Saturday, March 31, 2012

Trip Report - Thompson Pass, Alaska 3/29/12

For the past 9 days, I've been in Alaska. Even though the snow isn't great (I heard yesterday that Valdez only got 17 inches in March), it's still the best stuff I've skied all year. While we scratched and clawed for every inch back home, Alaska has been enjoying a record year. So, after a resort day at Alyeska last Friday, some random touring around the Anchorage area, ice climbing, cross country skiing, and road tripping, it was time to get into some serious skiing.  So rented a car and started the 6 hour drive to Valdez.  Here's some pictures from what might have been the most beautiful drive I've ever taken:

I started to see ski tracks as I went through the pass:

So I basically said to myself: "That looks good. I'll ski that".  I put on the skins and started hiking.  Much to my chagrin, it appears that the snowmobile is the preferred method of travel.  I was huffing and puffing up the hill while guys were constantly lapping me having the time of their lives on a bluebird day. At least all the tracks groomed out a nice path for me to skin up. "Skin Track" stoke:

If the constant passing of snowmobilers wasn't enough, the sound of helicopters throughout the pass was enough to drive me insane.  It seemed like I had the slowest method of travel imaginable. It was STEEP, too. Very tiring skin.  Also, I kept getting passed by hardcore snowmobile chicks that would take their boyfriends up the hill, drop them off at the top, and then ride the thing down and wait for them at the bottom for another lap.  Where can I find a girl like this?

Eventually, I climbed as far as I wanted to go:

Pretty good view from the top.  I ripped a run, and went back for one more shorter one before my legs were completely fried. I went down to check out the "scene":

Site of Tailgate Alaska (really cool video on that site to get a sense of the place), Thompson Pass appears to be a mecca for skiers and riders. Tons of campers, pickup trucks, and snowmachines (they don't call them snowmobiles up here for some reason).  These guys are living the life.  One dude was running a snowmobile shuttle service for $50 a drop (which would go a lot higher than where I climbed), and I tried to set something up for the next morning (I'll tell you how that worked in my next post).

After talking to a few people, I decided I was doing it all wrong. If and when I come back to Alaska, it'll be a pure skiing vacation (instead of the multisport/multiregion tour that I'm doing now), right here in Thompson Pass. There will be a pickup truck, a snowmobile, and lots of friends (or amazing sled shuttling girlfriends). I'll talk about this more in my next post, but it really feels like because there is just so much stuff in Alaska, it makes having a solid plan that much more important.

Anyway, I ate dinner and had a few beers at the Rendezvous Lodge (note the heli out back):

Then I cruised into Valdez at twilight (9:00 or so) and stayed at a $25 a night B&B.

So, all in all, it was a pretty spectacular day.  Easy, fun, and safe. The next day, however, was none of those things (well, maybe fun).  That was the day that I skied this glacier:

Stay tuned for the report on that adventure when I get around to posting again.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Trip Report - Kayaking (?!) the Raquette River

So, I was looking for something original to do on Saturday, and I made plans with an old friend to have a kayaking adventure. It turned out to be pretty fun. Here's the route we took.

We stashed a couple of mountain bikes at the takeout, and geared up outside the car (as always, click on the pictures for a photographic explosion):

It was a short drag to Axton Landing:

Matt, Kayaking JONG:

After putting in, though, everything was awesome.  Totally peaceful, totally calm, and a "lazy river" pace to the water made paddling super easy.  Here's some more pics:

Really cool reflections on the water:

We stopped a couple of times at the various campsites along the route for trail mix, water, and candy.  If we had planned better, we would have brought a cooler of Guinness for St. Patrick's Day.

It's still a little early in the year for this, and we ran across a few icebergs.

Ice was also covering the stagnant water outside of the main channel:

It was still gorgeous, though:

After the paddle (which took a little under 3 hours), we stashed the kayaks behind some docking material:

Then we picked up the bikes we had stashed in the woods:

The plan was Old Wawbeek Road back to the car so we could avoid riding on the main road as much as possible.  Unfortunately, it was a little too early for that too:

Eventually we made it back to the car, packed everything up, and cruised on home, ready to celebrate the holiday with a night out in Lake Placid.  Like I said, it was pretty fun.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Adirondack Backcountry - 3/12/12

To be fair, I didn't really say we were going "skiing", I only asked if Pat was "up for an adventure".  And that turned out to be exactly what we got. Where? Well, apparently, you aren't supposed to divulge backcountry spots on the internet, but let's just say that this a "popular ski destination" that has been talked about a lot.  Oh, and I went there in November.

We set off from the Garden Parking Lot in Keene Valley, and started up the Phelps trail towards the John's Brook Lodge. Most of the trail was covered in a nasty layer of ice that probably would have been easier to navigate with Micro Spikes (click on the pictures to enbiggen them and enhance the experience).

Luckily, the hiking got better as it warmed up throughout the day.  We passed a couple of other skiers who were on their way back to the parking lot because they said the snow had deteriorated mightily over the past couple of days. They were bringing all of their equipment back out and were just going to try and do a few summit pushes.  Hmmmm . . . . Come to think of it, the closer we got to the slide, the bonier it looked.  It was then that we started thinking that this trip might not work out so great after all.  

Still, though, we persevered. We crossed the cool suspended bridge at the DEC Interior outpost:

We walked a little ways, and were approaching the slide we wanted to ski, when we happened upon this nice scene:

I briefly thought that this might be the base of our slide, but a quick glance at the map said that this was Wolf Jaw Brook, and not Bennie's Brook (Whoops. I said the name and ruined the backcountry experience for everyone . . .  Damn). So just as we were crossing Wolf Jaw Brook, I stepped on what I thought was solid ice on top of a rock.  It turned out to be unsolid ice on top of thigh deep water.  Suddenly, I was butt deep in a freezing cold torrent of water.

After scrambling out of the creek and back to the trail, I took off some clothes, put them out in the sun to dry, and reassessed the situation:

My boots were soaked, but I could just switch to my dry tele boots (they had been on my backpack).  After about 20 minutes of sun, my socks and snowpants were dry enough (drier than they would be skiing in the rain).  And it was about 60 degrees and sunny out.  Adventure continues!

We got to the slide and some parts were a little tough to ascend:

We were mostly able to pick our way around the difficult parts, though:

And eventually, we hit the meat of the slide:

The sound of melting was all around us. To be honest, the skiing didn't even look worth it.  All ice, thin cover, rocks, no good lines, etc. etc. etc. 

But when we made a couple of turns, the surface surprised us. The ridiculously high temperatures made the ice pretty edgable:

We had to step over some rocks, ford some rivers and barrel through some stumps at some points, but I managed to keep my skis on all the way down to the Southside Trail (the trees on the left side were somewhat open with soft snow over a mossy base, actually quite nice for skiing).

We decided to go back via the Southside Trail to make a loop out of it.  Unfortunately, there is no bridge back to The Garden, so we had to do a little creative fording:

All in all, it was a fun trip.  The skiing wasn't really spectacular (or even very good), but the adventure more than made up for it.  And really, that's what we set out for anyway.