November 1, 2014

Return to Patrick's Line

October skiing at Crow Pass, Alaska became a tradition because this place has accessible glacial terrain and early snow. Halloween 2014 continued the tradition for Kruser and yours truly with an excellent tour up the Summit Mountain Glacier, down Patrick's Line toward Raven Glacier and back home via Crow Pass. For us, the Crow Pass ski trip tradition goes back to the early 1980's. 
Long Time Since We've Skinned from Trail Head in October
Boney, but Skinnable

Windy Corner
On many a trip nowadays, one of us will recall our conversation from the 1980's that asked the question, "Do you think we'll be doing this when we're in our 40's?" At the time, forty years old seemed far too old to be doing what we were doing in our 20's. The reader must do the math, but the answer has been affirmative plus a good number of years.

But contemplating the question in greater depth, the answer is not simple mathematics. The gear we used in in the early 80's - leather boots, skinny skis, and 3-pin bindings would probably yield a failed trip, i.e. broken bodies, 30 years after the question was originally posed. Our current technology of wide and lightweight skis, fixed heels for the descent, stiff boots, and nearly frictionless pivot for the ascent has increased yours truly's 'ability' and enabled this trip well beyond my 40's.

And, with age comes satisfaction with the knowledge that what some lesser experienced have concluded "no-go due to crevasses", can be a safely skiable, untracked powder paradise if you know where, and where not to go.
Moraine - Jewel Mountain (Right)
Toe of Jewel Glacier
You gotta go to know - after viewing the weather update in bed at 6:00 a.m., I had to repeat this thought a few times before finally rousing to go. The weather forecast was accurate: blustery and snowy. But, we managed to find enough windows to see and thoroughly enjoy the route. Knowing the route helped 'seeing it' with the in-and-out visibility. There are numerous crevasses deep enough to kill - this trip is not recommended. Crevasses and snow bridges change over time - we found some surprises requiring extreme caution in our glacier travel method.
"Seeing" the Route

Summit Mtn Glacier
Tracks Lead into a Crevasse
Following our tracks would be very risky - there are many open and deep crevasses. Extreme caution is required to safely navigate Patrick's Line.
Patrick's Line to Raven
Lower Patrick's
Patrick's Line is nuanced below the glacier with swales filled-in with snow and adequate inclination to ski but not so steep that skis hit rocks with more forceful turns.
Raven Glacier - Looking North from Lower Patrick's Line
The 2014 October snowpack was terrific at the trail head and lower portion of the Crow Pass Trail, but up high it is mediocre to thin. The storm Kruser and yours truly endured on our Halloween 2014 trip likely added a significant amount.
Touring Back to the South in Blustery Winds
Crow Pass Cabin - A Welcome Sight on the Return
Great Place for a Break from the 30 mph Winds
Back on the Trail
Open Water on Crow Creek
On Our Way Home
And Other Hazards
Crow Pass has a rich history of mining and skiing, almost 100% compatible - the abandoned mine tram cables an exception. Though my ski bases are worse for a few rocks, the ski home was a lot of fun. For the end of October, coverage on the lower section was as good as I've seen it.

Photocredits: Kruser & YT


Kerry Hallin said...

Just googling around and found your post about Patrick's line. I'm his sister Kerry Hallin. My son (22 yrs) is named after Patrick and has his same adventurous spirit. Maybe someday he'll head up to AK and ski the backcountry with you. Have a great ski season!

Alaska Jack said...

Kerry, thank you for posting. I would be so happy to meet and ski with your son! Your brother was a good friend, trusted ski partner and kind soul. Still after so many years gone by, I often think of Patrick.