Alaska has woken from its slumber. Last weekend I saw bear tracks meandering through the snow; yesterday I saw a coyote slink through the trees. Rock climbers are venturing out onto the cliffs next to the highway and the dogs are lounging around outside in the sun. However... there is still snow to be had for those of us who don't wish to put the skis away quite yet. At the same time the climbing bug has returned...what to do?
In an effort to stave off caching the skis in the shed for the season Yvonne and I opted to do some ski mountaineering on Saturday. We pouring over the maps and finally settled on Explorer Peak down in Portage. Explorer Peak is a small mountain at the far western edge of Portage Road, The summit is only 3,440' - but you start at sea level, have a little glacier travel and finally get to boot up a corniced ridge; it's the perfect shakedown trip to get ready for spring mountaineering routes.
We enlisted Dan Boccia to help break trail and on Saturday morning we headed down and by 9:30 am we were skiing through the trees towards the glacier. The initial part of the route is pretty moderate; you ski through a stand of dead spruce and then start heading up the valley towards Explorer Glacier. There is an obvious drainage that you work your way up which dumps you out on a plateau just right of the glacier's toe. We then skied up a broad snow slope to the right (west) of the glacier until reaching a bench where we stopped and roped up. ( Read more... )
Thursday was Yvonne's birthday so we had a party; a bunch of people came over and we cooked up a bunch of salmon and made halibut tacos. As usual halfway through the night talk turned to where to go for the weekend. The weather looked good and we were itching to go out so Yvonne bailed on work for Friday. Later in the evening Eric stopped by and casually mentioned that J.T. and Tony were headed up Polar Bear for the weekend. J.T. is in the top 3 on my 'who to call for conditions and beta in the Chugach' list (along with Wayne and Steve who were both at our party) so our ears pricked up. Polar Bear? It's high on the list and if J.T. and Tony are heading up there then conditions are probably good. Besides, I figured, if our timing is right then we should be able to jump right into their tracks and boot up to the summit. Wayne and Steve concurred that it would be a good time to try it and Steve opted to join us so we planned to pack up in the morning and hike in Friday afternoon.
The next day we packed up and by 2 pm Yvonne, Steve and I were hiking up the Eagle River trail. Our packs were obscenely heavy for an overnight trip. Yvonne and I both had our winter (-20) bags plus we hauled a stove, pan, tent, bivy sacks, ice axe, ice tools, crampons, snowshoes, pickets, ice screws, rock and glacier gear, a 60 m rope, tennis shoes (to cross the river in) and leather mountaineering boots. Despite the load we made good time and within 2 hours we shed our pants and donned tennis shoes for the Eagle River crossing. ( Read more... )
On Saturday, August 18th, Scott Hauser, Mark Selland and I packrafted 20-Mile. Recently this has become the trip to do in Anchorage and much has been written and said about it. We encountered 3 other pack-rafters other than ourselves and know of at least two others that were doing the trip as a weekend trip.
I won't say much about it - other than it's a classic trip! The trail up and over Berry Pass is an amazing achievement; one can almost imagine displaced gold miners slaving away making the road. I had heard that there was quite a bushwhack once you dropped down off of Berry Pass - but in the Chugach sense of 'bushwhack' it's hardly worth mentioning. There's a good trail the whole way so if you're looking for a brush extravaganza don't bother.
The river is mostly open except for one sweeper that is entirely across the channel. However it is easily portaged via a gravel bar. There are silvers running right now - and with them come speed boats and angry rednecks who refuse to slow down and will yell at you as they pass. ( Read more... )
Spring is here and with it came a good snow pack and perfect snow for front range skiing. On Sunday Charlie T. and I climbed the West Ridge of Ptarmigan from the Rabbit Valley side. The route up was great - with freshly kicked steps from a party just ahead of us. We climbed both summits and stared down the north couloir; conditions were perfect. I then skied the west face - dropping down one of the couloirs in perfect shin deep powder.
I got home that afternoon and began thinking about the north couloir. The fresh stable snow beckoned so I called Todd and we made a plan. And then yesterday at 12:30 we set out and skied down Powerline pass to the base of the route. En-route we passed two climbers who had just climbed the route. They told us the snow as a little hard down low - but nice up high.
By 2:30 we were at the base of the route and skinning up. The snow quickly grew hard so we clipped on our ski crampons and continued up. However it got steeper and the snow harder so we soon pulled the skis and started booting. We had left our crampons at home thinking the snow would be soft; and thus the lower portion of the route went slowly as we carefully booted up the ice hard snow with our boots barely biting in at times. ( Read more... )
The forecast called for clouds and isolated showers; not ideal conditions given that isolated showers usually have a way of finding me, but I wanted to get out so I studied the maps and my photos. I finally decided to give the North Face of Eagle Peak a try. My reasoning was that 2 weeks ago north facing slopes were still powder and south facing slopes were corn - whereas a week ago south facing slopes had turned isothermal. I was hoping for corn conditions on north facing aspects - but I knew we couldn't go if the sun was shining due to avalanche hazards. After much thought I figured the clouds would shade the route giving us the rare opportunity to ascend the route in spring conditions.
The route ascends the obvious couloir. This photo was taken from Significant peak on 6/10/06.
