Monday, December 26, 2011

Home for the Holidays

6:00 p.m. AKST Thursday, December 22, 2011: Snow is falling heavily across the Anchorage Bowl in Anchorage, Alaska. My planned 18-mile skate ski has been buried under the four inches of of snow that's fallen since mid-afternoon, and I'm now working up a serious sweat on classic skis, fretting, "Why does she do this to me?"
This tempest, she pulls at my strings. For weeks, she's screamed and howled, then showered me in love, only to throw another tantrum and leave everything in ruin.
The snow is falling so hard now that it's begun to accumulate between my glasses and the bottom of my cap. I reach up with a pole-strapped hand and flick away the icy mass several times, trying not to slip out. I suck at kick-waxing and I can't get enough kick but the fresh snow is slowing my glide.
This was supposed to be a quiet weekend. We were to go to Sterling and hang at the fishing lodge, get out of town for a few days and relax.
When I checked the weather less than 24 hours ago, the forecast was unimpressive to say the least.
When I checked it before I left for my ski, Anchorage was under a blizzard warning and on the Doppler, a blob clung tightly to what is the general vicinity of Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley, while the normal snow hot spots and the Cen-Pen saw but a few passing whisps.

It was on. The storm had arrived, as high above in the Anchorage Front Range, the Chugach peaks that form the backdrop of everyday life for the vast majority of Alaska's population, the snow too dumped, and yet, after four storms blasted through in the previous three weeks - two with winds topping 120 MPH - not a flake was stirred.

On Friday morning the FR ridgetop weather stations revealed that the winds had not blown overnight, and the forecasts called for none. This is abnormal for the FR to say the least. In the driveway, a little over a foot of light density snow had accumulated overnight.

The thing about my driveway is, that with a short jaunt through a neighborhood trail and a few skiffs across one road, I can access all of the FR without touching another road. I can't say exactly where I live here, but, suffice to say, it's one of the best places I can imagine for getting out.

Once was a day, years ago, where almost all of my great adventures started from base camp home. Long bike rides, hikes, backcountry ski, you name it, I grew up at the foot of the Green Mountains, an old logging road lead from my front yard to where ever I wished to go.
Those years seemed a thing of the past, until I moved to, of all places, the confines of Anchorage. So, long before the sun rose on Friday, I set off to reclaim something I thought I lost.

The STA trails I mountain bike in summer (also out my back door) turned out to be one of the biggest challenges of the journey from home to summit.
Up early, I beat most of Los Anchorage to the trails, and was so "fortunate" to break trail for about three hours through all the fresh snow. The STA trails down low were perhaps the worst, as their trough shape caused snow to collapse on top of my boards.

Sunrise from "Dog Poo Overlook" just past Prospect Heights Trail Head.
Past Prospect Heights Trail Head I was sure I would find the track of a skier or two, eager to stride in the fresh snow. Alas, I was disappointed to find none, and realized I would instead have to break trail for another 2 miles before I would hook into Jack's trail leading to the summit of Wolverine.
Up in the cradling bowl of Wolverine Peak the snow had gone from a foot to about 2.5, and was dry and light.
In the flattish light, I watched Jack and Adrian make a descent. I was confused, they disappeared.
The snow was so light it just billowed into a giant cloud creating a continuous face shot the whole run. If we didn't breathe carefully or use facemasks, the powdery snow was easily inhaled.
It sounds terrible, but this is the kind of snow that only happens in dreams and big-budget ski flicks.
We were in neither, but incredibly stoked.

A beautiful sunset unfolded as the sun made it below the receding storm's horizon to reveal a foggy Cook Inlet and a distant Mount Redoubt.

Basically, my day started about where the long straight line that is Abbott Road ends, 6 miles as the trails wind distant from this shot.

Adrian begins his final descent through the alpenglow.

A didn't post a lousy picture, this is just what the skiing looked like. That's Jack in there.

See above comment.

Top of the Gasline, a straight descent with a few short rolls that spit me back out a short shuffle home.

