Finally! Some Action.

This winter in Nome has been one of the warmest winters on record which means it was hard to get and get after it.  The warm weather kept the sea ice from locking in, which in turn made crabbing from the snowmachine an unsuccessful venture,  51 degree weather in January melted what snow we had, dislocating a knee playing hockey on soft ice, and above all losing one our  best friends, Aaron Karitis, from college, this winter goes down as the worst.

Poor Crabbing in Norton Sound

Riley and Ashley checking empty crab pot

Being located so far North and West in the same time zone as the rest of the state has  made the spring day light seem even more eternal  with  the long arctic afternoon sunsets that provide light well into 11pm already. The frozen dark tundra quickly emerges from the snow that is disappearing despite temperatures that are just barely above freezing.  Just like the long light signals spring, it also invokes  the prospect of a summer work season beginning.   Thoughts of winters memories sublimate just like the snow.  I had begun to write this winter off in hopes of a better  summer.   It wasn’t until a midnight spontaneous jam session with fellow friends Ian, Dave, and Mikey that a real winter mission had finally been proposed.

Last year In my Nome travels, I met a quite a character , Ian,   A  mountaineer  from California. I thought this guy must be out of his mind thinking that Nome was the place for climbing.   Turns out, as usual, it was me that didn’t know what I was in for. 

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Mt. Osborn 4717′

Ian purposed to do some obligatory peak bagging in the Kigluaik’s – bringing skis, climbing gear, and snowmachines into the mix.  Plan was to load sleds on the trailer and drive 20 miles up the Kougarok Hwy, unload and sled 25 miles up Grand Central Valley and bag a peak, maybe ski something in the process and head home.  

9:45am sleds were loaded on the trailer. 

9:50am trailer tire was flat.

With this winter being so depressing already, this was it.   F*&$ it!  We’re just going sled from the neighborhood.  Off we went bouncing across the frozen tundra patches searching for snow to keep the machines cool and keep skis from wearing out. 

The 45 miles flew by as one stays busy searching for snow and trying to dodge trail hazards to achieve the smoothest line.   Once we got to the heart of the range 15 miles past the point of any snow plows, the drifted over road was only visible by a few markers scattered about.  We stopped at the entrance to Grand Central. The valley is about 10 miles long and 2 miles wide.  The mountains are real, more than one would expect in place that many have never heard of.   At the head of the valley lies Mt. Osborn  – an impressive piece of granite by any standards.  (it was this time last year that similar trip led Ian and his climbing partner  Andy up Mt. Osborne in an unfortunate turn of events).  We decided that both our winters had sucked and that we just needed a confidence day to get back on track. We picked a peak and went for it. 

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Grand Central. Peak bagged center of pic.

The Peak 3054 was a deceiving trip that had a faux crux from the bottom.   Wondering how to deal with the 100ft granite cliff at the top was putting a dent in our summit fever.   Once we were on route it was mostly a head down slog, concentrating on keeping tools placed in the rimey slope.  As we neared the summit it became apparent that the cliffs were a false summit to our flank and that we would just top out on nice cornice.  Topping out, taking some pictures of future routes, and refueling, we down climbed what could have been a fun ski had the rime been corn.  (two more weeks till corn skiing hopefully).

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Bunny Ears couloir – Future Mission

We packed our sleds and loosely toured around the valley.  The snow had softened in the valley and made for some really fun riding.  The low level sustrugi which was on everything was no match for the weight of the sled.  You couldn’t get stuck and you could go everywhere at casual 40-50mph.  Every blind roll ever  in the south central  region that you would slow down to see what was on the blind side, you could just fly over here, as  it was totally safe. ImageThis epic snowmaching with the ultra thin knee high alders, made me think of similarities of sledding Moab with of snow.   More pictures were taken of some future skiing lines and powder stashes.   I found one valley that the omni present wind had not affected too bad and thought getting the hat trick of winter activites would  really push the day over the top but after checking  the time –  7:45pm it was time to ride back, after all 45 miles were ahead of us!

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Almost home 9:30pm.

