December 30, 2012

Dick Griffith Biography - Worthy Read

It was hard to stop reading Kaylene Johnson's biography of Dick Griffith, the prolific hiker/boatman/skier/wanderer.  Canyons and Ice (Ember Press 2012) chronicles the wilderness travels of Dick Griffith and describes an unusual fellow of extraordinary stamina and will. 

The biography is full of fascinating stories with Griffith quips like:
"It is the reality of life; mother nature wants us dead."

Johson's narrative of Griffith's adventures was spellbinding.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

December 9, 2012

World Disappeared

Kruser pulled up and giddily shouted, "the world disappeared!" 

Our world disappeared in a white cloud of powder emanating from our skis.  We skied, weightless in the ether of billowing snow, pulled by gravity yet floating dreamlike.  In that moment, the world disappeared and we existed in the alternative dimension of powder.

Near Revelstoke, we found over-the-head sense of wellbeing in powder levitation that cannot be adequately described in this blog.  
Levtitating Ski Pole
CMH Revelstoke "Shadow" Line by Dr. Snow
Must all things come to an end?  As the winter sun set, we pondered what tomorrow will bring.

Time to go
Photos by KRUSER

December 6, 2012

Cody's Kelowna

Kelowna, does it sound Hawaiian?  Alaska Airlines ticket agent thought so.  Sorry, it's not on the big island; it's in BC - the powder paradise of North America.
Kruser and yours truly found ourselves at Big White, Kelowna's local ski hill seeking the untracked experience.  Big White's more than a ski hill; it's 2800 patrolled acres with 2500 vertical feet of lifts accessing excellent Okanagan powder.  The Big White resort claims more than 7300 acres - it is big and it is white. 

We were so thankful that a colleague that grew up skiing Big White had shared such in-depth knowledge of the locals' stash.  Thanks to Cody's exceptional beta, we found the untracked stash and skied it and skied it until we were exhausted and could ski no more.
Hike to Cody's Stash
Kruser Enjoying Cody's Stash
Your secret's safe with us, Cody, powder seekers' honor! 

OK, maybe we told a couple of others (they were sworn to secrecy.)  mw and Doc joined Kruser and yours truly to make it a foursome on day 2.  Okanagan delivered with 3-6" fresh on mid to top of the Bullet Express where we found excellent untracked lines.  It was a great couple of days playing in the Big White powder.  And my ski bag didn't get routed through Kauai.

December 2, 2012

To Go or Not to Go

Twenty-one below Fahrenheit at today's proposed trailhead.  Our instrumented, web connected, and remotely monitored world of today is... cold.  What would we do without the miracle of the modern world where we can, with a laptop and wi-fi, sit in bed and discern weather at some faw away place? 

The answer to the question is:  go and find out.  Rather than exploring the cold world on skis, I'm virtually exploring it with a keyboard and computer screen.  Am I really better off with the miracle of modern technology?  We probably agree that such technology helps us prepare better for the conditions, identify really good conditions and avoid unpleasant or really hazardous conditions...  But, I sometimes wonder whether I'm happier with remotely monitoring (and preparing for) the conditions, rather than simply going and feeling it.

After last year's record snowfall, we're grieving for the loss.  By December 1, 2011, we enjoyed 25" of snowfall in my neck of the woods, but this season we find a total of 6".  Our nearby powder vortex of Turnagain Pass presently has 18"; one year ago there was 39".  For more armchair snowpack and weather monitoring see:

Maybe an outdoor pickup hockey game is the thing to do.  The ice is in great shape!


November 25, 2012

Touring Turnagain Pass

Everyone loves Turnagain Pass.  We found the quiet untracked experience on the Turnagain Pass Iditarod Trail as we enthusiastically extended the trailbreak to Tincan where we found a broken ski trail.  The new trail was graded at moderate angles good for cross-country skiing on waxless and waxbase skis.
Exploring upper Ingram Creek was great fun and it was the source of a flood of ideas for future trips along the Iditarod with heavier alpine touring gear.   We employed our lightweight, doublecamber skis on the well-worn trail at Lower Eddy's used mostly by people on AT, splitboards, etc. heading up to tilted terraine on Eddy's.  Snow conditions were slightly icy from Lower Eddy's to the fork where most of the traffic split to the east, but the graded trail was comfortably wide enough to control speed on xc skis.  Trail conditions from that fork to Tincan were very good (we broke trail for a mile or so at the upper most elevation of the Turnagain Iditarod Trail.  We turned around at the Tincan uptrack - I haven't seen a report on the Tincan-to-Johnson section.
There are six (or so) bridges on the trail between Lower Eddy's and Tincan.  We skied a leisurely out and back, but with a couple of vehicles or a willingness to hitchhike, a one-way trip from Lower Eddy's to the northern Johnson Trailhead promises to be a terrific ski tour - hope to report back on that trip.

