Falls Creek is couloir central. There are about 10 puckering shots in the 500' - 1,200' range in this small drainage. Most top out between 3,500' and 4,500'. The only drawback is that you start from sea level. Back in April, the Noodler and I climbed South Suicide via Falls Creek and I saw a shot that I needed to ski. Of course the Noodler had skied it several times. We didn't have time that day, but I planned to return.
Falls Lake Couloir (FLC): April 20
The FLC has all the earmarks of a classic: narrow, north facing, close to the summit, and an excellent run out. The only thing that isn't obvious is the location of the lake. Don't know, don't care.
I returned to Falls Creek the afternoon of May 11. The Noodler and MB were already up there on an all day couloir hunt and I was fortunate to catch them at the bottom of the FLC. Unfortunately there was 2-3 feet of freshly wind loaded snow in the couloir. The Noodler and MB had already turned around on another shot earlier in the day due to cracking snow. It had taken 2 hours to get to the bottom of the FLC, but the risk was not worth it.
Anchorage has had a seemingly never-ending corn cycle since mid-March. Sunny days with cool clear nights has made for excellent skiing. Hard frosts in town guaranteed excellent late afternoon skiing in the mountains. This came to an abrupt end this week. The clouds rolled in preventing temps from reaching the freezing level overnight. It happens every year, but it was much later than normal in 2012. Once it happens, the snow goes to shit rapidly before slowly transforming to neve a few weeks later.
During this transition, a wise skier would stick to the trade routes that see the most traffic (Peak 3) or seek out some gullies that have been wind blasted all winter (Solstice Couloir). Harp on Monday was a manky mess. My skis were fat enough to keep me on top, but just barely. Pole plants easily punched through 12+ inches into the isothermal slush. Spooky.
Wednesday dawned warm and cloudy but sun was in the forecast. I always try to work an extra hour on crappy days, so on beautiful days I can sneak out early. The sun came out and I made a break for it and was hiking by 3:30 PM.
The Falls Creek trail is dry and first mile does not hint at the massive snow pack higher up.
Fiddle Heads Provide a Nice Snack
After about leisurely 2-hour hikes, it is time to take the skis off the pack and start skinning. I retrace my May 11 route but was I am moving much slower today. The skins are completely saturated adding significant weight to my already heavy set-up. Ski penetration is 2-3" and the top 4" are completely saturated. I slog along slow and steady with the hope that the FLC will be much firmer being higher up and in the shade. But this is unlikely with air temp in the 50s.
At the May 11 turn-around point the snow is slightly better. The feet of snow from a few weeks prior is still in there but it has cooked down considerably and has insulated the frozen layer beneath. With skis back on the pack, the booting begins. Each step is about 8" deep. The snow in the chute hasn't gone to corn yet; it is really saturated spring snow: the ultimate snow ball snow. The sun is blasting the wall above the climber's left and there is evidence of fresh rock-fall. I keep to the right and waste little time and before too long the ridge yields.
Near the Summit of Mountain Peak 3920
The vista is amazing. Couloirs everywhere and a great view of the lower Falls Creek, the Turnagain Arm, and Hope, AK. After a short time taking it all in, it is time to focus on the task at hand. The FLC is in the high 30s and today it is mank-tastic. The top 8" is on the cusp of sliding. It wants to go, but not quite. Ski cuts get small results. I link 2 turns down the center and ski towards the wall to see what happens. Manky roller balls. I repeat this technique about 1/4 of the way down before I feel comfortable enough to start linking more turns. The snow is slow but super fun and carving pretty deep. The shadows of the couloir finally give way to the sunshine of the run out and finally I relax.
Looking Back Up
It always feels good to get a shot that has captured your attention. FLC has been weighing on me since I saw about a month ago. One month is not that long considering there are lines that I have obsessed over for years, but it was a good feeling nonetheless. Hopefully, the transition to neve will be quick so I can tick a few more off before this season winds down.