Jack offered to give me a lift home, but gosh darn it, I was determined to ski from my home and back. So I headed back down, crosscountry snowboarding back down to the Campbell Creek crossing. I made a short shuffle back up to the Prospect Heights Trail Head, before re-assembling the board for one last descent down the Gasline Trail. From there, it was a short shuffle back to my house.

Hilltop Ski Area.
 The trek home gave me the chance to take some pictures of a place I spend a lot of time, the Hillside Park at night. This is about a two-minute drive from my house, and these are the trails I ski nearly every night. The Hilltop Ski area is a little ski hill that runs in the afternoons and weekends, and has a very healthy business of young'uns tearing it up. Every now and then I catch conversations and shouts, "Hit it! Hit it!" "Aw siick!" that make me smile and remember when that was me and all my pals, terrorizing the Snow Bowl.

The trails are lite better than your average city street, and far better maintained.

Shuffling along through the neighborhood trail. My tracks were still unsettled, eight hours later. This is the snow you only ever hear about.
By the time I made it back to my backdoor, it was dark again, and had been over eight hours and 14 miles.

On Christmas Eve Day, having thoroughly tracked out the northerly bowl of Wolverine Peak, Jack Adrian and I went over to Rusty, a peak that forms the terminus of Wolverine's southern ridge.

A heavy fog covered most of Anchorage.
My body, decimated from the previous day, begged for rest, but snow of this quality is rare, and snow of this quality in the FR could only be described as a Christmas miracle. I passed on the backdoor departure, and Rachel gave me a lift to Prospect Heights. On the drive up, I realized how far, and how much elevation sat between!

The snow had settled a little overnight, but not much.
Light was flat, and though the snow was good, it was baseless. Our boards all found tundra and rocks. One left a deep, ugly gouge in the split.

I mostly took this for my dad as I headed home through the neighborhood.
The trails were packed in much better and my exit was far easier. I still skied down the Gasline and shuffled home, smiling the whole way, because I could.

On Christmas, Rachel and I relaxxed as snow feel outside. In the afternoon we carried on a Christmas Day tradition of poaching a ski run over at Hilltop.

Hoar frost that formed on the surface of the trees served as the perfect bed surface to catch the fat, light flakes.

I told her that her new goggles looked badass.

The runs at Hilltop are flat, very flat, but still fun.

Skiing off our little branch of the neighborhood trail to the Anchorage Ski Hut, AKA, our house. Snowing hard by the time we got home.
 High in the mountains on Christmas Day, a wind blew, and though, by FR standards it wasn't much to speak of, the light snow was quickly transformed.
Jack, Eruk, Lucy and I hoped the northerly gully of Wolverine would collect it, but instead we found a thick, low-density slab up high.
It was a day for fat boards or one board. The split, with a touch of speed, lifted up ontop and I was able to make nice consistent turns. Skis, struggled though.

Lucy loves all snow.

Tracks are often a good indicator of snow quality. When they look like this, they can mean two things, the snow sucks, or the operator isn't smoothe, or sometimes both. Jack and his symmetrical mountain squiggles are the subject of a number of beautiful shots on this blog and many others, so, in this case it's the former.

In the morning Foraker and Denali were out, though they disappeared later as yet another storm worked its way in.

Between the northern sub-summit we skied off and Wolverine Peak, a herd of sheep were grazing.

The mud flats, low tide, lit up by a slow-setting December sun.

Labeled with different routes from the weekend.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Just because, fall multi-sporting

Reports have trickled in since late August of winter's most dedicated fans cranking turns on the first snow of the 2011-2012 season since late August, from Hatcher to the Kenais.
I'm all for a seasonal lifestyle, especially with my summer sports. In Alaska, you can ski all 12 months of the year if dedicated, but in the middle of the cold winter months, good luck finding any soft, warm earth or even pavement to ride.
That being said, there are times of year when skiing and riding are both good, and plentiful, and this weekend that was the case.

On Saturday Mike C, Dan, Alex and I headed to Crow Pass hoping to find a little white on Summit/Jewel glaciers.
The smallish remnant glaciers are within two + hours of the Crow Pass trail head outside Girdwood, and are popular early season destinations for powder-starved Anchorage-ants.
We left under cloudy skies, and determined that given our general condition (suck, except Alex who was ready to rip after chasing the snow up high all summer) and visibility, we would head up and scratch out a run and get out if we were socked in.