November 12, 2012

Sunday Sunshine

DP, mw and yours truly made the November pilgrimage to Tincan, the most popular mountain in Alaska for self-propelled skiers and riders.  We enjoyed great weather and snow worthy of multiple laps.  Though our ski bases were a little worse for the wear after enduring a few scritchy encounters with rocks.  We found good quality snow above 1800 ft el, breakable crust from 1800 - 1500 ft, and thaw-freeze hard snow below 1500 ft elevation.

October 21, 2012

Pastoral Autumn

Sunny skies, fresh snow, and lots of daylight convinced 4 parties, 10 people and one dog that Pastoral was the place to be.  Sunburst Trail was boney below timberline, but we survived most of it without incident and all of it without injury.  We embarked about 9:30 from the Sunburst parking area when the temperature was a chilly 3F.  Photos by Kruser.

We weren't the first.
But, we found the untracked experience.
Staubs and grass clumps were momentum busters.

October 16, 2012

Didlikama, Alaska

There beneath the blue Talkeetnas skies...
mw and Yours Truly on the Didlikama Precipice
Photo by Kruser
Three men began a Talkeetnas powder quest decades ago, seeking the perfect snow on a perfect mountain.  After years of searching the Mint, Pennyroyal, Montana, Lane, Snowbird, Arkose, Government, Marmot, April, Hatch, Pinnacle, Microdot, Friendship, El Dorodo, Skyscraper, Bomber and beyond, our quest continues.  Our October destination was the Lane Prospect on Didlikama, and we made it in the nick of time.

Kruser Descends Didli
mw on Didlikama
The Lane has been a popular destination for powder seekers since the late 1970's.  As early as Labor Day, yours truly has found cold smoke worthy of multiple self-propelled laps on the Lane.  Northern aspects form the Fast Lane and the Slow Lane glaciated tongues that preserve early season powder in the shadow of the mountain we call Didlikama.  In late snow years at lower elevations, the 6200 ft elevation of Didlikama is usually reliable for great skiing.

But, Didlikama access is troubled.  Didlikama, Lane, Snowbird and other areas can be accessed for day trips via Archangel/Fern Mine Road, a seasonal spur road extending about 5 miles from the main Hatcher Pass Road.  We found the Archangel Road gate closed on our way out - a disconcerting finding after entering an open gate in the morning.  With just a little looking, we found a small paper sign at the gate on our way out proclaiming the road closure at 10 p.m. October 14.  The Alaska Department of Natural Resouces, Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation apparently planned closure of Archangel Road on that date.  We were happy that the gate was not locked, but disappointed in the Oct. 14 closure.

I've driven street legal vehicles on Archangel Road to the Fern Mine gate in late November without incident.  I hope comments by users will convince the state to keep the Archangel Road open based on actual conditions; most years would have a later closure.  I can remember many seasons when there was great snow above Archangel Road while the road condition was quite drivable well beyond mid-October. 

As mid-October, 2012 would have it, there was an extraordinary base on the Lane moraine and boulder field.  The skiing quality was worth a lap on the Fast Lane with another trip up to the summit of Didlikama for a ride down the Slow Lane.  The snow was somewhat crusty, but we found nice pockets of powder here and there.  We were able to ski down to 4400 ft el.

From Didlikama, Looking Down the Slow Lane
Photo by Kruser

August 31, 2012

Cindy's Blue Ribbon - Harvest Moose Epilogue

Judges at the Palmer Fair agree with us:  she's a winner!  Blue ribbon for the best snap peas in the fair.  She's the snap pea princess, grower of Alaska 2012 state champion snap peas.  Congratulations, Cindy!