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By Max

While Ptor had to work on friday I decided to “break” his new sled in for him since I had owned the exact same sled. After all it’ll be me fixing the sled when it breaks down in the on the top of Blackstone Glacier in Whittier. Off to the point on Crosswind Lake where I would be joining my parents for a family turkey day. at the end of a 3hr slog up the Glenn Highway I was greeted with a foot of fresh interior powder to begin my ride of the year. Although I have made this 18 mile trip to the cabin over 50 times this time was I felt a little more uneasy riding a $1500 sled off of craigslist that had surly seen some hard riding in its life. Just like the nerves that build up on the first turn of a 50 degree slope and then rapidly dissipate, I was worried until I cracked the throttle open – I was in the zone again with my old friend puddy cat. After a 30mins of riding I was greeted at the cabin by my folks and as soon as I turned off puddy cat, my dad, who has seen me break thousands of dollars of snowmachine parts said, “it looks like the rear end is sitting a little low.”

Broken rear end

Broken rear end

Sure enough I had broke the one of the rear torsion springs. oh well, better here in the flat Copper River Basin than in the rugged mountains of the Chugach. Although turkey and family was a nice break of the hustle and bustle of city life, the constant snow and friends home for the holidays made my cabin stay less than 20 hrs… Saturday 80″ since monday at Alyeska- the resort was calling! Scott and I carpooled down and picked up a little resort treat at the merc. After one run of deep pow, flat light, and burning quads I realized that all my days in the backcountry had got me in good skinning shape but left me in lousy skiing shape. I cant say how grateful I was to take a lift (For free thanks to Riley) and talk about the series of drops and faceshots on my run with 3 of my best friends and the the many others that were their that day. Also the chairlift drinking was a huge plus as well.

jake gettin warmed up on the lift

jake gettin warmed up on the lift

Saturday left my legs burnings and when I woke up Sunday morning with SKI-SNOW reporting 20 more inches overnight with temps in the teens my leg pains were gone. I made ptor come with and use the new alyeska pass which I told him would work no problem.( Thanks again Riley) My fears of being outta shape and skiing slow were immediately erased after charging down the pillowy alder puffs on the south face and leaving other skiers in the dust. Skiing alder patch to alder patch was exactly what the public wasnt doing. Their inate fear of the alaska shrubbery left large patches of powder right below the alders for my taking. Charlie from SkinnyRaven, Ptor, and I were equally matched and in our skiing and charged lap after lap all day till we assembled Team Bake Shop and put down some of the best grub in Girdwood. Monday morning, the rusty gears of life brought the crude reality of sore muscles and construction at the Port of Anchorage where causing a beluga whale discomfort is the biggest issue at at hand but meanwhile in Tyonek the natives can shoot them with semi-automatic rifles at will! After work my best friend Mike who was leaving back to Charlotte, NC to his soon to be meaningless Wachovia investment banking job, which he is quitting in two weeks and returning to Alaska for x-mas, came over to kick out some funky azz drum beats while I laid down some mean bass grooves. Out of nowhere Mike had checked his flight status only to find that he had just missed his flight. Luckily I convinced him that it was the best thing to happen since The North face at Alyeska was opening for the first time this year as was High Traverse. Some more helmet cam video from the resort. The skiing was sick but kind of a grey bird day. When high traverse opened there was all sorts of sick alder drops to be had with dongshow friend friend Lucas Tanaka bustin some sick 3’s of about a 15 footer. What a great decision to skip work and ski!

On a side note one of my best friends from high school, Olga Bell a bad ass classical pianist turned front woman of her own band “Bell” of whom i gave my yamaha SHS-10 KEYTAR to, has made it big with the Keytar and is bringin it on her shows with phrase samplers and effects pedals to dominate the underground music scene in various New York clubs and campuses. So many props to here for rocking the Keytar. I really think that the keytar is the evolution for the rock pianist because instead of being stuck behind a keyboard and being called a rock pianist you strap it on, get on stage, and dance around showing the crowd you can rock like a sick Keytarist!!!