I stoke this map from Jack, whose skied extensively in this area over the years. We did not follow Patrick's Line.

The skies parting.
 As we neared the top of the Pass and our exit into the valley that cradles the two small glaciers, the skies began to part and we were stoked on the thought of good visibility in a place better known for soup.

Dan, on the glacier, Crystal Lake and the height of land for Crow Pass below. A small Forest Service cabin is just to the lower right of the lake for good perspective.

Dan in the mountain's shadow facing Eagle River.

Nearing the saddle between Jewel and Summit mountains. On the otherside was a bewildering 700-foot drop to the Milk Glacier that no picture could do justice.

My Survivor Man pack.
The first day of the season in one of lots of sore spots, feeling a little awkward, and unfortunately for me, forgetting poles. I ended up sufficing with a pair of weighty alders I broke down low. I cursed them on the hike up, but when we began to skin I didn't complain at all.


Goat Mountain and the head of the Milk Glacier.
 We were treated to fantastic views in all directions and 18 inches of consolidated, very stable powder, worthy of the best days of mid-season. Best of all perhaps, was that we had two runs in before the first party showed up. By the end of the day hordes were making their way up the trail, but we laughed as we descended, tired and content, that we had left little for the late-comers.
Alex skis hard in soft powder.

Contrasting seasons. The lower part of the hike (the trail is visible switch-backing on the lower left) was easy in sneakers.

The Berry peaks.

Tired and sore weren't strong enough words to describe how my body felt Sunday morning as I forced food down my throat in the pre-dawn murk, but another big day called to the south, this time nabbing the epic Lost Lake Loop with Adam R.
I've ridden this loop about this time of year in 2009 and '10, but the Eastern Kenai has seen significantly more precipitation this fall than in the past, including several storms that ranked as equivalent to Cat 3 hurricanes.
Needless to say, the trails are wet, but such is nearly always the case down there, and with cool clear nights, the ground was beginning to firm up.
Additionally, I was lucky to have co-adventurer (Rachel) on this trip who could split up the driving.

We started in a fog on the shores of Kenai Lake at the Primrose Trail head and rode south on the Iditarod Trail through Divide and down to Seward, making the return by going up and over Lost Lake.

In the dense forests of the Eastern Kenai's boreal rain forests, we climbed and descended low ridges, going in and out of the fog as beams of sunlight penetrated the canopy. In place where the light warmed the freezing earth, steam would billow up. It's hard not to feel a sense of magic on these woods.

Resurrection Peaks from Bear Lake.

Adam takes in the view of Resurrection Bay as we climb to Lost Lake.
 The immense cumulative elevation of the ride wore at my already tired body and I hit a wall mid-way up the Lost Lake Trail. I reloaded the tanks, but the rest of the ride was slow-going for me.

Lost Lake.
 The only snow we encountered was a brief section on the north-facing side of the plateau above the lake. Since we were headed down it was easy enough to ride through.

Adam, soaking in the view on the other side of Lost Lake, looking at the south-end of Kenai Lake before we make our descent down Primrose.

A near-full-moon rising over Pete's South in Turnagain Pass.
Is it next weekend yet?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Another column

Summer is past, and the leaves are off the trees, the night falls earlier each evening and lingers longer every morning.  Here's some thoughts on a season of warmth and green as we await the one of white, as published in the Redoubt Reporter:

