Haines Glacier Bay Basecamp Day 7

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | April 9, 2013      

I’m back with my nose to the grindstone at school, but over the next week or so I’ll keep posting stories from the last few days of our Alaska trip. Truly an incredible experience, I still can’t believe it. Here’s day 7, written by Jonathan Cooper. – Louie

Tyler Wilkes laying out a bottomless turn off the ridge above camp. The White Fang looms in the background.

Tyler Wilkes laying out a bottomless turn off the ridge above camp. The White Fang looms in the background.

The morning after sitting through a storm day is always full of questions. What’s the weather going to do today? How much new snow fell? How has the snowpack changed from our previous days of skiing? These questions serve as motivation and excitement to get out of camp and assess the ever-changing environment that we have been living (and playing) in. This morning our makeshift snow board measured around 12-15 inches of new snow, and the skies were mostly blue with a few patchy clouds. After a moderately slow start to an unexpectedly nice day, we decided to head up to the ridge closest to camp and assess the snowpack with no attachment to any major objectives.

Backcountry ski lines in Alaska

With a solid re-set to the surface snow, we were eager to find out what was happening beneath the surface. Here, Russell Cunningham contemplates his potential line off our ridge of “mini- golf” above camp.

As Louie and I gained the ridge and started to look for the best place to build an anchor for a belayed ski cut, we began to notice how wind affected higher elevations were. We managed to trigger a shallow isolated wind-slab on an exposed southwest face by tossing a few volleyball-sized rocks down the slope. After making an anchor, I belayed Louie into the northeast slope to dig a snowpit and see what our options were for safe skiing. Knowing that we needed to give the snowpack time to settle before getting into more committing lines, we decided to keep it relatively mellow. These types of decisions can be the most difficult when weather windows and time left on the glacier begin to dwindle. In the meantime we had overhead blower powder to keep us satisfied.

Hiking the ridge above camp.

We made several laps off the ridge in great snow. As we skied down we were becoming increasingly aware of the changes in the conditions relative to our first days on the glacier. The sluff was running faster and bigger than previous days which further cautioned us to yield to the bigger lines. As the afternoon went on we decided it was best not push it and instead poke around and explore some lower angle zones that we had seen throughout the week.

Just as we started to walk down the glacier we heard the familiar buzz of a bush plane booming off the valley walls. “Is that Drake?!” With no previous communication since our arrival we were confused, yet excited at the potential of an unexpected interaction. “Why would he be coming out here? Who would he be dropping off in OUR zone?!?” We could speculate until the cows came home, so we decided to investigate. We watched him set the plane down in an open area about a mile down the glacier from our camp and drop one person off with gear. About 30 minutes later, the buzz of the bush plane was back and two more people arrived. Eager to meet our new neighbors we traversed over a broad ridge to drop down towards their landing zone.

This is a zoomed in view of Drake’s 1955 Cessna 180 ski plane landing and dropping off unknown visitors on the glacier below. You can see his horseshoe shaped approach and take-off pattern making a unique ski track on the featureless glacier.

Dropping in towards the other group. This shot gives a glimpse at the immense vastness of the terrain we have been traveling in. Our camp is way out of sight up the glacier to the left of the photo.

The day before we left Haines we happened to cross paths with friends from Bozeman, Montana. We loosely talked about the possibility of meeting up on the glacier and the fun that would surely follow such an exotic rendezvous. No real plans were made, and both sides had not made any real effort to communicate throughout the week. That being said, we were hopeful that we would be greeting our friends and inviting them over to our camp.

We began to question who the new arrivals were because of their distance from our camp. If it was our friends from Bozeman, why did they choose to set up camp so far from our tents? Did they fall victim to the inability to judge distances on this vast glacier? Regardless we made our way down the slope to find out.

As we slogged towards their tents, we were pleasantly surprised by the presence of our friends in such a wild location. Adam, KT, and Tony were a refreshing sight, and we were all excited to be together out here. We spent the next half hour convincing them to join us at our camp with promises of schlepping their gear the mile or so up the glacier. After spending a while rigging up make-shift sleds with extra skis we set out towards our tents.

Not knowing who we were descending into, our friend KT from Bozeman managed to take this picture of us coming down the slope while Drake was flying out and back to Haines.

That night we set up a small tent city on the glacier and had our guests over for a potluck style dinner complete with Makers Mark. We spent several hours swapping stories and sharing information about the areas we had been skiing in, which further built an exciting buzz around camp, a fitting event for such a fine location.

With promises of high pressure and good weather we made plans to get an early start to head for some of the remaining objectives that we had been dreaming of over the past week since our arrival. Friends, clear skies, good snow, and warm sleeping bags sent us to bed without a care in the world.

