Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Late October Update: Alaska

It rained like hell all September and into October.  The snow line came down and we got excited.  It warmed and the snow line went up and we lamented.  Up and down for weeks, but the storms came to an end and the high pressure moved in.  There was enough snow to "ski" South of Anchorage, but around town and North the mountains were mostly bare save 1-2" on North facing slopes.

I wanted this October to be like last October with snow aplenty up high, but it was not to be. Fortunately, I've passed the point in my life where I act like Pouty von Poutypants every time the weather fails to do exactly as I wish.  So it was time to reassess.

Skiing was out, but cold and clear made for excellent hiking: no mud, no bugs, and sunglasses were needed - a rare trifecta in this part of the world!  Above 5,000' things were still a bit snowy, but there were plenty of new-to-me 4,000ers that patiently beckoned.   

Hiking Elliot (Williwaw in the background)
Normally leaving Anchorage for a weekend in October causes a strong case of FOMO, but with a super thin snowpack, I was able to enjoy a weekend in Sitka.

Rebuiding a Forest
I was in Sitka to assist with Army National Guard training. SAR groups from around the state were able to hitch a ride on a C-130 to convene for a soggy weekend in South East Alaska (which is North West of the Pacific Northwest).  Groups from Anchorage, Juneau, and Sitka went over SAR basics and large scale avalanche response. 

I will Never Complain about Coach Again

After drying out the drenched gear, it was back to blue skies, high places, and beautiful sunsets.

Anchorage and Cook Inlet from Kanchee

Redoubt from "The Dome"
After a week of roaming the Anchorage hillside, it struck me that there was even less snow just North of town. 4-Mile Creek above Chugiak was new to me, but that would change. There are three peaks in the 4-Mile drainage on the big list, so I set out with lofty goals.

The Alaska Range from 4-Mile
Day 1 in the 4-Mile was glorious topping out on Mountain Eklutna and Mountain Peak 4009 under a brilliant blue sky. A few days later I returned for Mountain Peak 5505 with the mountain bike. Normally a muddy overgrown mess, the lingering Fall presented an A+ single track.

Biking the 4-Mile
The rapidly setting sun convinced me to turn back well before the summit, but the views and crisp mountain air made for another grand day in the mountains. 

The weather held through the weekend so Ross, Brian, and I convened in Eklutna to attempt the East Twin: 2,000' of trail, 2,000' of steep tundra, 1,000' of Class 3 and 4. A sunny south-facing route with air temps in the low 20's made for an excellent day in the mountains.  We got off route in as soon as we got off the tundra, but no one seemed overly concerned so we kept climbing.  The route quickly got into the 5th Class realm; we had climbing gear but elected to head back due to the late hour and uncertain route ahead.

Brian hooked up with another group and made a successful summitted but returning the car park well after sunset. Next time I'll stick to the planned route.

Looking Down 4,500' to Eklutna Lake

Eklutna Lake and Bold Peak
Today there was 2" of cold snow on the car which signals the likely end of the extendo fall hiking season. It was great while it lasted, but now is the time to switch gears, tools, and clothes.  Leather for plastic; laces for buckles; one layer of down for two layers of down; sunglasses for the yellow lens; 2WD for 4WD. Gravity will morph from our enemy who fights us every step of the way to our trusted weapon who pulls us ever faster. Despite these changes, the overarching goal will remain the same: get away from the hustle and/or bustle and into the mountains with good people and enjoy whatever Mama Natura sends out way! 

 - U.K.