Friday, May 22, 2009

Ash, Hiland Road, May 20

Redoubt's effects still linger.  On Wednesday I went on a sussing mission in Eagle River.  I drove to the end of Hiland Road to see if the South Fork of Eagle River was snow free for a potential weekend backpack.  It is.  I also noticed a North facing gully had about 2000' vert of skiing very close to the trailhead.  I had my ski gear so why not?  Why not?  The ash, that's why.  But I didn't know any better.

When Redoubt blew it ejected 1000's of tons of ash up to 60,000'.  The ash went were the winds brought it.  Some areas got little to none.  Other areas got crushed.  Girdwood and Eagle River seem to be the hardest hit in the Anchorage area even though they are over 150 miles from the volcano.  

From talking to folks and observations, the ash seems to be a shear layer in fresh snow.  Back in March at Turnagain, we saw this layer.  The crystals on either side of the ash layer were considerably bigger than the surrounding snowpack.  The ash is microscopic shards (pun intended) of glass.  It doesn't really hurt the skis, but it looks like it would be easy to destroy the sticking power of your skins rapidly.  

On Wednesday, there was no fresh snow, no need for skins.  The ash is dark gray-brown.  Once the snow on top of the ash layer melted, the dark ash layer rested on top of the snow.  With the sunny weather we've had over the last month, the snow didn't stand a chance.  Runs that were skiable to the trailhead last year (mid-May) are completely melted out this year.  

The skiing went from not so bad to so bad.  Where there was little ash, the snow was summer quality about 1" deep.  Where the ash was thickest, the snow was most firm and so slow it felt like I was going over the handle bars.  It was nice to get out and I saw much potential up the valley near Eagle and Symphony Lakes.  Hopefully I can make some turns up there before the weekend is up.  

By the way, Skier Boy Tom Murphy has been working for the National Park Service on Denali for the past month.  He gets back to civilization Monday.  We'll be heading to Talkeetna to welcome him back with some cheers and beers at the Fairview.

Ash on the ground

The offending gully.  Click on the image to see my tracks

Harp Mountain: typically 3,000 vert of skiing to the road this time of year

Looking up the ashed out Ship Creek drainage