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