So I rounded up a team who all bit on the first cast: Dan, Eric, Bryce and Yvonne and at 5:30am on Saturday we met and were soon driving. We dropped off a car at the South Fork of Eagle river (thinking we might have to traverse the peak to avoid late afternoon avalanche conditions) and then drove to the Eagle River Nature Center and were hiking by 7am. ( Read more... )
Peak 3 season is in full swing here on Hillside. For those who don't know what Peak 3 season is; It's that time of year where every day at 3pm the schoolteachers start calling you and saying "Want to go ski Peak 3? Want to go ski Peak 3?" If you can avoid them you'll get in another hour of work before the 8-4'ers start calling and saying "Want to go ski Peak 3? Want to go ski Peak 3?" If you can say no again - then you get another hour of work in before the 9-5'ers start calling. Usually I cave in to one of the above... and last week Peak 3 was really good! ( Read more... )
Our plan was to climb Flute Peak. Flute Peak sits 10 miles from the South Fork trailhead at the very head of the Flute Glacier. The route consists of a glacier crossing, steep snow and a final rock pitch. There were 3 of us - Eric, Yvonne and I. All of us had tried it once before. Eric had actually made it to the rock pitch last spring before backing off unwilling to solo the final step. Yvonne and I had "tried" it last year; but our efforts had ended early when we ascended the wrong approach gully. We instead hiked up Ewe Peak, not willing to out the effort into additional route finding. Ideally one would climb Flute Peak as an overnight trip - taking time to leisurely hike up to the glacier on day 1 and then climb and hike out on day 2. However - we opted to try it in a day. So in we tromped... me soaking wet and the clouds thick and soupy. ( Read more... )
More pix after the jump... ( Read more... )
I love classics… be it rock, ice, ski descents and even the occasional mellow river run. So when I heard that the classic ice routes in Middle Glacier Canyon were fatter than usual we dusted off the ice gear and headed south to give one a try. We hiked into the canyon and checked out all the routes. Most of the routes looked either hard or thin, but Lucky Man looked better than usual.
Lucky Man is a wonderful ice route that is about 300’ tall and was first climbed by Charlie Sassera and Robert Frank in 1982. It usually has a very very thin beginning - after which the route ascends a mellow ramp system to the canyon rim. However this year there is a super easy sneak on climbers left that gets you past the thin horrow-show of verglass and stubby placements down low on the route. ( Read more... )
On Christmas Eve Eric Parsons and I went down to Turnagain and skied Tincan Proper. This is more or less how it went... ( Read more... )
I worked all last weekend – so when a sunny day and an ice climbing partner presented themselves mid-week I jumped on the opportunity. Wayne and I drove down to Portage and found an unoccupied Follies with an easy creek crossing to the base. Follies is a well known local classic that sometimes has an abysmal approach. For the most part the ice across the creek tends to be pretty thin – and I guess lots of people have had mini-epics when falling through the ice or having the wade across in fishing waders. We lucked out… the creek was frozen solid and we walked across and were at the base in minutes.
Wayne on the second pitch.
More pix after the jump. ( Read more... )
[ Carpathian Peak - North Ridge ]
[ Northwest Ridge of Indianhouse ]
Pix from a day at Hatcher on two stellar routes. ( Read more... )
Former Anchorite Austin Thayer was visiting and the weather forecast looked halfway decent so we met up early and drove up to Hatcher in the hopes of getting in some climbing before the rains came back. Ignoring the puddles we pushed up Archangel road and were roped up and starting up the first pitch of Toto by 10am. Swinging leads we jogged up the route and topped out on the top of pitch 5 two and a-half hours later... ( Read more... )
Scott Fennell down KCK.
Yvonne down Goat Head.
It's no secret the snow has been good in the Front Range. While the official NOAA snowtel in midtown is reading 129 inches (just shy of the all time record of 132.8 inches set in the winter of 1954-55) the unofficial ski reports show much much more snow on Hillside and in the Front Range. Gullies are filled in more than usual, the tree skiing is good and normally hard technical couloirs are now doable for the average Joe. Thus when the snow is deep, sky is blue and the backyard calls, there is no need to drive north or south. ( Read more... )
Todd exiting Falls Lake Couloir.
Falls Lake couloir looked beautiful and untouched. So up and up the perfect splitter couloir to the ridge. Then down boot deep powder and heavy sluff to the valley floor and sun. ( Read more... )
Ignoring tradition, history and local ethics we vow to rename this route. From henceforth it will be called Thin White Mank. ( Read more... )
Every now and then we get that long period of high pressure where everything rocks. The temps are decent, the snow is beautiful, stability is good. Then the winds come and everything goes to hell. Windslab creeps across the ridgetops and where there isn't windslab there's pure ice. Runs look good from afar but once you're in them you start actually thinking about things like home projects and ice climbing.
With sun and high temps in mind Jake and I set out to try the NW Ridge of Williwaw. We tromped up and over the Ballfield, dropped down next to Williwaw Lake and then trudged up the scree pile that is at the base of the NW Ridge. Then up the steep and exposed NW ridge to the summit of Williwaw.
Read more for additional pictures and a ridiculously detailed route description. ( Read more... )
Ptarmigan North Couloir. Photo by Eric Parsons.
Sunday was one of those perfect days ... ( Read more... )
It was the winter of '98 and I had already been in Alaska for two years when I finally decided it was time to learn to ski. I bought skis, boots, bindings - the whole package - and I started the weekend pilgrimage to Turnagain Pass. 15+ years ago the Pass was a different place. There were all of 30 skiers who frequented the place and everyone knew everyone. I started showing up and within a few weeks the long time cadre of local skiers took me under their collective wings. ( Read more... )
Notes and photos from Penguin Ridge. ( Read more... )