Recon and Early Morning Light — Glacier Bay Day 3

Post by blogger | April 2, 2015      
Louie catching some great turns.

Louie catching some great turns.

Our third day on Glacier Bay rolled around and we were continuing to gain a better understanding of the stability on the peaks surrounding our camp. We had our eyes on a face that captured early morning light in a swatch of pastels, beckoning our efforts to find a way to access it.

The evening before, Louie and I decided to recon the south side of the ridge for an efficient morning mission. Cory, Zach, and Jason headed back to the base camp tent to begin fortifying a wall for the impending storm that we were expecting to arrive the following evening.

Planning and being proactive is critical out here because once a storm comes our only option is to be entirely self-reliant. As we continued on our scouting trip, Louie and I found the best access yet — a moderate slope that looked like we could skin all the way up the south side of the ridge. We decided to bask in the evening light and head up the first headwall to gain more perspective. In another 45 minutes or so, with a clear view up the rest of the way to our face for the morning, we decided to head back towards camp.

Our "recon slope" in morning light.

Our “recon slope” in morning light.

Louie and I looked down a beautiful 1500 foot face that led back to the glacier below camp. It was getting late, but we decided to go for it and do a belayed ski cut on the steep entrance. Alaska continues to blow me away with the quality of snow that holds on such high angle slopes. Louie dropped first and I had a few blissful moments on top by myself with the evening light turning the surrounding peaks into flaming towers over a sea of white.

Skinning up the south side of the ridgeline. Great access for the human-powered folks.

Skinning up the south side of the ridge line. Great access for the human-powered folks.

Transitioning to a short boot pack up to the ridge.

Transitioning to a short boot pack up to the ridge.

The short bootpack with the endless Driggs Glacier in the background.

The short bootpack with the endless Driggs Glacier in the background.

The following morning we woke up somewhat early and made haste out of camp to get on the face while it still had good lighting. Retracing our previous evening’s skin track for a couple of hours and a short section of booting up a narrow slot led us to the ridge line. All five of us were looking over a steep convex roll that led to a beautiful spine. We all decided to make an anchor and do another belayed ski cut, despite the added time it would take. I volunteered to get belayed into the slope first and much like our previous days the snow felt stable. After a couple of ski cutting turns I unclipped and made some of the best turns down one of the more aesthetic lines I’ve ever experienced.

This is the view of the face from camp before -- beckoning our tracks.

This is the view of the face from camp before — beckoning our tracks.

After a few ski cutting turns, this is the lower part of the run as the face went into the shade.

After a few ski cutting turns, this is the lower part of the run as the face went into the shade.

From the base, which sat amongst a fairly broken glacier, I radioed up to give advice to everyone about where to cross the bergschrund. As each of us arrived one by one to the bottom of the line we were all elated to be given such good conditions.

With plenty of day left, Jason, Louie, and I had our eyes on a big smooth face that was positioned a ways down the Riggs Glacier. Zach and Cory headed back to camp to relax. As the three of us skinned out into the deceivingly endless flats of the glacier, we noticed a wall of weather in the distance. Over the next hour it appeared to be picking up speed and looked more impending. Storms move fast when you’re this close to the ocean and we were hyper aware of continuing on. We had made it to within 200 feet of the top of the next slope we wanted to ski and the light went flat, causing us to bail down our skin track by Braille. It took us over an hour to make it back to camp and it just started to snow upon our arrival — just in time to avoid the coveted whiteout glacier navigation.

Jason and I making it back to camp just as the storm rolled in.

Jason and I making it back to camp just as the storm rolled in.

We have been sitting in a storm for the last five days with high winds and it has snowed several feet. We are hoping for good stability if/when the high pressure comes back.


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16 Responses to “Recon and Early Morning Light — Glacier Bay Day 3”

  1. Amber Ale April 2nd, 2015 9:55 am

    Nice to see them skinning into camp just before the white out! Looks like they had some amazing lines before the storm, can’t wait to see what they will be up to in the next weather window! Thanks for the latest update!

  2. Jaclyn Long April 2nd, 2015 9:56 am

    Coop a loop!!! Looks like you boys have been busy little workers…skiing the big lines.. haha!

  3. Lisa Dawson April 2nd, 2015 10:25 am

    Magnificent views! As Mike Marolt says, “When the mountains look fake, you know they are real.”

  4. Dorothy Cooper April 2nd, 2015 10:31 am

    Thanks for the update and all the technical details that unfortunately I don’t have a clue what you are talking about – but it sure looks like you are totally where you should be. Stay warm in that tent waiting out the storm – and I’m sure you will be full of stories when you head home.

  5. Michel April 2nd, 2015 12:03 pm

    Dorothy, I’m also pretty much in the “clueless” category, but learning some things! Their photos are out of this world.

    Coop, what an adventure! I can’t believe how steep that slope looks. Mighty glad you got back to camp in time. As usual, have fun, be safe.

  6. Julia April 2nd, 2015 1:12 pm

    Can’t get over how beautiful Alaska is! Hoping for sun and clear skies coming your way soon ( and snowpack cooperating!)

  7. Kevin April 2nd, 2015 3:59 pm

    Fantastic! There’s no place like extreeeme Alaska. It’s one of my goals to get back there. In the meantime thanks for sharing your story.

  8. Lou Dawson 2 April 2nd, 2015 6:09 pm

    Trivia contest: Anyone know what those peaks the guys are skiing are called in glacial geology terms?

    Hint, it’s in here:


  9. Amber Ale April 2nd, 2015 6:36 pm

    Nunatak! But I’m cheating because I have Volkl Nunataq skis, and I’m a nerd.

    Amber Ale

  10. Lou Dawson 2 April 2nd, 2015 7:15 pm


  11. Wookie1974 April 3rd, 2015 2:08 am

    Are they surrounded? I thought that in order to be considered a Nunatak they had to “poke out”….

    if so, they’re huge.

  12. Lou Dawson 2 April 3rd, 2015 5:58 am

    I thought they just had to be surrounded and somewhat appear to poke out of the glaciers. Perhaps it’s more a term of art than scientific geologic? Lou

  13. Rachel Bellamy April 3rd, 2015 8:14 am

    Way to take the extra time to build anchors and do ski cuts. Also, thanks for making your procedures known. The base of that face looks like a bit of an obstacle course with the ‘shrund and other features. Looks fun! Cheers boys – sending you all the best weather window and snow condition vibes!

  14. Mike Marolt April 3rd, 2015 8:26 am

    Super!! Admire you guys getting after it like that. AK unplugged is as real as it gets.

  15. Matt Kinney April 3rd, 2015 9:09 am

    unfortunately an Ultima Thule guide near Chitina about a 100 miles from here fell off a mountain yesterday and passed. Not much info available at this time. Be careful out there in the wilds of Alaska.

  16. Lisa Dawson April 3rd, 2015 10:43 am

    Thank you, Matt. Our heartfelt condolences to the friends and family.

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