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South Central AK Update - North and South

While the rest of the country has been waiting for winter to arrive (finally this week for them), AK has been quietly accumulating snow and delivering great ski days for those willing to hike above the rain line. Sadly, the large system that rolled through the Talkeetnas at the end of November delivered our first avy fatality of the season. Jed Workman from the Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center described the conditions as the worst cycle in the last ten years. In spite of the dire warnings, Liam Walsh ventured out solo and never returned. His body recovery is unlikely until the spring thaw. Sobering.

While we waited for our North zones to settle down, Turnagain Pass to the south was serving up cold smoke and a gradually stabilizing snow pack. By the end of the cycle there was little that didn't get skied and everyone stayed safe.

Turnagain Feasting

With several new partners, I spent the last two weekends exploring new and old zones on long tours in incredible terrain. First up was a repeat of a tour I did early last season. Conditions were similar with amazing, stable snow with clear skies and calm winds. The first day we managed about 7.5K and six hours and the second, nearly 8K on some terrain I've never been on. Great fun and tired legs all around.

Turnagain Day 2

The next day we initially thought we were going to go pretty easy since we were tired from the day before. Our third member from the day before, Peter, was out and Eric was in. He was led to believe the day would be reasonable, something nice for only his second day out this season. Unfortunately for him, the conditions dictated otherwise and Lars and I opted for the full beat down and Eric managed just fine. You don't get too many days like this in AK so when they come, you go big.

We were out before sun up and enjoyed the early light on a windless morning. 

With no snow machines out yet we opted for the so-called "sunny side" of the pass, a place I'd not been yet since I moved here. It was getting quite a bit of traffic and the low hanging fruit was plucked. We ventured further back hoping that Big Chief was within our grasp. Indeed it was. Fog in Summit Creek had us end running the upper drainage so as to avoid any epics in the alders below. Turns out we added about three extra miles which will be avoided next time now that we know the approach. It still made for great touring and we got a good feel for the zone.

The climb up the ridge is a solid 3K and mostly easy skinning. It accesses one of the best views around. The prize on this peak is the North face but we were lured by the sunny south side couloir and amazing light. So much of mid winter skiing in AK is in flat light and shaded north aspects. It was sweet in the bright sun.

The slog out was tiring after so many hours this early season but we were rewarded by amazing late day light. It finished off an incredible weekend of skiing.

Hatcher Pass

As a series of light weight storms slowly added to the base at Turnagain Pass, our attention turned to the North where drier conditions had prevailed for at least a week. The avy situation had mostly abated so we headed up there this past weekend for a look around. The carnage from the avy cycle was mostly covered but the light was shit on Saturday. We groped our way around but pulled the plug after only 3.5 hours. It was better than sitting at home but we wanted more.

Lars has been toying with doing more AT skiing and leaving the heavy tele gear at home. I've been luring him to the dark side with my gear and on this day I loaned him my TLT 6s and DPS Tour 1 Wailer 112s. In turn, I adopted some seriously light Hagan Cirrus skis paired with Dynafit PDG boots.

An entertaining contrast in styles, for sure.

Sunday dawned wonderfully clear but the clouds soon returned. The low ones stayed away and the light remained adequate...Hatcher Pass adequate, anyway. Because of the last week of better light and stability, the normal zones were skied out. I had my sights on something further off the beaten path and we were not disappointed. Other partners had told me about this area and it was fun to finally see what it was all about. 

After an early season of mellow powder skipping it was great to finally be booting up some steep chutes. There's really nothing I'd rather be doing with skis.

No doubt why Lars is smiling

Who doesn't love some good alpine groveling?

More snow is on the way so here's hoping for a lovely holiday season of ripping around.

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