yours Truly's "Best Side"

December 22, 2011

Fred's Place

I hope Fred won't mind that I posted his good work on place names.  Hap Wurlitzer has it posted in the Hatcher Pass Lodge.  I heard that the rangers and troopers use Fred's map for search and rescue because it's the best reference.  Fred knows the place; he lives there, that magical place we call Hatcher Pass.
Click to Enlarge
Eruk, AK Robb (by way of CA, aka RocketscientistRobb), and yours truly toured to Pinnacle Lake at the base of The Pinnacle.  We caught some precious glimpses of that spire as the snow fell.  We toured more than turned in the heavy snowfall, searching for the route in flat light on the shortest day of the year.

What a difference a day can make.  Yesterday was crystal clear as we rode the lifts at Alyeska in extraordinary alpenglow.

December 19, 2011

Peak 4068 at Government Peak

Eruk, Lucy and I skied a late lap to 4068 where we found wind-affected snow, but no wind.  The winds of 4068 left mostly stiff, yet skiable snow above timberline.  At the Hatcher Pass Road Mile 10.6 parking area where wind effects were apparent, but not as obvious, there was 4" to 6" fresh snow.

The state gave public notice of a proposed land exchange with the Matsu borough to enable ski area development.  The exchange area is a sweet place for alpine touring, relatively safe and accessible. I have mixed feelings about adding a few chairlifts there, but have no objection because there are so many other places ski at Hatcher Pass in southcentral Alaska.  Funding the Government Peak ski area may take a while, so gaining chair lift access and losing touring country at Government Peak may not happen any time soon.

December 18, 2011


4068 provided a powder escape in spite of the blustery ridgetop winds.  Grey skies, moderate winter temperature, flurries and satisfactory visibility would have perhaps combined to limit the day to a single lap conditioning trip, but the decent snow convinced us to lap 4068 until sunset.

At sunrise, a solo venture was shaping up, but I met dp, Brian, Dan and dog on the mountain and lapped it with them.  Thanks for breaking trail!

Frostbite ridge had excellent snow the day before, but had been worked by the wind overnight and looked crusty.  The 4068 ridge looked better from a distance and turned out to have great snow.

December 16, 2011

Frostbite Friday

We found excellent conditions on Frostbite.  Very little wind, temperatures in the 20's, and a great snowpack with 6" to 12" of powder.  The base varied from a remnant wind pack to soft depending on aspect and inclination.

J-rock, Pete, Bailey and yours truly went up from the lowest parking lot on Hatcher Pass Road.  The Government Peak area is a real gem with outstanding skiing.

December 13, 2011

Chugach State Park Sweetness

Conditions on Wolverine Trail are superb!  Neighbor Sam, two dogs and yours truly found the sweetest snow of the season in Chugach State Park.  Starry night, calm air and powder.

December 3, 2011

Maintenance Day

Temperatures up to 40F.  Wind driven rain saturated everything.  It was a good time to make a few pesky places a little more skiable.

November 30, 2011

Ski Eat Sleep

Break the trail
Breathe the air
Ski the powder
Eat sleep repeat

November 27, 2011

Gordon Lyon

Southeast face of Mount Gordon Lyon has a very good early season snowpack, as good as some midwinter snowpacks on the ridge and gullies overlooking Hiland Road.
A couple of other skiers were on the Arctic Valley backside when I was there.  They were skiing way below my turn around at the lower end of the blue descent line.  It would be fun to ski all the way to Hiland Road.  Other than the South Fork Trailhead further up the road, I don't know if there is an easement east of Mt. Gordon Lyon and Rendezvous Peak to avoid private property along Hiland Road.

Grayjay sent this update map with Gordon Lyon access from Hiland Road - Thanks Grayjay!

November 26, 2011

Back to Normal: Wolverine

Anchorage from Wolverine Gully
Wind seems normal in the Anchorage front range; we get a really nice snowfall and then the wind normally blows it away.  Today's trip to Wolverine was normal.  Sam, Fran, Gus, and Yours Truly skied up the Wolverine Trail with two trotting dogs in cold temperatures, about zero degrees Fahrenheit.

