Friday, April 15, 2011

Valdez to Cordova: The End

There was one question left unspoken. It weighed heavily on the travelers, yet it had not been uttered. The time had come...

"So, are we going to climb over that pass into Power Creek, or should we try to get a ride?"

After 12 days that had been getting progressively harder, the travelers were at the brink. The proposed route would involve severe bushwhacking so the weary crew politely declined the invitation.

Hedgehog had one contact in Cordova: the brother of Sarah Supreme, the EMT. Hedgehog retrieved the CB radio from the bottom of his pack and fired it up. They had wisely saved their "phone-a-friend" for late in the game.

"Breaker, breaker, this is Junkshow, EMT you got your ears on? Over."

"This is Bar Maid, EMT is at work. You wanna leave a message? Over."

"Pository on that Bar Maid, here's what's going down on the Rude......"

Bar Maid got the low down and realized the gravity of the situation. She took it upon herself to arrange the extraction. Meet at 10 AM tomorrow morning on the North side of the delta.

The countdown had begun: 19.25 hours. In spite of the rain, the travelers were in good cheer. But as the Warlock was well aware, the balance of the journey would not be kind, not one bit. What little ice remained was rotten and river crossings became more frequent. Ski boots were soaked encasing their feed in a marinade of water and hot stink.

The rain intensified and they came to a decent campsite, but Hedgehog pushed on in a futile attempt to stay on schedule. Ox and Honey Badger were not happy. Soon after they came to a decision point: a hip deep crossing or back to the alders. They were beyond exhausted and no one had the will to continue. "Wet Camp" was made. The decision could wait until morning. Few words were spoken as dinner was hastily cooked. Their pathetic fire was insufficient to dry out anything, never mind the fully drenched boot liners. It was obvious that the 10 AM goal was unrealistic.

"Breaker, breaker, Bar Maid, you out there? This is Junkshow hollering at you from the Rude."

"Go for Bar Maid...."

With 6 PM confirmed as the new goal, the stout-hearted crew crawled into their drenched tents and damp sleeping bags. The sleep of a laboring man is sweet. The driving rain was the last and first sounds they heard. By daybreak, the wetness was omnipresent. It invaded every piece of gear, the dry bags, the food, their bodies but there were no complaints uttered.

After breakfast the bushwhack begain. The brush was thick requiring Hog, Ox, and Badger to make multiple laps to advance the gear. Hedgehog led the crew. Honey Badger used his tracking skills retrace of route back. Haul Ox lashed out at the ambivalent thicket. Alders, willows, and devils club complimented the ankle deep mud. Blood, sweat, and tears. That's tears as in ripping fabric, give them some credit.

Honey Badger

Ox Surfing a Sled

"Look master, one of them is crying. Defeated!"

"They will never leave the God-forsaken marsh."

But they were numb to the surroundings. River crossings and face whips had no affect. A slow steady unstoppable march. One foot in front of the other. And when things looked their worst, an unlikely alliance was forged. Enemies of the Warlock were secretly helping the travelers. Ox, Hedgehog, and Honey Badger had crossed out of the Dead Marshes and into the realm of the Beaver. Entire stands of alders had been leveled and cleared by an unseen army. Dry meadows with hundreds of 6" stump with the distinctive gnaw marks of comrades. Loads still had to be shuttled and it was still raining, but this was comparatively pleasant travel. Soon the bushwhack gave way to a grassy salt marsh. They had made it to the delta.

Honey Badger and Ox in the Delta Meadow

Even in the delta, channels of the Rude needed to be crossed and the last one was going to be a bastard. That is, if it weren't for the Beaver. A dam clogged the river, forcing all of the water through a 6' channel. The Beaver recognized that the 6' gap might present a challenge for the diminished travelers. So a 4" round, 8' long log was crafted to bridge the final crossing.

"Thank you Beavers. We will never forget your kindness."

"Arrrrrgh! The Beavers!! How could I have been blind to their influence!!," roared the Warlock.

"You are a good and smart Master. You could not have known," whimpered WAC clearly distraught, but calmly waiting for the next insult that was sure to come.

"Silence, you spawn of a 3-legged donkey and a one-armed Thai transvestite prostitute!"

Hedgehog, Ox, and Honey Badger continued their clown parade to the sea where they chose a likely spot for a boat rendezvous. They rested and then the CB crackled to life.

"Junkshow, you out there? Bar Maid here with Cap'n Ernie, what's your 20?"

