The Road to Haines — Dispatch from AK

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View from the ferry, Juneau to Haines.

Haines: in many ways the skier’s promised land. After years of hearing about Haines from friends and seeing it in ski movies, I’m finally here. I still can’t believe it. We are sitting in town, waiting out bad weather, with no end in sight (yes, tradition). Yet whatever the weather this trip has been incredible — already mind blowing.

The day after wrapping up college finals I woke early and met Coop at the Seattle airport. We boarded the plane to Juneau. The sky was clear as we flew over the mountains of southeast Alaska, and the views provided a fitting start to the trip. Tyler picked us up at the airport and as we stepped outside, the entire Juneau sky was blue, showing off the glaciers and mountains ringing town. From what I hear, clear skies are a rare sight in the capitol of the last frontier.

Checking out the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau. This glacier is right outside of town.

We knew the weather window was closing so we scrambled to catch the early morning ferry to Haines. Our capstone errand was a big run to the Juneau Costco. We stocked up on pre-cooked meals, including pulled pork, General Tso chicken, and all sorts of other goodies — not your average camping food. I’m looking forward to the luxuries of fly-in ski touring.

Packing our gear in Juneau, and the results of our Costco run.

We stayed up late packing gear and made it to the ferry terminal at 5 in the morning. The ferry was completely booked so we needed to arrive a few hours early to get in the standby line. After waiting with fingers crossed, we got waved onto the ferry. The skies were still mostly clear although clouds were slowly moving in. The ferry ride was beautiful with mountains rising up from either side of the inlet we traveled.

We arrived in Haines around 11 and went straight to see Drake Olsen, the owner and sole pilot of Fly Drake. Drake is nothing short of legendary, having flown and skied in the mountains around Haines for years. It was very special to meet him. You immediately could tell he has a lot of knowledge about this area and flying. With the weather still looking pretty good, we were eager to fly out. Drake, however, said he was feeling like it wasn’t quite the right time. Accommodating our enthusiasm, he told us to pack our stuff up while he did another flight, and when he got back we would see. We packed while the clouds thickened, although I was still hopeful. Our excitement was tangible. Hours ago I had arrived in Haines, and now I’m getting ready to fly into the Fairweather range? Unreal.

Arriving at the hangar, Fly Drake headquarters, in the tiny Haines Airport.

Alas when Drake returned, the weather was undoubtedly worsening. We decided to go on a reconnaissance flight anyways to view possible basecamps. We took off and immediately entered another world, a world of spines, couloirs and peaks that up until now had only existed for me in ski movies and magazines. As we approached the border of Glacier Bay National Park, it was obvious the weather had moved in and we had to turn around. Even that short 15 minute flight was incredible; I’m thrilled for the trip to come.

One of Drake's three planes, this isn't the one he uses for glacier landings but we used it for our short "recon" flight.

Flying around the mountains above Haines. Cool!

So for a few days we’ve been hanging out in Haines waiting for the weather to clear. Although I’m excited to get out on the glacier, I’ve immensely enjoyed the town. Alaskans are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Haines seems to attract a lot of interesting people and it’s been wonderful meeting other skiers and bumping into old friends.

Yesterday we even did some backcountry skiing. We drove just over the Canadian border outside of town to one of the only places in the area you can ski from your car. The snow was a little crusty but we had fun, and found some seductive tree skiing and pillow lines. It’s looking like the cloudy weather will stick around for at least a few more days, so we will have time to get more acquainted with Haines.

My friend Adam from Montana also arrived in Haines this week. He joined us as we followed locals around nearby backcountry.

Tyler finds nice pillows.


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Comments

9 Responses to “The Road to Haines — Dispatch from AK”

  1. Lisa March 25th, 2013 9:49 am

    Beautiful! Another trip for my bucket list. Keep the trip reports coming!

  2. Lee Lau March 25th, 2013 11:12 am

    Go Wilkes! Land them to flat

  3. Tim Mahon March 25th, 2013 12:09 pm

    Hope you get your weather window and get out to basecamp where the real fun begins. I’m driving a truck from Ketchikan to Fairbanks later this week and was looking to hit that same area over the border. Any good beta on the snow or routes? If you continue north when you get back to the real world stop by the Deltas.
    Take care and enjoy,
    Tim Mahon

  4. Patricia D. March 25th, 2013 2:06 pm

    Wow Louie, I am so impressed with your reporting of the Alaska Trip.
    Your organization and planing of this amazing trip is “over the top”.
    What a beautiful place on this earth. Hope the weather clears soon
    Be safe, Mammam

  5. Ned March 25th, 2013 3:18 pm

    I love to hear about adventures in the great state of Alaska. About how much is it to fly in the drop camp?

  6. Jillian March 25th, 2013 4:14 pm

    I love Haines and I’m stoked to read about your trip. Good luck and BE SAFE. Them thar big mountains!

  7. Amy March 25th, 2013 8:06 pm

    woohoo haines! i’m heading there this weekend if you’re still in town…

  8. Thomas March 25th, 2013 8:29 pm

    Looks like Haines has a pretty sketchy snowpack this year, don’t treat it as a “usual one” it’ll bite.

  9. Coop March 26th, 2013 1:34 pm

    Ned,

    As far as cost goes it is variable, but always based on time. This season he is charging us 450 usd per hour for his flying time. So it all depends how far out you want to go and how much additional scouting your group wants.

    Hope that helps!

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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