You need a keytar and this proves it

You need a keytar and this proves it

Update: Pickled Beluga

“I’d love to ski in Alaska but I don’t think I’m good enough…”

The above quote seems to be a near universal sentiment among my Midwestern friends. Attempting to explain that no, there are plenty of skiers with out the least bit of ability up here, I’ll invariably be met with the “don’t you know we ski on landfills” face. People simply won’t believe that many of the skiers you find up here aren’t any better then the Indiana drunks in hunter orange with neck gaiters for hats seen walking after run away rental skis at any area in Michigan. But it’s true. I don’t know the person in this video. We saw her from a distance (on Pounders Peak) and were laughing hysterically before she got closer, and closer, and we laughed harder and harder before grabbing the camera for proof. It seems some people don’t think ability is a prerequisite for enjoying the backcountry. Which, if I’m honest, I have no problems with, but I’m also not going to apologize for laughing.

I was going to put up a whole bunch of fishing related stuff today, but I got lazy. And I doubt I’ll get around to it this weekend, with soccer season beginning in earnest tomorrow, I’m looking at an extremely sedentary weekend. So, to keep this place from looking neglected (like our un-mowed lawn beaten down with rain), I’ll put this little POV clip from this winter. Enjoy. I might even write about soccer next week if I feel up to it.

So I’ve finally come to the conclusion that the town of Hope isn’t a huge fan of my driving there.  Earlier this winter I put Max’s Tahoe in the ditch.  Over solstice weekend my truck had no problem with a drunken rally (with Jeffé shot gunning everything in site) up Palmer Creek before bogging down in the morning and needing to be rescued the following monday.  And last night I think I blew my transmission while Jeffe and I were on our way to fish Six Mile Creek.  I’ll have more information later.  Anyway…

Maxs Tahoe in the ditch along the Hope road

Max's Tahoe in the ditch along the Hope road

I was in Michigan the previous week and was really looking forward to some mountains and fishing upon my return.  For most of the week I’ve been a slower moving then a sloth, and gleefully got nothing accomplished.   Jeffé and I had been discussing fishing all week, and eventually we settled on cruising towards Hope to fish a little hole on 6 Mile I’d been shown the year before by Dirty Zach and Don.

Ever seen the short film C’etait un Rendezvous?  Well Claude Lelouche’s POV film of his Formula One driving friend racing across an eerily abandoned Paris on easter morning at some point in the 70s has always inspired me to do something similar.  And having a potential scenic equal to a cross Paris cruise in the Seward Highway but lacking the Ferrari, I decided to film my truck (recently named Don Pablo by Max and Jeffé) making the voyage and simply speed the whole thing up.  The results (seen below) failed to match Lelouche’s lofty standards.

Anyway, after the camera ran out of juice and we’d made our way over Turnagain Pass and were approaching the Hope road Don Pablo started randomly downshifting.  We limped our way down the road, hoping Don Pablo would recover after the brief rest he’d get while Jeffé and I fished.

Six Mile Creek Fishing Hole

Six Mile Creek Fishing Hole

Last year, when Don and Dirty Zach brought Kiwi James and I to the hole on Six Mile shown above we had excellent fishing, for pinks.  At one point Don caught 17 on 20 casts.  And although catching Pinks is at best mid grade, while there I saw some locals catch two beautiful plump Silvers, which is what I was hoping for upon arrival.

another pink...hooked in the hump

another pink...hooked in the hump

The fishing was average, lots of Pinks, (both Jeffé and I would have caught our limits within 30 minutes if we hadn’t been tossing them back) and an extremely good time, but none of the tasty fish we’d been hoping for.  When we began driving up the hill back to the road Don Pablo was initially doing quite well, before we hit the final steep section.  As i crossed the halfway point of the last steep section It felt like I completely lost my transmission and despite increasing the pressure on the pedal and listening to Don Pablo rev ever louder we began descending the hill backwards.   After 2 further attempts Jeffé and I finally decided our only hope was to see if reverse was still functioning and attempt the whole thing backwards.  After a dodgy turnaround and Jeffé getting in place to line me up, I punched the peddle and began flying up the hill backwards, hoping Don Pablo would keep with it and we’d at least have the option of leaving her stranded on the side of the road rather then a small two track leading to an above average fishing hole. Don Pablo did remarkably well in reverse, and for a brief moment I was more concerned with running Jeffé over then I the state of Don Pablo’s gear box.