After only a few sentences it became brutally obvious that the trio's "likely" spot was actually decidedly "unlikely." The tide had ebbed revealing shallows. They would have to cross 2 more miles of salt marsh to get to the boat. 13 days of slogging had conditioned their low gear, but they needed to put it in 5th and that wouldn't be easy. Aches and pains were set aside as they hustled pulling sleds through the muck and tidal streams. One more corner; one more stream; one more step. Will it to happen and it will happen and it did happen.

Cap'n Ernie and Bar Maid greeted the travelers with huge smiles and bottle of whiskey. But elation was giving way to skepticism. 5 people and gear in a 15' skiff defied logic, but Cap'n Ernie offered his reassurances.

"No problem. I had 1500 pounds of sea otter in this last week."

Hedgehog and S.S. Skeptical

Honey Badger, Hedgehog, and Haul Ox drank deeply from the bottle and climbed aboard. To balance the weight, the trio sat on the bow with backs to the wind. The boat labored forward, but the weight forced the bow high into the air. Cap'n Ernie climbed onto the trio to force the angle down with some improvement but further action was necessary. Ox, Hog, and Badger got on their stomachs with their torsos (from the nipple up) hanging over the cold waters of Pacific Ocean. Satisfied Cap'n Ernie finally get her "on step." A driving rain and snow stung the travelers' faces. Dehydrated, hungry, exhausted, and now slightly hypothermic, the travelers smiled as they pointed out couloirs to each other along the shores of Nelson Bay.

Cap'n Ernie sipped. Bar Maid steered. Ox smiled. Honey Badger stared at the never-ending procession of mountains. And as Cordova Harbor came into view, Hedgehog finally let out a sigh of relief.

The Warlock was furious, shouting a litany of obscenities which were exclusively directed at WAC who, in a pointless attempt to appease his Master, was singing Bathtub Gin.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

White Rim in A Day

With all of the talk about creating new rides, such as the proposed Mt. Superior Roller Coaster, Todd Glew and I decided that it was time to check out some of the rides that already exist in Utah. Our plan was to check out some of the pre-existing rides in Utah and send information to developers so that they would realize that there are already enough great rides in Utah. We figured the White Rim would be a good option for a ride to open our season. The White Rim is a famous trail that circumnavigates the Island in the Sky region of Canyonlands National Park. This ride is 103 miles long and is traditionally completed in three days, utilizing vehicle support for camping gear and water.
In our quest to scout many rides to get information to the roller coaster developers, we opted to do the entire 103 miles in one day.
Our only obstacle in completing this task was that Todd did not own a bike, in fact he had not gone mountain biking in five years. Luckily we borrowed a bike from his roommate. Unfortunately the rear shock on this bike did not work, which made for an uncomfortable 103 mile ride over the rough terrain of the White Rim. This was a true endurance challenge that tested both our minds and bodies and required a headlamp to make it back into camp.

- Our suggestion to the roller coaster developers: Experience this ride or one of the million other amazing natural locations in Utah before you destroy one to build your roller coaster.

Todd trying to look like a clown at the amusement park known as the White Rim.

Adam M. Lawton

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Valdez to Cordova V

The options were clear and after much deliberation the travelers came to a decision. Wasatch skiers don't get shut down. Turning back would never be an alternative. Hedgehog was concerned because they were definitely not in the Wasatch.

Phase I of "Operation: Creative Swear Combinations" involved exiting the glacier. Sleds were put on furlough and Ox, Honey Badger, and Hedgehog set out to discover a route. Travel was slow, zigs and zags, back and forth, up and down, and finally a path presented itself through the surreal landscape. They were back on terra firma for the first time in a week, but all was not well. A cliff blocked the way to the bushwhack. Honey Badger and Ox rappelled down in order to survey the landscape from a small hill. It looked doable but their fears about the hateful bush whack had been confirmed. The group decided to make "Crag Camp" at the edge of the cliff and set off to retrieve the sleds. Safe glacier travel protocol may not have been followed to the letter.

Hedgehog and an Ice Arch

Honey Badger Practicing Safe Glacier Travel

Departing "Crag Camp"

The bush whack lived up to the hype.

"Sweet and sour chicken nuts!," declared Hedgehog.

"Rooster cocks!," observed Ox.

"Frozen mixed vegetable dicks!," opined Honey Badger.

"See WAC, they are losing there minds! Just as I had planned!"

"Oh master, you are ever so clever!"