The Ski Haus proprietress hangs marigold baskets on the garden fence posts - bugs and moose (we prayed) don't like the smell and stay away.  Along with bending the fence over, chomping the peas, and breaking a couple of flower baskets, the moose apparently made off with one of the flower baskets.  I found the marigolds and root-bound dirt from the basket, but no basket with its wire hanger.  If you see a bull moose with a flower basket tangled up in his antlers, you have found the moose that plundered the peas.

August 30, 2012

Harvest Moose

The proprietress of Cindy's Ski Haus planned on entering her carefully tended peas in the classic Alaska State Fair in Palmer, Alaska.  Today was the day that the mistress gardener would enter her first vegetable contest.  As fate would have it, a member of the local moose herd visited the garden last night and found the garden fence no hinderence to plundering the garden patch. 

But, the big ungulate left a few pea pods, and Cindy bravely selected her best remaining pea specimens and entered them in the fair.  She entered carrots and tomatoes, too.  We'll wait to see the Palmer fair judgment, but she's won our hearts forever.

May 20, 2012

Tincan May 2012

Skiing from the road is still available at Turnagain Pass.  Tincan pullout has a few feet of snow in the meadow at the road.  DP and yours truly found fresh, warm snow up high on northwest aspects, and slushy snow elsewhere.  We enjoyed sunshine from noon to 2 p.m. when the wind picked up and snowy clouds moved in.  Visibility remained good while we ascended back up to Tincan Ridge from lower Todd's Bowl.  Snowpack was firm with a few exceptions on extremely steep rollovers (cliffs in the summer) below 1500 feet elevation.
Photocredit:  Dante

May 13, 2012

Archangel Crustskiing

After a record snowfall, plenty of opportunities for spring skiing have been available.  Crust skiing to alpine touring to lift-served downhill skiing have been very good.  Kruser guided yours truly up to the Snowbird Mine for some backcountry skate skiing last week.
Snowbird Mine Shack
Archangel Creek:  Hoping for a Snowbridge
Happily Testing the Bridge
Photocredit:  KRUSER

April 20, 2012

Mad Snow Science by HatchYourTrax - YES

WOW!  That's almost all I've got to say about Hatchyourtrax artistry, humor and stoke.  I loved it.  See it!  See it, hear it, feel it, yeah.  Mad Snow Science by Hatchyourtrax

April 14, 2012


Kanchee's big sister is Knoya.  Big sister was cruel today in the shade with 4 inches of snow from the Easter storm sitting on a firm snowpack, rocks, or rocks coated with a half inch of ice.  The ice-coated rocks were tricky climbing with or without skis.  After abandoning my skis for a bootpack to the ridgeline, I slipped a couple of times on the descent, but fortunately didn't slide too far.

The brilliant morning sun gave way to grey clouds just after noon, but the snow below 2500 ft el. was slushy without the sun.  The snow above 3000 ft was scritchy regardless of aspect.  South-facing snow below 1800 ft was becoming rotten at 3 p.m.

April 8, 2012


Celebrating the biggest Anchorage seasonal snowfall on record, DP and yours truly explored an Anchorage front range gem:  Kanchee. 
Kanchee access via The Dome is a moderate day trip with the great snow conditions we've enjoyed this season.
Four fresh inches falling yesterday and sunny skies opening this morning over the front range were motivation enough.  But, the beatiful Kanchee Peak so prominent on the Anchorage skyline has been like a siren beckoning us to her rocky perch.  We had to go.

Arriving at the Kanchee summit, we had only one choice:  descend! 
Kanchee has excellent northwest lines.   The fresh four had fallen on hard wind pack or thaw/freeze, supportable crust.  Slough management was necessary on the steeper terrain.

The lower trail near Campbell Creek North Fork was slushy at 4:00 p.m. as we descended.  Powder up high was terrific.  We expected the snow down low to become rotten in the late afternoon, but we were happily surprised with good conditions all the way to the creek.

Photocredits:  Dante & yours truly

April 1, 2012

Fischer S-Bound 98 Update

Warm spring snow is the sweet spot for Fischer's S-Bound 98 waxless ski.  Skiing the Fischer 98 on our Anchorage spring snow pack with an inch of fresh, wet snow is a delight.  The glide is a little slow, but the climbing ability of makes these skis work exceptionally well in warm conditions.  My 98's are mated with a vintage telemark system, Riva 2 cable bindings and two-buckle Scarpa T2 boots.  The Fischer 98 combination with the light, plastic boot is a good match of power and weight.