Once back on the road I popped Don Pablo into drive an away we went.  That is, until the first moderately sized hill when the violent shifting and lack of power returned.  But, as I began considering both a long hitch hike home or the possibility or driving over the pass in reverse, Don Pablo jumped into 3rd and seemed plenty happy to be there.  From that point on the drive home became very interesting.  

Above is a brief clip from the 1994 Spanish Grand Prix.  I remember watching this race at our family’s cottage as a kid.  Halfway through the race Michael Schumacher’s Benetton Renault became stuck in 5th gear, but instead of an early retirement Schumacher continued to push the stricken car and through some sort of wizardry claim 2nd place.  I was amazed at the time, and at some point as Don Pablo continued onward, I realized I was having my own F1 moment, only at a much slower pace, and began relishing nursing poor Don Pablo homeward.  Cresting the pass and reaching the point of having either flat or descending roads all the way back to Anchorage was treated by Jeffé and I as a great victory, and although I may not be graced with Don Pablo’s presence much longer, I will forever be thankful he didn’t leave us stranded out in the woods the way Officer Willis had the month before.

It’s actually attached to a set of goggles but whatever, I finally took this off Max’s POV camera, Graham in Seattle Creek back in April. Sled Laps in Turnagain without any hiking.  Winter is coming.

I’ve received complaints that I’ve been writing too much.  So I’ll start with a general synopsis.  And I’ve gotten distracted by another horribly distasteful Medred column.   We skied Lubner and explored the terrain above Whittier this weekend after skiing with CPG Thursday.   It was sick and I’m an idiot,  but bellow, you can find the first part, the rest will be up later this week, or maybe later.

cpg a-star

Jason was the last of the Utah kids to leave.  Kluh and Gary left Wednesday night after 6 straight days of strip clubs and mediocre skiing.  Jason who’d come up here explicitly to go heli-skiing took off Thursday night after the two of us skied with CPG.

The two of us had resolved to fly while he was here and Thursday being his last day, and that morning being greeted with sunny skies in Anchorage (although with strong winds forecasted) we decided to drive down to Girdwood and try our luck with Chugach Powder Guides.  We ended up getting to fly, but were hardly lucky. 

I’ll start off by saying that CPG has easily the smoothest operation up here.  For a change everyone was real nice, seemed happy to be there and pretty sane, a major change from Valdez.  This was the 6thdifferent helicopter and avalanche safety briefing Jason attended while here and claims it was by far the easiest.  Where as I would describe the average briefing I’ve experienced as painful, normally sitting in a trailer being lectured on avalanche safety and helicopter issues before a beacon drill that seems pointlessly simple and unrevealing of anyone’s actual skill.  One such drill, at a company who will remain nameless, involved a guide ordering us to turn around, walking straight out into a field of fresh snow, dropping a beacon, and walking directly back leaving an obvious trail to the beacons location.  CPG has you watch a quick power point about Helicopter safety, then play around in Alyeska’s High Tech Beacon ParkThe whole thing was quick and pain free, and it wasn’t long before Jason and I were back on our own sipping coffee with some Swiss kids and hoping the wind would die down a bit and we’d get to ski.

We flew, but I’d rather we hadn’t.   Right from the beginning our pilot was flying low and half crazy and I half said to myself, “ew, he’s trying to entertain us because flying will be the best part of the day” and quickly tried to dismiss it, hoping things would get better.  It never did.  Our guide, who was cool, and I don’t blame for anything, was completely straight forward and told us after 2 runs, when he started to sense some dissent, that we wouldn’t be skiing anything big or exposed.  When he added it’d still beat skiing in the resort 10 to 1, I couldn’t help thinking that those odds still wouldn’t come close to my average day in Turnagain pass.  And it didn’t.