After 6 hours Hedgehog, Badger, and Ox managed to descend the 400' of vertical to the banks of the Rude River. The Rude was mostly open water with precious few snow bridges. When the river bent left, the thicket hugged the right side and the snow-covered gravel bar would be on the left. Cross or fight the alders? This decision had to be made annoyingly often. Sometimes there was a bridge, sometimes not. At first the crossings were novel and nerve-racking but they quickly became commonplace and mundane. The valley began to widen allowing the Rude to separate into a multitude of small channels, many of them still frozen. Crossings became much less hazardous allowing the pace to quicken. Spirits rose and as the light began to fade an idyllic campsite appeared.

The next morning Ox, Badger, and Hedgehog lingered. The sun that was filtering through the high, thin clouds was sufficient to dry the gear in the tents. Things were looking up. Technically they were traveling on the West Fork of the Rude River and the confluence with the East Fork lay a few miles off in the distance. Overnight temperatures had reduced water flow to mere trickle allowing for efficient travel.

Where East meets West, the valley triples in size. West Rude had the good fortune of meandering through a narrow valley blanketed in shadows; the Main Rude suffered no such luxury. River water was not locked in ice and open water returned both wider and deeper. The Rude Valley endured the full effect of the sun. Snow on the gravel bars had all but disappeared. Gravel and drift wood as far as the eye could see. Ski boots and sleds would not make for easy travel over this wasteland.

A Bleak Reality

"Astronaut cocks!," posited Hedgehog.

"Kitten penises!," noted Ox.

"Platypus nuts!," announced Honey Badger.

However, there was no turning back. They had to pull, and pull they did. For hauling sleds, ice is better than snow which is better than river rock which is preferred to gravel which is far superior to wet sand. Gravel and wet sand to the horizon with patches of ice. The siren song of the ice lured them into the wet sand. The Warlock grinned. Muscles strained. Aches, first dull then sharp, howled their displeasure with each step. And then came the rain.

"Operation: Creative Swear Combinations" was in full effect, and spirits were once again leveled.

"Master! Master you have defeated them!," cackled WAC.

"Their spirit was strong but now they are weak. Put on "A Picture of Nectar!" Play it loud!"

"You are a clever and tricksy master!"

But that old Wasatch stubborn "I don't get shut down" mentality was engrained in the psyche of the travelers and despite being far from home progress continued....


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Valdez to Cordova IV

The Warlock relished in his domination over the travelers. He allowed himself 1 glass of Red Zinfandel, but that led to another, and then another. The Warlock ordered that "Slip, Stitch, and Pass" be played at maximum volume. He finished the bottle and WAC fetched a second, and later a third....

The weary travelers finished digging in for the night when the storm suddenly lifted. Fading sunlight bathed the camp. Gear began to dry. A quick check of the map allowed Honey Badger to pinpoint their location. The mountain in front of them was a nunatak and from this aerie it would be possible to descend down the Cordova Glacier the next morning with no additional climbing. Hedgehog made a quick ski lap above camp. Honey Badger scouted the route for the next day. Haul Ox began to concoct a terrific dinner.

The Storm Breaks

The thermometer plunged that night, but the trio slept great. The clear and cold dawn arrived early and tempted our friends to linger in their warm, dry sleeping bags. Weather like this was a rare misstep by the Warlock, and such an opportunity can not be wasted. With bellies full and spirits lifted, camp was packed quickly and they were off!

Easy Travel

With the benefit of clear skies the team made excellent progress. Honey Badger led them down and around the nunatak and back on course. Navigation meetings were frequent but consensus was easy. They confidently descended off of the minor ice cap and onto the Cordova Glacier. Exhausted and jubilant, the trio stopped for the evening. They marveled at their luck and progress. The next day would be treacherous because a jumbled ice fall waited patiently just beyond the camp.

The Ice Falls Lie in Wait

The Warlock awoke late in the day with a throbbing skull cramp.

"Arggggh!!! WAC what time is it?"

"It is dinner time!"

"Is eating all you can think about? You're a fool! How have the travelers fared while I slumbered?"

"They are doing quite well, Master. They are happy and nearing the toe of the glacier!"

"Excellent, my plan is working. Their spirits will soon be crushed!"

Morning was grey but the visibility was decent. Early morning scouting missions gave Ox courage for the ice fall. With probe in hand he led Honey Badger and Hedgehog into a life-size version of Marble Madness. They negotiated fins, heaves, crevasses, and other surreal features. Sometimes down, sometimes across. Progress was slow but palpable. The glacier rolled over revealing a large smooth portion before them. The pace quickened and toe of the glacier came into view. The horrible vision stopped them in their tracks.

