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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After a week of steady improvement along with a brief survey of the tide tables, Max, Hunter and I decided to test our windsurfing skills in the inlet last Saturday.  We’d originally decided around a spot near McHugh Creek at 11am, and the before leaving the winds were looking favorable.  But upon arrival the water looked nasty with lots of chop and some really nasty looking current.  The tide was also a ways out and just getting down to the water looked to be quite a bit of a challenge.  In the end I got scared and we pulled the plug, and continued on to Portage Lake.  The winds were initially a little light,but things improved through out the afternoon, and after some confidence building sailing there, we decided to try in the inlet, this time near Peterson Creek.  It went well, as in we didn’t float off, but staying ahead of the current was as difficult or more then we suspected.  A great day of windsurfing, some video as usual bellow, this time with the additional bonus of some slash guitar Max recorded to go with the windsurfing.

After last weekend’s drunkenness kept me from even attempting to ski, tales of 32 inches on Wednesday, in the middle of an especially boring work week, had me happy anticipating a good weekend on skis would get winter started for real. I was drumming a pen on my desk Friday so content that even a horrific avalanche advisory couldn’t dampen my spirits.

All these avalanches failed on the new snow old snow interface. One slab avalanche I triggered was 120 cm deep. It was approximately 70 m wide and 150 m long. I remotely triggered it from 100 m away. If that doesn’t show the volatile state of our snowpack, two sympathetic avalanches were triggered at the same time as a result.

Even after reading that my spirits were high, I figured we could maybe cut a chute and hack our way down the bed surface or at least just enjoy the new snow in some flattish pounder’s peak trees. It’s been cold recently (30 consecutive days bellow freezing) so I was reasonable confident we’d be skiing something other then mash potatoes.

Saturday started off strange. I was in bed by 9:30 Friday, woke up around 4, poured a drink, exchanged some small talk with a delirious Mikey (just back from a shift of nights on the slope), saw Max passed out face down on the couch, and caught the frantic Arsenal – United game. After Nasri got it started and Arsenal held on I crashed, before crawling downstairs a couple hours later to catch the Michigan game in a state of confusion. Just as Michigan was wrapping the game up Max woke, and we were on the road for Turnagain by 11.

Riding along in flawless sunshine, the ice bobbing in the tide to remind us just how cold it’s been, winter excitement was impossible to avoid. Driving into the pass there was occasional evidence of the reported slide cycle, but with the brilliant sunshine Max and I decided to head up Sunburst, look at skiing Elevator shaft off the north side, and failing that to play it safe and enjoy the new snow. Other then one messy spot the trail was very clean, with long tunnels cut under the alders, crouched skinning being preferable to endless bushwhacking. Of the 7 people ahead of us on the trail, we caught 5, two of whom were an elderly couple, who after we’d passed them continued up the final exposed pitch, the old lady looking increasingly shaky. Max was convinced this was all part of the old man’s attempt to kill his wife, thinking he hoped she’d fall awkwardly and tumble down a couple hundred feet of exposed rock.

We bailed on the Elevator, It looked to have already slid and was nicely filled in by a healthy amount of last year’s snow that’d survived the summer, but the exit looked like a couple hours of thick alder hacking, so we decided to go for two on the south side. On our first run we found creamy clean snow and some nice ridges and terrain still to be erased by white coastal cement. When we passed the elderly couple, the man was urging his wife on, directing her to a cracking rollover adjacent to a large slide indicating the accuracy of both friday’s advisory and Max’s belief he was attempting to kill his wife. We sped up for a second lap, racing the setting sun to the top to get another (mellower) run that ended up being the only lap we’d successfully capture on the POV camera. Even the trail to the car was fun, ducking through the alder tunnels and navigating around stumps on tired legs is still fun at this time of year.

Saturday evening was mellow, Kim and I took a trip to the video store for provisions, but otherwise we mostly we sat around the house laughing and listening to Mikeys rant about his usual antics, which this time culminated in the bizarre story of how he’d shoved his hand down the pants of transsexual in Mexico; and disapproving head shake he’d received from his mother.

Sunday greeted me in Anchorage with bright golden sunshine peaking through the clouds, but halfway to Girdwood the gray reality of the day dawned on us. Spirits were low as we stopped at Tesoro for coffee and gas, with nothing but a day wandering pea soup fog ahead, but back on the road, a few miles past Girdwood we were greeted by thick flakes that fell with increasing intensity as we climbed the pass. The Tin Can parking lot was a testament to the Pounder’s Peak moniker it received from Wilson (who Mikey inversely called “Nevil Longbottom on crack”) on his trip last spring. The “lot” was full and crowded with people asking how to wear their beacons and kids strolling around recreating scenes from Big Cottonwood, It won’t be long till it’s Yellowstone Club like decadence over at Tin Can. On the skin we passed nothing but booting boarders, the first skiers we saw were McManamey and Catlin representing Dongshow’s Hope office just bellow tree line.

Our two group’s traversed off in opposite directions, each finding about a fresh foot on top of the fluff from Wednesday, before reconvening up top, where we determined the name “Pillow Talk” fitting for Pounder’s Pea. On the second run Max and I ventured down a cliff band that had been horribly exposed only two weeks ago, but was now a thickly coated flater pillow line. The rock free early season skiing is nice, especially compared to Utah, where a pair of skis would be destroyed before the lifts opened.

Our main goal for the weekend was to get cameras and random stuff in order. That proved to be a mixed bag. We had our usual issues with the POV camera, either aiming it to low, forgetting the key lock and having it turn off mid run, or running out the batteries in cold weather, hopefully this weekends failures motivates us to figure the thing out, as when it works, it works really well. We had it mounted to the backpack with zip ties. The day should be considered a success just for the fact that I didn’t cut myself while cutting them off. A little hemophilia episode was avoided with the kevlar gloves from Mikey. The HV30 is excellent as always, although we didn’t use it to film any actual skiing. The video bellow is crap, sorry for the poor aim, but understand the only outlet I have for mediocre footage is to bore all of you so enjoy,

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Seany B was in town all last week, so, to celebrate the new snow I’ve got this little clip of Seany B on a frigid day in early February.

“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.