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.

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