Thursday, April 29, 2010


About a week ago I was talking with Larry, a friend of fish camp who lives in Nebraska but keeps close tabs on my well being through the year; you know, makes sure I'm still alive and all.
He was commenting on some of my recent adventures when he said, "Dante, you're f-ed."
What he meant, in context, was essentially, jaded.
It wasn't a revelation.
I came up here to do things I couldn't do where I came from.
Now I do a lot of those things everyday, or every weekend at least, and have grown quite accustomed to those luxuries.
"You're screwed dude. You're not going to be able to live in what, Philadelphia, or Omaha," he said.
He's probably right, to an extent anyway.
I realized this last fall though, and it wasn't Philadelphia, or Omaha, that I was worried about.
I knew this would happen, but I've grown real comfortable with the Kenai Peninsula, particularly the cen-pen area.
True, this particular area is maybe not as spectacularly beautiful as say Homer, or Seward, but we're much closer to the "rest" of the state, at least compared to the former, and have a bigger population than the latter; and that offers a certain number of advantages.
My opinion of Anchorage has flipped about 180 degrees from where it was a year and a half ago.
I said that last week though. ANC is still reasonably close to a lot of the places I've come to love and I could still end up there one day, make no mistake.
But what about Outside, what about in the Lower 48, what about back East?
Could I ever go back?
Short answer, yes.
The medium answer, however, is yes, but with some likely drastic changes.
I stand by that I could be happy pretty much anywhere, even Omaha, the question is, how happy?
Omaha would obviously be a bad fit for a person like me, but there are still plenty of places in the west and even the east I could live. They would just require a paradigm shift and a change in the way I live I think.
In some parts of the west that shift might be pretty minor.
I think if I wound up back east, however, after just two years up here, that shift would be significantly bigger.
Skiing and boarding is a good example though. I've got it so good here, that I just don't know how I could settle for the east's temperamental winters. I think I'd probably can it all together.
On the other hand, cycling might become a bigger part of my life since the roads aren't bound in ice for half the year and there's more trails and roads to ride.
My perceptions have changed too though. I'm not sure if this is the time or place to elaborate, but I know that the way I see the world and interpret events has changed, and that's something that would continue to influence me if I ended up someplace else, even if it was a place I'd been before.

I've been spoiled in a way by this place, but, I'm not complaining or planning on changing that.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Getting high

What else would you do on a sunny April weekend in Alaska?
I made a scouting tour up to 4,000' on Tenderfoot Ridge to peek into some north facing couloirs in search of powder on Friday for a potential Saturday expedition...score.

Jack drew up this nice map for his own post, definitely check his pics out too.
Friday, I made my solo run up the ridge on the solid line to the first summit. I knew instantly from what I saw that I'd be back.
Map courtesy of J.W. Click to enlarge.

A nice view of Summit Peak. Ptarmigan Rock Bowl is just over the ridge.

A view back down Tenderfoot.

The north facing bowl off of Tenderfoot's first summit.

The ridge of wild dreams, aka, the ridge behind tri tip.

Hale Bop, I believe. I watched my first natural avalanche tumble down this south face when the 5:30 sun hit the slope dead on. Very impressive.

Did I mention it was bright? Two layers of shades (dark tinted sunglasses under the goggles) as I ate lunch.

Just jump. Colorado Peak in the background.

Some of the bowls dropping off of Tenderfoot's north face looked tempting even solo, but I couldn't see their run outs and I don't really want to burden anyone with having to extract my remains sometime in July when all this snow melts, so I toured back down the ridge line.

I found nice punchy powder ofnTenderfoot's lower north face.

At the bottom of the lower northface I pulled out my probe and measured the snow depth. Eight feet.
Saturday morning I met up with Coast Guard Jared and we headed up to the trail head. By 10 we were en route, this time following the dashed line on Jack's map, up the bottom of the Butcher Creek Valley north of Tenderfoot Ridge.
The sun having come out with such a force the day before, Tenderfoot's west face was icy and hard so early in the day.
I decided to keep it low for the approach. The valley ended up being a good call as we could scope out potential lines from the bottom. We also found the valley floor to have a neat moraine running right down it's center.
We rounded Tenderfoot's first summit and made our ascent to the ridge line, booting over tundra for the final stretch. Up top we saw Jack and G en route. (CTE)


Off of Tenderfoot's "true" summit were two big couloirs. Joined up with Jack, we he headed on over.


Looking eastward, across the first ridge is Mills Creek, beyond that is Johnson Pass. I love getting high, it totally changes your perspective on stuff. Quote it.

We made a run down the north face, and then took the SFU line back to the ridge making a quad searing rock scramble up the side of one of the couloirs.
Up top, Jack couldn't resist diving over the south side into the head water of Tenderfoot Creek for some sun warmed snow.
The only way I could get our tracks to pop in the birght snow. Look at those turns though, wow. (CTE)

Back up top after a sweaty climb in the sun, we dropped back down the north face one more time before Jack and G had to split.
Jared and I carried on for two more runs in the lookers right couloir.

