Friday, September 24, 2010

September 23: Byron Glacier

In '07 and '08 late September brought piles of new snow. The early snow stacks up quick on glaciers, and the Lane Glacier is the place to be. Last year late September brought only about 8" of snow and the skiing was rough, dangerous actually. I figured 2009 was the odd-ball and September 2010 would return to form, but this was not the case.

Indian summer persists and is forecasted to stick around into October. This stretch of weather has been incredible: no wind, no clouds, cool nights, and warm days. The hiking has been great, but I had a streak to think about. August was month #34 and I wanted to keep it going.

A few weeks back I was hiking in Portage and noticed some small aprons of snow not too far from the road near the toe of the Byron Glacier. I needed to make a Girdwood run Thursday after work for some boot repair. Since I was going to be in the area, it would be a good opportunity to check out those small aprons. Hopefuuly there would be something worthy higher up on the Byron, but the aprons made for a good plan B.

From the trailhead the glacier and aprons are clearly visible. Byron was scantily clad and not very appealing, but the aprons were looking better than expected. The largest apron still had a 10' thick snow bridge over the creek.

"Ah, what the hell, I'll boot that."

The tops of the sun cups were pretty soft, but the bottoms were still firm. This might be fun. After 350' vert, I had topped out. That's bigger than some of the resorts I skied back in the Eastern Masatch. It took about 15 minutes to kick in a suitable flat spot to click in. The turns were about as good as expected and I was quickly at the bottom.

The booter was in so, "Ah, what the hell, I'll boot that again."

This time I cleared the route of rocks, hucking them to the side. Click, click, and down. It was starting to get better, smoother, softer.

"Ah, what the hell, I'll boot that again."

Not so bad.

"Ah, what the hell, I'll boot that again."

I was getting used to the snow and actually curved some turns and making nice transitions.

"Ah, what the hell, I'll boot that again."

This time I shouldered my skis in honor of the one that shoulders his skis. The turns were good, but this was getting silly. The alpenglow was peaking and dark would be creeping in soon, so it was back to Anchorage to prepare for another day in the cube. Who knows maybe I'll be back tomorrow.

- Black Larsen

The Byron Glacier with the Offending Apron in the Foreground

From the Top of the Apron Looking Towards Begich Peak and Portage Lake

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

September 18: Bold Peak (Hiking Edition)

Anchorage has been socked in with fog this last week. It's similar to the SLC inversion: crap low, bluebird and warm up high. And its gonna take a significant system to break the pattern. With the promise of good weather; it was time to go after one of the Chugach State Park's big dogs.

Bold Peak is a giant rising over Eklutna Lake to an elevation of 7,522'. Its not technically difficult but the long approach and big vert make it daunting. Getting to the bottom of the climb is straight forward: bike 10.5 miles down a campground quality dirt road next to the lake. Stash the bike at the junction, take a left, hike about 20 minutes until you get to the 3 cairns at a small creek.

Now the uncertainty begins: 6,700' vert in 3 miles consisting primarily of scree. Awkward scree. Embarrassed and uncomfortable scree. It wouldn't stay put on the way up and won't slide on the way down. It gets good for sections but never for very long. It made me very self-conscious.

Even with the overpowering awkwardness, I made good progress and was at the high pass right on schedule. The summit looked close from here but the map tipped me off that its actually over 2,000' higher. I rested, fueled and sussed potential routes.

"I think I'll head straight up the middle of the mile wide patch of awkward scree."

I summoned my spirit animal (the great white buffalo), put my head down, and pushed into it, trying not to make eye contact. Fatigue crept in and my pace slowed giving me the opportunity to savor the rapidly improving backdrop. Holy shit, that's Marcus Baker! It just kept getting better and better. There's the Eklutna Traverse. Redoubt. Neacolas. The entire Talkeetna Range. Dozens and dozens of Chugach glaciers. Each step higher made my jaw drop a little bit lower. Despite my deteriorating pace, the summit eventually yielded and the Alaska Range from Spurr to Denali was in my lap. All the awkwardness was gone. It was like I was using Axe body spray.

I lingered up high trying to take it all in. I changed my aspect often swapping one mind-blowing vista for another and then another. No clouds, no wind, and warm. Nice enough to forget about the record setting rain this summer. I looked at my watch and I knew that it was time to descend into the unpleasant and humiliating scree below. But I had gravity on my side and a renewed sense of self-confidence.

"I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me."

-Stuart Smalley

Eklutna Lake 6,700' Below

Alaska Range

Eklutna & Whiteout Glaciers

Bold from the Parking Lot

Monday, September 20, 2010

North Slope, AK: September 13-16

After a long rainy summer, Alaska is finally getting some awesome weather. Just a couple of shots from a recent work trip up North.

- Charlie Watts

Arctic Sunrise

Sultana and Denali