After sucessfully making it through Y2K without Skynet taking over, we headed north to Wyoming to replenish our supply of "real" PBR. JHMR was a different place back then: the old tram, an intimidating closed boundary policy, and several "permanently closed" in-bounds areas. Skiing on day passes, we didn't feel like these closures applied to us. The snow was untracked and being on late '90's equipment, it was also deep.
Thursday, May 5, 2011
Sunday, May 1, 2011
Temptation has been calling to me for years. Multiple north facing chutes tempt many Hiland Road skiers. The Siren songs call to you. And why do those Greek hookers call out to weary travelers? The Sirens mean to destroy them. Utter devastation! There is no easy way up Temptation but her North face was luring me into dangerous waters.
I knew the risks and dangers so I used my "phone-a-friend" to get some beta from my brand new e-friend DB Noodler.
"Go over the pass above the trailhead cross Ship Creek, go up the creek in the mini-drainage and ski down into..... Suffer much bushwhacking and wish you'd gone 6 weeks ago."
Well, dang. That pretty much confirms the Greek legend, but I was willing to press my luck because new real-friend, Bill, had sussed a route via horseless air carriage.
Aware of the dangers, Bill and I set out on our quest from the South Fork trailhead up Hiland Road. We stayed on the Main Trail for about 1.5 miles, took a hard right, and ascended through the 2nd notch. From the notch, we gravity-traversed up Ship Creek Valley.
Ship Creek (we found a snow bridge)
After crossing Ship Creek the 'shwack began in earnest, but the crust held for the most part and after some sweet Class V skinning moves, we were through. The snow was grippy so the skins stayed on high into the couloir. We were transfixed on the peak, moving higher and higher. The couloir looked fantastic. The booter was going quickly as if we were being drawn to the top by some unseen force. We had clamp-ons, but elected to keep them in the packs for ballast.
We topped out at a triple divide: Ship Creek, Snowhawk, and a small NW facing valley that eventually drains into Ship Creek.
The top of the couloir seemed soft during the ascent, but booting and skiing are different. Good toe holds don't always equate to good skiing. The top was firm sastrugi, not very nice stuff. How did we end up in the mess? What would drive a man to this situation?
Actually, conditions rapidly improved and the sastrugi quickly gave way to some smooth carvy snow and eventually, a beautiful section of corn. The sun poked out and skis wanted to go fast.
This time of year, Alaska skiing is an elevation game: winter conditions up high and feet of isothermal snow down low. Isothermal snow has no structure; it is basically standing slush. Step in it, and your feet hit the ground. The only way to ski this garbage is to keep your weight way back and surf those tips with minimal control.
A light freeze the previous night left a supportable crust for our morning 'shwhack, but it was long gone come 5 PM. Those whores had us right where they wanted! We surfed it as far as we dared, but the alders closed in. A 90 minute hip-deep, soggy booter through several areas of blow-down deposited us at the Creek. The worst was over and the song began to fade, but the climb back to the notch was no gimme. Luckily, the swamp was mostly frozen and a South facing ridge was dry tundra. At 3,400' with skis on, we angled towards the notch.
We were through! The Sirens wailed but their torment was drowned out by a gentle breeze. On the north side of the notch the skiing was excellent: 2" corn on supportable (6 PM). Big arcs brought us down to the South Fork Trail in short order. Hikers have packed the snow on the trail making for easy ski travel and we were quickly back at the vehicles cursing our lack of beer. That was our fault; we couldn't blame the hookers for that.
- Luis Tosar