Saturday, May 9, 2009

Timpanogos East Ridge

Bret Beattie was able to take me out of my comfort zone of Little and Big Cottonwood Canyon to a real big mountain just a few canyons away. Bret has been telling me all about Mt Timpanogos for a long time now. This was his fifth trip into the many cirques Timp offers and my first. Our objective was the East Ridge off the South end of Timp. This contiuous line is a bit intimidating because there are many cliff bands and it is a huge avalanche path especially if it warms up quickly.
Bret called me at 2:45 a.m. and said he was on his way over to my new residence The Falls, a high class community on State St. We drove down through Provo Canyon and up the access road to Sundance ski area. We pulled into the Aspen Grove parking lot at 3:45 a.m. and geared up. We needed to hike the first half mile in sneakers because the snow has been melting out. It was very reminiscent of Tuckermans Ravine trips, pre touring bindings. After a hour or so following the summer hiking trail we made it up to the snow line and began skinning with Roberts Horns walls to our left. The skinning did not last long because of frozen wet slides and potential slide for life conditions, we were booting and it was not fun.
After two hours of switching leads trail breaking we made it to the top of a headwall which Bret promised was the crux of the climb. Skins were back on and Bret was racing to get to the top of the glacier, a saddle between the North and South summits. The winds were blowing pretty strong here and we were wondering if the colds temps would allow the slopes to corn up. Once to the saddle it was straight forward firm booting up below the South summit and across the ridge to our descent.
We made it to our objective a little before 9 a.m. and immediately realized the sun had begun to melt the snow and we didn't waste any time on the top. The skins were off, boots clicked into ski mode, backpacks zipped up, cameras ready to document a perfect corn run. We carved into only 1 inch of corn for most of the run and towards the bottom just two inches. It almost didn't seem possible to have such good timing, but sometimes the boys get lucky. The skiing almost seemed easy and the xposure was low because the corn was so carvable. We skied through the first choke and stayed on the ridge proper most of the way down. We left the ridge proper and skied a second choke. Seeing the bottom of the run we linked big turns aiming right to traverse the large lower cliff bands. After this it was some gully skiing to the top of Stewarts Falls by 9:30 a.m. We put our sneakers back on and bushwacked down along the north side of the falls till we reached a nice hiking trail and out to the road at 11:30 a.m.
Hitch-hiking back to Aspen Grove was not as easy as we hoped. All the SUVs driving up were not willing to pick a boy up because of the inconvenience to their busy lives or risk of getting their leather interior dirty. We managed a ride from a community employee and a good view of the line we has just skied driving back to Safe Sandy, UT. I think I will get out of my comfort zone more often now. Stay tuned for more Timp descents. Thanks Bret.
Jake the Buf

Friday, May 8, 2009

Valdez 4 (April 18)

Lars, Dylan, Garret and myself headed to 30 mile for our final day in the Valdez/Thompson Pass area.  The plan was to bribe some snow-machiners to haul us up a couple thousand vert.  $20 got us to just below Peak 5500 between Girls and Skatepark.  There is a small steep NE facing cirque off of 5500.  The short booter from the drop off brings you to a ridge that has a half dozen obvious shots all in the upper 30s.  There is plenty of gnar between the shots for anyone looking for some billy goat, salt and pepper lines.  I wasn't interested but my companions were.

Valdez is a place that attracts skiers from all over the world.  In our short time there we met folks from the Alps, South America, New Zealand, US, and Canada.  Many of them have skied the world searching for the best terrain and snow.  Their search ended in Valdez.  And on a bluebird day, I wasn't arguing.  The cirque is commonly referred to as "Bro Bowl."  The runout intersects a snow-machiner highway.  These are definitely stadium shots with sled necks gathering to gawk whenever they smelled blood.  The lines Dylan, Lars, and Garret were putting up attracted the whole herd.   They sent technical lines with big air, big exposure, and big consequences.  The herd moved on disappointed and hungry.

However, there were some straglers that were truly impressed with what they witnessed and were happy to ferry us back to the booter.  We rode doubles or were towed (up to 3 of us at once).  "Do you know how to ride Canadian?"  "Sure," I said not wanting jeopardize a ride.  This style puts one rider on the left and one on the right.  Each gets a knee on the seat and a hand on the bars and you hold on.  Tight.  Real tight.  Vibram was my friend that day.

We got 4 runs (1 we had to skin).   Each run featured epic snow but the run out had developed a slight funky layer that became more pronounced as the day wore on.  You only noticed this layer if you turned.  I noticed it; Dylan, Lars, and Garret not so much.

After the final run we booted up to the Skatepark (aka Little Girls) for a more direct line to the road.  This skiing sucked from the 1st turn and deteriorated as we descended.  45 minutes later and we were at the road.   We headed back to Anchorage the next morning and decided to hit Hatcher Pass on the way through Palmer.  Hopes were high and there were a few shots off Marmot I wanted.  I knew the snow would be safe if the ash remained buried.  It wasn't and for about the 10th time in a month, I was Redoubt's Bitch.

