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