Sunday, October 28, 2012

Mt. Byron, Alaska

Scratching the "Itch"

It was 7:00 AM, on a cold Sunday morning in Anchorage, Alaska, when my friend Julian picked me up for an early bird ski mission.  Our destination was Mt. Byron a 4,600 ft. heavily glaciated mountain that drops strait down to the Turnagain Arm.  After a Americano and a couple of doughnuts later, we drove to the trailhead where we could see our beloved Mt. Byron.  It was a bluebird sunny day, I hadn't been on skis for 3 months,  and it was time to scatch my "itch" to ski.

The snowpack was thin, but we are spoiled in Alaska.  There had been reports of over a foot of snow up high on the glaciers.  The North face of the mountain definitly was snow covered and cold, so there probably was going to be good skiing up on Byron glacier itself.  Our route climbed lookers right of Byron glacier through a small choke then onto a giant snowfield right of the jumbled mess of the glacier.  From that snowfield we could also see a couloir that snaked up the right and topped out on the long Northwest ridge.  That was what we wanted to ski.

We threw on our skins and started the long approach.  There was just barely enough snow to skin up out of the parking lot, the conditions were very thin with a lock of rocks.  We  passed some gold miners that were out with there huge packs and metal detectors in the cold creek, crazy bastards.  Although, some could say the same for us, but we had a better chance of finding the Chugach Gold!

2 hours later, I almost fell into a crevasse.  It was a smaller one at the toe of the glacier, but a stupid mistake none the less.  I cursed myself for my stupidly and carefully vowed not to let it happen again. A couple more crevasse crossings later we were at the apron of the choke and there were rocks, lots of rocks. 

I dubbed this section the rock-a-thon because there was no way to skin up it was no fun.  Climbing up it you sometimes would fall into rock holes covered by powder.  A great way to break a leg.  We made it through the rock-a-thon section, then we put on our crampons to climb through the choke with our ice tools.

We quickly climbed through the choke and gained a semi steep moraine that lead us to a great view of our ski zone.  There was powder, more then a foot.

Julian and I grinned, the ski was going to be good.  We decided to keep climbing and check out that couloir to the right that promised more vertical of skiing.  Soon it became very steep with sections of deep powder over rocks.  At about 300 feet short of the ridge the climbing became more difficult and I silently wondered if we could ski this.

After 30 minutes of sustained climbing, we topped out and it was once again all smiles.  We could see the vast expanse of the Chugach Mountains combined with the blue sea, a view that stuns me every time.  The view of Mt. Byron's North west ridge was even more spectacular and I set up a couple of good shots with my Canon DSLR.

Then it was time to SHRED.  First turns of my 2012-2013 season.  Those first few turns were going to be scary.  I took a picture to cement the occasion, then I dropped.  This drop was by far the most memorable first turns I have ever had.  Everything just seemed to come together that moment and for that spit second purity was achieved.

The snow up high was great and once we got through the tricky section of the couloir, it opened out to the huge powder covered glacier.  The ski was was pure bliss with about 12-16 inches in places.  My buddie Julian laid out a couple of long arching turns even getting a couple of face shots.  We had found the Chugach Gold.

The ski while good, only last for another 15 minutes as we skied down into the choke.  After finding a semi-scary but doable route through the gully we entered the dreaded Rock-a-thon once again.  We tried skiing down a bit but then realized it was a bad idea.

A couple of core-shots and hours later, we exited the toe of the glacier and was able to throw on our skins for the last section out to the car.

Mt Byron is always a worthy objective.  This was my second ski mission on the mountain.  My first attempt was in the spring a couple of years back.  On that attempt we went 2/3's of the way up the North-West ridge before retreating.   One day I hope to be fortunate enough to climb that ridge, with a ski descent of the head-wall, all the way back down to the car.  A classic Chugach ski descent!

All things considered a great day to be in the mountains.