Glacier Bay Extraction


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | April 27, 2015      
A worthy high-five after 24 days on the glacier – 18 of which we were stormed in.

A worthy high-five after 24 days on the glacier – 18 of which we were stormed in. Click images to enlarge.

There came a time when our “shoveling and eating expedition” to Glacier Bay had to end, although during the last week of our trip we were never really sure if that was a possibility. We experienced some of the most intense weather of our lives, and we met it head on (from the inside of our dome of course). Between waking up multiple times a night to keep our tent from being buried, or finding 20 minutes of solace between frantic shoveling sessions, we were ready to leave Glacier Bay after 23 days. At least we thought we were. . .

A beautiful sunrise to the world around camp, once again tempting us to stay.

A beautiful sunrise to the world around camp, once again tempting us to stay.

Our food supply could have sustained us for another week or so with moderate rationing. There were still at least a week or two of skiable lines within close skinning distance of our basecamp. Our group dynamics were in a surprisingly enjoyable flow, and our skiing motivation was high.

When we woke up on Monday morning to clear skies and endless visibility after a week of blizzard conditions, feelings were bittersweet around camp. We were again reminded of the expanse of endless wilderness that surrounded us, along with thousands of vertical feet of skiing. The air was calm; the soft morning light painted the peaks in pastels, and the beauty was overwhelming.

Despite all of this, the first thing we did was put in a sat-phone call to Fly Drake
to let him know the weather was good enough to land. The next hour was a mix of frantic packing, knowing that the weather could shut down at a moment’s notice, and taking personal time to revel at the beauty of our home of the last three weeks.

In my mind, I never allowed myself to fully commit to getting off the glacier on that day. That feeling was confirmed when a low-lying whiteout fog socked in our camp within an hour and a half of calling Drake. He had told us he was staged and ready to extract us, inevitably getting our hopes up. Unfortunately our enthusiasm was tempered by the extremely low visibility. We continued to pack, just at a slightly slower pace and with the very real possibility of remaining on the Riggs Glacier for another 10 days of on-shore flow.

Cory taking in the morning pastels.

Cory taking in the morning pastels.

Clear weather seeming to assure of us of our departure.

Clear weather seeming to assure of us of our departure.

We soon heard the distant buzz of Drake’s Cessna ski plane and heard him circling over our camp several times. There was no way he was going to be able to touch down. No one needed to verbalize feelings on the situation. We were all slowly accepting the fact that we may not get the perfect weather window that Drake needed to carry out the delicate work of flying in these mountains. At one point, with a small sucker hole above us, Drake blasted out of the cloud and flew low over our camp seemingly taunting us about the clear weather everywhere else.

Regardless of our ability to get out, we seized the calm weather to uproot our dome tent and do our own extraction out of the now 10-foot deep hole we had been residing in. This was a big project in its own right with guy-lines and stakes anchored almost six feet deep into our original wall at the bottom of the crater. In order to minimize our impact on Drake’s landing zone, we decided to move the tent in line with our original location. This would allow the potential wind to help fill in our giant hole without adding significant depth to the 500-foot wind trough behind our pit. We had all hands on the tent and strategized the best way to make the move because even the slightest gust could catch our tent and take us all for a ride (a hilarious scenario we have played out many times over).

Despite the weather moving in, we uprooted the tent and began filling in the crater. Here, Louie gets pitted.

Despite the weather moving in, we uprooted the tent and began filling in the crater. Here, Louie gets pitted.

With the tent moved, we started the arduous task of filling in our crater. All of us were impressed with how much the surrounding glacier had risen over the past few weeks. It took all of us a couple of hours to turn our 20ft x 20ft x 10ft pit into a shallow bowl only 4ft deep. It was a true landscaping feat.

As we lessened our impact, the low-lying fog had been trending towards clearing with the sun higher in the sky. Our communication with Drake had kept us optimistic and by 1pm we had our weather window back. It was still hard to let ourselves slip into “smelling the barn” with nothing being certain until all of our gear and us were sitting on the tarmac in Haines. Once again we heard the distant buzz of the ski plane and only made visual contact just when he was touching down for a long approach on the glacier.

As we all silently hoped for, the low lying clouds burned off and cleared the runway for Drake.

As we all silently hoped for, the low lying clouds burned off and cleared the runway for Drake.

As cheesy as it sounds, it was definitely surreal to see him hop out of the plane. Drake is a crusty man of little words at times, and this was no different despite our elated feelings. “I need three of you and some of the gear,” he said, “Let’s go now!”

