Friday, July 3, 2009

Archangel Valley, AK: July 2, 2009

Back in April, I lamented that the ash would ruin the summer skiing.  I felt my consecutive months streak would be in jeopardy.  I considered finishing my season after the Valdez trip, but Dylan convinced me otherwise.  Just keep it going was the gist of it.  So I did.  I found good snow through May and June.  I found bad snow through May and June.  I also found some half decent snow in July.  

I got up early and made the 90 minute drive to Archangel Valley in the Talkeetna Mountains.  The dirt road leading to the Reed Lake trailhead is notoriously bad.  So once I got off the pavement, I had to keep the Jeep at about 45 mph to fly over the deep potholes and through the ruts.  The suspension is shot but stiff.  It rides like a dream this morning.  I am completely out of control.  At every corner the vehicle "skips/bounces" towards the outside of the road.  It's OK because I have my lights on for safety.   

I arrive at the trailhead in record time.  Upper Reed Lake is about 5 miles up the trail and it is the bottom of the schuss run.  The trail is mellow as it follows a creek up the valley.  The trail is slick as rain soaked clay conspires against me.  The trail is fun as it disappears into a maze of car-sized boulders.  Whistle pigs greet my arrival into the upper valley.  Lower Reed Lake is a glacier blue/green.  I follow the creek up past waterfalls to Upper Reed.  There is still ice covering about 25% of the lake.  Here my adventure starts.  

Bluebird.  I hike up scree along side of the snow.  Sweat stings my eyes and coats the inside of my Smiths.  I can see the entire run.  Garmonts on and commence booting.  It goes quick and soon I am at the pass looking over several glaciers covered with ash and snow.  Upper Reed Lake is far below still showing the the final evidence of a harsh winter.

There are some clouds building but I am in no rush.  A Clifbar, some water.  Man, those clouds are building quick.  A front is pushing up the Bomber Glacier.  There is a very sharp line in the sky delineating blue from black.  And it is coming my way.  Now I'm rushing.  ("You can see Russia from here!")  I hurry down the slope.  Recent snow over the ash makes for fine skiing but the white gets less continuous.  The ash slows me down.  Then the thunder.  The thunder that starts behind you and circles all around you 2 or 3 times.  Echoing off the steep walls of the mountains surrounding you.  There isn't supposed to be weather like this in AK.  I guess no one told the storm.  Now even the ash laden snow gives way to rocks.  There are some ribbons that go lower.  I milk it low.  Real low.  The absurdity of the situation is not lost and I smile.  More swirling thunder.  Shit!  I transition into to hiking garb and work my way around the lake and back to the trail.  The thunder engulfs the valley and the winds pick up.  All of the metal in this entire valley now is residing on back and in my hands.  Hustle.

Thunder, rain.  A hard rail.  A hard hail.  Small hail, larger hail.  I can feel the hail hitting my hood.  Thunder.  Now lightening.  Hail.  Rain.  Wind.  Hustle.
"Nothing's gonna happen."  The Skier Boyz mantra calms me.  The storm is moving into the next valley.  "Nothing's gonna happen."  The black skies are now gray.  Thunder looms, but now in the distance.  A trace a blue.  Far off thunder.  "Nothing's gonna happen."  

Month #21 was an adventure, but they all are to some extent.  I am have my doubts about August, but I had my doubts about May, June, and July.  I suspect that I will take Dylan's advice and "just keep it going."  And after August, it all starts again with late September face shots.  


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