Voyaging North. April/May 2013 Part 4: The Alaska Range
We got hooked up with Sheldon air through some recommendations in Valdez, and the next day we were on our way to Anchorage to prepare for our time in the Alaska Range.
We packed food and fuel with a plan to camp on the glacier for 10 days, and brought plenty extra incase a storm kept us there as much as another five.
Our pilot David was a real cowboy, and it was great flying with him. He dropped us off on the Pika glacier, a tributary of the Kahiltna glacier in the Alaska range. Our camp was quite extraordinary.
Our first afternoon consisted of an exploratory mission to see what we were working with. We roped up for glacier travel, as we were usure what kind of hazards the Pika would be boasting during our visit. We found a ridiculous hanging glacier that still amazes me every time I look at pictures of it.
We eventually found a pretty steep pitch that could offer some decent skiing, so we climbed and transitioned! It was amazing to be so far away from civilization, quite the feeling!
The days were long while we were on the glacier. It never really got very dark, just turned to dusk around 10pm and stayed that way until the sun showed its face again around 5am.
There were two other people camping on the glacier with us, and they ended up being pretty good neighbors. They were there primarily for rock climbing, but it seemed to be a little early for them. We did some exploring with them, and even took some short powder runs in our backyard.
North facing slopes became our go-to. Even though we were at a higher elevation the sun was still baking anything facing south and turning our pow into mush.
Despite the sun, we found some great north-facing honey holes!
We had yet to travel too far down glacier, so the next morning we headed out with our neighbors for some more exploration. Pressure was dropping fast and it was evident that the weather was changing.
We found more hanging glaciers and some incredible potential lines. By the time we turned around weather was moving in fast and visibility was dropping.
In the days prior we were able to get little bits of weather info from our neighbors’ pilot, but all we heard was that it was going to snow. In the Alaska Range that can mean a lot of things. Maybe a lot, maybe a little.
For the next 60 hours it snowed hard. We made an attempt at skiing our quick run directly behind camp, but the visibility was essentially nothing, and even though we felt pretty comfortable about avalanche conditions in this zone, it was still risky, especially with crevasses lurking. We spent many, many hours in the tent. Games with our neighbors passed some of the time. Building an “indoor” cooking area with the megamid was necessary so we could prepare meals out of the wind., and it gave us an excuse to get out of the tent By and far the best part of waiting out this storm was crushing Rob at Yatzhee over and over!! It was a snowpocalypse!
Waiting out the storm was boring at times, but when it passed we were stoked!
Avalanche conditions were obviously very touchy right after the storm, so we played it safe. Everywhere we walked there was whoomphing, and if you are familiar with avalanche education you know that is a very scary sound. You basically feel the entire snowpack settle under your feet. Sometimes its just a feeling and sound, and sometimes it visibly drops a couple inches. Sketchy!
After letting the snowpack settle for a day, we felt a bit more comfortable riding some steeper lines.
This place was already epic, and now even cooler with a fresh coat!
Since the storm kept us in the tent for over two days, we called our pilot David and had him move our pickup back a couple days. Luckily we had plenty of extra food and fuel to keep shredding for two more days. It unfortunately warmed up again, so we were back riding northerly aspects for that light pow!
David arrived right on schedule, and it was unfortunately time for us to fly back to Talkeetna.
Pictured above is a look back at our zone on the Pika. You can faintly see the landing strip! I cant wait to be back in the Alaska Range!