May 27, 2011

Alyeska Slusheroo

Alyeska's last weekend for the season is a slushfest with temperatures at the base of the quad reaching 60 F on May 26, 2011.
One of Markman's Many 360's
Like going through a sports drill at half speed, skiing Alyeska's slush was a slow motion affair.  The tram carried many more tourists than skiers.  There is no snow below 1000 ft el, and downloading on the tram was our choice after our last run.

Ribbons of Snow on the South Face

May 25, 2011


On a wilderness trek from Cindy's Ski Haus to my work-a-day world, I came upon two moose.  Two bulls, each with velvety half-grown antlers, on opposite sides of the road, were ravishing the willow sprouts.  I watched, inspired by the energy of these beasts to grow such enormous antlers, thrash about with them, only to discard them and then grow bigger ones the next spring.

Not far down the road, I came upon two bears, shiny and black with dark brown eyes.  As these two ursines grazed on the newly sprouted grass, they did not care that I watched them.  The bears had no fear, only hunger.

And so it begins again.

May 22, 2011

Is it over?

It's NEVER over!  It is harder to get, though. 

But, biking is really pleasant.  Coffee maker broke, had to bike for caffiene.  Found a fun route to the coffee house, right through bear country.  Not a lot of bear signs.

Raven Glacier ski time is approaching.

May 15, 2011

Touring in the Talkeetnas: Friendship Pass

Bettjane, Geno, & Richard
We planned on skiing Talkeetnas powder.  Touring from Hatcher Pass Lodge up through Independence, Goldcord, and High Grade to Friendship Pass with hopes of finding shady powder on the north side of Friendship Pass. 

The nice, soft snow on the north side was slightly stale, but very good skiing ... for the first ten turns.  Powder is possible in the Talkeetnas in mid-May, but we couldn't find much on May 14, 2011.  Ten turns down, the snow became a scritchy, thaw-freeze frozen, very hard crust just below the pass.  Supportable crust, but not a lot of fun.  Falling here could have yielded an 1000-ft vertical slide - warning the others, I stopped a few turns into the scritchy snow and kicked steps back up to the pass.  The crust was too hard and steep to skin, and  beneath the crust, the snow was bottomless and slow going - thankfully, Dicky came down part way and broke trail back up to the pass.

The south side of Friendship Pass had excellent corn.  We were all smiles at the bottom of the runs.
Geno's Genuflection at Friendship Pass

Well, mostly good coverage

Crusing below High Grade
We toured over to the Rock Garden and then down to Independence and back to Hatcher Pass Lodge where we visited with Hap Wurlitzer for a while.   Hap has a nice map with place names and plenty of beer and food. 
We found corn snow above the lodge, supportable almost everywhere with very few rotten spots on south facing rolls.  Touring conditions were great with good coverage and easy travel with fun descents.  We saw dozens of sunbathing ground squirrels who had burrowed up to the sunny snow surface from their long slumber.  We also saw a coyote on the hunt for them.

May 7, 2011

Solitary Pastoral

The Alyeska web cam showed severe clear bluebird conditions like a promotional picture.  Was it real?  It took a third look to be convinced that real sunshine was really shining on the Kenai Mountains.  Believing there was powder and sunshine on Pastoral, like a video played in fast forward I got food in my belly, food and water in my pack, and skis, etc. in my car.
Pastoral View from Summit Basin
Spencer Glacier
In spite of a so-so weather service forecast, an inkling the night before foretold the good weather, but after five calls and no takers, a solo trip seemed like the right thing.  Pastoral's northerly slope and almost 4800 ft summit elevation preserved boot top powder and exceptional May skiing.
Some Lines Remain on Lookers' Left with Uptrack

Temperature was 50F at the Sunburst parking lot at 6 p.m., and the corn snow was supportable except for a few odd spots on non-southerly aspects.  Southerly aspects looked rotten, I avoided them and didn't actually ski it down low.  The snow on the east side of the Taylor Creek saddle turned rotten by my return trip at about 5:30 p.m.

May 2, 2011

Bomber Traverse

After ten hours, fifty minutes, and 25 years we arrived.  Departing from the Mint Trailhead at 8:30 a.m., May Day, 2011 we embarked on the journey Tom Murphy had described 25 years ago.  Tom was a mainstay of the Hatcher Pass Lodge and skiing advocate I met in the 1980's who skied all over the Talkeetnas. 

On May Day 2011, we enjoyed terrific trail conditions and wondered whether the late afternoon would be rotten, and almost eleven hours later we found the snow was indeed rotten for the last quarter mile of our trip.  But, after touring 18 miles with a net gain of 5600 feet, we felt incredibly lucky to find exceptional spring snow for all but that last quarter mile.
Krusing to Upper Reed Lake
End of the Trail
We skied up the Mint Glacier Trail on the Bomber Traverse to the Mint Hut in a reverse direction relative to Tom's route.  Then, we sweated up to Backdoor Gap where were simultaneously snowed upon and sunburned, and then we swooshed down the PennyRoyal Glacier. 
Backdoor Gap

PennyRoyal Descent
We trudged up the Bomber Glacier, contemplating the ever deceiving distances our eyes misperceived to be 'just over there', and pondering the fate of the unfortunate crew of the wreckage on its namesake glacier.  Haunted by the B-29 crash site where these men died, even though the crash occurred several decades past, I wondered but did not really want to know.  Where and how would I die?  Trudging, breathing, sweating across this place of rocks and snow and ice, devoid of nearly all signs of humanity except for our three souls and this wreck, I could not answer my question, but knew I did not want to die that day.

DP paced the old men up the interminable glacier, but we finally arrived at the pass above upper Reed Lake, 11 miles from our start, with a sense of relief that our journey was within reach.
Still, we had 7 miles to go, starting with a formidable forty-degree slope to ski.  The south facing slope had baked all day in the May Day sun, and our skis would cut snow rollers that built up to truck tire-sized balls of slushy snow that shocked our fatigue-addled minds into sharp focus. 

Bomber Pass Apron
Five-Mile Glide

We departed at 8:30 a.m. from the Mint Trailhead near the Little Susitna Roadhouse (aka Mother Lode) on firm snow and found excellent crust conditions in the upper Little Susitna valley.  The skies were partly cloudy and we were happy for the shade.  A few flurries fell during our ascent to the Mint Hut and on the Backdoor Gap section, just above the Mint Hut.  The shortest route down the PennyRoyal took us across less than the best aspect.  We were tempted traverse a half mile across the glacier to a shadier aspect with better snow, but were disuaded by our schedule (and the grueling ascent up Backdoor Gap).  The PennyRoyal run we made was good, but the shadier aspect would have provided better powder.  We traversed from the bottom of the PennyRoyal to the base of the Bomber, and skinned up the Bomber.  Our route up the Bomber revealed how good the PennyRoyal snow could have been on the optimal aspect.  The Bomber/Reed Lake Pass was intimidating.  Snow was sunbaked and deep.  The slope was steep and I was scared.  We ski cut the slope, then one-at-a-time made our way down dodging big heavy rollers that would knock a man down.  The apron of Bomber Pass on the Reed Lake side was incredibly enjoyable to ski, and our glide out to the Snowbird mine base was fast and fun.  Even the Snowbird Road was fun.  We skinned a short bit up to the Archangel Road from the low point of the Snowbird Road and skated and double-poled toward the Little Susitna Roadhouse.  We followed the snow machine trail cutoff from Archangel Road to the Mint Trailhead, and arrived 10 hrs 50 minutes after we started.