Thursday, April 5, 2012

Conclusion of the 7th season of SnowChasing!

After a couple coffee at the Alyeska daylodge, we eventually gather enough motivation to get our ass off and leave to go skiing.  We both haven't really been able to figure what it was but we weren't seeing exactly what the forecast was saying. We were able to see much more natural activity than what was on the forecast.

Since the latest snow conditions weren't the most stable, we made it out towards Pete's North for some low angle turns. I wasn't in prime shape, but Babiche was even worst than me! After a rather short day, we took off south towards Seward to check out the options.

There is really a lot of mountains all the way down from Turnagain Pass all the way to Seward. Even straight from the town of Seward, there was a lot of nearby options. Unfortunately, spring has now come and the warmer temperature has transformed most of those options into some not-so-great looking ski slopes!

We drove back towards the Summit Lake Area around Mile 47 on the Seward HIghway. Even if Summit Lake is located only 20 miles south of Turnagain Pass, it is frequented by a handful of skiers. We went to an area called Colorado. The wide east facing bowl combined with a short approach made it a good option for the lazy fellows we now were.

The 1000m vertical of climb went fast and the view, once we were on top, was quite nice! This record snowfall year has nicely cover all of the mountain. Alaska is certainly one of the place that I've travel to that got the most terrain!

After a really nice smooth run and a tasty mustard and sardines sandwich we drove back to Girdwood.
With a forecast of bad visibility in the afternoon we tried (and fail) to have an early start. As we got to an area call Sunburst, after hiking north of the mountain for about an hour, we tried to make it to the mountain, but we face a really deep and steep gully. We eventually turned back and realize that we should have made a hard right (that means south) as we start skinning. 

We eventually called it a day since we were both bummed about what just happen. We spend the rest of the day at the Safeway eating ice cream and watching the classic movie: G.N.A.R.

We eventually took off to drive towards Hatcher Pass. With the little bit of rain that was forecasted for the area around Turnagain, we thought we might have a better chance around this area. 

We woke up in Palmer into a grey sky with small blue openings. Hatcher Pass is renowned to be really hard to ski in bad visibility. We thought we would be ok to get some good turns. 

We drove all the way to the end of the road and aim for a little knoll on the left. After 700m we were on top of a good looking north facing slope. Unfortunately for me, it wasn't pleasing to Babiche. After loosing (again!) at rock-paper-scissor, we were off to walk around the ridge to go to a good looking gully. 

After cursing and using about 100 times all the swear word that I know for this useless traverse, we were eventually on top of a similar looking couloir with really poor visibility. The turns on the way down were probably some of the worst I had in AK (same thing for Babiche).

With about the same forecast for the following day, we weren't quite motivated. As we woked up, the weather looked better, so we decided to give a try for our last day in AK. 

We weather hold and we were eventually at the top of a good looking slope for our last view from on top of the Alaskan mountain. The turns were smooth and soft and for once, we skied more than shoot photos!

We spend the hours before our night flight shopping around town and eventually made it to the MIdnight Sun Brewery for a last one before we go.

.... and then, after more than 60 hours spend in airplanes, more than 31 hours spend in more than 12 difference airport, I landed back in Québec city. It is quite snowless due to the really warm weather of the past weeks. It doesn't look like I'll be skiing much now!

This has been again a great season where I've been able to share some really intense moment with really great people all over the world and have some of my greatest ski experience ever. 

Since we never know what the future got for us, I just hope you enjoyed this season and hopefully, I'll be able to sneak off from the real life next winter to entertain you once more!

Enjoy the rest of the season for the one of you that still got some snow!!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Heli-powered hut trip at Rosie's Roost

As we were having breakfast and checking the weather forecast in the Alyeska resort daylodge (fastest internet from a daylodge I've ever seen!), there seemed to be a nice weather window in the coming days on the forecast. We have actually been waiting for days for a continuous nice weather window to get drop off to a backcountry cabin just out of Girdwood.

Even if the sky was pretty cover with clouds, we figured we could probably drive to Alpine Air Service (heli company) to see our chances to fly out on the same day. We thought they would probably reply that we were stupid or something and that we only had to look up to realize how jam was the sky but we tried nevertheless.