By Dante Petri, for the Redoubt Reporter

It’s been over three years since I last raced a mountain bike.
And three years later, with a heavier bike, possibly a slightly heavier body, and a whole heck of a lot less fitness than I had once, I finished the same way I did the last time I raced, in May 2008: Did not finish, though for very different reasons.
In three years it sure has felt like a long fall from the fall of 2007, when “Myrtle (the Broken Turtle),” my somewhat less-than-affectionate name for my not-always-so-trustworthy glory-hog bike, and I whizzed around the East Coast collegiate mountain bike race circuit picking up a few top-three placements and even a well-earned win. That was sort of a two-wheeled thesis defense at the time for my otherwise short-lived competitive cycling career.
It was a stinging sensation I felt in mid-August this summer, though, when a group of toothpick-thin, Spandex-clad bike racers from Los Anchorage smoked the heck out of me and my lungs right off the start on an afternoon race in a park just on the outskirts of the city.
This summer has been my first “real Alaska summer.” The word “real” is, of course, clutch in this phrase.
As far as I can tell, the last three summers were pretty real. But I told everyone this winter that this would be my first “real” one because for the last three I was living and working the fishing lodge/fish camp lifestyle.
Once the touristas started arriving to the Kenai Peninsula en masse in early June, my world stopped revolving around skis, bikes and mountains, and instead orbited around things like cleaning copious amounts of fish, managing what amounted to a small business processing fish, taking care of cabins that were always having issues, eating and sometimes even sleeping.
I learned in time how to better manage my life at the fishing lodge and take advantage of the lulls between fish runs and bookings to get out on occasional bike and ski adventures in June and early July, but once those reds showed up, my life basically ended until sometime in mid-August.
This summer, unlike the last few, promised a regular nine-to-five schedule in the city, with plenty of good backyard mountain biking and road biking, hikes a stone’s throw from home, and friends and places to meet them at all over town.
I definitely spent way more time turning pedals this year than I have for the last three summers, probably combined. It’s been really great.
For a while in late May through early July I was riding a Kenai Peninsula epic a week, it seemed, and I had hit all of the major and most of the minor rides the peninsula has to offer not long after the summer solstice. But something was missing, and I knew it.
No longer could I go throw a line in the water out my front step, and the feeling, or lack thereof, of that tugging fish on the other end began to gnaw.
When I worked at the fishing lodge, guests would always ask me, sometimes in envy, sometimes out of concern as I sliced through their endless catch, how often I got out to fish myself.
“More than enough,” was generally my answer.
If they looked confused I went on to explain that when all you do is fish and clean fish — and as a result smell like and dream of fish — one of the last things you really want to do in the rare, half-day off is fish.
Most of them got it.
But now I was at the other end of the spectrum. My driveway was paved in tar, not teal, glacial melt.
Sure, there’s fishing in and around the big city, but really, it’s hard to get that excited about glorified mud holes when you’re used to the expanse of the Kenai River.
So, at some point in July, I found myself throwing together gear for the weekend on a Friday evening after work, per usual, but this time it did not involve a bike. Just a weekend of fishing, cleaning fish, smelling like, and dreaming of, fish.
And that’s how the rest of the summer seemed to go.
I fished hard for a king, I flipped through the walk-on-water-thick and sometimes depressingly slow red run until my fingertips started going numb. No one had to ask me twice if I wanted to go wet a line, even in a 40-degree downpour at 10 p.m. And when I wasn’t fishing, I was helping my old friends at the lodge get through their workloads in exchange for the time on the water and their good company.
Now my freezer has a healthy orange glow, shaded green with fresh Matanuska-Susitna vegetables, processed by the hands of my green-thumbed girlfriend.
It stung the other week when I couldn’t hang with those Spandex-clad mosquitoes in the park on their bikes that cost orders of magnitude more than my car; bikes I admit I once might have been envious of.
And for a few fallible minutes, as I bailed out of the race and rolled along a quiet side trail back to my car, I wondered if I had made the right decisions with the short summer months. Perhaps I should have done things differently?
No, I probably did OK.
Those guys can keep buzzing around the park on bikes you couldn’t pay me to take to most of the places I like to ride, all for title of champion of the city that lies just 30 minutes from the rest of Alaska. I’ll eat the salmon and halibut I caught and ride a little slower behind them, I guess. Sounds more real to me.

