Saturday, May 8, 2010

Raina: May 8, 2010

The Chugach never gets tired of putting you in your place.  When you end up throwing rocks at your skis, something probably went wrong.

I got a wild hair up my ass, and finally decided to check out Falling Water Valley above Eagle River.  Despite some last minute calls, this was to be a solo mission.  New member, DBass, had spent some time up there last year and had the inside line.  Raina Peak, 6,795', has 2 NE couloirs to chose from.  DBass said the 2nd couloir was the route to the summit.

The trailhead is at 1,500' in a rapidly greening neighborhood.  One hour later, I was able to start skinning.  I followed the creek to the toe of the "glacier."  Five miles from the vehicle, I reached the bottom of the chute at the head of the valley.  The booter was straight-forward: 1,500', 37-40 degrees. I wish I had a Beattie.  Near the ridge, the cornice looked intimidating.  Skirting it to the right through a tiny finger of snow seemed like the route.  I'll just get up the finger then traverse to the ridge and on to the summit. Easy.

Near the Top (The Finger is Hidden)

It got steep.  It got rocky.  It got thin.  My route became 3" of fresh on blue ice.  I backed down and got into another finger that looked like it'd go.  It didn't.  The rocks were loose and the ice was hard.  I started to chip out my Tuckerman's style ledge to click in.  With the flexibility of a pole dancer, the skins were off, the boots were tight, and it was time to move.  But wait!  I think I see a way up.  Yeah, I got this.  Tough but doable.  I put my skis and poles above me and made some moves through a rocky section and was through the crux.  The gear was now below me and would required that flexibility that was so useful earlier.  While reaching down, I let loose a rock that caught a ski that sent down and around the corner.  Nice!  Getting the other equipment was well beyond my ability since my fluster factor was pegged at 11.  

I reassessed and came up with a plan that was just as bad as the one the got me into this situation: leave the gear, gain the ridge, find a rock that I could use to glissade, and jump off the cornice, and climb back up to my gear.  Before ascending, I began to throw loose rocks at the remaining ski and poles in the hopes of sending them down the finger to make recovery easier.  Whiff, airball, not even close, bulls-eye!  Watch the top-sheet!  The climb to the ridge was no gimme, but without skis and poles it went quick.  The summit was only 200' above.  Go for it or get going with the shit-show?  The incoming fog made the decision easy.  Two days in a row, the only cloud in the state found me.  On the descent down the ridge, I found a perfect glissading rock and quickly exchanged it for a better one.  This was no Hemingway.  This was the real deal. 

At the the launching point, I zipped up, sat down on my fanny, worked on my glissading form, and realized it wasn't as steep as it looked.  I think I can just boot down.  Thank God, I have no idea how to glissade.  I put my chest to the snow and simply walked down.  This would make a great ascent route! 

The Down-Climb and Back to the Finger

 I intersected the original booter and saw the first ski to go "free-range" was right above me. Got it!  Back into the finger.  I must have been quite frightened the 1st time because the booter was sweet.  I grabbed the gear, booted down, and clicked in.  Finally!  The snow was nice but the light was unforgiving.  I didn't ski it like the Boyz, but I did ski like a scared little boy.  Does that count?
Looking Back Up the Couloir

The five miles out was nice.  This time of year, I don't like to take off my skis.  I don't want to accept that the winter is over.  My string of questionable decision continued throughout the descent.  Tundra. Check. Mud. Check. Gravel, rocks, willows, creeks.  Check and check.  I finally gave up on a dusty gravel road.  Summer is here.  Only 4 more months to powder.  

(This applies to Ram Valley as well)
Head towards the Eagle River Nature Center.  Just before the Nature Center:
- Left on Prudhoe Bay
- Left on Delores
- Right on Mariah
- Just before a switchback there is a parking area for 2 vehicles (at Dead End sign)
- Park and walk up the road to the telephone pole
- Head up the small path at next to the pole
- The path turns right onto another pole line - follow these poles to the end
- The power line ends at a gravel road - go right on the road
- After 5 minutes you come to the Ram Valley trailhead, the sign is facing the wrong way
- Head up the trail, Falling Water is straight ahead, bear right for Ram Valley

Parking Area 
Note Telephone Pole and Dead End Sign

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