Monday, August 9, 2010

August 8: Ptarmigan Couloir

We have had a crap summer.  So much rain and grey, arrgh!  But Sunday brought sun.  I was blinded.  After letting my eyes adjust to the seering intensity of partly cloudy, I made my way to Glen Alps above Anchorage with the same plan as last year: bike it, hike it, boot it, suffer down it. 

DB Noodler had given rave reviews for this ski run just 2 weeks earlier so there was reason to be optimistic, but there is always doubt.  The run is hidden from the trailhead so I summoned up my all my faith and let Jesus take the wheel.  The approach parallels power lines along a gravel road that is closed to motor vehicles.  Soon the shot was in view and I knew something was gonna happen.  

After stashing the bike, I had to scramble up 500 vert of loose scree.  At the snow line it was time to boot up.  Hey look!  The Garmont is missing the critical ankle bolt.  This semi-functional boot will compliment my other semi-functional boot with the torn shell.  Despite this, I made good time.  The slope was in the low 40s and I felt comfortable with my toes in about 1" and when I needed rest (often), the snow was perfect for kicking in a foot sized ledge. 

Rock fall seem to be fairly common here so I stole a page out of MJ's playbook by removing the rocks from the snow throughout the climb. The walls were towering above me on both sides and I was thoroughly enjoying the afternoon.  Then it got weird.  THUD, and and about a dozen small rocks, a bit of a shake, and huh....  What in the Sam Hell was that?  4.1!

Shaken not deterred, I continued up.  It got narrow and then opened into a wider section with decent snow.  Above the wide section there was a tight choke heading to the ridge. I decided that the wide section would be more appropriate given my busted boots, shot nerves, no turns for a month, and rolling solo.  It would be a good warm up for the "crux" below.

The sun cups were 2-3" deep, with only about the top 1" coming off on each turn.  Not ideal but fun.  I got into a rhythm and kept it through the choke.  The snow got dirtier and firmer.  It was tough to hold an edge and I was in no mood to fight it at this point.  I skidded lazily through my turns getting a free foot massage from the wash board "snow."

That was .... interesting.  I took my time on the hike down and eventually made it to the tundra. It looked like rain was on the way and I was glad to have gotten the window.  And what to my wondering eyes should appear?  That's right! A bottle of Kokanee Gold laying in the tundra; label bleached silver.  Dare I hope?  Could it be?  Madre de Dios, the legends are true!  Actually it tasted awful, but a free beer is a free beer.  

- Andreas Baader

(click for a better view of the squiggles)