Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Multi-sport Memorial Day

I admit that from time to time I find myself missing my old Sunday to Thursday work sched at the P. Clarion. The Friday for a Saturday just about guaranteed that I would have the trails or the mountains to myself for at least one of my off-days.
This past weekend though, I have to admit, working the more conventional Mon-Fri was pretty nice, as I was finally able to fully enjoy a Memorial Day weekend for the first time in many years.
In keeping with full entertainment value and capitalizing on the peak of the spring transition season, many sports were partaken in in the course of the three-day break.

Collin, Amy and I met up Saturday morning in south Anchorage, hoping that our somewhat later departure would put some distance between us and the mad rush of "Anchor-roaches" (can I still make fun of "Anchor-ants" even if I may qualify as one?) headed southbound Friday night and early Saturday morning.
The original plan was to head to the base of Manitoba Mountain for a bike-hike-ski mission, but headed through Turnagain Arm it was apparent that a gray and spitty system was making its way through and making things unpleasant at that.
In Summit Pass, with sprinkles falling, we decided to opt for plan-b, and take a ride up Devils Creek Trail.
The week prior saw temps rocket into the high 70s in Cooper Landing, and the meager snow pack wasting fast, so I was optimistic Devils Creek valley would be dried up relatively good for this time of year.
As we geared up, however, Collin and Amy discovered Amy was missing a very integral front wheel for her bike. Such is one of the pit falls of stuffing a car for a weekend of many different adventures: there's a lot to remember and plenty to forget.
Amy headed back north to retrieve her wheel while Collin and I headed up the pass.

Lupine shot.

Seasonal comparison (LINK) from last fall.

About 8 miles in with a vantage of the pass.
 The trail just about qualified as bone dry except for a few wet spots and the usual stream crosses. We went in about 8 miles, crossing five snow patches in the process, before reaching a small bluff that overlooks the pass. From there, we could see that about another half-dozen smallish snow patches filled the minor gullies between us, but otherwise all looked clear. No major slides came down this year, as was the case last spring, leaving part of the trail blockaded will into June. The trail should be full clear to the Res Junction within a week or two depending on the weather patterns.

Every snow patch you cross on the way up is one to be crossed on the way down. Even though all of them were small, pushing you bank through 30 feet or a mile of rotten mank, sinking up to your knees is no fun. We agreed to call it when we hit patch number 6.

Chain action.
We regrouped in Cooper Landing where we found out that Amy had managed to get a hold of Michael, who was still in Anc, and got her wheel, allowing her to head to Alyeska and carve up some corn.
With rain falling in Cooper we headed for fish camp to sleep under rooves and in dry beds.

Sunday dawned with patchy blue skies and a promising forecast.
Kjell joined us and we headed to Cooper Landing to meet with Michael to ride the lower end of Russian Lakes Trail.
While earlier intel had reported a still snowed-in upper section, we later learned the entire trail was rideable. The lower section turned out to be a good option nonetheless.

Sun-blasted Skilak Glacier and Harding Ice Sheet.

Kjell grinds away on his new rig.

Bike deposit on bug cliff.

Collin, stop hogging the shot!

Another good seasonal comparison from exactly one year ago: LINK; what a difference a few feet of snow makes...

Monday, with skies clear and blue, and temps forecasted to get into the mid-70s, we did what any reasonable Alaskans would do: went skiing.

Collin and Amy hauling the skis on their backs up the mining roads to Manitoba.
Tele-Pete gets continual credit for his triathlon approach to the slope of Manitoba, accessing the mellow ski field via bike up mining roads and a hike to snow line.
Narv and I did this trip in early June last year (LINK). We found a bit more snow on the roads leading up the mountain and the snow line much lower then. In another week, this trip will be hard to justify.
As is, this was all about the tour and had little to do with the actual turns which, other than a few near the top, were mostly on rotten mank. Had we pulled ourselves out of bed a little earlier we might have actually found some slightly better conditions earlier in the day though. We didnt' descend until 5 p.m.

At the snow line, on the way up.

Juneau Creek.

Yoga pant ad?

Hiking back down to the bikes in the looking-lush south side of Manitoba.

