March 31, 2013

Crusty Rusty

Spring skiing on the Anchorage Hillside arrived with a warming snowpack.  Yesterday's powder at 800-2000 ft elevations warmed to  gloppy, sticky snow.  Above 2000 ft el. Rusty's shady north side remained cold, and southerly aspects corned out.

The firebreak in Chugach State Park south of Stuckagain created open space for great touring.
Backdoor Trail
Southwesterly Aspect of Rusty
Someone had laid some nice tracks down the Rusty gully with a nice relatively alder-free route out to skiers' right.  The old tracks had melted and the gully had transformed from Monday's powder to Saturdays' corn with breakable crust in a few places.  The Middle Fork Loop Trail and Section Line Trails were in very good shape.

March 29, 2013

Sam's Secret

Sworn to secrecy, I cannot disclose the Sam's stash of fantastic powder on the Anchorage Hillside, but he's really got an eye for the line.  Windblown up high, the secret is in the trees with protection, good inclination, and presently excellent snow.  Section Line and Backdoor Trails are skiing really well, too - nice and fast.  You don't need to know Sam's secret to have a great time on the Hillside right now; conditions were great everywhere I went today below treeline.
Nice Incline for Rugged Touring Free-Heel True Telemarking
Deluxe Head Knocker

March 25, 2013

Return with the Ravens

They return each evening, calling, clucking, watching. Hundreds of the big black birds fly to their roosts in the cottonwood groves on the south-facing slopes of the Anchorage Front Range.  Skiing at dusk as the ravens return can be an eerie experience, and skiing with the ravens this evening was exceptional due to the 6 to 8" fresh, dry snow on the trails of Chugach State Park.  

Neighbor Sam and yours truly tested the 2 feet of fresh snow on Peak 4068 near Hatcher Pass earlier in the day. But, the wind had worked the snow before we arrived.  While it was calm when we skied, the whoomphing snowpack, dense snow, and flat light convinced us that a short lap on Peak 4068 was adequate.  Returning to the excellent conditions on Chugach State Park ski trails was a salve to my skiing soul after the uninspiring lap at Hatcher earlier in the day.

March 24, 2013


Northeast Colorado mountain at Summit Lake, Alaska

Consider place names in the Summit Lake area:  Fresno Ridge weather station is located on Fresno.  Fresno Mine is located on Colorado mountain, and Colorado Mine is located on Summit mountain.  It all makes perfectly good sense when you consider the names of the creeks and lakes (Was that Summit Lake or Lower Summit Lake, and why is there no Upper Summit Lake?)

Emergency responders might be challenged; another reason to always be prepared for 'self rescue'.  DP tells the story about some self-rescuing southerners who, becoming lost while skiing in the Talkeetnas, called 9-1-1, followed their tracks back to their car and proclaimed a self rescue. We realized that our trips always have involved self rescue, sans 911 call, but sometimes finding ourselves lost. Lost bearings, lost causes, or lost in powder euphoria.

D2E2, Bill, and yours truly found ourselves on Colorado mountain above Lower Summit Lake where we met DP, Kyle and Rachel on the northeast Colorado NECO) trail yesterday. Snow quality was OK with 6" of fresh snow on a very firm wind crust. We found the ribs above treeline blown bare, and substantial avalanche deposited in large fans below the NECO alpine gullies between the alpine ribs. Temperatures warmed a lot during the day, and snow had begun sliding from a few of the hemlock boughs by 3 p.m.

Rachel Above Fresno Creek

March 17, 2013

Shirtsleeves on Ship Creek

It was -5F in the cold shadows of the Ship Creek Valley, but it was almost 30 degrees warmer at Indian Pass several hours later in the mid-afternoon, warm enough for shirtsleeves.  We bundled up for the hardpack wedge-a-thon from Arctic Valley Road to Ship Creek in the early morning shade, but sunshine on Ship Creek and the steady kick and glide rhythm kept the eight of us warm enough.  The A2I Trail along Ship Creek was a little gnarly with more meandering than other seasons we recalled, and there were a few sketchy ice bridges, but the conditions from Indian Pass to the Indian Trailhead were quite good, among the best we recalled.  We found 4" of sugary powder on a firm base from the pass to the lower Indian Trail.  Some of the tree wells were a little icy and rutted, but skiable with a few, very small bare patches.
It was a pleasure skiing with the good Rogers Park folks.  Yours truly is grateful for the ride and the partners.  It was so nice of Erica and Heather to taxi us around - thank you!  And thanks to Bill and Dave for staging the ski truck, too!
Turnagain Arm

March 16, 2013

South Fork to Ship Creek

South Fork to Ship Creek:  An Exploration of an Alternative

It's mid-March and time to ski the Anchorage backdoor classic tour:  Arctic Valley-to-Indian, a superlative, 20-mile ski trip.  Most folks take the south-bound route.  Quite a few ski the net uphill south-to-north route, and there are even a few high-endurance round trippers.  The south-bound route has a nice trail that descends about 1000-ft vertical from the Arctic Valley Trailhead.  The trail is popular with skiers, hikers, moose, lynx, coyotes, and other creatures and usually is pounded into a pretty hard surface.  It faces south and can get a thaw-freeze crust in mid-March.  Why ski the hard stuff when there are routes with soft powder?