Zach, Jason, and Cory loaded up and went out first. Louie and I made sure to hold onto enough food and fuel in case we were the ones to be stuck out there. When the three of them took off, it was quiet once again and we silently wondered if we would be able to get out. It would take well over an hour for Drake to make the round trip flight, unload gear, and re-fuel.

Louie and I stayed and watched our three friends leave the glacier. We wondered if future shoveling efforts would be reduced to the power of two instead of five.

Louie and I stayed and watched our three friends leave the glacier. We wondered if future shoveling efforts would be reduced to the power of two instead of five.

Louie stands by our pile of too-much gear for the second round of extraction.

Louie stands by our pile of too-much gear for the second round of extraction.

Louie and I organized the remaining gear and finished dismantling the dome. We continued to take in our surroundings as if we were to leave here for good. As we stacked gear we quickly realized that there was no way that we could fit all of our stuff into one flight out of here. A little over an hour later, Drake’s plane buzzed around a distant peak and touched down. With two other people in the plane, we were confused as to what was going on but started to move things closer for loading. It turned out that a couple of other folks were coming in from Haines and could not land in a zone that they had intended to due to wind and difficult landing conditions. They were going to set up in our spot for the time being, so we swapped “hellos” and did the gear shuffle. This ended up working out in our favor because they had a couple more loads coming out so Drake was able to leave some of our things and come back for them without making a special trip.

The flight out was as amazing as the way in and Louie and I noted several large natural avalanches, some of them near our previous ski runs. The mountains needed time to stabilize, and we were ready to get back home especially with another long stint of bad weather in the forecast.

Once we landed in Haines and each of us hopped out of the plane we were acutely aware of how different the concrete felt – one element of the ever-present transition out of our existential glacier experience. Jason, Cory, and Zach were already wearing jeans and shoes and text messages and voicemails were already flowing in heavily.

We packed up and jammed out to the ferry in order to get half of the group on their flights the following day. Transitions are strange and the pace of life had already increased significantly. We were graced with a beautiful sunset from the ferry on the peaks south of Glacier Bay.

The incoming storm painted pink.

The incoming storm painted pink.

The edge of Glacier Bay from the ferry. With more weather moving in, it was quickly confirmed that we were fortunate to have been able to leave.

The edge of Glacier Bay from the ferry. With more weather moving in, it was quickly confirmed that we were fortunate to have been able to leave.

Unbeknownst to us, a few of our girlfriends had been scheming and planning to surprise us in Juneau. We arrived late to our friend Hannah’s house in town to the words “Welcome Home” written on a few pairs of butt cheeks behind a closed garage door. The existential experience continued, and we spent the rest of the evening learning how our late arrival had had more impact than we thought. Nice one girls!!!

Our time in Glacier Bay is over for now, but the experience, knowledge gained, and psychological effects remain as prevalent as ever.

Always a good trip ending tradition. Blowing off the un-used compressed air canisters before commercial air travel.

Always a good trip ending tradition. Blowing off the un-used compressed air canisters before commercial air travel.



IF YOU'RE HAVING TROUBLE VIEWING SITE, TRY WHITELISTING IN YOUR ADBLOCKER, OTHERWISE PLEASE CONTACT US USING MENU ABOVE, OR FACEBOOK.

Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


Comments

12 Responses to “Glacier Bay Extraction”

  1. Michel April 27th, 2015 12:15 pm

    Gives new meaning to LNT — still can’t believe how big that hole was! Great photos. So glad you and Louie didn’t get stuck for another 10 days! What an experience!

  2. Drew Tabke April 27th, 2015 1:41 pm

    Drake’s got the keys to the castle that’s for sure.

    I wonder how many pounds of snow the group collectively moved in those weeks.

  3. Lou Dawson 2 April 27th, 2015 2:47 pm

    I can not believe how big that hole is. I looks like the Villarica vulcan caldera or a crater on the moon. You guys are a geologic force.

  4. Lisa Dawson April 27th, 2015 5:26 pm

    Stunning photos. What a beautiful, beautiful place. Lovely piece of writing too.

  5. See April 27th, 2015 8:06 pm

    Interesting posts and excellent photos/videos. If you guys are at all inclined to share further details about the business of living under those conditions I’d certainly be interested, e.g. shoveling techniques in high winds, sourcing electricity, group dynamics, menu options, comfort tips, recreation, carbon monoxide, thoughts on the situations of prisoners/refugees, greatest challenge, what was fun, is blogging a nuisance …

    Thanks, and congratulations.

  6. Dorothy Cooper April 27th, 2015 8:17 pm

    Thank you for sharing with us all your final day of a once in a lifetime adventure. Simply awesome pictures, especially of the sunset – what an incredible 3 weeks…..but i must add I am very relieved and thankful you are back on concrete.

