Friday, February 25, 2011

Heney Range, Cordova, February 20

Day 2 started sunny but the plumes on the ridges let me know that the winds were ripping. The Heney Range raises dramatically just South of downtown Cordova. And like the surly sea captain, I had a bone to pick with Mountain Eccles.

"Yar, damn ya ta Hell, Eccles!"

Eccles and shy sister Shiels aren't especially high (about 2,500') but they are intense. Access to the Heney Range is via a small gated road leading to a reservoir in Heney Canyon off of Whitshed Road about 1/2 mile South of town. The Heney Range lives a small peninsula jutting into Prince William Sound and is is bounded by Eyak Lake to the North and Eyak River to the East.

The approach from the trailhead was quite flat, but it gave me time to study the route. She steepens towards the top and my hope was that the wind stripped away any new snow. The lower flanks held some excellent tree skiing, but I wanted the summit. The West Ridge started gentle and the trees provided a nice security blanket. But above the trees, it got steep and a cliff forced me off the ridge into an obvious slide path. Man balls are in short supply when you have a range to yourself.

The Problem with Eccles

Defeat wasn't so bad. The powder was knee deep and low density down to the creek between Eccles and Heney. Skins on, and Eccles in the rear-view, I set my eyes on Shiels. After trasending about a mile, the climb began in earnest. I was able to stay in some sparse trees and had to alternate between skinning and booting. The pass between the Shiels and Eccles had the biggest cornices I have ever seen at 1,700'. I followed an ancient moraine into an upper bowl just under Mountain Shiels Proper. There was a break in the cornice at 2,300' and it would be an easy walk to the top, but the route went through rapidly steepening wind loaded bowl. A quick probe with my pole handle revealed a 4' slab less than 24 hours old. Solo and lacking man balls, I pealed 'em and had to settle for 2,200' of sun soaked blower with views of the Pacific. Damn! I made a couple more runs in the trees and eventually retraced my track back to the road finally clicking out spitting distance from the Sound.

Eccles in Front and Shiels in the Back

Monday I decided to check out the Crater Lake Trail on the Western shores of Eyak Lake. The trailhead is a 2 mile walk from town, but I was in no rush. The forest forms a thick canopy over the trail which prevents the snow from reaching the ground. I walked up the trail until the trees thinned around 1,200' and was skinning merrily along. Summer trails typically do not take avalanche paths into consideration, and Crater Lake was no different. It crosses major slide paths that start high on Eyak Peak. I back-tracked and ascended some old moraines until I could link up with my skinner from Saturday. The wind had really done a number on the exposed slopes, but protected shots were still excellent. After a few hours of poking around, it was time to call it. Beautiful shin deep accompanied me to the top of the ski lift and back into town.

Eyak from the Heney

Another Gorgeous Day

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