CPG’s terrain was less then impressive

Growing up skiing in Michigan we were all constantly bombarded by rules and told what we could and couldn’t do.  One year at a ski swap it even came to the level that when my brother Theo responded to a question about what type of skiing he liked to do with “ski powder and hit jumps” he was told by a disgruntled one armed ski patroller that “we don’t have powder in Michigan and jumping isn’t allowed!”  Our entire ski existence was spent in this state of limbo where we’d be unable to follow the rules due to extreme boredom but then constantly in jeopardy of losing our season pass and suffering even greater boredom from not being able to ski.  17 years of being told we weren’t allowed to ski in the trees, hit jumps, do inverted aerials of any kind, ski fast, gap dirt spots, or question the ski patrol in any way, has left me slightly deranged and I can’t say enough how much I’ve cherished being able to do whatever the fuck I want all season.

Stuff best visited on my own

That’s basically how the day heli skiing went.  We followed our guide down lame terrain no one really wanted to ski.   Whenever we asked if we could ski something different we were told no.   The whole thing made the boasts about their terrain during our earlier briefing seem like the advertising we used to get thrown at us in Michigan.  “200,000 acres” or whatever it was seemed no different then “22 groomed runs” or “increased snow making” through out the day.

Throughout the day they never once tried to hide us from the other groups, or establish any sort of remote feeling.  We always landed right where the previous group landed and usually watched as another group landed behind us. Every run had us waiting for the group just ahead of us to get picked up.  Not once did we open new terrain, and the terrain we did ski I’d seen before, from the top of Big League or the road, and although I wouldn’t have felt uncomfortable skinning to most of it I don’t know if I’d bother seeing as it was mostly shit.  It was actually pretty boring.  The most fun I had was sitting at the top of the peaks, looking at stuff I’d like to come back and ski on my own.  Unfortunately we were never given much time to take in the sights, as there was always a group behind us waiting to ski so we had to get on with it.  The entire day I felt like a dumb tourist being shepherded around. 

Another beauty we didn’t ski

At one point after mentioning I knew where we were and that I could ski back to the highway from the landing zone Jason and the Finnish kid we were skiing with wanted to ditch the operation and wander the backcountry on our own.  I declined, ever afraid of getting my pass pulled, the thought of the massive confrontation that would have come from such efforts.  Although now as I write, the story of having ditched CPG in the backcountry seems worth any price.  Which is far more then I could say for anything they provided us with.

I can’t say I didn’t have a good time though.  Flying around in a helicopter on a sunny day through amazing mountains never gets old nor does skiing them, regardless of how mellow the runs or crappy the snow.   It was like going charter fishing and not catching a fish but still having a good time cruising around on a boat and getting drunk.  At least that’s how I attempted to justify it to myself.

That night before Jason was able to get on the plane Kim managed to give him another round of Alaskan comedy by attempting to show off his Norwegian parallel parking skills in front of F Street.  Jason and I walked out of the bar and up to Max’s Tahoe before wondering why Kim wasn’t behind the wheel.  As we walked around the back of the car and noticed the dent in the red Dodge Viper and Kim talking to some Lionel Richie looking character we both burst out laughing.  Kim’s comments of “the trailer hitch, it’s so long, fuck” confirmed exactly what happened and we went back into the bar to spread the news.  Apparently, most of the bar had either seen Kim hit the viper, or seen the owner’s accompanying run out the door.  The first thing I heard was some women shout “Did you see, he has Jimmy V vanity plates, fucking flamer.”  

It wasn’t long before I heard “It’s only a dodge, he should have backed over it.”  When I went to order another drink, both of the bartenders who knew Kim well said, “That guy’s just lucky he isn’t Alaskan or that would have been a hit and run.”  The whole matter would have been settled quickly if some guy hadn’t come out of the bar and urged Jimmy V not to just swap information with Kim but to call the cops.  Call the cops they did, but moments after the cops arrived, before they were even able to talk to Kim someone slammed a parked car across the street and in typical Alaskan style attempted to drive away, before the cops ran him down.  The delay the police provided proved worth it though, as we got to over hear an insurance agent ask Jimmy what the V on his license plate stood for.  Jimmy proudly stated the V was for victory as everyone within earshot burst out laughing.  After the cops got done dealing with the mess across the way they proceeded to harass JimmyV for bothering them saying “this is Anchorage, it isn’t Malibu, exchange information and get on with it.”  Everything proceded beautifully from there.  Information was exchanged, Kim escaped and Jason made it to the airport on time. Part 2 will be here tomorrow!