Thursday, May 17, 2018

Alaskan ski adventure part II


After flying out of the Alaska Range a bit prematurely the obvious question was:  what next?

first things first:
It's hard to get fresh hot decadent chocolate brownie topped with ice cream and whipped cream on the glacier!
And we were stoked to be in a "camp" that we didn't have to shovel:

Thanks again to Wendy and Jon for the use of their sweet camper sprinter; I gotta be careful with continuing to do this! 
The closest viable skiing to Talkeetna was Hatcher Pass, a favorite of Anchorage backcountry skiers. Armed with a bit of beta that Jon sent us, we drove south and naturally turned off the highway where the sign said "Hatcher Pass".  It took us about 45 minutes of driving to realize that we were on the "wrong" side of Hatcher Pass, and that all the good skiing was on the other side. But we were able to find some nice rolly polly hills that had gotten a snifter of the copious snow we had received on the glacier:
really low angle, but at this point we were just excited to be able to walk and make turns!  
And then we drove around to Hatcher Pass proper, where the real mountains loom
Again, because we felt like we had some pent up energy, we decided the best way to burn that off was to do the Bomber Traverse:  a 20 mile, 6000 foot (total vert) tour that visited the locales of 4 different huts that each had skiing nearby and is typically done in a few days to take advantage of each hut's terrain.  But we had a day's window of only mildly-stormy weather, no big packs, and wanted to bust it out in a day.

The first 8 miles was flat up a beautiful valley:
And as we neared the first hut we bumped into three guys who were on their way out.  They had seen the entire cirque above them avalanche the day prior, which was disconcerting because in order to do the traverse we needed to get up and out of the cirque up a 1500+ foot, 35 degree face in order to keep going.  But upward we went:
There was a crown from the avalanche about 2/3rds of the way up, and we knew that we'd be safe getting to that spot since the energy had already been released.  Once at the crown we had to decide:  was the top 3rd hangfire hanging in the balance, or had there been enough of a yank a day earlier with more opportunity to settle that we'd be spared?  It became more of a wide couloir, and on one side of the couloir was a vertical-walled cliff, and on the other side the cliffs were more angled so that they continuously sluffed snow onto the slope.  And our quick little pits indicated that; the vertical-walled side was skitchy, the sloped-cliff side was good.  But it was all the same slope.
doing a little dig, hoping it's still good
I sniveled as best I could up the "good" side, all the while telling myself "don't be stoopid just to 'do the traverse' and avoid going back 8 flat miles that we have just done" and asking myself if we were being good or lucky.  But generally I felt good about the decisions and indeed we made the top, which was the most exposed moves we'd make that day.

It being Alaska, we got socked in by flat light again, and for better or worse we used our phone-based gps with a downloaded track to help guide us; old schoolers probably frown on that aid....but wait a minute; we are old schoolers!  And we don't wanna get lost on a glacier 10 miles from a trailhead with minimal gear and food!  Old school be damned.

We made it over the next pass:
And then started down what had been described to us as a "quick" descent.  It may be quick in certain conditions, but in shin deep mank it was slow going.  We took turns leading in the flat light until something took us down:

do Alaskan skiers have X ray or infrared vision to see the unseeable in the snow?
and no AK adventure is complete without some good bushwacking
Back in "camp" after an 11 hour day (for 20 miles and 6k??!!?  what kind of skimo geeks are we?) we strategized for the next day,  which turned out to be another fog-fest;
Feel the Force, Luke!  
But we did get a chance to meet Hatcher Dan;
We asked Dan if he lived there and he said "yup, since 1940!"  wow.  I'm not that good at math, but that's a lotta years in a place like this:
Dan's place
This is Dan's next door neighbor's place, who clearly doesn't winter over and thus doesn't need to shovel. Dan is clearly a candidate for the World Shoveler's Association Hall of Fame. 
A super cool guy who was excited to be heading out soon for a bike tour in Pennsylvania.  We loved his enthusiasm at however old he is.

and speaking of enthusiasm, Hatcher is a popular spot for groomed nordic skiing, and this guy drove up, hopped out, grabbed his skate gear, and headed for the snow very decisively:
It clearly hadn't been groomed in weeks and the light was as flat as a pancake.  We took quick bets on how long he'd last; Chad went low at 5 minutes, but I was sure he'd at least give it a go after driving from Anchorage and would be out for 15 mins.  But Chad was within 3 seconds of being on the nose:
so it goes!  
another rough night of camping:
got us to a brilliant morning
And we finally got some decent, if again pretty noodly skiing
ski it Canadian style! 
and then back to our Anchorage base at Wendy and Jon's for a day and flew home, where the skiing is thin but warm!
brother Paul harvesting some corn on Baldy Shoulder at Alta. 
and thus goes another Alaskan adventure.  Overall it was much different than our expectations and the reality of a significant Alaskan storm is....pretty real, but having good pards and a good attitude went a long ways towards it being beyond tolerable to being sorta fun in a warped way, and we certainly learned a lot about that kind of trip (if we choose to apply that knowledge again to another trip).  Along those lines, Little Switzerland is indeed a big, beautiful place, but sharing the glacier with 20 other folks probably would have been a bit of a crimp  - had the conditions been good  -for 3 guys from the crowded Wasatch who yearn to find someplace awesome to ski sans competition, so maybe we'll look a bit further afield next time.

Thanks again to Chad and Eric for a bunch pics I used here, good yuks, not getting too grumpy, and for tolerating me in our white room.

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