(Guest blogger, Jonathan Cooper, is a recent Western Washington University graduate balancing work with traveling around the world. He currently lives and skis in Colorado, and often drops in on the Cascade mountains to explore snowy peaks with friends.)


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15 Responses to “Haines Glacier Bay Basecamp Day 7”

  1. billy g April 9th, 2013 1:29 pm

    Been awesome following these posts especially considering I’m heading into the same zone in a few days! A great follow up blog would be gear considerations. Anything you wish you brought? Were your layering systems and amount of clothing you brought optimal? How about your sleeping system? Did your food plan and amount work out?
    Thanks and excellent TR from you all, well played indeed!

  2. pete anzalone April 9th, 2013 1:36 pm

    What a great series of posts. How happy I am for you. Perhaps someday a few more of us lower 48 folks will get the opportunity you seem to have fully and successfully exploited.

  3. Louie Dawson April 9th, 2013 2:11 pm

    Thanks pete! I still can’t believe I was able to go up there. I’m super grateful!

    Billy – I’ll be doing a post wrapping up the trip with some gear notes and stuff, as well as a whole swath of gear reviews from the trip. I’m pretty happy with all the stuff I brought. We went super luxurious and heavy, definitely the way to do it. Although Drake kept commenting on how heavy we were, haha.

    We went to Costco and bought a bunch of pre-cooked meals, they were great for dinners. Super tasty and high-calorie, and they cooked pretty much immediately. It was a real treat to get back to camp and have dinner ready in a matter of minutes. Chicken parmesan, general tso’s chicken, ravioli, shrimp gumbo, etc, we ate well! We had way more food than we needed, but that’s better than having too little. I’ve never been on a trip where I could stuff myself as much as I want, it was great!

    I brought a ton of warm clothes, including an expedition weight down parka, which was great for hanging around camp. Sleeping I had an Exped down mat, and two warm sleeping bags inside one another.

    About the only thing I wish I brought was a spoon, but that’s just because I’m an idiot and forgot it.

    Name of the game, go heavy and luxurious!

  4. Coop April 9th, 2013 2:31 pm

    On behalf of Louie, don’t forget to bring your toothpaste! Otherwise you’ll lose friends quickly around camp…haha

    A good motto out there is balancing comfort and luxury without excess. Bring those items like down booties and overboots, and several extra pairs of gloves, that will keep you warm, dry and comfortable around camp after a day of skiing. That being said, keeping your load light enough to fit into the plane will be the best (and keep Drake happy and stoked).

    Packing your gear in dry bags and backpacks is great. You can leave items loose like sleeping bags, pads, etc. They fit easily into the tail compartment of the plane.

  5. Coop April 9th, 2013 2:32 pm

    Glorified car camping…’nuff said.

  6. Lisa April 9th, 2013 4:20 pm

    You guys nailed it! Bravo! Next time you need to bring Mom along — your trip is on her (read my) bucket list. xoxo

  7. Lou Dawson April 9th, 2013 5:24 pm

    Louie, you forgot your spoon, again!? Time to go public with this and invoke peer pressure (grin).

  8. Skyler Mavor April 9th, 2013 6:32 pm

    I seem to remember that we didn´t have spoons in Chile for the first week. I thought you would have learned your lesson! Also, you guys are killing it! I´m glad to hear that the trip went well, and it´s awesome that some Montana folks got in on your trip. Keep it up!

  9. mtsplitski April 9th, 2013 7:23 pm

    Way to represent SWMT. Enviable trip guys!

  10. Jim April 9th, 2013 8:34 pm

    Hey Louie, What altitude was your camp at? What kind of temps did you have? Headed to Denali Park next week.

  11. Coop April 9th, 2013 11:28 pm


    Our camp was at 4,000 ft. Temperatures ranged from single digits to mid 30’s. During stormy weather, it tended to be warmer and on the cold clear nights we dropped down to single digits without wind chill.

    Hope that helps!

  12. Mike Marolt April 10th, 2013 9:24 am

    What a trip!!

  13. Tyler Wilkes April 10th, 2013 12:28 pm

    Nice pics coop! can you send me that one of me high res? desktop photo worthy

  14. Oz April 10th, 2013 3:08 pm

    Coop, Louie- awesome trip! Thanks for the awesome photos and insights.

    Planning my own trip up in that region currently and would be helpful to know GPS Coordinates/any named features in the area for planning purposes. Feel free to email ozzierussell@gmail.com if you don’t feel like posting on here. Thanks!

  15. Bbt April 25th, 2013 8:13 pm

    Hello! I’ m really sorry 4 distrub!
    Do u have more photos of Drake?

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