Sunday, March 28, 2010

Breaking trail

An hour and 10 minutes after my alarm went off for the first time on Friday morning, my phone rings. I fumble to answer it but drop the call. Good.
Five minutes later it rings again, this time I get it. Justin on the other end asks: "Want to go crust ski and hunt ptarmigan on the other side of the inlet?" "How long do I have?" I answer.
Warm weather has been promising to set up some great backcountry crust but it hasn't wuite gotten good here yet.
An hour later I'm some how at the airport parked next to Justin's Super Cub shoving skis and poles into the back as the bright morning sun beams down on us. Five minutes later we're off the runway in a helicopter take-off, headed west to the other side of Cook Inlet.



A steaming Mt. Redoubt.


Mt. Spur.

A hazy Denali and Foraker.

Looking for a place to put down.

The other side of the inlet is packed with swamps, many of which would be best measured in miles.

We put down in a massive swam next to the Kustatan River.

View Kustatan River in a larger map

When we get out of the plane we find the snow is crisp enough to support us bare booted with a 2 cm layer of fresh hoar frost on top. Excitement ensues as we race to suit up and get on our skis.
Are we about to be the first people to crust ski the Kustatan? I await my answer from the greater Alaska ski community.

We skied a ways up the swamp before cutting through the alders to reach the river, passing by one of the the probably dozen or so eagle nests we'll pass in the next 40km or so.

Click to enlarge.

Beaver tracks on the right, see the tail drag? We also saw some massive wolf tracks and a coyote ran across the river in front of us. (CTE).


Spur in the background. (CTE).


Decapitated Redoubt.

After skiing a rip fast 40km out and back we returned to the plane for a lunch in the sun. It's kind of like coming back to your car after a day in the back country, except, it's a plane.

We flew over the alpine bench above where we were skiing to look for bear dens, but all we saw were mountains, moose tracks and maybe a wolverine track. Darn.

Nature makes its own designs using big brushes sometimes.

A plane loaded with fuel for a remote village takes off from Kenai.

Kalifonsky Beach.


Tsalteshi. The Wolverine trail head is lower left. (CTE).

Not to be outdone by Friday, Kasilof Karl and I met up with Coast Guard Jared and went on an exploratory mission to one of the northerly slopes of Summit Peak in Summit Pass.

View Summit Peak in a larger map

We made a very sketchy ascent on the east face that would earn the respect from climber aspiring to summit The Tall One: rock hard unbreakable crust with slippery wind facets on top. Jared earned an unintended 100’ of vertical descent when he slipped on a steep traverse and was only stopped in his free fall by the grace of a well placed willow. The bruise will heal.
Around the ridge we found boot top powder from the summit down. Varying viz left us alternating back and forth for 5 runs between bowls when the sky opened, to tree runs when all hell broke loose and the snow came down in curtains. Jack W and a friend were skiing the same bowl though we were out of sync, we did share beta on lines as our paths crossed. The bowl is massive, a party of 5 showed up and though many lines were had, there was plenty of powder to go around. We only touched one of three skiable faces in this particular bowl; three more bowls of like nature are to be had to the west.
To exit, not wanting to die down the east fase, we skied the hiking trail out. What a treat, that comes from a split boarder who had to convert to a free heeling telepalooza-er for the gradual down hill tour out.
Coming up over the knoll and into the top of the basin we skied for the rest of the day.

There were no end to beuatiful lines, but while the pictures here would say otherwise, we were socked in most the day and stuck to the trees where we had some depth perception in the flat light.

Check out this wall of snow rolling in from across the pass.

A ptarmigan on a rock in the middle of the bowl in the middle of the white out became the anmesake of the bowl for our party as it was the exact marker of where to go to find an untracked little grove of hemlocks that was otherwise invisible in the obscurity. (CTE).

If it wasn't for the top of that hemlock, would you even know that Karl and Jared were on the ground?


A job well done.

The express route back to the highway. A 2,500' vertical foot straight shot descent on slab ice to Summit Lake. No thanks, I'm not ready to die.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Blogger ate my homework

I had a small post planned for the evening, but it appears blogger ate it, so now a smaller post will have to suffice.
Here's some bullets.
Mellow week, but big news, Rachel is coming to visit in two weeks. I can't wait for that obviously.
Warm days are making for soft snow in the evenings so I've been skiing in the morning before work lately. It's fantastic, who needs coffee when you can ski a half marathon before you see a computer screen?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

More tri tip

Low visibility, heavy snow and gusting winds brought me back to the northerly slope that falls into Tenderfoot Creek off of tri tip, AKA "the bad place," on Friday.
Jack and I got a leisurely start around 11, and found liquid propitiation falling just below 900.' We forgot to bring gravy for the mashed potato snow at the highway up to just past 2,000' so we headed as high as we dared where 40 mph winds buffeted us.
It was definitely a "put some hair on your chest" kind of day. Visibility was the dominant factor. On the first run we could barely see the treeline below us and had no tracks to offer depth perception as the wind had already blown out our skin track.
We almost bagged it after the first run, but the snow was promising in the trees so we decided to go back and give it a second shot.
Well wouldn't you know it, the winds kicked up and the clouds started to blow off. We got back down to the creek and examined the ravine crossing to get to the mellow westerly face of Tenderfoot ridge and decided a tri tip to tenderfoot tour would have to happen another day.
We had some nice goods where we were in the trees even if the bowl run wasn't the best and the sky seemed to be lifting even if the winds weren't laying down.
Of course, by the time we got back up to the top, visibility had gone from fair to zero and the snow was falling in earnest. We couldn't even see the treeline from the top on the run, but thank gosh at least had remnant tracks from the previous descents.
After that the clouds really did lift and the snow let up. We put in two more runs, skiing until 7 p.m.
In the mean time we got to fully explore that particular aspect of tri tip as well examined where best to make a crossing of Tenderfoot creek if the need ever arose.
The clingy and blowing snow meant we broke trail all day so we were thoroughly exhausted.

Snow plow blowing slush off the Seward Highway.

What the hell is that bright thing?

Not much of a view.

The summit weather station I think?

Clear skies and cool temps stuck around Friday night over the pass and sucked up the moisture from the snow, letting it set up nice and tight. Feeling a little tired and running solo, I decided to go ski the mellow tenderfoot ridge west face, expecting that with blue bird conditions, I probably wouldn't be alone.
The west face of tenderfoot ridge.

Not to my surprise, when I pulled into the lot, a group of cen-pen skiers known as the tele-babes, + 1, pulled in behind me.
They too had seen the clear blue sky and also Jack's blog post on our adventure at tri tip the day before and decided to crank in some turns there.
Back to tri tip I went, in good company.

The south face of tenderfoot ridge, so many lines, so many perils.

Jack set a beautiful meandering skin track from the bench above Tenderfoot Creek on Friday. This was one of my favorite views along the way.

The little black dots are the tele-babes making their way up to the top of the run.

A view of the bench above the creek from the top of the run.

A natural half pipe on the bench made for some fun and artsy lines. Riddle me this: Where did the mysterious track that runs perpendicular to the up track come from?


I ended up putting in 5 runs again in much less time then the day before thanks to far less hassle from the weather. I pointed my board downhill for the last time at 5 with hours of daylight left.
While for the most part I skied on my own, the tele-babes made a move to the east, skiing the next aspect of tri tip over and uncovering an excellent stash of powder Jack and I missed the day prior. I greedily carved a two lines out of their fine discovery.
I also enjoyed a cool tasty beverage compliments of the tele-babes back at the lot which was nice as I had not thought to bring one of my own, so, for any tele-babes reading this post: Thanks!
Is it next weekend yet?