The glacier had receded back several miles. Where the map stubbornly displayed an exit ramp of ice was in reality a deep chasm with the sound of churning water rushing through it. Impassable on skis, impassable on foot, impassable anyway you looked at it. There was a route down to the river, but it was not pretty. It involved leaving the glacier early and voluntarily entering into a soul purifying bushwhack down to a river that had open water. The easier option would be to retrace the track back up the Cordova Glacier and descend back towards Valdez. Defeat or willingly take a 3 day beating? They stared in disbelief at the course forward.

The New & Improved Toe of the Cordova Glacier

The Chasm Begins in the Bottom Right

Will the Warlock win? Will WAC get his dinner? What path will our friends choose? Find out tomorrow unless Hedgehog is too drunk to write.

- Hedgehog

Monday, April 11, 2011

Valdez to Cordova III

While our friends slept in their comfy burrows forces were conspiring against them. Far away in another place, a fading beauty named the Warlock and his henchman, WAC, were following the trio's progress closely.

"Make them suffer, Master!!"

"Patience, you dolt," snapped back the Warlock.

Dawn broke slowly and snowy. 18" blanketed the ground by the time Ox got breakfast going. The route up to the glacier was steep, so the team decided to scout the route that morning leaving the camp set up. After a few hours of deep trail-breaking, the glacier was in sight and it was time to peal the skins. The turns were soft and quick as they raced silently through the trees back to camp. Snow continued to pound throughout the night. The storm showed no signs of letting up at the next dawn, but Ox, Hog, and Badger broke camp determined to make progress. Snows had erased all evidence of yesterday's skinner, so they opted to jettison some food to make weight. With the sleds loaded the uphill slog commenced. Honey Badger broke trail while Hedgehog and Haul Ox took the two sleds.

Pepper Jack: You are dismissed!

Snow continued to fall, but visibility was good in the trees. Badger had to help pull the sleds up the steeper sections and Hog and Ox had to swap in and out of the power sled position (1st sledder). As vertical grew between them and the camp, vegetation was getting smaller and more spread out. The route chosen the day before led onto a thin strip of land separated by two chasms. Above tree-line visibility went to zero. After a short deliberation, Chasms Deep camp was carved into the snow.

Chasms Deep Camp with Meteorite & Satellite in the Background

That evening after 48 hours and 30" inches the snow let up and visibility returned. Badger and Hog used the window to put in the skinner (again) to the toe of the glacier. This scouting mission not only established the route for the next day, but was important for breaking a wide trail for the sleds. Flurries continued through the night, but in the morning the trail to the ice was still in good shape. However, visibility was decidedly poor. Despite this, Honey Badger, Haul Ox, and Hedgehog headed up into the white.

Once on the glacier with the yesterday's scouting trail behind them, the real work began. Slow, deliberate travel through deep, untracked snow all whilst in a whiteout. A 12' piece of thin cordelette tied to a ski pole functioned as a whip. The trail-breaker would use a fly-fishing technique to slap the snow producing a distinct mark in the snow that was used to locate where the sky ended and the earth began. Higher they climbed with no landmarks. A break here and there would reveal large land forms prompting our friends to hastily correlate the features to the map. Two days of whiteout travel brought them to the cusp of the high point of the quest. Evenings typically cleared enough to reveal the grandeur through which they traveled. It would also reveal an inefficient zig-zag skin track.

Ox Navigating / Breaking / Whipping

The next morning spirits were high as they were only 400' from the high point. Armed with a compass, map, and whip; Ox began to navigate. We quickly gained the apex and were heading down a gentle slope. The hard earned vertical began to melt away slowly, but not slow enough. Something was not right. The GPS was consulted. The gizmo whirred, beeped, and clacked. Diodes flashed on and off in brilliant colors. It's gears toiled together as it ground out the answer:

"Beep, boo, beep, beep, ANALYSIS: You are fucked," it said in it's best robot impression.

The course was corrected and the team climbed East, paying closer attention to the compass.

"ANALYSIS: You are still fucked."

Fortunately the batteries quickly died on Know-It-All. Ox held steady on the easterly course. They climbed up out of the drainage back to the high point of the planned route, 4,850'. The whiteout would not yield, and Ox's gaze was fixed upon the needle. But East kept climbing: 4900, 5000, 5100, 5200, and at 5300 a large mountain appeared out of the fog, wind, and snow blocking the way forward. It was time to regroup. Defeated, Haul Ox, Hedgehog, and Honey Badger began the arduous task of building another camp for the night. Spirits were low.

The Navigator and the Power Sledder

"Excellent work, Master! Listen to them swear. They suffer! They suffer!," WAC cheerfully exclaimed.

