Hatcher Pass

Via Jimmy, who is back in town on vacation, some Hatcher Pass skiing from the last couple of days.

Trying to keep it looking fresh around here. The video above is from my cousin’s last weekend in Hatcher Pass. Currently it’s dumping up here (i’m reading complaints of it being too deep to turn) so the cousins should be providing some new footage soon.

After skiing Superbowl on day one of their vacation, and with clouds down south but sunshine over the Talkeetnas, I drove my cousins up to crowded Hatcher Pass yesterday.  We parked at Independence Mine, they each took a couple laps on both sides of the road, while I sat in the parking lot sipping stouts while giving out some basic directions.  It took some time to sort out the sun crust and get past some skin issues, which combined with a typically late start meant they were skiing till 8:30, but still managing to find good light and fresh snow on every run.  From down in the parking lot, the extended light made it felt like the first day of spring. Video of Mike’s last line bellow, more to follow soon.

Graham, Charlie, Jimmy and I skied Wolverine today, it was awesome, exhausting and scary, and because of those reasons I don’t have time to post much, so enjoy this video of Jimmy in Hatcher last friday and I’ll get after it tomorrow while in the office.  Oh and it was really really really good.  A demain.

hatcher pass talkeetna mountainsGraham, Jimmy and I went skied Hatcher Pass today; it was fantastic.  Deep, light, stable, snow, not a cloud in sight, and although it was a tad rocky (like always up there, I came home with some fresh core shots) that didn’t hinder the skiing at all.  Pictured above is our second run of three, everything we hit today was fantastic, both north and south facing shots had nothing but blower powder.  I’m so happy and excited for more I’m going to have trouble sleeping tonight.  Anyway, I forgot to charge the battery on the video camera, so you’ll have to settle with for these photos.

skinning back up after the first run

oh the tracks are beautiful

grahams back while we skin upAnd if you’re especially bored, Piste Hors has both some thoughts on recently improved European winters and a glacial safety film that got me laughing about British people falling in crevasses daily over there.  Finally there is this treatise on skiing with short poles, which I guess is better then no poles at all.

hatcher pass in january 10 I celebrated MLK day with a few too many mid day margaritas trying to put together a frustrating and difficult puzzle; some horrible gloppy painting of a vineyard kept three of us working for hours without any progress.  I didn’t even make it home.  This morning I woke up with the type of headache only cheap margarita mix and a night of puzzling can provide.  Luckily I got a ride downtown, and was able to take the bus back to my house early this morning before the sun came up (I love slow January mornings), allowing me to go to Hatcher with Graham.  We skied a line on the left side of the road, on the south side of what I think is April Bowl (I don’t know the names of anything up there), and the snow was fantastic.   A little wind effected and rocky towards the top, but 10-12 inches of cold powder the rest of the way.  It was a new line for both Graham and I, with quick and easy access.  Hatcher is skiing really well right now. Graham and I weren’t alone up there today, but it’d also be a stretch to say there are are a lot of tracks.  Anyway, no video today, typically I forgot to clear the card for my camera so got to the top only to learn I couldn’t record anything; but if you want a mediocre idea of what we skied I have a photo of Graham skiing it here.

awesome January light in Alaska

After arriving home and realizing I’d just traded Paris in September for Anchorage in October I was pretty unmotivated to get on with things last week.  Going out doesn’t have the same appeal when the streets are so empty that fat bald men with goatees drive up and ask if you’ve seen any kids.  No description needed, they’re that scarce.  Luckily Jeff and Graham offered me the opportunity to join them skiing at the Snowbird Hut this weekend, and I happily went along, hoping to get a taste of the winter I’d come home for.

The weather Friday was pretty awful, warm rain, a retreating snowline and predictions of heavy winds; typically demotivating for this time of year but warmer then usual.   It took us five and a half hours of walking along the closed road, scrambling up a rain slicked trail and skinning over rocks iced with sloppy snow to reach the hut.