March 31, 2012

South Fork Powder Corn

Spring sunshine at South Fork
Powder in the shade
Corn in the sun
Swiss Bowl North Facing Powder

Swiss Bowl South Facing Corn

Without fresh snow for a couple of weeks, the snow in the shade is slightly stale but skied well.  Snow in the sunniest aspects loosened up at about 2:00 p.m.

The small slab avalanche shown above was there when I arrived.  I think it had naturally released a couple of days ago.

March 30, 2012

Shady Chutes of Hanging Valley

Ski touring in the scenic South Fork country at the end of Hiland Road has so many options from kick-and-glide skiing in the valley floor to lapping alpine powder bowls to dropping into steep couloirs.  Overlooking the South Fork of Eagle River is Hanging Valley just beyond the end of Hiland Road.  Nathanael and yours truly skied up the Hanging Valley to its cirque in the shadow of Hurdygurdy Mountain.
Kicking steps up the couloir was exhausting, but thanks to Nathanael's stamina we topped out on the overlook.
The north facing shady couloir protected the snow from the sun, but after a couple of weeks since the last storm, the snow was a little stale.  Though the snow wasn't great up high, it was worth the climb to the overlook where some sheep came down the slope of the sunny side.  The lower two-thirds of the cirque had very good cold snow.
Stairway of Pain
Testing the Snow
We crossed the cirque from the shade to the sunshine and skied up a slushy slope and enjoyed a view of the couloir, but we enjoyed the ride down more.
With the sun asecnding higher each day and our season waning, slope aspect makes such a difference.  Finding cold smoke in the shady cirque was our hope, and the sunny corn was a bonus.

March 25, 2012

Tri-Tip with TelePete

It was a pleasure skiing with TelePete, Karl, and DP at Summit Lake.  TelePete's knowledge of the Summit Lake ski scene is legendary and listening to the Summit Lake master's insight of the area is a special treat.  It was a fine group and what an excellent powder day we had at Tri-Tip
Master TelePete & Karl's Helmet
We followed a solo skier up the Tri-Tip ridge and lapped the northerly aspects until our legs ached.  Repeatedly, as we reached the high turnaround, I silently said to myself:  this could be the final lap.  But, after riding smooth cold smoke on the steep pitch of Tri-Tip, we had to do more.  Finally, as the sun moved down the Alaskan horizon, we were due back home, maybe overdue, and in the alpenglow we finally had to leave our alpine powder dreamscape and return home from Tri-Tip.

Dante's Mountain Art
Tri-Tip has some sick couloirs, super steep powder rivulets feeding the basin at the bottom.  DP and yours truly found a slightly convex one a ways back on the Tri-Tip ridge.  Its convexity just obscured the bottom third of the line, but we had faith.  When we came upon some cliffs beyond the roll-over, we began to question our faith.  After cutting some sloughs that ran several hundred vertical feet, we meandered our way through the rocks and floated down to the basin glisse to cheers from ourselves.

I could not imagine better backcountry skiing.
Old Man Air
Photocredits:  Dante
Sorry, Max, but in our excitement, we forgot to record images of the cliff bands.  Another reason to go back!

March 21, 2012

Kanchee Karma

After the vernal equinox has passed and the light-deprived souls at latitude 61N can enjoy more than 12 hours between sunrise and sunset, after work ski tours are no longer shadowy trips in darkness lit by head lamp or moonlight.  The Anchorage spring time after work ski becomes a late afternoon glisse brilliant at first, then settling into an alpenglow ensonced descent to a warm home.  Skiing by moonshadow in midwinter can be dreamlike and deeply enjoyable, but descending through alpine powder in the long light of the northern sunset of spring warms the spirit, even though the temperatures are quite cold.  Inspired by the brilliant afternoon sunshine of this equinox, yours truly was compelled to scout Kanchee.

Jon and I have discussed various lines of the Anchorage Front Range so many times I've lost track, but we always mention Kanchee - how it's just there and so beautiful.  And, my gaze is always drawn to Kanchee on my after-work journey home to east Anchorage; in mind-numbing rush hour traffic, I daydream about skiing the Kanchee summit line and fantasize about the opulent powder there.  And, on a blog post about the front range, Elfy, commented about skiing Kanchee.  All this Kanchee karma, I had to go.