"Stop your non-sensical rambling, you idiot, and put on "Hoist," growled the Warlock.

Hurt and humbled, WAC complied.

- Hedgehog

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Goat Head Couloir: April 10

Goat Head is a sneaky bastard: a Wasatch style couloir hidden in plain sight in the Chugach. She boasts 3,000' vertical, a 5 minute approach from pavement, and continuous 40°+. The couloir rarely (if ever) gets wider than 25' and often it is half that. The crux is definitely the "Improbable Left" at about 1,200'. When booting this gem, alders loom in your future. Just below the springy whips exists the "Improbable Left." It doesn't look like much even once you're committed, but have faith. It twists and turns and gets steep (48°) and narrow and after 10 minutes, it opens up and your back in 42° land. The snow was great today (1:30 PM). There are two piles of debris below the crux, one old (not bad) and one new (a bit of the old side step / side slip). The crux catches a lot of AM sun and will become more cruxy as the melting continues.

Thanks to the Noodler for the hot tip.

- Vladimir Pucholt

Looking Down above the Crux

Looking Down below the Crux

Valdez to Cordova II

A Honey Badger, a Haul Ox, and a Hedgehog walk into a bar accompanied by an EMT.

Ox and Badger get Irish Car Bombs while Hedgehog proceeds to crush beer after beer. After too many beers Hedgehog orders a round of Baja Fogs. Honey Badger passes out on the bar. Eventually the EMT leaves. Ox and Hog continue to slay beers. Bar Maid calls a taxi and the 3 stinky beasts load up. Ox advises the cabbie to pull over to facilitate a Badger vomit session. The cabbie drops the 3 at the cabin where Badger vomits 3 more times much to the delight of Haul Ox and Hedgehog. Soon after they all pass out in their own filth.

Sorry if you were expecting a punch line, but this is based on a true story. How did our furry woodland friends find themselves in this predicament? Well, let's start at the beginning...

The plan was to ski from Valdez to Cordova starting at Browns Canyon (250'). There would be ample time to set up multiple base camps to attack large ski objectives. From Upper Browns Basin, they would ascend a glacier, cross a small ice-field, and descend the Cordova Glacier to the Rude River. From here it would be an effortless trek to the sea on the frozen river. A quick 2,500' climb followed by a sublime ski descent would bring them to the front door of the Power Creek Cabin. Mother Nature didn't care much for this plan.

Our friends went "Into the Wild" on March 24th with 2 fully loaded sleds with considerably more gear than that archetype of failure, Alexander Supertramp. The sleds were heavy, but the snow was supportable. The beasts' muscles struggled with the new assignment. Progress was steady and the sounds from the road faded. The walls on either side of the creek grew steadily and the 3 soon found themselves in a small canyon. Haul Ox and Hedgehog dropped weight and scouted upriver. Impassable. Honey Badger espied a gully on the looker's right that would go. With saw in hand Badger sent the booter. After 3-4 trips each, the load was shuttled to the top and the sleds rebuilt.

Impassable Chasm the First

After the shuttle, the friends quickly came upon a snow machine trail and progress improved. Honey Badger picked up the smell of a campfire and pushed on to the source: a Valdez High School wilderness survival class. Josh, the instructor, gave the 3 advice regarding the route and other possibilities. Soon after, the team made camp under Meteorite.

The North Ramp of Meteorite (5,000' from Summit to Creek)

The next day witnessed a futile attempt on Meteorite. After about 1,800', the snow became very firm and cramp-ons would be necessary to ascend further.

Turns Low on Meteorite

The team descended quickly to Camp 1, but Ox noticed his binding was amiss. Something about a pin and plate; action was necessary. Back at camp a plan was hatched:

  1. Ox would leave post-haste on a mad dash for the road to beg, borrow, or steal a replacement heal piece

  2. In the morning Honey Badger and Hedgehog would move camp higher up the valley
The Fellowship was broken.

The duo broke camp and trudged further on up the canyon. The 2nd chasm came into view. Hedgehog and Badger dropped weight and scouted ahead. Open water flooded the narrows wall to wall. They would have to pass high on the right side. Bags were removed from the sleds and shuttling commenced. One bag at a time across three gullies. The arduous task was finally completed and who should appear? Ox! Badger and Hog were not impressed with his tales of salmon dinners and beers. However, they were extremely impressed with his suss. Ox had somehow scored a replacement heal piece on his fantastic journey. The reunited team pushed on passing under many fine looking couloirs. Camp was made at dusk. The flats were behind them and team settled in for much needed rest.

But throughout the night, the snows came and they would overstay their welcome...