Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Trip Report - Thompson Pass, Alaska 3/30/12

I'm working on the Alaska video (trying to edit the entire vacation down to 6 minutes, so a lot of stuff is getting left on the cutting room floor), but I figured I should finish my story about Thompson Pass.

So, after a day of really tiring touring (damn, those hills were steep), I had made plans with the snowmobile shuttle guy to get a ride to the top.  Then, in theory, I would have toured around the top of the mountain with a bunch of short laps, and then skied one big lap down at the end of the day. The drive back to the pass was pretty scenic:

I was scheduled to meet the guy "between 9:00 and 10:00".  At around 9:15, I pulled into the parking area where he had set up shop the previous day and waited.  And waited.  And waited . . .  until about 10:45.  The whole time, this was the view through my windshield:

That would be the Worthington Glacier (summer picture here).  It looked absolutely perfect for skiing (and was one of the places that the snowmobile shuttle guy offered to take me).  Only problem was, I was alone. Glacier travel (what with crevasses, ice flows, hidden hazards, etc.), is not the best undertaking for a random dude with no winter mountaineering experience.  I was wishing that the guys in this helicopter would pick me up:

Since that didn't happen, I decided to make a go of it anyway.  I drove across the street to the parking lot and looked around.  Snowmobile tracks straight up the glacier.  That was good.  I could follow those, and hopefully, they would lead me to powder nirvana instead of icy megadeath. Looking around more, I saw some tents, some RVs, and 2 guys applying skins.  Nice! First time I saw anyone else opting for the hard way (granted, I was only skiing the well trafficked areas because, again, I was all by myself).

I formulated a plan to stalk them, and thereby keep myself somewhat safe (I realize this is not good backcountry etiquette, but if they weren't friendly about it, I would have just skinned up and skied down the snowmobile tracks). Here's what the hike up looked like:

Those are some buildings for the Worthington Glacier State Recreation Site.  I just realized that website says to stay off the ice.  Oops.  Here's one of the two guys hiking up:

Note the ridiculously large crevasse, visible on the right.  Of course, I was more concerned about the stuff I couldn't see, which would become an issue later.  Skin track stoke (?):

So, once again, I was on a road made out of snowmobile tracks, so I felt pretty safe.  Damn skin trak was steep as hell again, though.  Nevertheless, I caught up to the two guys (who turned out to be from Salt Lake City), and hiked up with them for a while for a little added protection.  Why? The weather was turning:

We had hiked about 3,000 vertical feet in about 4 hours, and those guys wanted to go higher.  My legs didn't have much left, so I ate a Snickers bar and thought about going down.  On one hand, going down a glacier in low visibility was a questionable activity, and even more ridiculous by myself.  On the other hand, I was tired, and going down now meant I was that much closer to beer and fried food.  Beer and fried food won out.

I told the two guys that I was going to head down right next to the skin track, and if they saw my car in the parking lot when they got down later, they should turn their beacons to "search" because I was stuck in a crevasse somewhere.  The skiing turned out to be not so good.  Besides not being able to see anything, the snow was pretty crusty, and I had to stick really close to the skin track for safety.  You'll see what it looked like in the forthcoming video (or, really, you won't see what it looked like).

I made it down safe, though. and I stashed my gear in the car and took off back to Anchorage.  Pretty good views on the way back:

When I made it back to town, I ate fried halibut and drank tasty, tasty Chuli Stout.  Excellent decision by me. In fact, I made a lot of good decisions that day.  So, I'm no longer a random dude with no winter mountaineering experience.  Now I'm a random dude with very little winter mountaineering experience.

In my next post, I'll premiere my video, Alaska in Six Minutes, and give my final thoughts on "The Last Frontier", including my ideas for how to do a pure Alaska skiing vacation (not that the state tour thing wasn't fun. I'm just going to attack this place completely differently next time).  I'm also going to do something outrageous this weekend (either skiing or mountain biking), so look for a report on that as well.


  1. It sounds like the strategy was basically sound and at certain points you just had to make some choices. But man that scares the hell out of me just reading it. I am glad you are safely home Matt.

  2. Well I loved that black and white picture on the trip home, and I truly loved the going home part!! Pretty scary. I think we all can identify with driving blind in fog or snow, but skiing blind in Alaska in unknown territory by yourself...so glad you got to the beer and fried foods!! Great photos as always!

  3. Just discovered your blog. Enjoyed your recap of the Alaska adventure. I'm a beginning backcountry skier myself, exploring the backcountry around Mt. Hood, OR.