Dante Petri is a backcountry enthusiast often blazing trails from the Kenai to Anchorage and beyond, whether on foot, bike, ski or anything else that gets him around. Read more about his adventures at

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

From a Trail Called Life, a column

As run in the Redoubt Reporter. Enjoy:

By Dante Petri, for the Redoubt Reporter
Photo courtesy of Dante Petri. The Lost Lake Trail winds underneath a snowy Mount Ascension in October 2009. With views like this, who could resist exploring?
A few weeks ago I watched the recently released movie “127 Hours.”
It’s rare that I see anything on the big screen so, of course, I waited for this one to arrive on the shelves of the rental place. But seeing something that is even semirelevant to an outdoors lifestyle is, sorry for the pun, always a breath of fresh air.
The based-on-a-true-story plot follows a then 28-year-old Salt Lake City resident, Aron Ralston, on an epic weekend adventure back in 2003 in near Utah’s Canyonland National Park, and the near-fatal twist it took when a boulder slipped while he navigated a narrow canyon and pinned his right arm.
A far as the movie goes, it’s, as expected, about a guy who goes out to play in the wilderness, gets pinned by a rock, is stuck for a long time and eventually has to cut his own appendage off with a dull pocket knife to free himself.
As one could imagine, the beginning and end are good, but it drags a bit in the middle. Go figure.
I guess what I enjoyed more about this movie was the split it draws between viewers.
On the one side, there’s people who I might categorize as similar to myself — outdoorsy, adventurous, pent-up and caged-in by urban life.
I could certainly relate to Ralston’s frantic late Friday night packing, the drive out of the bright lights of the city and into the dark emptiness of the outside, tunes blaring through the car speakers, juices pumping in anticipation of an adventure-filled weekend.
I’m sure I’ve sensed that same limitless sensation he sought of an epic day, riding for miles, bagging peaks, skiing dream lines in snow conditions that should be illegal. Nothing could go wrong, life is bliss.
The Hollywood producers got me there. But they got “the other” crowd, too. That’s the crowd that watched the movie and went, “That guy is crazy!”
Maybe they said that when they saw him head off to sleep in the back of his pickup in the cold desert night, or maybe it was when he crashed his bike while not wearing a helmet. Their perceptions of his brash and foolhardy behavior were likely reinforced by his Mountain Dew-commercial style of mountain biking. And to ensure viewers that it was not just Ralston who was the crazy one, the producers threw in two clueless girls Ralston happened across who were lost in a canyon and needed rescuing by Ralston. Said crazy hiker girls even invited him to a party later that featured a giant inflated Scooby Doo.
Those crazy kids.
It all helps to affirm that the people running around in this wilderness are a bunch of dumb bimbos and gnarly soda-pop commercial stars, none of whom seem to be capable of good decision-making.
And look at what Ralston’s craziness got him — stuck between a rock and hard place, to borrow from the title of Ralston’s autobiography, and eventually without a fairly crucial appendage.
So what are we supposed to take from this flick, both us “crazies” and the “normal folks?”
Simple: Don’t go out alone into the wild lands without telling someone where you’ve gone. Just in case the previous 90 minutes didn’t already deliver that message, in the movie’s text epilogue on Ralston’s life as of late, the last line is that he never goes anywhere without telling someone first.
It’s like one of those ancient Greek sagas where some poor mortal had to go to the gates of hell and back just to learn a really simple lesson at the mere pleasure of some god. In this case, I guess the mortal was Ralston and the great learned god would be, what, Hollywood?
Well, forgive me father Hollywood, for I have sinned, probably a lot. In general, I’m not a big fan of solo sojourns.
I can’t explain it either. Some activities, like mountain biking, I can do all day by myself, and nearly prefer it. Yet backcountry skiing by myself gives me the heebie-jeebies.
In part, I know it’s because on an established trail, you’re never really alone, especially in the middle of an Alaska summer. I recall once when a kid taking up the rear in a group biking over Resurrection Pass shrieked in disbelief when I said I was the only one passing by.
“You’re alone?” he asked.
“Well, no. You’re here,” I shouted back.
The other aspect is mental. On a tight, winding trail, my thoughts are contained by the trees on either side of my handlebars and the narrow, twisting corridor ahead.
Alone in the quiet, open spaces of a snow-covered glacial valley, though, all there is to look at is enormity, everywhere. It’s hard not to feel like a speck of dust.
Danger lurks everywhere, too, and rarely out of sight — in unstable slopes, overhanging cornices, covered crevasses and tumbling boulders.
The fact that I’ve simply slunk through an open window into the home of the mountains around me is evidently clear, and all I hope for is to enjoy their furnishings and get back out without their notice.
If I do go alone I try to make sure someone at least knows where I’m at. But when you’re 25 and living alone, very far from what was once home, making sure someone knows where you are all the time is just not always possible. Heck, I’m not even always sure where I’m going sometimes.
It’s a big responsibility to go saddling someone with being your guardian, too, especially when they have lives of their own. And like wearing a helmet, or any other safety device, just because someone knows my whereabouts shouldn’t really be modifying my decision-making anyhow.
Most importantly is the understanding that things can go wrong in the blink of an eye, with your best friend at your side or all alone. It’s just the way it goes. Play it safe from the get-go, and if it does go wrong, plan to take care of yourself, like Ralston, because help may not be coming.
But what do I know? Sorry Hollywood, I’ll call you next time I can’t get a partner.

