Hatcher Pass Delivers
Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 01:19AM
Brian in Alaska, Alaska Winter, Hatcher Pass, Race/Trip Reports, ski mountaineering

Sketchy conditions on Turnigan PassAs many of you know, the 2012-13 winter in Alaska has been a struggle for skiers. We had an early start, which was promising, with skiers getting turns at the end of September. This was followed by grim high and dry. Then the big dumps came with many feet of snow falling on two feet of facets. Turnagain Pass was an avalanche prone mess. Then we got some rain up high and it seemed we couldn’t catch a break. And so it goes.This bullshit didn't help

Anchorage area skiers have a few choices for day trips that include the Chugach Front Range right above town, Hatcher Pass an hour to the north and Turnagain Pass an hour to the south. All of them come with their own unique set of conditions and weather patterns. Often one will be good while the others are not. It’s nice to have options in a region where the weather can be fickle.

Now that we’re into February, all the areas have skiable snow. It’s thin in the Front Range but I’ve had a bunch of days and evenings of passable fun. Nothing to write home about but simply turns after plodding uphill on skis. Keeps the embers of enthusiasm glowing.

I haven’t been back to Turnagain for it seems like many weeks with High danger and poor weather dictating my weekend plans. Hatcher Pass, which boasts a more Colorado type snow pack, thinner and often colder, suddenly came into shape a couple of weekends ago with clear weather and adequate coverage. I actually like skiing there since the terrain is more prone to rocky couloirs and featured faces rather than the unbroken long rides typical at Turnagain. I just feel safer with some sort of feature to ski near. But that’s just me.

All day just like this. Lot's of sun and no wind...luckilyAnyway, although we were faced with brutal cold, (-15 all day), we skied blower pow under clear skies with no wind. Certain aspects were sliding naturally but Mat and I sussed out the north facing lines off Rae Wallace ridge. We dropped a couple of cornices and got no response. Game on. The cold was keeping the hoards away so we farmed the untracked lines one by one rarely having to share with other skiers.

North side of Marmot, Rae Wallace ridge. We farmed these lines over 3 daysThe next day, Mat and I skied the finest line off this ridgeline to start the day. We passed many skiers on the skin track early as we ascended in the sun up the face of Marmot. As we made our way out the ridge we could see two snowboarders booting toward our objective. They’d clearly gotten up early to get to where they were post-holing the whole way.

When we got to them they were rushing to get their act together before we could cherry pick the line. But I reassured them that we’d had our share the day before and I simply couldn’t deprive them after walking for the better part of 2.5 hours. They were psyched and ripped the line in short order. Mat and I enjoyed sloppy leftovers.

The north face of Microdot

We traversed the next drainage and headed up Microdot to explore the shaded lines on that feature. The summit is rocky and traversing around the east face can be a little sporty. Mat traversing the top of the east face of MicrodotMat doesn’t have a big mountaineering background so I had his full attention as we scrambled over boulders and slabs with some exposure beneath our feet. Once again, we found manageable slough and generally stable conditions.

Couloir mini golf

Next, we booted up the sunny face of something known to many as the Far Side. It’s a long ridgeline featuring several tasty couloirs both north and south facing. We were both a little skeptical of this aspect although there were no natural releases in this area. Still, there was a soft slab that was slightly more set up in the sun than the shaded stuff. No surprise.

The booting was pleasant and we made the top of the short run in 10 minutes. The pitch was about 40 degrees for several turns and narrow enough to be super fun. I ripped it to the apron faster than I usually do and nothing moved. When Mat started, however, he traversed the top rollover and edged hard and a small slab released below him. He skied the rest without a problem. I watched from below as the snow dispersed on the apron. It wasn't big and it wouldn’t have buried anyone but it still got our attention.Mat descending after the slide

Back up for more

We headed back up and traversed to a higher line to the right. We were obviously wary this time. But the north side of the line looked good and we knew it would be stable. Me enjoying the shady side of the Far SideSo, we skied that first and then turned our attention to the questionable aspect. Instead of launching, I did some careful ski cuts and jumps and was able to get the center of the line to soft slab out of the way. The crusty bed was not as fun but we felt like we managed the conditions appropriately.

I almost cried. Chocolate Gu disaster. Now I tape the Gu flasks closed.

We didn’t get as much vertical this day but it was fun scrambling around skiing more obscure lines and not jockeying with others for fresh tracks. Hatcher delivered.

Article originally appeared on Adventures, training and gear for ski mountaineering (http://www.skimolife.com/).
See website for complete article licensing information.