Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Palmer Creek: June 19

Soon I will have to accept that it is winter is over, but not quite yet. Palmer Creek Road above Hope had just opened for the summer and snow still dominated the upper drainage. Saturday dawned cold and rainy, but the forecast was for clearing skies. In Utah, if there is even a chance for rain I would welcome the rare excuse to rest and blame it on the weather. That strategy does not cut it in Alaska. Waiting for the sun will lead to a very boring / drunk existence.

Hope would only be about a 20 mile drive from downtown Anchorage if there was a magic bridge over the Turnagain Arm. Reality puts the drive at about 90 miles. I left Saturday morning fully expecting the weather to break. I drove slow taking in the scenery giving the sun the time it needed. Palmer Creek Road starts about a mile outside of Hope off of the Resurrection Creek Road. The route is a very well maintained, narrow, gravel road. The Coeur D’Alene campground is at mile 7. There is a bridge at about mile 9. Below the bridge, you are “right –side” of the creek for access to the best skiing. Above the bridge, one would have to cross the creek to get the goods. The road was still snowed in at mile 11. It looks as though the road continued a few more miles to the head of the drainage where there are big North facing couloirs; perhaps next week.

It was still raining after camp was set. Nap time. More rain. Chow time. More rain. It became obvious that this would be a test of will. I reluctantly geared up. I drove down to mile 6 (~1,200’) looking for the best route up to the snow. It was relatively shwack-free, and I hit snow after a quick 200 vert. The plan was to gain the ridge at about 4,000’ and drop into the top of Bear Creek drainage. From Indian, Bear Creek looks like Wolverine Cirque in the sky.

I gained the ridge right where I had hoped to. The rain had change to snow and the wind was whipping. I choose a couloir and made my way into it. The snow was about 4” of mank on top of not-so-consolidated. At the roll over I gave the slope a big cut and it let loose. The mank moved as a “slush slab” and accelerated fast. It overwhelmed the couloir and was grabbing boulders from the right hand wall. Big boulders. It sounded like a rushing river and ran the entire length of the cirque. Perhaps rain loading had created the slush slab or maybe North facing just hasn’t consolidated yet. Maybe near constant daylight is driving the snow-pack insane, like Robin Williams in “Insomnia.” Either way, I wasn’t having it. I skied the 2,400’ shot back down the ascent. South facing was in a much better mood: 1” of summer corn on supportable. I was able to open it up and arc some big turns, but eventually the snow narrowed and it was metronome-city. Tick-tick-tick-tick. The Big Daddies disapproved especially when I docked them into the tundra at about 10 mph.

Camp rewarded me with more steady rain, a family-sized Dinty Moore, and a couple of 22 ounce bombers. Hopefully it would clear tomorrow.

- Brian of Nazareth

P.S. Sunday brought low clouds that looked angry, so I headed back to Anchorage for booze and food, but the sun was out at Turnagain Pass and there was still snow to road at Tincan. The snow was great above tree-line, but very slow lower. The bottom third is going quick and it will be a shwack very soon.

Views of Palmer Creek
Out of the Fog and into the Rain

Upper Palmer Creek

Upper Palmer Creek