Friday, May 31, 2013

Skiing the Boretide

Tide book - check. Bear mace - check. Ski gear - check.
Owley and I were ready for a late May ski near Penguin Ridge. We chose this spot for its proximity to the Turnagain Arm as we hoped to watch the bore tide from an aerie 3,000' above the cold, grey North Pacific.
Bore tides are a rare phenomena that only occur two places in the United States and then only with specific tides. Bore tides only occur only in shallow inlets or rivers with narrow inlets to the ocean. As the narrow inlet is still draining with the outgoing tide, the flood tide is already en route. The incoming tide travels against the current of the inlet. Moon versus gravity plus hydraulics and harmonics create a single wave that can travel for miles. 
I've witnessed the Bore from sea-level at one of the many pullouts along the Seward Highway. Being so close to the wave gives you a great feel for the power of the bore: loud and powerful, sometimes reaching a height of 6 feet, but the experience is short-lived. I hoped that from high above, we could witness the full scope of the Bore Tide as it traveled the entire length of the Turnagain Arm. 
Owley Climbing
Our extendo Winter ended abruptly and transformed into what the local Fox affiliated has dubbed: The Great Alaska Heat Wave of 2013. Local news tends to the overly dramatic - 3 days in the 70s is not deserving of such a grandiose title. But considering we were shoveling on May 19th and mowing the lawn on the 27th, the change has been dramatic.

This drastic change has put an end to winter snow conditions. Summer skiing is here which means alder smashing, sweat in the eyes, and skis on the back. The first 600' of hiking had mud, ice, slush, and alders, and the occasional patch of dry ground, but we were soon skinning. The trusty tide book told us where and when to expect the Bore Tide and we were right on schedule. 

Our first views of the Turnagain Arm came at 3,000' as we gained a sub-ridge. The entire Arm was laid before us: Anchorage all the way to Portage. We saw a slow moving serpentine wave out near the mouth of the Turnagain Arm. It made a huge loop and over the course of 15 minutes the loop collapsed on itself.  A new wave took over and center-punched the Arm.

The Bore Tide Center of Photo
The Bore was moving imperceptibly. From the road, the wave is a noisy, violent, dramatic act - churning and foaming ripping through the silty water. From up high, the bore is a peaceful wave meandering slowly and silently.

The day was warm and there were no winds. We sat on a dry patch of tundra watching the wave and a young eagle riding thermals. Sweat soaked gear dried and energy bars that have made a dozen trips succumbed to the extended rest demanded by the scenery.

Juvenile Bald Eagle Soaring

Secondary Waves (called "Whelps") Fan Out
Most witness the Bore Tide from pullouts along the Seward Highway. From these vantage points, you can get a great sense of the fury and awesome power of the wave. But from high above, the beauty and scope of the wave becomes obvious. Instead of a 5 minute noisy display of raw power, we were treated to a full hour of grace and fluidity in the silence of the mountains. Eventually, the Bore Tide weakened and slowly faded in a deep channel on the far side of the Arm.

Owley Laying Down Some Trenches
Our timing to watch the Bore Tide was impeccable, but the snow let us know we had missed the good skiing by several hours. The snow - well past corn - was a sloppy, manky mess. We left deep trenches as we descended. My wide open turns failed to produce the speed desired. It was work, but good work. After 2,400' of continuous schussing, it was time to accept that skiing to the road is no longer an option. The downhill hike to the trail was easy and relaxing. The bend of alders and gravity were working with us and we were soon back at the lot.

The June 24th and July 23rd bore tides are expected to be the biggest of the year. The hiking to skiing ratio will be much worse, but I expect to be up high watching the wave and making turns.

Click here for times & dates for 2013 Bore Tides 

 - U.K.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

May Powder in Alaska

Well, maybe not quite endless, but May sure was good.  The storms kept coming and the temps stayed low.  We didn't get onto anything too rowdy, but a good time was had each time out in this late season powder. Enjoy these May Eagle River shots:

The Noodler on the Ship Creek Side: May 4

The Noodler on the South Fork Side: May 18
Big Group Heading up from Hunter Pass: May 19

Him on the Ship Creek Side: May 19
Some of Our Work on the Ship Creek Side: May 19

Turns on the South Fork Side: May 21

Storm Skiing on the South Fork Side: May 18

 - U.K.