As normal as front range windpack snow in the alpine, powder is normal below the front range alder line.  Snow in the forest and lower alpine was like cold smoke.  The upper alpine snow quality was pretty good, even though it had been worked by the wind for several hours.  But, the steady breeze above timberline had teeth and one lap was enough.
Wolverine Peak in the Morning Light
Yesterday's Tracks Blown In

November 25, 2011

Chugach State Park Wolverine Peak

Fresh snow, Thanksgiving, clearing skies, Wolverine Peak skiable ...
Wolverine Peak from Backdoor Trail
Backdoor Trail
Hemlock Gap to Wolverine Peak
Wolverine Peak Closer Now
 Even Closer and Sunny!
Setting Sun at Latitude 61 Thanksgiving Friday
Anchorage from Wolverine Peak

Snowing and Getting Dark, Time to Go Home
Wolverine Peak with its 4500 ft front range elevation contributes to the desception that it's really close.  It's one of those destinations that one can see for a long time, and hour-after-hour, it seems like it's never getting closer.  Today, Wolverine summit was just as far as always, but it was a rare windfree day with excellent skiing. 

November 24, 2011

2011 Thanksgiving - Anchorage Hillside Powder

Anchorage Hillside up to tundra line is skiing exceptionally well.  Above the tundra line looked good, but I didn't have time to try it.  Maybe tomorrow...

Today's report for elevations 800 to 2500 ft:  6-12" powder on a soft base, no wind, single digit (F) temperatures, light flurries, terrific skiing!

Magnum Thanksgiving

Returning to the place we were before:  Several seasons of seeking the untracked experience have passed since my last trip to Magnum/PMS Bowl, and it was incredibly enjoyable rediscovering its vaguely familiar features, and skiing the blower powder we found there.

PMS Bowl
Jrock and yours truly took the Taylor Creek route up Magnum, then over to PMS Bowl for a couple of laps among the glide crack slides.  We endured the steep wind-packed ridge, and booted the crux.  Trusting the weather forecast, we were happily surprised by sunshine and calm wind.  It was cold; temperature at the bottom of PMS Bowl felt subzero, but a layer of warm air persisted above 3000 ft elevation and the ridgetop breaks were quite comfortable.  Other than several old glide crack slides on south aspects, we observed stable snow.  Two other parties used the parking area, one went to Sunburst, the other to PMS Bowl via the creek between Cornbiscuit and Magnum. 

PMS Powder
The return home via Magnum west face skied almost perfectly in the setting sun.  With deep hues of blue and red swirling in that wondrous high latitude sky and alpenglow softly lighting our way, we floated down the mountain powder in a dreamlike trance.  We gave Magnum thanks.

November 21, 2011

Go to sleep, go to sleep, Little Bruin

Caught the big birdseed-eating bear in the act - it was a couple of feet from the back door pulling down the last remaining feeder hanging off a flower hook.  Expecting the bears had gone to sleep for the winter, I set up our annual feast for the chickadees, magpies, grosbeaks, and redpolls - too early this year.  It only took a couple of days for the bear to find the feast and eat up the 20 pounds of birdseed.  Now we just hope that a big bellyfull of birdseed will make the bear drowsy.
Remnants of a Not Bear-Resistant Bird Feeder

November 13, 2011

Trust the Trail

Skiing home in fading light with a toy-more-than-tool headlamp, had to trust it.  Trust the trail.  Trust the instinct. 

My instinct this morning wanted to ski the front range, but we couldn't find that consenus having set a path toward Turnagain Pass.  Doc, mw, blob and yours truly left a foot of fluff in Anchorage for Turnagain Pass.  We had our reasons, but the muttering about a failed intelligence test spoke of the morning vibe on Cornbiscuit where we found good visibility with glide crack slide debris, hollow convexities, and a steady breeze.  Snow in the alders was sweet, but we weren't feeling it and didn't lap it.  Hope for a different venue such as the trees of Tincan faded after finding about 100 cars in various pull-outs.

Ya gotta go to know.  And, the question of the fresh snow in the front range had to be answered.  Resetting after the morning episode, I donned lighter gear, and headed up Backdoor Trail to powder in the Wolverine hemlock.  Could barely find yesterday's track in the fresh foot of fluff.

It was inspirational:  chatting on the trail with neighbor skiers, telemarking in alpenglow powder, and following a trustworthy trail.

November 12, 2011

Telemarking Hemlock Powder

The winter weather was heavy and the Anchorage front range was shrouded in snowy clouds, but it was skiing serene on Wolverine in Chugach State Park.  Up into the snowy clouds, I ascended through the stunted hemlock forest on the western flank of Wolverine Peak.  This area is a favorite because huge amounts of snow accumulate in its microclimate with very little wind, and the hemlock not only shield the snow from wind, but also provide a great contrast for storm skiing when visibility nonexistant above timberline.

November 11, 2011

Stuckagain's Backdoor

Backdoor powder!  Neighbor Sam and yours truly set ski tracks in Stuckagain Backdoor Trails in Chugach State Park.  In creating a fire break, Chugach State Park and Municipality of Anchorage also opened up some great ski country accessible from the Basher parking area at Stuckagain.