Kanchee is so right there, closer than I had imagined.  Skiing from the end of Basher Road, I ascended the Dome and skied to a saddle for a good look at Kanchee and Knoya, the K twins.  What beautiful summit bowls these two have.  I'm going back when I have a full day to devote to it - Kanchee to Knoya would make an exceptional trip.

Rockage potential is always present in the front range, and descending from the true summits of the K twins, especially Knoya, would likely involve some rock encounters, but snow in the gullies looks very good.  The snow in the gully I skied tonight was sweet.  If the weather holds, I'm going to the K twins on Saturday.

March 18, 2012

Coloradan's Colorado Creek

Matt's Magical Mystery Tour came to a close today at Colorado Mine, Alaska.  Matt, presently a Coloradan, formerly an Alaskan, made a ski trip back to his old home with perfect timing!  Sunshine, powder, big lines, backcountry, one storm with 23" fresh at Alyeska.  Today's tour to Colorado Mine was another pristine powder day.
We followed a game trail up Colorado Creek to the lower mine site and set a switch back trail up to the upper mine site on the ridge on beautiful untracked snow that had not seen a ski in quite some time.  Hoar frost crystals sparkled in the sun and seemed to vaporize into cold smoke under our skis. 
Map (click to expand) is courtesy of Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center.

It was cold in the shade, about 10F, but skies were mostly sunny with very little wind.  We saw two natural slides on north-facing slopes.  We couldn't clearly identify the starting zone, but the slides ran a several hundred vertical feet.  The snow in the gullies was exquisite.  There are hundreds of lines all around Turnagain, Twin Peaks, and Summit Lake, but Colorado Creek had no tracks nor sign of any ski traffic. 

March 17, 2012

Talkeetna Touring

Touring in the Talkeetnas in late winter sunshine has offered endless possibilities.  From the Mint Trailhead to the Goldcord/Pinnacle area, touring the Talkeetnas in the Hatcher Pass sunshine has been the skiers' sweet spot over the past couple of days.
We ascended the knife-edge Arkose Ridge just east of Delia Creek, crossed over two basins from the Delia drainage, and thought about running down a concave line.

Topping out on the ridge from the other side, and looking down, we thought we had found untracked creamy couloirs waiting to be skied.  From above the concave horizon, we imagined perfect couloirs packed with untracked powder, and yours truly really wanted just to ski it.  But, apprehension of unseen hazards overcame the urge to descend and prudence prevailed.  I volunteered to take the line we could see to the basin floor and signal from below:  one pole up - a single chute, 2 poles up would mean 2 or more chutes, waving and crossing poles would mean no go.  Arriving at the basin floor and gazing up, I was struck by the shocking reality of huge cliffs just below the concave horizon of our ridgetop vantage.  Frantically waving my poles with straight arms, I wondered if the tiny specks of people, my party on the ridgetop could make out my NO GO sign. 
Jon descended toward the cliffs.  As he taversed toward the cliffs, I again waved my poles in a frenzy, emphatically crossing my arms and back down to my sides, channeling: don't go, don't go.  It was a quite a stress relieve when he turned and cruised down the mellow line spraying powder in the sunshine.
Nathanael Drops In
We knew that the couloir on the opposite side of the ridge, our original objective, had clear routes from the ridge to the valley floor, and we expected it would have much better snow, and we happily learned that the couloir lived up to our expectations. 
Nathanael's Line
Nathanael pioneered the lookers' left line (above) and as I followed his track down the powder filled couloir, the moments seemed long and serene.  Matt and Jon took the lookers' right couloir.
Matt Entering

Jon Found the Slot

Matt and yours truly found ourselves back in the Talkeetnas the following day in the Rock Garden area of The Pinnacle, and gazed at our line in the couloirs of Arkose.
Left-to-Right:  Nathanael's, Matt's, & Jon's Lines

Matt Tracking The Pinnacle South Ridge
Matt and I peeked over the northern slope of Friendship Pass above High Grade, but with the flat light, corniced slope and adjacent natural slab, we weren't feeling it, so we backtracked down the sunny side of Friendship Pass on crunchy melt-freeze sun crust near the pass that gave way to soft powder on the slopes with lower inclination.  We skied back past High Grade and traversed in falling snow to the the Rock Garden beneath The Pinnacle.  As we topped out on a minor saddle along the southern ridge of The Pinnacle, the clouds vanished and we found some nice powder in the shady northwestern aspects.