Big thanks to Backcountry Access for sponsoring this avalanche education content. Check out the additional plethora of avalanche safety resources on their website.
Without failure there is no success. One exists solely because of the other and the measuring stick for each is the distance from the other. The mountains have a funny way of pointing things like that out.
Yesterday while the buttress sat shrouded in clouds an avalanche poured down a serac riddled face to the right of our intended route. It was bigger than normal but we didn’t give it much thought as avalanches had been calving off the seracs since we arrived. As the clouds cleared later in the day they revealed a big crown sitting above the seracs. Immediately our plan to tromp up the banana shaped couloir to the left of the crown was called into question.
The message the 6 foot crown was sending was clear: Not today, not tomorrow, not the day after tomorrow. Better luck next time. We changed our plans and set our alarm clock back a few more hours in hope of milking the moderate north facing power runs to the east of camp.
Oh well, such is life. For the time being Hayes is out and we are alive (and plan to stay that way. Luckly there are plenty of other moderate options around camp we are planning to explore.
With a new measuring stick for success, we headed east up the glacier towards an unnamed peak that looked more like Peru than Alaska. Slowly gaining elevation we wove in and out of crevasses with pink wands bobbing over our heads. Zigging and zagging upwards toward our last hope for safe access to the upper mountain, the east ridge of the south buttress came into view. On our map it appeared to be a steep, glaciated, well defined ridge that if it was smooth could allow us to skirt the avalanche problem. As it came into view it was clear that we were completely done with Hayes. It was steep, glaciated, and well defined but was broken with a checkboard of holes and ice shelves. We settled on a rolling north facing shot that extended upwards about 2000ft.
Jordan jumped in front and began breaking trail in perfect boot-top powder. It was classic Alaskan velvet, the stuff you pray for when you plunk down thousands of dollars in Valdez for a jet-a fueled bender. Jordan and Riley cruised ahead trying to burn off the pent up calories from a dry winter and a few days on the road. Anton and I followed slowly, frequently stopping to take in our surroundings. Surface hoar sparkled on top of the snow and light clouds from the south drifted in and out.
“This is going to be pretty good huh?”
“Yeah, I haven’t skied powder in months. This is going to be awesome.”
And it was. We reached the ridgeline and transitioned with most of the eastern Alaska range below us. We pushed off and dove headfirst into the boot top snow. The snow didn’t make a sound as Anton, Riley, Jordan and I headed back towards camp. We on the other hand were not so peaceful. We hooted and hollered while we ate vertical and before I knew it we were back on the glacier and headed for home grinning from ear to ear. That’s as successful as I could ever hope to be.