I’d spent the last month walking all over Paris admiring the scenery, and I’d thought this would better prepare me for skiing then my normal Alaskan fall activity of sitting on the couch watching football.   I figured it would be a decent intro as the basic action – walking around admiring the beautiful scenery – was essentially the same, but his was only true while wandering along the road compared to interesting, once we started scrambling up the muddy hillside I got wrecked.  The final section through the pass and across the glacier with skis on was heartrendingly relaxing, but upon arriving at the hut I was exhausted.  After a night of intermittent sleep I woke up to  clearer weather with a light breeze feeling drowsy but ready for the years first turns.  Early season skiing on the glacier with its long mellow runs with plenty of space to open up and not worry about rocks was great fun.  Exhaustion couldn’t hide my huge smile after some fast turns in the sticky rain effected snow.

It was pleasant  just to take in the difference in scenery, Paris with it’s perfectly spaced picturesque clouds and Alaska with it’s contorted and strange sky with the sunlight filling from impossible angles. After a month of wandering through Paris discovering the minuscule parks tucked between meticulously ornate buildings to be suddenly wandering through huge empty valleys marked by a solitary rotting cabin, amongst heaps of mine waste and finding a cached camouflaged new testament, it has been a strange week of contrasts.

It was exhausting hiking for hours to and from the glacier, and also a bit frightening to go out for the first time all season and find most of your gear falling apart (I think like Akaky Akakievich when replacing stuff) but I feel rather lucky that the hiking wrecked me. I’m so tired and sore that I’m likely to sleep, rest and watch football until there is a little more snow on the ground, or things start too feel more normal around here.  More skiing to come.

Random Links to pass the time:

As regular readers will know, I’ve let most of the past couple weeks pass without comment around these parts as I’ve been occupied by Wilson’s and Mania’s most recent visit.  This is now Mania’s second and Wilson’s fifth spring visiting Alaska hoping to ski, and I’d dare to say they got better skiing on this trip then in any of their previous visits.  Where as the weather made last year’s trip seemed like some nightmarish restaurant where we were stuck waiting for a meal that never came, this trip was like bingeing at an incredible buffet.  Each day taking a trip in Wilson’s rental car to fill our plates with runs in Turnagain, Valdez, Girdwood and Hatcher Pass, barely leaving enough time to digest between courses.

That’s not to say we didn’t have our share of the usual issues.  I crashed my snowmachine into a tree in Hope, Mania forgot non-critical pieces of his equipment 60 percent of the time and Tim got hit with a 300 dollar speeding ticket in Eureka.  We kicked of avalanches in Hope, cut slabs on Tin Can, and got clouded out in Valdez. Except this time, despite the usual helping of adversity, we went out into the field for all but 4 days, and always came home with proud lines under each arm.

Our most plentiful take came on a wednsday afternoon in Valdez, strangely in the middle of a cycle of excellent skiing in Turnagain Pass.  After a couple of decent days we stepped up to a line on the north side of Eddie’s Wilson and I had eyed a year earlier on his visit, and I’d been hoping to ski ever since.  We got a bit of a late start as Seany B, who’d long wanted to ski the line as well, was applying for a job and couldn’t leave till noon.  Despite the late start, we didn’t see a soul on the voyage, the sun was out, the snow was velvet, all four of us skied it in a single pitch, and we avoided all the ravines out the way out.  That night we celebrated excessively and planned on sleeping in, but the next morning Wilson and Mania woke me up, asking if I thought they should go to Valdez.  Our good friend Karitis had called while I was sleeping, and offered them the chance to go Heli Skiing with him at H20.  Wilson mulled over the possibilities on the toilet before deciding to go for it, Mania was enthusiastic and I reluctantly went along thinking I would be needed as some kind of chaperone or could go for a solo ski tour in Valdez while the two of them were flying.  Wilson had already been ticketed so we didn’t make it wasn’t until 1:30 that we met Karitis and the helicopter in Valdez.  I thought I’d be dropping Mania and Wilson off before looking for a place to skin, but Karitis quickly made it clear that I was needed, they had a private helicopter and only himself, Wilson and Mania were going, when there was room for 5.  I took my skins out of my bag, and put a harness on.  We were in the air by 3, and by 3:30 Karitis was delivering the goods (pictured above and bellow).

