Things that Happen in Just a few Days in Alaska

When one rides their home mountain range with regularity all season, it’s wise to expect a few oddball things to happen every once in a while. Maybe once a week. On the other hand, go on an expedition to the middle of nowhere, and you can expect any of these formerly infrequent scenarios to rear its head on a near-daily basis. Or you might even see a few on a single outing. Maybe it’s related to the groove we get into by repeating familiar patterns, but it seems when I ski away from home, the quirks come pouring down the mountainsides in abundance…

Case(s) in point:

  • Sunglasses fog up and you’re blind just when it gets zesty. Like 60° couloir top-out in hollow névé spicy.
  • Skins freeze over with snow on the sticky side and cause double skin ejects. Resulting in person-sawing-their-planks-with-skins syndrome. Works like a charm.
Double eject!

The rare, simultaneous, double skin eject!

  • Tech binding toepiece pops off while skinning steep firm snow. Ski then begins slide downslope.. Multiple outcomes may result, depending on the speed of all involved.
  • Water lid freezes to the bottle. Never mind bottle straws. They’re frozen solid within mere minutes of being in contact with liquids. Actually, before you’ve even begun your tour in Alaska, expect your straw to be frozen solid, despite all your tricks.
  • Someone forgets real gloves, leaves camp with light gloves meant for skinning, yet unsuitable for booting/crawling up couloirs. Glove shopping amongst partners results.
  • Water runs out or completely freezes. A solid chunk of water-bottle ice thawing for a few hours next to your baselayer, inside your coat, will provide a much needed sip of water just minutes before camp is back in sight at the end of the day. Plus it will assist in cooling you down, aiding your toes (see below).
  • Falling ice chunks disguised as snow will hit your party. This game stings anyone who involuntarily plays a game of catch.
  • The day’s food ration runs out. Long before the tour is over. Because you wouldn’t want to overeat in the early days of touring around amongst a billion tons of ice, now would you?
  • Toes will go numb for two hours at a time inside boots causing days worth of wondering whether you’ve landed some level of frostbite. Typically, the extent of this parlor trick begins creeping onto your feet a few minutes after you’ve exited the warmth of your sleeping bag, continues to worsen during breakfast and the general ‘get ready’ phase, and reaches maximum pain/cold level during the first minutes of your tour. From there, over the course of an hour or so, some semblance of feeling and normalcy returns to your lower digits. The cold toes syndrome gets worse/more prolonged with each day’s outing. Which is nice, because it really helps moderate body temperature and prevent excessive sweating. Once you’ve returned to camp, the process reverses until you’ve been in your sleeping bag for some time…
The Numb Toe Brigade...

The Numb Toe Brigade…

  • Monumentally large cornices will hang overhead during your couloir ascent. Enough said. With any luck, these will be getting blasted with sunlight on the windward side, increasing the odds of finding some cornice chunks atop your backpack later in the day.
Ascending beneath the Lost Cornice Formations of You'll Be Smashed To Bits Couloir.

Ascending beneath the Lost Cornice Formations of You’ll Be Smashed To Bits Couloir.

  • Some sort of snow offering up completely borderline stability characteristics will present itself, usually after you’ve committed some time and effort to find yourself where you are.
Waist deep sugar overlaid with ice, always a nice afternoon treat!

Marginal, steep, waist deep sugar overlaid with ice, always a nice afternoon treat! It helps add a bit of mystique if a tumble would send you over a cliff.

These are a sampling of the extraneous joys easily relished while touring Alaska in beautiful, sunny, and comparatively warm weather. To experience a more comprehensive, lengthier list (all in one day, even!), simply tour there in inclement weather.

Got any favorites that pop up on your own tours?



PSA: Skis lost in Coalpit Headwall Zone

Received this (edited) note via t&w during my Alaskan absence:

Was the unfortunate victim of a huge slide today 3/29/14 on the Coalpit Headwall. I lost my skis up there somewhere in the avy debris. Luckily not hurt. Thought I’d put it out there: If anyone heads up to Coalpit and finds my skis, I would be much obliged to have them returned! They are a pair of Dynafit Manaslu’s.