A few years ago, we started the ski trek on a nice powder slope just east of the main trail.
On really good snow years, I've skied lines further east with even more powder! Today's sojourn was an exploration of another even further east way of starting the Arctic Valley to Indian ski tour, except it would start at South Fork, not Arctic Valley.  Yours truly skinned and booted up the North Bowl peak 3965 for you folks that just can't let go of the imperial units of measure (I prefer feet, pounds, and gallons, too, but this version of the USGS map is available only in meters.)  Booting was treacherous on the steep boiler plate. Skiing in North Bowl was good; weather was perfect and snow quality was a big "meh", 4" fluff on boiler plate, slightly to somewhat (on steeper pitches) scritchy.  But, the low angle touring was blissful.  Based on a carefully calibrated altimeter, I turned around about 100-ft above, and 1/8 mile shy of the Ship Creek Trail.   
The snow on the west side of peak 3965 was the best quality.  I used alpine touring skis with a lot of confidence to the western turnaround point.  There is a lot of deadfall where I turned around (west end of blue line), and it presently would be pretty tricky with lightweight touring skis.  On a big snow year, this route will be a "must do".

Anchorage from Peak 3965
North Bowl
Ship Creek Pass from Peak 3965

Ski Track and Coyote (or Lynx) Tracks Meet

View of Route Down to Ship Creek


The Kenai Mountains rise up from Gulf of Alaska to the south and Cook Inlet to the north and west with an eastern isthmus connecting the range to its Chugach brethren. Where the Kenai Mountains begin and the Chugach end is a blur to me, but the great skiing in both ranges is a product of the weather predominantly flowing from the North Pacific and the gulf.  Endless skiing possibilities can be found in the Kenais from the road with several trip launching points along the Seward Highway in the Summit Lake vicinity.  Pondering DP's proposal to launch from mile 48 of the Seward Highway bound for Spirit Walker was decided with Dante's beta, "There's a broken trail."

Not that trail breaking was much work yesterday, but it was nice to have a route to follow to the Ditch at the mine.  Mills Creek Mine was a busy enterprise in the 20th century with heavy equipment, a big tumbler/sluice box apparatus, and the Ditch.  I would appreciate comments on the history of Ditch; I guess that the miners diverted Mills Creek flow through the Ditch to power their mill, or perhaps created the Ditch in the course of placer mining.  Ditch was a prominent enough feature to make the USGS map, created with photogrammetric methods from aerial photographs in the 1950 and 1951, with limited revisions in 1976 and later.

Negotiating the route through the Ditch was not obvious, but TonyD set a track a couple of days earlier saving DP and yours truly some difficult route finding.  The pair of us were basking in the sunshine at a lunch time break when TonyD caught up and happily joined us for the ascent to Spirit Walker summit.  Tony rounded out DP's splitboarding and my alpine touring systems with a state-of-the-art telemark system with a tech-style Skitrab toe piece and sprung heel loop used only on descent.  We skied up to about 4700-ft el where the incline and snowpack favored booting.  DP added crampons to his soft knuckledragger boots, and set a sweet booter for a couple of hundred vertical along the summit ridge, and TonyD led the summit push skinning, and finally booting the last 50-ft vertical.  We were awestruck with the panorama from Spirit Walker summit on this brilliant blue sky day.  

Slogging the 4-miles to and from the base of the mountain was enjoyable, if not thrilling.  Skiing the west face of Spirit Walker was thrilling with sloughs running about 1000-ft vertical.  Once started, the larger sloughs ran for minutes over cliffs.  A man tumbling down the cliffs could  get severely injured.  But, man!  The velvety snow above the cliffs and in the gullies was creamy and easy skiing even though the inclination was pretty steep.  Skiing Spirit Walker on a blue bird day with TonyD and DP was one of those experiences that created a memory worthy of its name.  Very grateful to both for an epic trip with vivid camaraderie.

We walked in the cathedral of the Kenai Mountains, inspired by the brilliant majesty of this place they call Spirit Walker.  
DP Waiting for TonyD
Mills Creek Headwaters
Almost there, only 2000-ft vertical to Go!
Will link a few more pics by Tony and Dante.

March 13, 2013

Speed on the Anchorage Hillside

Touring on the Anchorage Hillside has been super fast the past couple of nights.  Doc pushed me to a personal record for the Glen Alps-to-Stuckagain tour under clear skies with alpenglow and great conditions.

Swix VR50 and VR55 ironed into the wax pocket of our double-camber, metal-edge skis created an exceptional combination of terrific kick with a long and fast glide.    The climb felt almost like we had mohair skins on our skis, and the glide felt like we had only very good glide wax without any kick wax - truly exceptional.  The air temperature was 25F at our departure and about 20F when we finished.

March 3, 2013

Tour the Talkeetnas - So Many Options

Therapeutic effects of sunshine and powder are amazing.  On the mend from a hockey mistep, yours truly had planned to lay low, rest and heal up, but sunshine and powder (and ice and advil) rendered a powerful healing elixir.  Jon's plan to head to the Talkeetnas seemed perfect, but we had too many options!  We saw tracks on Arkose Ridge, Government Peak, Hatch Peak, Skyscraper Ridge, Rae Wallace, The Pinnacle, Friendship Pass, but there also were untracked lines everywhere, too.

We settled on Friendship Pass.  We skied to Independence Mine, up through Goldcord to Friendship Pass, skied down the backside of the pass, circumnavigated the Black Prospect and returned to the pass above Goldcord Bowl.  Skiing the loop around the Black Prospect left enough daylight to skin up Goldcord Peak, the sentinel towering above Goldcord and Independence.  We found more exposure than we wanted near the summit of Goldcord Peak - the eastern side is a series of huge cliffs. If you go up Goldcord Peak, staying on the summit ridge is highly recommended.

Update with Jon's photos.  Thanks J-ROCK!  Another awesome day with Johnny Rocketship!
The Line that Went
Jon recorded for posterity my ephemeral tracks that show one of those lines that we didn't really know whether it would go until we went.  Jon and I pondered the potential of the other side as we ascended the backside; we happily discovered that it would 'go'.
Yours Truly with Some Exposure, Rethinking his Capability, Talent and Risk Tolerance