Instead of laughing at our request the simply reply: 'Yeah, probably around 12h30. Is that work for you?! Our pilot reported that it is quite sunny up there today!!'

Of course it was working for us and we quickly started packing for a 4 days (3 nights) at Rosie's Roost Hut in the Chugach State Park next from Girdwood.

So 2 hours after the first thought about getting the heli-drop that day, we were in the heli flying through the clouds and heading to the top of Eagle Glacier.

We landed after an about 10-15 minutes flight on the top of Eagle Glacier under some terrific blue sky.

After a short hike to a nearby peak to oversee the inversion we were on top of, we roped on and started our trek down Eagle Glacier towards Rosie's Hut. 

There was about a foot of fresh snow on the way down so it eventually took us about 2-3 hours to ski down this glacier (If I had to do it again, I would be getting drop off at the top of West Fork of the Eagle Glacier which offer a better skiable slope and a shorter hike).

After about an hour or so after we got to the cabin, an other group skiing down the west fork of the Eagle Glacier showed up at the hut. This eclectic German-American team was there to complete the Eklutna Traverse and documenting there journey in part of the Ataraxia project. We would share the cabin for the next two days with those very cool and funny guys. 

They were actually more into kiting and speed flying that glacier crossing and they were using this traverse as a training trip before going for different objectives in the coming months including kiting up Mt Markus Baker (highest peak of the Chugach Mountain. 

We headed the following morning to a nearby valley going up towards a col that was giving us a really nice view of the Raven Creek valley.  We had a wonderful morning with great visibility and the snow nice and stable. 

Unfortunately, as we got to the col, the clouds moved in and we had really poor visibility on the way down….. making really poor pictures. 

We moved back to the hut and eventually, the clouds kept moving in. So we stayed in and share good time with the Germans.

The following morning brought again some great weather. On our previous hike, we've spotted a slope quite close from the hut that would be a great skiing ground.

We were sooooooooooooooooooooooo right!!!

The snow was really nice, steady and… tasty!

We lapped the slope a few times but we eventually got back to the hut saving some legs for the hike out of the hut we've plan for the following day. 

The forecast was calling for some clouds and snow moving late in the afternoon so we figured it would be good if we woke up early and climb out of the hut before the bad weather moved in. We originally planned to go to bed early but the night was just too nice to sleep early. 

The wind shook the hut all night making me wonder how the weather would be on the morning. 

We made it up fairly early to our standard (which means 7AM) and left the hut around 9AM. The weather was not so great but not so bad so we left thinking we would still be fine. 

On our way climbing the West Fork of the Eagle Glacier, we wind got really bad and the visibility really poor. We kept climbing anyways despite the 10m visibility and the 100km/h wind. As we got close to the Raven Headwall, Babiche remotely triggered a foot thick slab. it didn't went any far but the really poor visibility made us wonder how to safely ski down the Raven Headwall (a 50degrees slopes) with the new overnight light snow. 

We kicked the cornice at the top of the headwall since we were not able to see the conditions of the slope. Fortunately, it seemed that the wind hasn't created any wind slab on the headwall but created instead a nice 50 degrees hockey rink!

As I stepped on the slope, it was much harder than what I would originally thought so we got the ice axe out (first time for me skiing with an ice axe); just in case. We stayed close from the sharp wall and made it down safely on the Raven Glacier. Sorry no picture! We were a bit focused on what we were doing!!!

We had originally thought to ski down the Milk Glacier which is suppose to be the best ski down but due to the poor visibility, we changed plans and ski down the Raven Glacier which flat enough to ski down roped on.

At the bottom of the Raven Glacier, we roped off and made it out in the Crow Pass valley. The visibility didn't get much better on the way down and the ski down was far from great with all the snow being stripped from the slopes due to the high wind. 

We eventually reached out the Crow Pass road after crossing multiple fresh avalanche and having to get the ice axe once more to ski a steep icy slope.

The 6 miles ski out on the Crow Pass road was fairly fast due to the really firm icy road. 

After getting our car back from the Alpine Air we did the only things to do after such a nice trip: head to the nearest cold beer and burger! 

With not even a week ahead of us before leaving it looks like we'll most likely hit the car-accessible backcountry stuff until we leave.

Few more days before heading back home!