So, help a brother out when you’re up that way this Spring/Summer/Fallingbackintowinter. Keep your eyes peeled and maybe you’ll spot a pair of sticks poking out of the snow. If you see or retrieve one or both skis, drop a line to Spencer at:

You know, the Coalpit Headwall. Smack dab in the  center of the photo, veering out to looker's right..

You know, the Coalpit Headwall. Smack dab in the center of the photo, veering out to looker’s right..

Dreamlines in the Neacola Mountains, Alaska

The Chugach. The Alaska Range. The Coast Mountains. The Wrangells, or, more formally, the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. The Talkeetnas. I’ve heard of all these Alaskan mountain ranges, even seen pictures & videos, and checked out stories of skiers and boarders getting rad in them.

The Neacola Mountains? I heard of this zone for the first time exactly seven days before Joe from the Anchorage-based Sportsman’s Air Service dropped Jason, John, and myself off on the Pitchfork glacier. Agreeing to make this range home for two weeks took me about .003 seconds. Merely from a (dryland) Google Earth image, it was obvious: the Neacolas held what we were looking for. Couloirs. Not couloirs for days, though. Couloirs for weeks. Maybe months. Probably, like any decent range, couloirs for years. As we would soon find out, the Neacolas are many, many steps up from a ‘decent range.’

A Google Earth Image led us here. Way to go, Sergey and Larry!

A Google Earth image led us here, to heaven. Way to go, (Google founders) Sergey Brin and Larry Page!

Arranging this trip was not without struggle, as Continue reading ‘Dreamlines in the Neacola Mountains, Alaska’

One Wasatch

With global warming comes the rising of the snow line here in Utah. While snow will likely keep falling throughout our lifetimes, the elevation at which it remains on the ground in Utah is likely to rise permanently. We’re in a desert here after all, and snow doesn’t like the desert very much. This season has shown us what the future could look like for the foreseeable future: one has to drive a substantial distance up any Central Wasatch canyon to actually reach snow. Recent years have offered similar conditions.

A raised snow line is convenient for those who dislike shoveling snow off their driveways. It is inconvenient for those who like to recreate on snow, as their ability to spread out becomes hampered. As the remaining snow is found only at higher elevations, available snow recreation acreage diminishes at an accelerated rate. That’s because a conical shaped mountain offers the greatest acreage at its base, and offers the least as one nears the summit. See picture.

The side view of a potential future for SLC residents. The entire One Wasatch picture rests on a bed of money. You noticed.

Artist rendering of the side view of a potential future for SLC residents. The entire One Wasatch picture rests on a bed of money. You noticed.

Since it’s a reasonably applicable metaphor, picture a Continue reading ‘One Wasatch’

Sunshine in the Cirque

Had a perfect day in Wolverine Cirque with Nate yesterday. Windless until near the end, sunny with clear visibility, and the snow remained cold on north facing lines. Considering that we changed the original plan for the day to reduce our risk exposure – which simultaneously cut out an enormous amount of shrubbing – we were both pretty stoked to nab all of our lines in untracked condition save one. A threesome dropped into the Scythe as we topped out on Wolverine Peak, so we skied another untracked line then returned to the Scythe with 3 ski tracks in it. Not toooo bad.

Nate blasting down Pressure Drop. That's a good name for a line.

Nate blasting down Pressure Drop. That’s a good name for a line.

A OK feeling the pressure in Pressure Drop. That's a good name for a line.

A OK humming church hymns in Pressure Drop.

It seems I’m always learning something out there in the mountains, whether looking to do so or not. Since there were a number of people both in the vicinity as well as Continue reading ‘Sunshine in the Cirque’

The Long Uphill

Besides coming up with better anchor solutions while hanging around the Wasatch on skinny cord (see this article for more on that), I also do a lot of thinking while skinning and booting up to the tops of ski lines and mountains. Rather than consider this the boring time before making fun turns, I find that it’s my quiet time, usually filled with tranquility, calm, and mental travels. I’m one of several snow riders who offers up their take on what we think about while Going Up, in an article on the Clymb website, produced and photographed by cameraman Jim Harris. Check it out for mental skin track fodder for your next outing!