After reflecting for a few weeks about this trip, I have developed new appreciation for Thompson Pass.  This place is so big it can accommodate heli operations, snow machiners, and ski tourers.  And given enough time, you can approach all of the classic Valdez ski movie lines with just skins.  Better yet, snow machine and skins. The snow is excellent and there is plenty for everyone.   Check out, "Alaska Backcountry Skiing: Valdez and Thompson Pass," by Matt Kinney.  This book will get you to all the big lines that are serviced by the heli outfits.  This guide neglects "The Books" but this area can be approach from 18 mile at the Valdez Heli Camps staging area.  There is a snowmachine trail that is well maintained that eliminates the bushwhack.

Lars and the Real Boy

Top of the booter up Peak 5500

Snow machiners getting fired up after Lars sends the line of the day

Dylan tries to line Lars up in Bro Bowl

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Seward, AK May 4th

At 8:30 AM the call came in.  "Do you want to go to Seward for the day?"  Yes.  "Can you be ready in an hour?"  Yes.   Annie K was heading there for work and needed a driver for a vehicle that was coming up on a barge from Seattle.  My skin was still recovering from the beating it just took in Whittier and the sun was blazing again.  Screw it, that's why they make SPF 60.

I've attempted a line in Marathon Bowl twice and failed both times.  I had hoped the third time would be a charm.  It wasn't.  8 days of blue-bird had turned the snow to mank.  I got up about 2,000' above town and starting setting off wet slides.  It was only going to get steeper and scarier.  I was solo so back to the trailhead. 

The snow will eventually consolidate in Marathon Bowl and when it does, the 4th time will be the charm.  Check this area out if you find yourself in Seward before mid-July.  

Getting there:
The trailhead is called the "Jeep Road" and is a the "tee" junction of 1st and Monroe in the residential part of Seward against the mountains.  The trail splits often.  At the 1st junction, go left, after that it is all rights.  Look for "waterfall" signs.  After crossing a long bench, the trail winds up through a gully and into Marathon Bowl.  It is a buffet.  Gorge yourself.

Sorry for the lack of photos. 

Whittier, AK May 2nd and 3rd

The ash from Redoubt has been bringing me down.  The snow is melting fast in areas most severely affected: Hatcher, Eagle River, Anchorage.  However; there was a rumor that one area was spared: Whittier.  This small fishing/tourist town on Prince William Sound about 60 miles from Anchorage became more isolated when a  huge rock slide closed the only road into town.   Fortunately the rail line was unaffected and the state began offering 3 trips a day from Portage to Whittier at no cost.  All you need to do is call the Alaska Railroad and make reservations.
Early May in Whittier typically brings hoards of snow-machiners, but the road closure is keeping them out this year.  So early Saturday morning I made the 45 minute drive to Portage to catch the free train and see what Whittier had to offer.  The train ride was odd.  There were fisherman, Anchorage folks day tripping, local residents, and lots of dogs.  I had never been to Whittier and had no idea what to expect.  No maps, no beta, no clue.  I noticed some other skiers on the train and they offered some insight: "Go to the tallest building in town and skin up. " That works.  

On the ride we saw moose, eagles, and lines galore.  The 1st tunnel is short: about a mile.  The 2nd is 2.5 miles and when you pop out you in another world.  Towering ash free peaks.  A small harbor.  Several feet of snow a sea level.  The tallest building in town was about 1/4 mile away.  I skinned up about 500' vert to 500' above sea level and set up a camp on a bench overlooking the town and the harbor.  Mountains buried with ash free snow under bluebird windless skies complemented the peace and quiet nicely.  

I climbed through 2 bowls and crossed a part of Whittier glacier.  I could see a summit.  Lower Eastern False Ridge Bump Peak.  Despite its unimpressive name, the views were breathtaking. 

The peak sits at about 3,000' dividing Whittier Bay from Blackstone Bay.  Having no clue where I was going I was shocked to see another bay on the other side of this peak.  Blackstone Bay has nearly a dozen glaciers the descend to near sea level.  Two of them, the Blackstone and the Beloit, reach the ocean.  Whittier has stormy windy winters that tend to compact the snow better than anywhere else in the Anchorage area.  The snow was epic: supportable and consolidated.  This area gives you unlimited options from  steep couloirs to rolling bowls to monster ice fields.  Since I was solo, I decided to "easy style it."  Huge turns though 3" deep corn into the rolling 35 degree bowls brought me back to camp.  Normally skiing such deep corn is bad etiquette because the turns freeze up solid overnight leaving death trenches for folks the following morning.  Since I didn't see one other track the entire day, my trench farming was guilt free.  I was dehydrated and hungry.  The sun was starting to take its toll on the snow so I called it a day and started to melt snow and make dinner.

The next morning dawned warm and clear.  It hadn't dropped below freezing but the evaporative cooling produced a nice 1" of fresh corn.   I retraced my steps to the same peak just to see that view one more time.  The corn was perfect.  1" on supportable.  Back to camp, back to the train, and back to Anchorage.

The snow should hold up for another 3 weeks plus.  The road will be closed for at least 2 more months, so the skiing will remain 2-stroke free.  It is by far and away the best skiing within 100 miles of Anchorage this spring.  After sussing the terrain and snow depth, I must apologize for not bringing any the Utah Team members to this area.  Whittier is now one of my top destinations for winter and spring skiing.  

The Port of Whittier

The free ride

Day 2: Two tracks (both mine)

Advanced Base Camp

The glassy waters of Blackstone Bay

Looking out into Prince William Sound

Tidewater Glaciers: Beloit and Blackstone

Sussing from the train: Portage