November 8, 2011


Bushwhacking with skis down an unnamed Alaskan creek through alder tangles, spruce forest, and thin snow cover, we chuckled about our choice of routes.  Not an epic, but all agreed that we'd rather not repeat it.  Little did we know that no-name creek would be a relative cake walk. 

J-Rock, Blob and yours truly enjoyed a fine day above Turnagain Pass at the Bertha Creek headwaters, a lot of people call it Superbowl.  Skinning up Taylor Creek with Viking, we listened to his musings on snow quality, aspects and lines.  Our path diverged from his trail to Magnum, and we continued to Taylor Creek Pass and Superbowl.  We weren't first up the ridge, and we were grateful for the terrific steps kicked by another pair of skiers. 
Back Up Superbowl

There was plenty of untracked powder for the ten souls I counted on the Superbowl ridgeline.  It was a thrilling adventure, but the best snow quality was somewhat lower on that aspect Viking foretold.

The combination of waning light and a sore knee convinced us to follow the Bertha Creek valley back to Highway One.  We faced the route finding dilemma:  ski a not totally unfamiliar powder fall line at our feet, or continue across the boring traverse to a very familiar, reliable descent to the car.  Of course, we took the 'powder now' route and we giggled in powder delirium.   Trail got boney about 300 ft above the road.  We skied over semi-buried brush, occasionally grasped tree branches as we traversed a steep bank above open water, and walked a little.  The pow was worth it, but we agreed that next time...

Next time came less than 24 hours later.
Down into Superbowl
Blob, mw and yours truly woke the next day to find Anchorage beautifully blanketed in a fresh foot of powder.  Stoked by the fresh, we headed to Girdwood and Max's Mountain.  Starting on the Virgin Creek Trail, we mostly booted about 1500 ft vertical through dense hemlock in 6-12" fluffy snow, and popped out into Max's glades and crotch-deep unsettled snow.   The right superlative to describe the skiing above 1500 ft el:  extraordinarily near perfect powderosity.

Ascending Max's
Max's lower elevation access on Virgin Creek Trail skis best after a thaw freeze cycle to create a hard crust over the rooty trail; add a little powder on top, and the dense hemlock forest can be a terrific descent.  But, lacking the crusty base, we opted for a route that might be more skiable.
Our descent did have more skiable vertical than the ascent.  But, the powderosity of the alpine and glades elevations was balanced at the opposite end of the spectrum by a 400 ft vertical hand-over-hand, spruce bough hanging, pack sliding, deadfall booting, alder tangling desent.  Upon reaching skiable terrain for the final 400 ft vertical, mw searched for the proper superlative for our route and asked, it that i-e or e-i in heinous?
Max's West Face
Photocredits:  J-Rock and Blob

October 24, 2011

Easier, Faster or Scarier

Faster or easier?  Is the uptrack objective ease or speed?  Sometimes the uptrack solution is both faster and easier, especially a multi-lap track.  Other times, it's just the subject of the uptrack conversation. 
Faster or Easier?
The conversation yesterday gravitated to the technical aspects of the optimal uptrack.  Kruser, mw, and yours truly had plenty of time to debate the uptrack fastness and easyness as we diverged from the Crow Pass Trail.  Agreement on the optimal uptrack remained unresolved as we topped out on Summit Mtn, but Patrick's Line transformed the conversation into total agreement on the extraordinary quality of that line.
Powder Agreement
We had good snow and fair light conditions.  On the return leg, the light was exceptional and we enjoyed the excellent base and snow on Barnes Mountain down to about 2000 ft elevation.  Overall, it was unanimous:  Patrick's Line is fabulous. 

Viewing Patrick's Line in very early season, or late summer, and remembering the location of the big crevasses is recommended.  It's not difficult to avoid them if you know where they are, but Summit Glacier crevasses are difficult to see with fresh snow or flat light, and some of them are big enough to fall into.
Patrick's is a long meandering line dropping 1500 vertical feet down the entire Summit Mountain Glacier, and then down to Raven Glacier via a north-facing gulley on skiers' right of Little Jewel.

Little Jewel has some terrific lines in its own right, though it has no glaciated base, i.e. it has some sharp Chugach rocks.  Returning to the Crow Pass Trailhead from Patrick's can be accomplished by either skinning back up to the saddle shown above (easier and faster), or skiing down the west side of Little Jewel and following the Crow Pass Trail back toward Girdwood.  The west side of Little Jewel has some terrific lines interspersed among cliffs (scarier).