Notice the Subaru Outback wagon sized chunk of cornice in the middle of the bowl that's partially buried. Above it, the cornice still overhangs by as much as 30 feet I think. (CTE)


Jared (CTE)

After tracking out the two couloirs, Jared and I scooted across the bowl and launched down Butcher Creek.
With a tailwind helping us out, we tore down the valley carving on top of the moraine.
Once we made it to the the bottom of Tenderfoot's lower north face, we followed my up track from the day before to just below 3,000', made a few scritchy turns on sun crust and then dug into the corn and mashed potatoes on the warm and sunny west face; riding back down to the highway elevation.
8:30 p.m., Tenderfoot Ridge west face. Corn and a harvest moon.
Trip duration: 10.5 hours
Runs: 7 actual, 8 equivalent
Estimated vertical: 8,500'
Is it next weekend yet?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Take shape, disintegrate, reform, rinse and repeat

Just more than a half a year ago, feeling confident, I finally posted what was next, or so I thought.
In brief, last fall I set my sights on returning to school, ideally in Anchorage, by this coming fall. The plan was to go for a masters in environmental science, and 7 months ago I was coming home every night after work studying up for the GRE which I planned to take in December.
The wheels seemed to be in motion.
Things changed though, perhaps unsurprisingly.
Let me start with one of the more benign, though also more expected of those.
After my first summer, I was well and ready to get out of the central Kenai Peninsula. There were a number of things I didn't like about the area, and still wasn't 100 percent set on Alaska anyway.
I thought Anchorage was a more ideal place to reside for a number of reasons I don't need to go into right now.
Through my first winter, I still looked up Cook Inlet to the city as the place I thought I'd like to end up, and sometimes would have rather been.
I knew however, that as my network of friends and acquaintances grew, I'd slowly grow more attached.
I don't know for sure if there was ever an exact point, or an 'aha' moment, but I know for sure that sometime last fall I just realized I like it here, it's way nicer than Anchor-town.
Now this isn't to say that Big Wild Life is a bad place, nor is this area perfect; but I've grown very accustomed to many of this town's luxuries and its idiosyncrasies.
I knew though that all of that would happen, and like it or not, I may yet have to leave here some day anyhow.
Something else happened that was far more unexpected though, and that developed at work. The office underwent new leadership last fall, and suddenly I was getting challenged with my work again.
I'm going to step lightly around this matter, but the bottom line is, for the first time in a long time I was producing copy that I felt good about, and that was motivating.
I suddenly had a hard time convincing myself that I didn't want what I had and I needed a change.
Lastly, amid all of this, a very influential friend, who made a very recent visit, was also questioning my decisions and causing me to think extra hard about whether what I was giving up was worth what I'd gain.
By late October, my GRE book had been pushed aside on my reading table; John Haine's "Living off the Country" rested atop it.
So now what?
Well, that's a question that I've been asking since then.
For now, the plan is still to go back to fish camp life in early June through late August.
After that, the plan is to return to the Clarion. That part, however, is not guaranteed. The Clarion will likely do some looking around in my absence, and it's understood that I may do the same.
There more than a good chance we'll meet back in the middle though.
For now it's reassuring that I'll probably be spending yet another winter in this quiet chunk of mountains and forests thrust into the sea.
Long range, plans will continue to take shape, disintegrate, reform, rinse and repeat.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rachel's visit

As noted in my last post, I've been on blogocation with Rachel up here visiting. Here's some selected photos from the week.

Knowing that I'd have to drive through the mountains on my way to pick Rach up from the airport, I scheduled in a run on Tri tip. While I was there I saw Pete skiing the north face of Tenderfoot. We yodeled back and forth across the ridges.

I was pretty stoked by the weather for Rachel's arrival, the drive back to Girdwood from Anchorage was a beaut. (Photo: R.S.)

Even the goats came out. (Photo: R.S.)

Mary's chalet in Girdwood. (Photo: R.S.)

On Saturday we headed to Palmer so Rachel could meet with a potential summer employer. (Photo: R.S.)

The Colony Barn, ready for a move. (Photo: R.S.)

Unfortunately we both forgot our cameras but we were treated to a whirlwind tour of the Mat-Su's agricultural scene. Very interesting, and tasty. (Photo: R.S.)

I managed to contract the latest case of snifil-us for Rachel's visit, the first time I've been sick all winter!
Anyway, Sunday I was pretty laid-up from all the running around the day before, and I had to work Monday-Wednesday.
Wednesday, winter rolled back through, dropping about 4 inches of wet snow in Sterling. Awesome! I'll say it again, winter is too short. (Photo: R.S.)

(Photo: R.S.)

We headed up to Cooper Landing on Wednesday night, and were treated to a bright sunrise Thursday morning. (Photo: R.S.)

(Photo: R.S.)

(Photo: R.S.)

Tern Lake. (Photo: R.S.)

Skinning up the boards. (Photo: R.S.)
We headed up Sugar Ridge where, despite the sunny skies, we found crap crap crap conditions. A supportable crust down low showed potential to soften up for spring skiing but it wasn't much, and temps were pretty cold. So the guide decided to go just a little higher and into the nasty stuff.

The descent was survival skiing at its best. Oh well, you can't win every time.

Checking out a snowbound cabin at the pass. (Photo: R.S.)

Anyone home?

What's wrong with this picture?
Friday we awoke to gray skies. we ventured into the pass and found conditions more similar to December 15, not April, with snow falling in earnest.
The guide, a little more learned from the prior days experience, decided to keep things simple and tour up Tenderfoot Creek to the bottom of Tri Tip's northface run.

Up we go.

(Photo: R.S.)

Couple's picture.

Aw, she made me take a real one too.

I was going to do a backflip but I reconsidered.

Good trip, but we never did make it to the mall.