My trip to the mint hut almost ended in Jimmy’s driveway friday morning.  Luckily we had decided to change cars, and with the brief chance to go through my gear (that I’d packed haphazardly in a rush when Graham stormed into my room at 6 that morning) I realized that I’d forgotten my beacon.  Jimmy provided me with his backup.  Graham also realized he’d forgotten his coat forcing him to borrow from Jimmy’s dad.  So really, despite the planning, the trip started in our usual manner, and when we reached the parking lot we realized we’d forgotten the fuel while changing cars, forcing Jimmy and I back to the store.  I think we started skinning a few minutes past noon.

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The long (10 mile) skin to the hut went well.  Dragging my sled across the flat valley was easy, and only became a pain on the final 100o foot climb up to a large bench upon which the hut was perched .  That morning we left Anchorage in bright sunshine, and the sky stayed clear through Palmer, but the majority of the approach on skis was in heavy clouds with strong winds, but on that final climb the clouds parted, the wind ceased, and the stars came out, easing the pain of dragging my sled by giving me the hope of  a successful day to come.

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When I arrived the cabin seemed small.  Everyone was on the first floor, either huddled around the table drinking, or at the stove melting snow and cooking food.  The walls were lined from one end to another with wet ski gear.  Moving anywhere required asking someone else to move out of the way.  Eventually though life in the cabin grew routine, becoming easier by the night.  People spread out over both floors, with the stoves and lanterns running it was warm, I personally slept comfortably and I think we all ate well.  Jimmy lugged up steaks and coffee, Graham arranged quality meals, we even had margaritas with burritos, rice and beans the last night.

alaska skiing hatcher passI woke comfortable and content the first morning, and my first glances from my sleeping bag out the window to the peaks outside brought a huge smile to my face as I saw blue skies and the peaks bathed in purplish early morning sun.  We were all suspicious about the stability, and so broke into four groups before heading out to investigate.  Brandon and I began up a couloir (pictured above) located directly behind the cabin.  At the start we didn’t know how far we’d make it before being forced to turn aroun, but an hour and a half later we reached the top and popped out on the Penny Royal glacier.  Views of Denali, and the discovery that the surrounding peaks(seemingly jagged spires when viewed from the hut) had mellow glacial ramps to their summits was entertaining, but we didn’t wait long before getting our teeth into the chute.  It skied excellently, the snow was a little scratchy up top, but perfect for the main gut, it even dumped us at the cabin’s door, just in time to grab lunch and watch the other 7 of our trip members bag steep lines.  Normally it seems that when you actually get down and plan a trip you inevitably end up getting skunked by either weather or snow, so it was a shock to have everyone enjoy such a successful morning.

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The rest of the day was passed with mellower lower lines, on smallish pillows and chute finding good snow on everything but southern aspects.  And that’s pretty much how the rest of the trip worked itself out.  Nights of sitting around the steamy cabin cooking food and drinking whiskey, long deserved rest at night and killer skiing by day.  We slowly began running out of fuel, necessitating late day runs to fetch drinking and cooking water from the creek on the valley floor.

alaska skiing hatcher pass I named Jimmy the trips MVP, as the entire thing was his idea, and he skied a couple of awesome lines while also managing to get lost above some massive cliffs on a lower line necessitating a sketchy traverse and cliff drop, from which he tossed all his gear before jumping feet first.  That incident gave Graham the scare of the trip as he saw Jimmy’s pack slide limply out the bottom of a chute and began pondering evacuation scenarios before Jimmy descended into view, making flawless turns.  So that kind of wraps things up, as I have to get going and pack as I’m going sailing in the Virgin Islands the next week.  I should have some video up soon, but beyond that unless I find something worth mentioning in the islands it’ll be a week before there is anything new around here.

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