Alaska is on the bucket list of almost every skier I know. Eric and I are no different and have been talking about a ski trip to Alaska for many years. This was our year! With busy work schedules, we deccided on the last part of April and early May. It was easy to convince Tom Diegel to join us and the 3 of us were excited for another adventure after last year’s attempted Highline Trail Ski.
Plans were discussed, modified, updated, changed again, and we finally had a loose plan to get dropped off on the Pika Glacier in Little Switzerland of the Alaska Range for 12 days of base camp/expedition style skiing.
None of us ever having done an expedition style trip, we built out our menu and just didn’t think it could be correct to need quantities like 20lbs meat, 14 lbs cheese, 48 bagels, 60 tortillas, and the list went on until we were at $600 and around 160lbs of food. It didn’t seem possible to need that much, but that came out to 3.8lbs/person/day for 14 days of food (2 extra days)
Our first indication that this may not be the ski trip we had planned should have been the delay in getting in due to a several day storm and a questionable 5-day forecast. Undeterred (or maybe not smart enough to know what was to come), we were excited to get onto the glacier and start skiing. We flew in on Sunday with plans to get picked up 13 days later.
The glacier landing in fresh powder snow was amazing, you just floated down not really even knowing you were on the ground.
With our gear unloaded, we started slogging loads and getting camp set up. We had a short window to ski after setting up camp and little did we know, it would basically be the end of our ski trip and the start of our shoveling trip.
On day 2, we were able to sneak in a partial day of skiing before “The Storm” moved in. We ended up with a storm that lasted 9 days with only a short clearing on the 9th day giving us long enough to get picked up by TAT before the next storm moved in. We spent 8 full days at camp only leaving twice (once to check out another camp and another time during a 2-hour clearing to ‘try’ to ski). Like any good ski trip where you plan to ski for 7-8 hours per day, on our now shoveling trip, we were shoveling 7-8 hours per day with rarely being able to go more than 4 hours at a time without digging out camp. We passed our time pretending to be funny, reading, playing scrabble, eating, and sleeping. Luckily the 3 of us travel very well together and were able to keep each other’s spirits high in light of the grim situation.
By the 5th day of the storm, with the limited forecast we could get, and what we had not looking good, we made the call to TAT that we were pulling the plug for the next available transport back. They had no clue when the storm would clear as all long-term models showed snow with a couple breaks in 4 or 5 days. So – we continued to shovel. We attempted to leave camp, it didn’t work, it took us 20 minutes to go 300 meters.
So we shoveled some more.
And occasionally were treated to some views of the surrounding peaks
By the 7th day of being tent bound, our creativeness was really starting to develop and we invented the great new sport of competitive shoveling. We really hope this sport takes off next season as after 70+ hours of training, we felt we were in a good position to do well at competitions. Here is a tutorial on the new sport.
As the days passed and the storm didn’t, we were starting the discussions of food rationing. On day 8, we knew we had 8 more days of food but were unsure if that would be enough as there were other groups on the glacier already 5-7 days overdue. Finally, on day 10 we woke up to clear skies. Unfortunately, Talkeetna was stormed in. By mid-morning, the fog had rolled in and visibility dropped to zero. It cleared and fogged in a couple times. It would be clear on the glacier and foggy in Talkeetna. This continued until late afternoon when things cleared up and we received the pickup message.
Glad to be out of shoveling mode and hoping to sacrifice the ski trip, we made our way to Hatcher Pass for a few days of skiing in the ping-pong ball (low visibility and flat light). We had 3 days of poor weather. We skied the Bomber Traverse in a day in character building conditions (5 miles of downhill skinning in low light and isothermic snow).
Our final day was the best weather of the trip with partially cloudy skies and bright sun.
We savored 3 runs above Independence Mine and then had to head back to Anchorage to pack and get ready for early flights out. A great completion to a failed ski trip and a successful shoveling trip.