Alaska, Glacier Bay Basecamp Skiing: Days 1-2

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Wow! I still can’t believe where I am; surrounded by glaciers and mountains that are more magnificent than any I’ve seen in years. Spectacular ski lines shine in every direction.

Powder Cloud, can you spot the ski pole?

Powder Cloud in Alaska, can you spot the ski pole? (Click to enlarge)

Skiing back to camp on the first day, with an incredible mountain behind. I believe it is called the White Fang. Fitting name. The tentative plan for tomorrow is to ski the northeast face on the other side.

Skiing back to camp after exploring around on our first day, with an incredible mountain behind. I believe it is called the White Fang. Fitting name. The tentative plan for tomorrow is to ski the northeast face on the other side.

After waiting for several rainy days in a half-built garage in Haines (it had a roof at least), we finally encountered good weather. Wednesday we arrived early at Fly Drake’s hanger and scrambled to pack up the plane. We were excited since no other ski groups had landed in Glacier Bay this year.

Drake taking off in a cloud of powder. The snow was so deep that he augered in up to the body of the plane when he landed. I was surprised that he was able to take off. That plane is powerful!

Drake taking off in a cloud of powder. The snow was so deep that he augered in up to the body of the plane when he landed. I was surprised that he was able to take off. That plane is powerful!

The flight was nothing short of stunning. Two days later I’m still processing it. After a long reconnaissance flight, we found an outstanding zone to camp. The area is just outside of the heli-skiing permit area, relatively close to town, making logistics easier and cheaper. It’s also at a relatively high elevation, important in this below average Alaskan year. We are camped on a big valley glacier, surrounded by peaks, spines, and more glaciers.

spineview: the morning of our second day. The spine wall ahead, our "AK spine 101" classroom, was the objective for the day.

Morning of our second day. The spine wall ahead, our "AK spine 101" classroom, was the objective for the day.

After landing, we quickly set up part of our camp and then headed out to ski. Being dropped into a completely new area, our goal was to explore the area and evaluate the unfamiliar snowpack. We made our way up to a ridge above camp, dug a few pits and cut a cornice. The snow was incredible! Very stable, with a consistent gradient from blower powder to stable coastal snow a few feet down.

After we landed, we toured above camp. The views were incredible. Camp is below us, out of site in the huge glacier below.

After we landed, we toured above camp. The views were incredible. Camp is below us, out of site in the huge glacier below.

The rest of the day and the next we skied several marvelous runs. The skiing has been superb, and a completely new experience. I’ve learned an immense amount in the last few days about skiing, avalanche safety, and myself. I’d better go to bed, so I’ll let the photos tell the rest of the story.

Here are the photos in chronological order. You can mess with the order for the post if you want. Choose whatever order you want for the cover photo as well.

Walking the ridge out to the first turns of the trip. We found a perfect north facing slope to do some belayed ski cuts and snow pits, and then it yielded incredible turns.

Walking the ridge out to the first turns of the trip. We found a perfect north facing slope to do some belayed ski cuts and snow pits, and then it yielded incredible turns.

After a heinous 60+ degree powder bootpack, Coop enjoys the view on top of the spine wall. Verts and Ascent Plates were essential for the bootpack.

After a heinous 60+ degree powder bootpack, Coop enjoys the view on top of the spine wall. Verts and Ascent Plates were essential for the bootpack.

The top of the run rolled to well over 60 degrees (I measured). We decided a belayed ski cut was a wise choice for the first participant.

The top of the run rolled to well over 60 degrees (I measured). We decided a belayed ski cut was a wise choice for the first participant.

The wall. You can barely see me skiing on the skier's left of the main spine. An absolutely incredible run!

The wall. You can barely see me skiing on the skier's left of the main spine. An absolutely incredible run!

(Editor’s note, we heard the boys got one more day of good weather and skied something nice and big. More coming.)

Comments

14 Responses to “Alaska, Glacier Bay Basecamp Skiing: Days 1-2”

  1. Chris March 30th, 2013 10:46 am

    @coop: what jacket are you wearing? looks fantastic, but cannot make out the brand.

  2. billy g March 30th, 2013 11:03 am

    Yo Louie, the ascent plates look crucial, what’s a vert? Stoked for my trip to a similar zone in a few weeks. Be sure to throw a gopro on Drake’s tail wing on the flight out if he still has the mounts!

  3. Lou Dawson March 30th, 2013 11:12 am

    Hey guys, I’ll forward your questions. They don’t have full internet on the glacier, they’re just sending blog content via a satphone.

    Billy, I can tell you that a Vert is a type of small snowshoe just like the Ascent Plate, it’s been around for years and been quite popular in snow climates with denser snow such as PNW, Tahoe Sierra, part of AK and so on.

  4. Lou Dawson March 30th, 2013 12:11 pm

    Chris, Coop says that’s an Arcteryx, he’s not sure which model.

  5. Drew Tabke March 30th, 2013 1:17 pm

    BOOYAH

  6. Alex March 30th, 2013 4:55 pm

    Wow!!! What an awesome place. This is a perfect example of Nature’s Beauty, and the spectacle must have need extraordinary. My biggest fear would have been the flight landing and take off. You would definitely had to have been 100% confident with the pilot?

  7. Patricia D. March 30th, 2013 5:23 pm

    WOW …. WHAT A PLACE . I’m enjoying the beautiful photos and
    your comments. Keep them coming.
    Mamam

  8. Lou Dawson March 30th, 2013 6:06 pm

    “Just out of town” is the line in the post that cracked me up. Wow. Lou

  9. bob March 30th, 2013 8:04 pm

    “belayed ski cut” . . . does this mean you went down the slope a bit and did a pit test there??? (absolute amateur, here) . . . amazing stuff.

  10. Lou Dawson March 30th, 2013 8:23 pm

    Bob, yes, that’s what it means. It’s quite a good technique so long as you don’t go too far downslope, have a good anchor, and are not under a dangerous cornice that could break and fall on you. Lou

  11. Lee Lau March 30th, 2013 10:38 pm

    hey Louie some questions:

    1. did you measure the slope with a properly calibrated inclinometer?(inside joke for Wilkes).

    2. Which splitter do you choose to sacrifice first should you need to scootch the spine wall?

    Thanks in advance. Its +3 at 2600m here in the coast which should make you guys feel better

  12. Greg S March 31st, 2013 5:07 pm

    It’s pretty amazing what’s in our backyard!

    Let em know I’m in for buying them a beer in exchange for hearing about their trip when they get back to Haines.

  13. Ben March 31st, 2013 11:53 pm

    Have you met the Shtumpa boys, Eric and Kevin Forster yet? Great people living up there.

  14. Mike Marolt April 1st, 2013 12:30 pm

    Nice report! Super photos….

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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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