mitigated disasters


turnagain pass

Sorry readers, for the extended neglect and disregard of these pages. The ski conditions have been so bleak this winter that taking pictures or writing about the little snow that was found would have been painful, and as there has been plenty of  emotional complaining around about the weather in years past, so I haven’t had anything to share. Winter never came to Cordova and conditions were so bad (the picture bellow is from my last day skiing before I left in early March) that I quit my job and moved to Anchorage. I also broke my arm skiing in Michigan which kept me off the snow for a few weeks, but I don’t think it really cost me more then a day or two on snow. Heney Peak Trail Head March 2015

I’ve been working, but the last couple of weekends I’ve been taking advantage of being connected to roads and taking the opportunity to ride in cars to go ski in Turnagain and Hatcher Pass. That might seem unremarkable but the last 3 seasons I’ve been far more likely to walk or ride a bike to a trail head then ride in a car, and for much of this winter the idea of being able to drive somewhere that had snow seemed like a far fetched dream. Yes, the hour plus drives are annoying, but the ability to drive up from sea level and park somewhere in the mountains that has snow on the ground is an incredible luxury I won’t take for granted again. photo 1

The highlight of the season (which has amounted to less time on snow then a normal season would see before Thanksgiving) was a pleasant sunny tour up Pastoral with Charlie and Dave last Sunday. Firm sun crusted snow up Taylor Creek made for quick travel, and once we reached the bottom of Pastoral the snow had changed and was perfectly set up cream.  We didn’t ski any lines of particular interest, but just being in the mountains on a sunny day with glacier views and perfect snow was some much needed therapy.photo 4

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Mini Truck Skiing.

Took the Mini 35 miles up the Kougarok hwy in search of some spring skiing. This was the longest solo trip of the mini’s life.  The mini dominated the gravel roads that have been recently thawing out, its narrow stance splitting the pot holes and ruts from the bigger vehicles.  About 2 miles from my stopping point, I was enjoying looking out at future ski lines, then I was relegated to an idle. WTF?!?!  I got out and saw that the throttle cable had just broke.  After a brief panic, the ultimate jury rigging took place.

and this fix has laset for the last 100 miles

and this fix has laset for the last 100 miles

During my skin up I could see bear tracks across the valley that led to black spots that I was sure were bears but I just could make them out a mile away.  Running through the different bear encounter scenarios kept my mind from thinking  how out of shape and hot I was.

the skiing

the skiing

Once I reached the summit of my ski, I was faced with the usual dilemma of not see what I was going to ski.  The hot spring conditions had my avalanche hackles up so I tossed a snowball for the dog and watched her jump the cornice and chase the snowball.  The NW aspect looked better than I thought.

the approach 3.5 miles

the approach 3.5 miles

After skiing  4” of wet pow and making it all the way back to the truck without any bear surprises,  I was enjoying the radio, which was emitting some fuzzed out playlist when I began to be flagged down by a truck on the shoulder.  Why were these people flagging me down, I thought to myself, if they only knew I was keeping my day together with vise grips, tie wire, and tape.   They wanted to know if I had a pump – which I did.  I watched them fumble with it for a while thinking about having been in this same situation before.   They pulled out a jack, which turned out to be broken, so I offered up a jack.  The trailer tire had a hole in it so I gave them a couple tire plugs, and a can of fix a flat.   They were super pumped and couldn’t believe that the little mini truck had rescued them.   I told them that my day was so awesome that it just wouldn’t be right to not get them on the road have them get after the rest of the day. I mean it was already 7pm and they still had 5hours of day left ahead of them.  the day ended with what was only the most awesome meal of all time a double pattied bacon waffle burger from golden china.

Fixing the local crap

Fixing the local crap

Little did I realize, the mini would save the day three days later on my birthday.  I was slated to meet Nome’s Senator to make some work arrangements about leasing office space.    When I showed up to meet him, he immediately tasked me with jump starting the house representative who was parked just outside the airport, on the side of the road. Apparently he had left his keys in the ignition or something.  I pull up to the early 90’s ford truck, jumped out and introduce myself.  I think that he thought someone more official was coming, not some joker in a mini truck, either way, I tried to jump him with no luck.  He suggested that I try tow starting him.  “Sure, as long as you got a strap I’m up for anything at this point.”  I towed him back to the airport without the truck starting.  “You wanna just tow me back to my house in town? Neal asked.  Sure!  Away we went, all through town, the mini truck towing the house representative.  I couldn’t stop cracking up.  I was just wishing that the police would have pulled us over since the mini truck isn’t supposed to be on the roads we were on.

What a great birthday!

the best burger ever

the best burger ever

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With a break in the extended series of snow and rain blowing through arrIvIng thursday, I headed up wolverine too see how the snow was sticking together. I was a little worried as I started out as the entirety of the furthest west of the north facing bowls was completely broken out just bellow the cliffs and propagated around to some east facing slopes as well.

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I made my way up through some large trees along subridges then up some mellow, rocky, wind swept terrain above tree line untill I had too boot pack up a short ridge to the top.

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I was enjoying the views of the low mid-winter mid-day sunlight when my phone started ringing, and out of character I fortunately decIded to answer. It was the police dispatcher complaining that my car wasnt far enough onto the shoulder and a tow truck had been called. So I clipped in, put my luckily unopened beer back in my bag and dropped into a short shot I’d spied on the way up. Despite the need to race to the bottom I snapped a quick shit of my turns.

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I raced across the upper windcrust and bombed through the powder in the lower trees before finally snowplowing down the icey shoulder of the road to find my van untowed, but with the chief of police parked behind me waiting. Luckily I escaped with some advice to get my van further off the road (“you’re lucky we have such a diligent dispatcher”) after we had a breif discussion of the snow conditions. First time I’ve ever had a day in the backcountry cut short by the police, which although funny was upsetting me later yesterday evening as the snow was so fantastic I was craving a couple more laps.