  7. Zach Winters April 28th, 2015 10:09 am

    Well said Coop! Great writing.

    Drew, in our boredom we tried to figure that out. 25 shovels per minute, 4 days at 5 hours per day, 10 days at 2 hours per day, 5 dudes …. I think we gave up before we figured it out, ha. But I’m pretty sure we’re ready to start contracting snow removal sans front-loader.

    See, the best shoveling technique would have been to move our tent to higher ground and let the wind blow the snow by rather than fill in our hole. Unfortunately the wind never let up enough for us to feel safe about detaching its guy lines. Instead we shoveled in a S-N conveyor belt, depositing the snow on the lee side where is was scoured away by the wind.

    For CO, we had some permanently open vents and the high winds helped keep air circulating. We brought a detector but it wasn’t very waterproof.

    Greatest challenge? For me, it was keeping my mind off the skiing I though I’d be doing and managing restlessness. Check back soon for more on that. I’ll let the others chime in on the rest.

  8. Martin April 30th, 2015 9:43 am

    Great report, beautiful pictures!

    This may be a stupid question, but since I have no experience with (AK) ski expeditions whatsoever I wonder what was the point of refilling the hole after you moved the tent? Wouldn’t the next storm do that anyway? And if not, so what?

  9. Louie III April 30th, 2015 12:02 pm

    great pictures zach!

    Martin, The reason for filling in the hole was to not mess up the smooth glacier for future plane landings. Although the next storm might have filled in the hole, it probably would have been with light, powdery snow, potentially creating a perfect plane-eating trap. We reasoned that if the next storm or wind event smoothed it over, drake or another pilot might not be able to see the softer snow, and could potentially run his plane into it. Glacier landings seem sketchy enough already without additional man-made tiger traps to contend with. Honestly, we might have been a bit over-paranoid, but better safe than sorry.

  10. Lou Dawson 2 April 30th, 2015 12:25 pm

    I don’t think that is over paranoid at all! stuff one aviation ski into a hole like that and it’ll be a flip or sure, could get ugly. Lou2

  11. Zach Winters April 30th, 2015 1:10 pm

    Thanks Louie, but only the first and last one’s were mine. I believe the rest were Coop’s!

  12. See April 30th, 2015 6:48 pm

    I’d be the first to admit that you guys have a lot more experience with off-grid power systems than I do, but I still can’t help thinking that the conditions you all encountered up there in AK would have posed a serious challenge to any small portable pv system. Any further lessons learned regarding the electricity issue? Any thoughts on the Peltier device chargers that can be powered by a stove? Or just bring a bunch of Li-ion batteries and skip the pv panels, charge controllers, etc.?

  Your Comments


  Recent Posts




Facebook Twitter Email Instagram Youtube

WildSnow Twitter Feed



 



  • Blogroll & Links


  • Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information & opinion website. Lou's passion for the past 50 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about ski touring 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 ski touring news and information here.

    All material on this website is copyrighted, the name WildSnow is trademarked, permission required for reproduction (electronic or otherwise) and display on other websites. PLEASE SEE OUR COPYRIGHT and TRADEMARK INFORMATION.

    We include "affiliate sales" links with most of our blog posts. This means we receive a percentage of a sale if you click over from our site (at no cost to you). None of our affiliate commission links are direct relationships with specific gear companies or shopping carts, instead we remain removed by using a third party who manages all our affiliate sales and relationships. We also sell display "banner" advertising, in this case our relationships are closer to the companies who advertise, but our display advertising income is carefully separated financially and editorially from our blog content, over which we always maintain 100% editorial control -- we make this clear during every advertising deal we work out. Please also notice we do the occasional "sponsored" post, these are under similar financial arrangements as our banner advertising, only the banner or other type of reference to a company are included in the blog post, simply to show they provided financial support to WildSnow.com and provide them with advertising in return. Unlike most other "sponsored content" you find on the internet, our sponsored posts are entirely under our editorial control and created by WildSnow specific writers.See our full disclosures here.

    Backcountry skiing is dangerous. You may be killed or severely injured if you do any form of ski mountaineering, skimo randonnee and randonnée skiing. The information and news on this website is intended only as general information. Due to human error and passing time, the information, text and images contained within this website may be inaccurate, false, or out-of-date. By using, reading or viewing the information provided on this website, you agree to absolve the owners of Wild Snow as well as content contributors of any liability for injuries or losses incurred while using such information. Furthermore, you agree to use any of this website's information, maps, photos, or binding mounting instructions templates at your own risk, and waive Wild Snow owners and contributors of liability for use of said items for ski touring or any other use.

    Switch To Mobile Version