January 20, 2013

Trifecta of the Anchorage Day Trip Powderquest

Anchorage backcountry skiing day trip trifecta:  Hatcher Pass, Summit Lake, and Turnagain Pass.  Notable absences of the Anchorage Front Range, South Fork, and Girdwood could stir a small controversy, but based on reliable snow, proximity to Anchorage and ease of access, the true trifecta of the Anchorage day trip to the untracked experience must be Turnagain, Summit and Hatcher.  Sentimentality may play some role in my powder trifecta because these places were the stuff of my first backcountry ski trips.

Harkening back to 1982 when I found myself at Summit Lake, Turnagain Pass, and Hatcher Pass as a rookie in the Alaska backcountry, we thought leather boots were cool and skis with 80 mm tips were wide.  Still, now in 2013, I return to these places.  Skiing Turnagain, Summit and Hatcher in succession over the past three days took me back to a bygone that still lives on:  the never ending quest for the untracked experience.

January 6, 2013

More Turnagain Pass Iditarod

Snow science was the rational logic.  But, the cold drought followed by warm wet storms paralleled my emotional swing from no-snow despair to storm-induced euphoria.  Then, reality set in; after too much heavy wet snow on a poorly bonded base, above timberline avalanche hazard was beyond my risk tolerance.  It was a good time to explore the Iditarod Trail at Turnagain Pass.  Starting at the Johnson Pass northern trailhead, I skied north across Pete's Creek, Spokane Creek, to Bertha Creek. 

CNF Draft Map Courtesy D2E2
Bertha Creek is a chasm at the Iditarod Trail crossing with no easy way across.  There may be an easier way to cross Bertha Creek below the Iditarod, but after ascending 200 ft vertical above the trail and still finding cliffs on my side and the opposite side of the creek, I gave up on crossing it in the storm.
Snow conditions were incredibly sticky yesterday.  With waxless, rugged touring skis, Fischer S-Bound 98, I could ascend as if I was using climbing skins.  With the wet snow, hemlocks were shedding accumulated snow with loud (and painful) plops.  One snow bomb that caught my arm was a reminder of the substantial mass and power of these things.

The southern portion of the Iditarod Trail, similar to the northern portion, is graded for easy cross country skiing.  Without a track, the trail was a bit obscure at the southern-most powerline-trail intersection - on the uptrack, I followed the traditional approach to Pete's North along the power line.  But on the return leg, I found the Iditarod at a slightly lower elevation and gentler grade.  The new Iditarod at Turnagain Pass is an excellent ski trail; it will likely become a classic.