Dante Petri is a backcountry enthusiast often blazing trails from the Kenai to Anchorage and beyond, whether on foot, bike, ski or anything else that gets him around. Read more about his adventures at

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Russian Loop (Sharon S Rendition) (June 25)

(This is the one of three posts to make up for a general lack of posting over the past few weeks. To see trip reports from Johnson Pass and Eagle River, view the previous two posts as well.

After learning of a convenient detour from Sharon S, I've been looking forward to riding what I've been calling the Sharon Rendition of the Russian Lakes Loop. The Russian is one of my all-time favorite rides, but it has a limited season and late June is typically its maximum before overgrowth makes its impassable and unenjoyable until mid- to late-September.
The Sharon Rendition of this classic starts from the Resurrection Trails south trail head, and heads north on Resurrection 4.6 miles in to the Junction with Bean Creek Trail. The recently rebuilt BCT takes you back to Bean Creek road, which eventually dumps out on the north side of the beginning of the Kenai River at the mouth of Kenai Lake. A short ride over the pedestrian walkway along the Sterling Highway bride gets you across the river, and 50 feet later, it's two pedal strokes across the highway to Snug Harbor Road.
This cuts out the ~5 miles of shoulder-less highway riding I used to do to complete this loop. (In the name of full disclosure, there is probably 1/4 mile ride of highway riding from the Russian River Overflow Parking Lot back to the car...we didn't even get passed by a car when we rode back...)

 Brian, Ethan and I met up at 7:30 Saturday morning after a heavy overnight rain, and pondered the dark, misty clouds rolling overhead. It was too long a drive to risk getting rained out, so we decided to take along fishing rods as an alternate plan.

After driving through on-again off-again rain the whole way to Cooper Landing, we net Kjell at the trail head and found it was cloudy, breezy, and cool, but not raining.
The first half of the ride up Res and up Snug was mostly cloudy, but as we climbed blue sky started to appear.
Dropping down through the upper section of Russian Lakes Trail.
 We found the trail was just past its prime in terms of overgrowth. The trail itself was perfect, not too dry, but really firm. It appeared the rain had not made it to the upper section overnight so in some places it was actually dry. Vegetation was handlebar-high in some of the usual suspect meadows, but as a whole was still OK. Riding would have been ideal for the last three weeks, but July 4th will be the absolute latest for sure, and I won't be riding it.

The shores of the Upper Lake.

Some fields that are typically really grown up were still surprisingly low, a pleasant surprise for sure.

Such a classic June on the Kenai shot.

A quick break on bug cliff.

The avalanche slopes were blooming.

We cleaned the 42-mile loop in 5 hours, 40 minutes, and that accounted for some messing around at the end to deal with a quick flat and hanging out at Russian River Falls. Ride time was probably 5 hours, which is pretty good.
Done early, we decided to give it a go on the Russian River for sockeye. The fishing was pretty slow, but the crowds were limited too and it was actually a pretty nice and peaceful experience, which s not something that can often be said for that area.