Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Come and Go Winter

There is basically no snow in Southcentral AK below 2,500 FSL.
Snowpacks, as measured at the usual snowtel sites, are pitiful, even by mid-winter standards: LINK 
The start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race had to be shifted some 600 miles north from its usual start and it’s still challenged: LINK
The annual Tour of Anchorage Nordic ski marathon has been canceled: LINK
Collegiate Nordic races held a week ago in Anchorage looked like a cross between a pond-skimming event and a snowmaking exhibition: LINK 

By all accounts, this is a winter to forget.
Despite all this, when winter has been on, it’s really been on.
See below: 

Friday, Nathan and I had a fairly mellow day under Skyscraper Peak in Eldorado Bowl. We got greedy on the first lap and went for one of the main guts. We quickly remembered how lean the snowpack is when some Talkeetna gremlins jumped out and chomped our bases. We backed off a bit and did three more laps in the bowl, got bored, and went across the street and did one more on the west side of Marmot as the clouds rolled in.

Nathan on one of several laps in Eldorado
Saturday was gray and snowy, so Cody, Nathan and I went and looked for a classic Hatcher, skinny, deep line that would ski well in the reduced viz. It didn’t take long, and we were hardly disappointed.

The chosen line, looker's left, was part of a Y. In a deeper year, the right would go too, but this year ends in a face, and is littered with some sizable rock.

This line further up was worth a look for another day.

Cody fights upward.

I walked up the ridge a ways to see if there were any other entrances to other lines. Nada. Looking back was pretty spectacular though.

Face full of cornice. Photo C.G. (https://gravitypowered.wordpress.com/)
Sunday, with a skiff of fresh snow, clear skies, and cooler temps, we went hunting for something a little more sizable. We picked an aesthetic, switchbacked couloir in one of the nameless tributaries of the Lil Su, knowing the likelihood of getting it in its entirety was low.
The line featured a “gated” entrance about 1-turn wide, that opened into a ballroom-sized chamber, before choking back down as it went into the first hard switchback. Conditions on the apron and up through “the ballroom” were relentlessly deep, but stable. The line had partially sloughed out at some point recently lower down, and when we made the crossover of the hangfire, the tension was high. I plunged my pole as deep as I could into and tried to find the weak layer it had popped on but couldn’t get it.
Adrenaline on high, I pushed over it and into the safety of a large boulder, planted in the middle of the line.
As we pushed above the ball room and into the first switchback, conditions changed dramatically. Deep turned to shallow, with exposed blue ice and granite. It was hard to say if the line had slid, or just never filled in.
Light gusts of wind and snow swirled down from above.
We accepted that this was the limit, and set up for the drop.
A rather small piece of shrapnel whirred and bounced down from somewhere above.
Yikes. Time to go.

The line skied really well though, soft, deep, and steep. We opted for another lap in the high bowl, and on the second transition, noticed the wind had increased a bit more off the ridge above us, and snow was sloughing from nearly all the rock faces, while the sun was starting to tag some of the overhanging cornices.
Very happy with the decision-making.

Back to blue.

Off-angle shot looking down the skin track in the bowl.

Mint Glacier.


Cody passes through the gated entrance to the line.

Upward through the ballroom.

It's not glorious.

Calling it.

Worth it.


Also, the Front Range is finally coming into play. After-work snowboarding was not only do-able, but quite pleasant last week, with boot-top snow on a hard but carvable base. Daylight allowed for one lap in the alpenglow, and one with a bike light, and ample moonlight for the skin.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

great front range shots