We started off on Wally’s World for our first run (a second descent),  then moved on to Upper 49ers (top video) looking to refresh our palates on some lighter fare, before trying Once Ridden Twice Shy.  From there we had to wait a bit, we passed the time by playing jokes on Dean, calling on the radio to ask if we could borrow the helicopter for some late evening laps on Crudbusters.  Once we got picked up we moved on to a mellower line on Callahan’s before getting a first descent on what would become known as Island Time.  Everything went smooth, and without problems, until our final run, when Mania managed to get his pants stuck on the basket of the helicopter and get hung upside down.  Luckily he lived and the helicopter flew away safely.  We were back at the car around 9, everyone sporting massive smiles and content from an all time epic day.

Since then we’ve been all over the map.  We spent a weekend skiing from Seany B’s cabin in Hope, skied a couple of days in Turnagain, went sledding, and hit up some great north facing lines in Hatcher Pass.  The skiing has been good, Mania went back tired, and Wilson is claiming he’ll be moving here for next winter.  We shall see, we shall see, but first I’ve got to finish off this winter before I worry about the next one.

My cousin Brian, who spent the summer working in Denali, will be living in Girdwood for the winter. Apparently he’s working at the Sitzmark (which I’ve been told was torn down, but I’ve also been told the same thing every summer since I’ve been here and I don’t really keep up on actually happenings, just rumors and lies) and living in the blue building across from the Silvertip.   He was in Anchorage friday, taking care of some loose ends, and Saturday I went down to Girdwood to check out his his set up.

His place was pretty nice, and both his roommates, two girls from the south seemed, seemed cool. One didn’t realize it was already Saturday, and the other mentioned how the slight dusting of snow they’d received was the most snow she’d ever seen; so I think they’ll both work out great, despite not really grasping what there in for.

Fall colors in the morning

Fall colors in the morning

And speaking of the weather, it was very really crappy out. Low hanging clouds, gusty winds, with occasional flakes. Yet faced with the choice of looking for some snow, or getting drunk and watching football we decided to head for the pass and see what we could find.

Parking at Tin Can we had to hop over the occasional open stream and gain a couple hundred feet before finding enough snow to put skis on. Brian, being a snowboarder, booted along the skin track without problems. Up top the skiing was as decent as dust on crust is acceptable in October, but it was far too bushy near the bottom, and after having to walk a ways back to the car I determined it is still a little too early to be skiing Turnagain.

After a mellow night I woke up Sunday with my first case of sunny freight all season. Lacking a reasonable ability to predict the weather, even going to bed to clear skis doesn’t guarantee sunny weather the next morning, so waking up late, peaking out the window from bed and noticing blue skis always startles me into action, with the real fear of missing a rare quality day. I got ready in moments, found my stuff I hadn’t unpacked the day before, stole Max’s truck and headed out the door. I decided to check out Hatcher Pass, hoping to find more snow there then at Turnagain.

Skied from the lookers right of the peak, on the open, sparsely rocky face.

Luckily my hope proved correct. The roads down in Palmer were dusted with an inch of new snow, and in the pass there was maybe 6 inches of the fresh stuff. Being solo, I kept things pretty simple and near the road. I skinned up a ridge I’d skied last spring with Graham but don’t have a clue as to the name and was presently surprised by the amount of snow.  Hatcher Pass is normally a minefield of boulders (as you can see in this guy’s pictures from this weekend) that takes a fair amount of snow to cover. But on the skin up, breaking trail through a light dusting of snow inside a well established thigh deep trench, everything seemed surprisingly well covered so I picked out a clean looking ramp, where I found more excellent thigh deep snow. I skied pretty conservatively, in anticipation of slamming a rock, but after one clean run decided to huff my way back up and go for a second. Again I managed not to hit a single rock, even the various bulges in the snow, which I figured were sure to be rocks, proved to be just icy drifts.  My years in the Wasatch have conditioned me to expect early season skiing to destroy a pair of skis, this core shot-less stuff still confuses me.   Content after two, I skated along the road back to the car just in time to find a Park Ranger handing out tickets.  Since I hadn’t paid the parking fee, and the ranger had yet to make it to my car, managing only to shoot this quick, pointless scenic video, I took off quick to avoid the fine.   I skied the back ridge, with the sparse rocks at the top, visible near the end.

A great day of October powder skiing, which hopefully, will be typical of the winter to come!