Originally this was going to be a write up about an amazing 7 day Mt. Marcus Baker climb with Zach Halverson, but even the best laid plans occasionally fall through. Plan A (climbing Marcus Baker) met its first speed bump when the pilot we had talked to about flying us to Marcus Baker was recovering from a recent knee surgery. Immediately Zach hopped on the phone with every flight service from Girdwood to Talkeetna in an attempt to secure a flight into the south side of Marcus Baker. Alas, no luck (at least not in our modest price range). Thinking fast, we agreed to scrap Plan A and move on to Plan B.
Plan B was to fly to Mt Gannett at the head of the Colony Glacier and set up a base camp to attempt a summit push during an upcoming weather window. With a pilot secured and the gear loaded into the plane, we took off from the Girdwood airport at 10am on March 5th. Leaving the runway with clear skies, I was excited at our odds of putting down on Colony Glacier and getting camp set up. But as we rose over the Girdwood Valley and neared the glaciers, the winds began to howl. Although we were able to fly by Mt. Gannett, there was no way we were going to be able to land. Instead we got a 360-degree fly around of the mountain and flew over most of the Eklutna Traverse. Although we were bummed about not landing, the flight proved to be excellent beta gathering for future trips. Being stumped by weather, we returned to Girdwood to mull over our options.
At Zach’s house we checked the weather over a cup of coffee. Our hope was to have a weather window to fly out the next day, but the forecast called for increasing winds for the next two days. Waiting that long for another attempt to fly in would have left us with too few days to make it worth the cost. A bit disheartened, but still determined to make the next few days a success, Zach and I decided to move on to Plan C.
Plan C was to ski two lines that Zach and I had grown up staring at and dreamed of skiing for years. These two proposed lines were the Goat Couloir, which overlooks the Girdwood Valley, and Mount Alpenglow near Hope.
First was the Goat Couloir, and we wasted no time in tackling it. It was 1:30pm March 5th (a few hours after our flight to Mt Gannett) when we left the Crow Pass trailhead with our skis, crampons, and a small glacier rack. With such a late start and having never toured with Zach before, I was a bit skeptical at our chances of nailing the line. After the first hour, those skepticisms disappeared. We moved efficiently up the Crow Pass Trail and over a small pass between Barnes Mtn. and Jewel Mtn. on to the Milk Glacier. Once on the glacier we set our sites on Goat Mtn. and decided on a line to set a boot pack up. A few hours later we were standing on top of the Goat Couloir with huge gusts of winds threatening to knock us off our skis. Staring over the cornice, we decided that we needed to ski the line before the weather deteriorated further. Dropping into the line was unreal. It was something I had wanted to ski for years. Despite the snow being some of the worst bulletproof snow I have ever skied, I will remember each turn for the rest of my life. At the bottom of the couloir we navigated a small glacier to return to the car. The entire mission took us 6.5 hours. A pace I never imagined. Flushed with excitement, we set our sights on a bigger objective. Mount Alpenglow.
Mount Alpenglow is one of the largest mountains to rise directly out of Turnagain Arm. Although it isn’t extremely high, the access is extremely difficult. Based on the limited beta we were able to gather, we set ourselves 3 days and 2 nights to achieve our goal. The first part of the first day posed one of the trip’s cruxes. Crossing Six Mile Creek. This was accomplished with hip waiters that were stashed on the other side of the creek before proceeding to bushswack up the mountain for 5.5 hours
Once we reached tree line, we set up our camp for the next two nights. The following morning we woke up to poor weather and on/off again precipitation.Weighing our options, we decided to see how far we could push up the ridge and possibly make a summit bid. Hours later we had skinned over exposed ridges, donned crampons to cross wind hammered slopes, and were bracing against the wind on the Alpenglow summit.
Unfortunately our goal to ski off the true summit was thwarted by the wind and complete whiteout conditions. Instead we moved to the first false summit and waited for a weather window before skiing the only non-wind affected snow we had found all day. For me, it is always nerve racking skiing a line without scoping it before hand, but especially when I knew many of the lines coming off of Alpenglow end in mandatory cliff sections. Luckily the line we picked was steep, deep, and stable with only a small rock band at the bottom. After picking our way down and copious high-fiving, we slowly made our way back to camp. The next day we woke up, broke camp, and bushshwacked the 3.5 hours back to the car and home to Girdwood.
All in all, the last week was far from the trip I expected, but I would consider it as much of a success as our original plan. The Goat Couloir and Alpenglow are two ski missions I will remember for years to come.
Next up: The Eklutna Traverse.