The trip was a great success. We had to change our entire trip plan based on the spring cycle that has been ravaging the Kenai Peninsula, that being said we decided to head up to the north side of the Chugach to escape the poor weather. Our initial plan was to enter via the Matanuska glacier and exit via the Nelchina or Knik glaciers, however we were in flexibility mode the entire time. The trip was broken into three distinct legs , which I will discuss below.
Leg 1: The Mighty Matanuska (6 days):
Woke up early, piled in the van, and proceeded to all fall asleep except Jaya our driver. The sleep was uninterrupted except for a brief moment when passing through Anchorage as we witnessed a hobo get hit by a car. We made it to Meekin's (our pilot) place to drop off our extra food and managed to coerse a sled out of him. Around noon we finally witnessed what we had come for, big mountains with big glaciers. There are two entrances onto the Matanuska from the toe, one is from the east side (winter route) while the other is from the west side (summer route). The winter route crosses the Matanuska river and tends to be the most streamlined and least labor intensive, however due to spring breakup we weren't sure if it would go. So we split the team to do some recon. Cece and co. went down to check out the river status while MB led an ascent of Lions Head mountain to see what we could see. To our suprise the winter route seemed viable so we threw on our packs and crossed as fast as we could. All the driving and recon took up most of the day so we decided to camp near the river and push onto the moraine the next day. Being so low we had to implement bear hang tactics, which were a bit ridiculous. Imagine 60lbs of food hanging from a 10ft black spruce, no bueno but funny as hell to witness.
The next day we alder crashed up onto the ice cored moraine where the trees looked drunk due to the poor soil matrix holding its roots. The bushwhacking wouldn't have been so bad if not for the fact the damn skis on our backs kept getting caught on every god damn tree, we had to smoke at least a carton of mental cigarettes. That being said, once we gained the moraine things started going a bit more smoothly and route finding became somewhat easier. Navigating on a moraine of that scale was very eye opening and pushed our learning curves. We ended up getting to the snow line towards mid afternoon and decided it was as good a place as any to hunker down. The next day was spent doing a bit of recon of the medial moraine and finding some blue ice to run crevasse rescue drills. Somewhere in this leg we converted to what Cece called Jedi mountain time, which in essence pushed the time ahead 3 hours making alpine starts easier to psycologically cope with. I was pretty much operating on central time.The recon made evident that the medial moraine would actually be slower travel than if we just followed the snow covered compression zone on the east side of the glacier, so we continued up the east side. Making our way up glacier we ended up crossing onto the middle of the glacier at a 45 degree angle near Spoon Valley, camping where needed. About 7 or 8 miles from the Scandinavian peaks we found phenomenal travel corridors on top of and parallel to a medial moraine and made up alot of time. As the Scandi's started coming into view we could make out the hut and the red outhouse. The glacier in front of the hut was a bit more broken and required more intensive probing until reaching the base of the Scandinavian glacier and Dogbone ridge. It was pretty late in the day when we made it to the ridge leading up to the hut. Our up track on the south side of the Dogbone was a shitshow through extremely isothermal snow with hot temps and sleds. The reward was well worth it and we took the next day as a rest day, the first since the start of the trip.
|Matanuska glacier from Lion's Head|
|Worst bear hang ever?|
|Cece's chocolate bar/crevasse lesson|
Leg 2: Scandinavian Hut (8 days):
Ahhhh thank you Mountaineering Club of Alaska for building a great hut system in some of the most beautiful areas. Hell we even had clear views of Mt. Marcus Baker from our kitchen. Our first day at the hut consisted of copious amounts of hydration, a bit of sleeping in, and formulating our master plan for the Scandi's. The next day was heavily dictated by a key piece of the puzzle, food. We had only carried in 6 days worth of food and were supposed to be resupplied, so as usual we had to twiddle our thumbs hoping Meekin's could land. The landing strip was directly south of the hut on the glacier, so we skied down and set down black bags to help the pilot with depth perception. The landing went well and the pilot even brought us some sleds.
The rest of our time in the Scandi's was spent skiing and climbing, some of the highlights included:
-Ascent of Finland peak via south fork of Scandinavian glacier
-Ascent of Iceland peak via north fork of Scandinavian glacier over col to Viking glacier and then ascent via coulior on SE face.
-Ascent of minor peak on same ridge line as YaSure peak.
-4000 ft ski decent of Viking glacier
-Ski decent of North fork Scandanavian glacier (with fresh powder)
We also took 2 or 3 days in there for rests, mid-trip evaluations, case studies, route plans, and the vision quest for the next leg. The conclusion was made that due to the low snow year and our lack of adequate maps the Knik exit/Marcus Baker attempt was just not viable. Our options were widdled down to either dropping down the backside of the Scandi's to the west fork of the Powell while doing more technical skills or traversing up and around the west fork of the Matanuska gaining Turtle Flats and then exiting the Powell glacier proper. It was put to a vote and the bigger traverse prevailed.
|It was a hot day|
|The hut and Denmark Peak|
|Ascending Viking glacier|
|Old Marcus Baker|
|Iceland Peak approach|
Leg 3: Lollipop Traverse and Powell Exit (10 days):
Our first day out of the hut was a bit lackluster as hauling all the gear down the 700ft to the glacier on rotten snow proved more difficult than we had imagined. However we did manage to push onto the west fork of the Matanuska that afternoon despite the delays. The next day turned out to be the longest and most physically demanding of the entire trip with 3000ft gained and 7 miles covered. The weather was perfect however and we pushed hard starting from the west fork of the Matanuska and ascending the loop back to Turtle Flats. Originally we had planned to make it to the col overlooking the icefall on the east fork of the Matanuska but warm temps, sleds, dehydration, and a foot of powder zapped most of our energy and we settled for a camp 400ft below the col. After eating and sleeping well that night we resumed our push past the east forks icefall and to the east end of Turtle Flats. Got into camp late and spent a few more hours digging in and building snow walls due to the high winds coming over the col. The two previous days had been very draining so we decided to have an off day the next, which happened to conencide with Cece's birthday. Those of us who still had some energy (Dan, Cece, MB, and myself) decided to try a 11,900ft objective south of camp, but due to high winds and vast underestimation we turned around and skied sustrugi back to camp. This also marked the highest point in elevation on the trip, as the next day we decended via the Powell glacier. For good measure we checked the col leading over to the Sylvester glacier with the possibility of exiting via the Nelchina, but once again due to the low snow year the trouble seemed more than it was worth. With the Sylvester option out the window we decended the Powell icefall and skate skied down the glacier for about 2 miles before finding a suitable camp. Amazingly the Powell was at the perfect downward angle for ski travel and had no visible crevassing. So, the next day we skate skied unroped the entire length of the Powell, something like 8 miles in 3 hours. Getting off the Powell was a bit more tricky but we managed to utilize some morainal debris and get to our first grassy camp in 20 days. Finally off ice and snow we decided to take a rest day and finish up our case studies. The last two days consisted of following the river and old trail systems to the east fork of the Matanuska River and up to Meekin's Air Service where we got some beers and waited for our ride back. All in all we could not have asked for a better trip. We accomplished a traverse, climbed some peaks, skied some sweet lines, and had perfect weather toboot. Life is good. Now after a week of R&R we are off to Spain to get physical with some rock.
|Turtle Flats camp|
|Powell glacier and icefall|
|Powell glacier camp|
|Cece demonstrating how not to skate ski|
|Powell glacier toe|
|Back in bear country|
|Meekin's Air Service|