February 23, 2014

South Fork to Ship Creek

Via Rendezvous Ridge in Chugach State Park.  This great park has countless options for ski trips, but Arctic Valley-to-Indian is perhaps the classic winter ski trip, about 24 miles end-to-end from Arctic Valley Road to Indian. Several variations of the classic have been skied, but skiing to Indian from the South Fork Trailhead is a dream route I've pondered while skiing along Ship Creek Valley Trail. Rendy Ridge from 3200 ft has beautiful lines down to the valley floor at 1300 ft elevation. I took one step closer to the dream route, and explored the route from Rendy Ridge down to Ship Creek and back to South Fork.
Conditions were excellent on fixed heel alpine touring skis (102 mm at waist, K2 Coomback), and would have been enjoyable and challenging with my free heel touring set up (68 mm at waist, Fischer Outtabounds 88 Waxbase). There was a firm base in most areas with 8 to 12" of powder on top. The really great thing about the route was its lack of bushwhacking and deadfall.

I toured up to about 3800 feet to ski the Swiss Bowl powder, somewhat higher than one needs to ascend to access Ship Creek from South Fork. After such a pleasant trip down the mountain, I was almost surprised to stumble onto the Arctic Valley-to-Indian ski trail. I saw a couple of skiers on the valley trail, and about 6 sets of tracks.
Ship Creek
Ship Creek had enough ice and snow that finding bridges would be likely, though there was also substantial open water.

My route started from the South Fork Trailhead, and took me toward Symphony Lake, then up to Rendezvous Ridge, according to the sign.
On prior trips there, skiers up on 'Rendezvous Ridge' have told me this area is named Swiss Bowl, adopted on my route maps. Wouldn't it be great to have an organization that creates maps with backcountry ski trip routes with commonly accepted place names? Advocates for quiet backcountry pursuits? Provides additional support for snow science and safety?

February 16, 2014

Shark Fin Turnagain

Shark Fin at Turnagain, an adventure tour. Thanks to Johnny Rocketship, yours truly finally made it to Shark Fin. After wandering around lost through this dense forest before, it was really nice skiing with J-Rock who knew the route.
Johnny Rocketship Launch from Shark Fin
Shark Fin to the highway is not far, but in between, there are two significant creeks in canyons with cliffs, open water, and deep pools. The Turnagain Pass section of the Iditarod National Historic Trail created easier access to Eddies, but access to Shark Fin remains arduous.
Our uptrack intersected Wolverine Creek higher than planned and we came face-to-face with rocky cliffs. After backtracking 10 minutes, we descended to the creek more than 100-ft vertical in the dense forest on a 40-degree slope covered with 10" of snow on moss and tree roots. Reaching the canyon floor, we faced more cliffs on the opposite bank. Backtracking further downstream, we found a tenuous looking place to cross and tip-toed across a deep pool with water running audibly beneath the ice supporting our skis.

We wound up on the opposite side of the creek below a steep, 100-ft high bank with deadfall that tested our hip flexor limits on the ascent. After our creek crossing adventure and our traverse to Shark Fin, we slowly broke trail through alder patches, hemlock and open slopes in knee-deep powder. A couple of laps in the exceptional quality snow nearly erased the memory of the painful ascent.