Spirit Walker.
Is it next weekend yet? And can next weekend be three days too?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Pastoral setting

I forgot two things recently. Actually, didn't really forget the first, but two weekend ago I made a "semi-solo" sojourn back to Pastoral Peak, but never got around to posting any photos. This past weekend I did, however, forget to bring my camera along on Sunday when Coast Guard Jared and I rode the south-end of Resurrection.
I thought as we left the lot that it wouldn't matter as it was spitty and gray in Cooper Landing, but of course, the weather broke up while we rode, making for some epic scenery of clouds parting over the still snowy mountain-sides.
Conditions were slightly better than expected though, but mostly typical for this time of year. The section of trail from Juneau Falls to Juneau Lake is still wet and sticky in the usual places with a few hike-a-bikes, mostly near the Trout Lake Junction. The climb out of Cooper as well as north of Juneau Lake to Swan Lake is excellent and dry, as was expected. We stopped at Swan Lake and enjoyed some sunshine while we had it, but the south-facing benches leading up into the pass looked greener than the valley floor and I'm sure we could have made it up the next pitch no problem before seeing snow.
The one big surprise was remnant ice cover on Juneau Lake. As we rode the shoreline stretch, a southwest wind was pushing the detached ice up onto the trail. Pretty trippy to watch as, though it moved slowly, the process was very loud and inched along steadily. Interestingly as well, Swan Lake was ice-free. I'm curious why that would be. I would think it would be subject to the same deep cold temps in the winter and probably even less wind to help break it up.

I went down to camp on Friday night to help Joe out getting things ready for the coming summer season. The big accomplishment of the day was getting the new roof up over the Hawaiian Hut's deck, with a lot of help from Adam and his neighbors.

Driving back to Los Anchorage on Sunday. The weather was typical for summer in Alaska, a little bit of everything.

On May 7, I made a "semi-solo" sojourn out to Pastoral Peak in Turnagain Pass. For a map and more on Pastoral itself, check out the TR from last May (LINK)
Jack hit Pastoral, solo as well, on Friday (May 6), but even though in retrospect I should have called in sick, I decided to be a good employee and go to work on what was a beautiful day. Jack tracked in five runs, and called that evening to report conditions that were about 95% as good as the previous year, and that was a week later in a snow year that was 50% under last year and 25% under average.
Unfortunately, Jack was out of the game on Saturday and gnarly weather was supposed to move in Sunday. Unable to get anyone to rally, I did something I don't normally like to do when it comes to backcountry skiing: I went alone.
I don't know why certain activities, mountain biking for example, I almost prefer to do alone (though company is always nice in any pursuit), but backcountry skiing alone just drives me nuts. Anyhow, I went for it.
From the parking lot, there were several groups headed up Taylor Creek, and initially I thought Pastoral was going to be a mini-Tincan, but at the top of the bench, the majority of the skiers headed up the flanks of Sunburst on a corn snow mission, laving one solo skier not too far in front of me and two other much farther up the pass.
I got up to the solo skier, who's name I think was Paul. Paul, in his 50s and an Anchorage native, has been skiing Turnagain for longer than I've been alive back when wooden skies and pine tar were the go-bys. We ended up syncing up, hence the "semi-solo" of the sojourn.
We reeled in the two others at the top of Taylor Creek Pass. The two, who looked about my age, were none to pleased to see that Jack had skied Pastoral hard the day before, nor that two others were overtaking them.

A look back at the east side of Taylor Creek Pass from the vantage of climbing onto the remnant Lyon Creek Glacier,

A few of Jack's tracks.

No camera trick here, this is an atmospheric phenomenon called a sun dog (LINK).

Add skis and powder for instant awesome.

The two disgruntled skiers at the Pass eventually headed for a mellow slope below Pastoral, though we were later joined by a couple who came in about the time we dropped off our first run.

With Paul's encouragement, we skied down the steep north face of Pastoral (picture below), a run we eyed last year as well.
Paul was going to call it one and done, but with the snow so good and the powder season in its finale, I got him to commit to one more, burning legs be damned.
The route is seen well from here. The trek in starts from Turnagain Pass (far left) through Taylor Creek Pass (the valley to the left), drops over and into the glacial headwaters of Lyon Creek, winding below this photo and around out of the frame to the left up a skyline ridge.
We skied under window of clear skys all day. To the east, a wall of snow moved back and forth all day threatening to overtake us seemingly at any minute with gusts of wind, but always backing off. The the west the sky was dark blue and looked like rain.