Photocredits:  Kruser
Theme Credit:  mw

October 18, 2011

El Gato de Nieve

The cat has nine lives, they say.  El Gato de Nieve started the day with nine lives, and returned with six remaining after another Crow Pass adventure.  High risk, high reward, I guess.

mw, Kruser, and yours truly trudged the Crow Pass Trail where we found avalanche debris about 1500 feet above the trailhead.  While heavy snow was falling on our party and the foggy clouds were obscuring the slopes overhead, I pondered the weather pattern over the past couple of days and the evidence of a recent avalanche.  What hidden hazard was perched above us?
It Begins
In the eery quiet of the heavy snowfall, inductive logic and instinctive reaction gnawed at my guts.  We talked about it: obcured loading above us, prior wind and heavy snowfall, and avalanche debris at a place where avalanche has claimed victims near Monarch Mine.

The Monarch Mine operated seasonally until 1947 with peak production of 1160 ounces of gold in its 1930's heyday.  Five men seasonally worked the mine in 1935.  They worked from mid-May through mid-October.  Snow in this region is just overwhelming.

Despite the evident risk, we pressed on, but settled on a safer route.  Up into the clouds we continued climbing on skis.  We decided on Jewel Mtn for our first run.  Visibility was poor, but many prior descents enabled avoidance of the big cliffs of Jewel.  With the winds in our favor, the snow floated down on an almost perfectly vertical descent, and the unsettled fresh snow skied like a dream.  Ski cuts freed foot-thick soft slab and sloughs that accumulated in sizeable a basin fan.
Unsettled Fresh Fluff
We weren't feeling it in the flat light on the cliffs of Jewel, so we opted for the cross-basin slog to Summit Glacier with its moderate gradient and mostly cliff-free glacier lines.  We each silently wondered whether the fresh snow would be too deep for the 25-degree slopes, but we happily found fast, unsettled snow that billowed around us as we arced down the glacier.

In a powder delirium, yours truly searched for that last untracked pitch on the final lap.  Slighlty disoriented in the flat light, I entered a swale that might have led to powder nirvana, but instead I skied into a hellish predicament on the Bahrenberg property.

Barhenberg prospected for gold on the Jewel Mtn north slope and glacial moraine in the 1930's.  Territorial Alaska Department of Mines' report on mining activity in 1937 described parts of the Bahrenberg property "so precipitous that it is entirely inaccessable."  I must have found the precipitous part.

After nearly all of the snow slid from the 50-degree slope, I couldn't go up and couldn't go down.  So, I resorted to a painstaking rock traverse on skis. 

Almost across the rocky traverse
With waning enthusiasm, I ooched across the rocks fearing a cartwheeling tumble down the rocks.  Finally arriving to deep snow on the glaciated base after a seeming eternity on a very steep rocky face, I was hesitant to crank a turn - would more rocks still be lurking?

It was getting late, so we descended to the Crow Pass Trail.  Rounding the corner, we made the stunning discovery of multiple avalanches across the trail.  The slides came down after we ascended, perhaps naturally triggered, or human triggered - seven skiers arrived on Summit during our 1st line down Jewel and they descended well ahead of us.  Either cause was disturbing.

One of Multiple Slide Paths
We enjoyed incredibly sweet skiing with October face shots.  But, risk versus reward?  I would not repeat the Jewel-Summit trip in such conditions.  El Gato de Nieve may have a few lives left, but this cat enjoys his life too much to accept such exposure.

Photocredits:  Kruser

October 10, 2011

October Glacier

We were searching for powder, Crow Pass powder.  We found it in October, 1984 on what we simply called October Glacier.  A few trips later, and after we read the map, we began calling it by its United States Geological Survey-given name, Jewel Mountain.  Kruser and I made it back to Jewel on October 9, 2011, and we found powder again.
Jewel Summit Ridge - Chugach Mtns Alaska
Again, 27 years later, Jewel was still an amazing place, skiable in October after several Octobers with too little snow.  The other side of the Jewel basin, 'Summit Mtn' on the USGS map, is a more reliable source of October powder with its glaciated base.

There were a lot of people in the area - 13 souls on the Milk Glacier, and I lost count at two dozen on Summit.  Summit is a standard for October powder, but it was amazing to see so many skiers on the Milk after skiing the Milk or looking at it from Jewel several dozen times and never seeing a soul. 

It was an amazing day on Jewel in 2011, as it was in 1984.
Kruser, 27 Years After
The powder mantra back in 1984 was, "Live to ski, ski to die."  Now it's just, "Live to ski".  A couple o years after that October discovery, Kruser's 301st consecutive calendar months of skiing started in the powder at the Jewel of the Chugach.
Making Tracks in the Shadow of Jewel
Photocredits:  Kruser