Thursday, April 11, 2013

North Bowl: April 9, 2013

Snickers, the porcupine, did not see his shadow thereby dooming us to an early Spring. Well, that prickly bastard could not have been more wrong. Even the State of Alaska has recognized Winter's unusually aggressive push into Spring by extending the date for removing studded tires

The weather guessers predicted a huge Saturday though Tuesday snow event. The hype was on, but early storm totals fell short of predictions. A revised guess called for lower totals, but by Tuesday morning the truth exposed: Snickers and the weather guessers have similar accuracy. 

But a ray a hope: even though town was spared the fury of the storm, the mountains got pummeled - far exceeding even the most optimistic guesses.

Gee, I wonder where to go....
Field reports had confirmed the impressive totals and as the sun busted through the clouds on Tuesday afternoon, our destination was set. Hiland is a narrow winding road which makes getting stuck behind a school bus all that more frustrating. There are 2 buses: the 3:15 and the 3:45.  We've got the timing down so we usually hit the window between buses and drive like Bo or Luke Duke right to the trail head. Tuesday we were 5 minutes late and got caught behind the 3:45 bus at the bottom of the road. Shit! Lucky for us, the bus driver pulled over and waved us on. We cranked the Waylon Jennings and accelerated up the snow covered road.

Apparently, we weren't the only ones with powder fever and a rudimentary grasp of how to use the intertubes. Eight climbers were ascending towards the ridge and there were scores of tracks on the North facing slopes above us. Typically, this valley gets wind blasted during storms leaving many of the faces scoured down to tundra. This last storm didn't have the wind and the normally barren faces were tracked out with some deep looking turns. At least the uptrack was in.

The temperature in the parking lot was pleasant and the last of the clouds seemed to be breaking up. It looked like we were in for a nice evening of skiing so I left my long-johns and puffy in the Taco. After about 20 minutes clouds obscurred the sun and a chilly wind kicked up. I donned what little extra gear that was in my pack. Once on the ridge the wind really picked up making the single digit temperatures feel even colder. The wind was ripping, rapidly filling in the skin track and exposing wind board on some sections of the ridge. The blowing snow sand blasted my face and was rapidly sucking warmth from my body. For the second time this month, I coveted the Noodler's skirt. Getting desperate, I improvised a merkin with the bags for my goggles and climbing skins.  Ahh, much better!

It seems as though Snickers and I have similar weather guessing skills.

Fortunately, it was just a short squall. By the time we topped out on the 114th tallest peak in the Chugach State Park, visibility had improved and the winds had laid down.

Despite dozens of tracks visible from the trailhead, there were only 3 in North Bowl. The sun made a brief reemergence so the Noodler dropped in disappearing in a cloud of cold smoke. He quickly settled into his metronome style and attemped to make infinity turns. I wanted to ski more aggressive, but the angle was too low and the snow too deep.  I resigned myself to the tick-tick-tick of the metronome and enjoyed the ride.

A second lap was definitely in order. 

The Ridge Back to the Top
Along the way we met up with a couple of buddies and continued as a team of four. The squall from the first lap was long gone. Our persistance was rewarded with good visibility and light winds, but it still was cold.  We breifly considered another aspect, but elected to stack our tracks from earlier. On both runs, the first two turns were a bit funky, but it quickly changed to the deep fluff. 

The Noodler Stacking
Powder conservation techniques allowed everyone to get a fresh line for the entire descent. Smiles abound! Hoots and holler! It was my deepest Alaska day of the year. We wanted more but domestic obligations called us back to reality. 

Late spring dumps are precious because the promise of powder is fleeting. We may get another storm, we may not. This could well have been the last face shots of the season. I hope there's another monster low out there churning over the Pacific with Anchorage in her sites, but who knows?  Your guess is as good as mine.

 - U.K.