Center Creek Valley. A wall of snow moved back and forth threatening to close in on the us all day, but never did.


Looking back at out tracks on the north face of Pastoral from Taylor Creek Pass on the way back out. The couple that came up followed our track and were skiing this as I snapped the picture. You can see the woman dropping in near the top just below the rock band and her partner watching below.

Zoomed out, from the pass.

Paul, skiing down Taylor Creek Valley. Looks small from this view.

Browning out at the pass.

Letting go of winter is a hard thing to do. Skiing may not be over just yet, but other than throwing down mucho dinero for a flight into the Alaska Range, the powder season is.
Singletrack is good and all, but summer is too long, winter is too short; praise Ullr.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tlingit Adventure

A few weeks ago Baker (LINK) sent out an email looking to see who might be interested in a guys weekend of sailing on Resurrection Bay.
Say what you will about a bunch of dudes on a boat in the middle of the ocean in Alaska, or the sport of sailing in general, but I'd heard about Baker's adventures on his 44' Jeanneau Sun Odyssey sloop, the Tlingit, and was pretty thrilled to get an invite.
I've never really had a very high opinion of sailing. I grew up on motor boats, and boats were soley for fishing anyhow. I've also been known to dish it out to some of my buddies who do sail, making sure to ask them if they remembered their sweater vests and what type of champagne they'd be sipping at the yacht club.
After a weekend of cruising around the Bay, I guess I had to eat some of that.
I was both surprised at the simplicity of sailing, and yet at the same time the skill and environmental adaptation it demands. The appeal was instantly apparent, and in some ways, at its root, is not a lot different than skiing moguls or trees. One the one hand, to do it right, you have to be thinking a few steps ahead while being very present in the now, and yet on the other hand, it's pretty easy to just cruise on bliss. 
Also, our crew of seven sipped a lot of beverages for sure, but if anyone had champagne aboard it was shelved for IPA and Scotch. Go figure.

We headed out of the harbor around 8 on Friday evening, bound for Thumbs Cove.

Heading out of the slip in the Seward Harbor.

Quarters were close, real close.

A tug heading out of Seward. Mount Alice in the background.

Godwin Peak?

Josh (LINK) keeping us on the right course.

After anchoring in Thumbs cove we loaded into the dinghy, four at a time, and headed to shore for a campfire. 

This would have been a fantastic picture, but it looks like my shutter cover jammed.

Baker had us up and at'm Saturday morning with french toast, complete with thick-cut bacon and real maple syrup.  I especially enjoyed helping to sizzle the bacon on the the grill mounted to the stern of the boat. Nothing like standing around on the back of a boat deck on a beautiful Alaska morning sipping coffee, sizing up lines on distant peaks, and nibbling on fresh-cooked pieces of bacon.
Departing Thumbs cove we headed for Bulldog Cove.

Annie, hater of all marine mammals. We saw tons of seals, a few sea lions, gray whales, had several porpoises follow us, and crossed paths with a pod of orcas. Annie, at all of 25 pounds soaking wet, barked growled and snarled at all of them.

The Captain and his ship.

A commercial boat heads back into port.

Rugged Island.

I really liked this shot a lot, Pulling into Porcupine Cove.
 We headed to Porcupine Cove for lunch, and then headed ashore. After combing the beach for a bit, Dan, Connor, and I scrambled through the woods up a small drainage to the bottom of a melted-out slide path.

Just behind the beach was a large pond that gets dumps of salt water during big storms. The outlet of the lake was a tie-dye swirl of settled sediments and disturbed algae. Pretty trippy.

Bushwhacking a short ways through a creek bed.

A view of the cove. The boat is just out of sight.

Tors near the entrance to Bull Dog Cove.

Baker is not just a skipper, but also a chef. No one complained of being poorly fed on the trip that's for sure. Dinner Saturday night was fresh halibut served to five star specs.

Though we had plans to head to shore in Bull Dog, rain started to fall after dinner, so we resorted to other activities...
 Sunday broke gray and a little bit drizzly, with everyone feeling a little groggy. After a late start, we headed back to port, catching a steady tail wind along the way.

Arriving back in Seward.