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After having my plans for skiing Queens Chair (pictured above) on Wednesday squashed, I headed up there yesterday hoping to find some new terrain. I almost immediately turned back as there were 30 to 40 swans on the trail and I wasn’t in the mood to get attacked by mean spirited birds.

alaska skiing

Moving up the creek through the trees went quick and I was on my skins a little over an hour after leaving my car. The terrain in the Queens chair bowl is a lot mire extensive then it looks from the road or above the lake with a bunch of east and south facing lines that don’t reveal themselves till your standing at their base. Being solo I was leaning towards booting up a chute thinking that would be the safer route to some steep turns, but with multiple options it took me awhile to decide on a short west facing line with a huge apron.

cordova alaska skiing

The snow was nothing but unconsolidated spindriff that seemed to have been blown in from behind but was feeling safe untill I was about 100 feet from the top and triggered some windslab above me. Luckily I was able to roll twice to my left and stab my skis (which were in my hand) into the bed surface and bring myself to a stop.  Feeling like a fool from the close call I hung out for nearly an hour on the side of the slope enjoying the view, laughing, and getting my thoughts together before skiing down. The apron with its frozen over boulders covered in light powder skied fantastic and reminded me off Jimmy’s line off the Pinnacle from a few years back.

cordova alaska skiing

Humbled but without a thanksgiving dinner to attend and plenty of perfect snow and sunshine to go around I skinned up a mellower route and took a second run through a field of giant boulders that was quite cool. Its still sunny in Cordova so hopefully more good skiing soon.

cordova alaska skiing

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So today’s plan kind of fell apart in the morning when my partners bailed on me at the last minute and had me spend the morning drinking coffee. But after a typically late start I rolled up to the ski hill with a friend around noon, found my roommate and upon asking he fires up the lift and gives us a private bump up the hill. Also my first ever ride on a single chair for some additional novelty.

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We didn’t ski anything of interest, just a lap on the ridge, but with town fogged under the views and sunshine made the day very worth while.

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Got super lost and ended up way down the road from my target. Nonetheless it is snowing so spirits are high.

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swinging from a purse seine boatSo a few weeks ago while I was sitting in the Cordova Library playing around on the internet and looking for a job a somewhat familiar looking guy  (I must have spoken to him in the bar) asked if I was looking for a job, then told me to call a random number about a deckhand job.  After a short phone call, I was given directions to the boat and told to meet in a half hour.  After some sailing talk on the dock I was offered a job, moved out of my van and onto the boat, and rode out of Cordova on the F/V Advantage that evening around 6 pm, without much of an idea – other then some preposterous Cordova bar rants I’d listened to- as to what I should expect.

Now that I’m back in Cordova and living in a tent, since my boat and crew members left for Kodiak to fish for pot cod , I still haven’t really gotten my head around the last couple of weeks action on the boat, so this post may read like a bunch of unrelated thoughts.

Despite not having any previous experience to use as a baseline the fishing seemed extremely slow.  We struggled to catch in three weeks what my captain was claiming we’d catch every day on that first evening leaving town.  Talk of 70,000 pound sets and catching 100,000 pounds by noon and taking the day off began to seem like a farfetched fantasy on days we made 16 plus sets for a total of 10,000 pounds and caught nothing but water, weeds and jelly fish on a regular basis.

salmon purse seine fishingThat first night on the boat I was told repeatedly that I’d be working harder then I’d ever worked before and have sore muscles that I didn’t now existed, but other then having to skip around semi frantically as I tried to keep from slowing the operation down and some tiredness in my admittedly puny forearms things were generally pretty easy.  After learning to look away from the exploding jelly fish in order to avoid 20 minutes or so of eye pain things became remarkably easier. The realization that every 30 minutes of actual work is followed by a 20 to 200 minutes of standing around as we either re-set our net, or as we waited in line behind other boats really took the fear out of the 18 hour work day.  And after the initial 3 day opening, we were never allowed to fish  more then day on day off, so every actual day of work was followed by a day of lounging around on deck trying to kill time.  The amount of reading I got done in three weeks actually frightened me.

Seine fishing in PWS Alaska

Rather then the complete solitude and days that go by without spotting another boat while sailing with Gary and Norm out of Seward, I don’t think there was any point in the last 3 weeks when another boat wasn’t within eye site.  Despite our Captain’s reluctance to wait in line and penchant for avoiding other boats  all but one day was spent fishing the same spot as 3 or more other boats. I was expecting cold wet and rainy weather, but on average it was sunny and in the 70s with glassy water the entire time I was out.  At no time was it ever too rough to read and overcast and rain days were a pleasant change as they’d keep me from getting overheated or squnity eyed while working.

I’ve always been amazed by the frivolous complaints I hear from skiers and sailors about some combination of anything and everything, so I got a continual laugh about the level and type of complaints dished out by my crew, captain and various other boats overheard on the radio.  Victimization was the main norm as the tide was seemingly always against everyone, the wind was never co-operative and the poor fishing was always the result of a nefarious plot by either ADFG, marine mammals, sharks or the Japanese.  The site of some whales within a half mile would inevitably result in screaming and a sea lion swimming up and biting the head off a single fish in our net was treated like a mugging.

Despite not catching many fish, hence not making much money, I’ll look back on the last 3 weeks with a huge smile. I easily surpassed the longest I’d gone without walking on land, I picked up some new boat skills and a couple of knots, saw some fantastic scenery, read a couple books I had been putting off and laughed a lot.  I guess I’d even go again if given the chance.

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