Our second trip included quite the cast of characters from the Olympic Peninsula: Nick, Stig, Josh, Katy and myself. Our plans of camping high on a glacier were thwarted by a terrible weather forecast, but the silver lining had us setting up our base camp in a region that’s been at the top of my list to explore. We had a lot of tricky weather, but got out every day, and later in the trip had some truly spectacular days of Super Cub assisted plane skiing. Huge thanks to Jay Claus for the hospitality, and along with pilot Steve Davidson (both of Ultima Thule), putting us in some truly amazing terrain.
Photos from two base camp ski trips in one of my favorite places in the world, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. We had two groups on two separate 9 day trips in two different zones, and each was amazing in its own way.
It was a heavy feeling time to go to the Wrangells, with the loss of a legendary guide and amazing human being, Peter Inglis, better known as Pi, the day before we would get on a plane to Alaska. Pi was strong in our thoughts every single day and we felt his presence in these incredibly remote mountains.
Our first trip was with Dennis, Terry, and Clarinda from Idaho (Dennis and Terry had been on the Wapta Traverse with us the year before). Leaving Anchorage, the weather was not looking promising for mountain flying: strong winds and flat light. But with a little luck combined with the immense talents of Jay and Steve of Ultima Thule Lodge, by 7:30 that evening we were landing on a frozen lake in one of my favorite areas.
Andrew McLean termed this zone the “Slotterhouse” in a recent Powder Magazine article. He was kind enough to lend us his Chinese made, Duraflame log burning tent stove, which with some jury rigging integrated nicely with our Eddie Bauer Pantheon Dome tent (don’t try this at home… or do). Most skiers and climbers don’t get to enjoy the luxury of a heated base camp tent, but this system was successful enough to be worth repeating (which we’d do on the next trip).
Conditions in the Wrangells were in some ways similar to conditions in the Pacific Northwest. Shockingly thin at lower elevations, with surprisingly good coverage at upper elevations – a stark dividing line.
Photos from this first trip:
Three Weeks in the Wrangells: PART 2 >
We’re excited about the addition of another big, classic, cascade volcano to our lineup of programs for 2015: Mt. Adams, 12,281′. Through a competitive application process, Pacific Alpine Guides was awarded one of two permits to guide routes on the north side of the mountain.
Options range from the no-experience-necessary North Ridge, to steep snow and ice routes like the Lava Glacier Headwall, North Face of the Northwest Ridge, and the Adams Glacier.
Learn more on the new Mt. Adams page, and come join us this summer!
Photos by Julian Hanna and Tyler Reid from two Rogers Pass trips in late January. It’s been a tough winter for the Pacific Northwest, a record-bad snow year for the Olympic Mountains, and overall a strange pattern for North America, but conditions have been pretty darn good in interior British Columbia.
Happy New Year!
We’ve spent 5 out of the last 6 days skiing in the Hurricane Ridge zone and over the course of that time found some really good skiing. We’ve seen the full evolution from “thin but skiable” to ankle deep powder, to really good powder skiing, to widespread wind affect, to entering spring mode. Overall, even though we’re still well below normal, we have twice the snowpack we had at this time last year. We’ve had a lot of NE winds in the last week which is counterintuitive for where the good skiing usually is, but the upside is this has loaded more snow on the sunny aspects that need it. All in all things are off to a decent start up there and hopefully this next warm spell passes quickly so we can get back to powder skiing.
Some GoPro footage:
Here are a few photos of terrain:
Ski touring by ski plane in Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park last spring with fellow guides Andrew McLean and Eli Potter, we were repeatedly having problems with our guide radios (complicated handheld VHFs). Guides typically need what is basically a ham radio to be able to talk with pilots, other guides, rangers, etc. These are powerful tools but they come with a steep learning curve. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been in the presence of malfunctioning radios, transmission issues, technical glitches, antennae problems, user error, etc.
As a backup on this trip I brought a couple of BCA’s BC Link radios and we put them into action.
The BC Link looks like any other small handheld radio with a speaker mic. On closer inspection, you realize the speaker mic controls the radio completely. In addition to transmit and receive, you can change channels, adjust volume, turn the radio on and off, and check battery power. This design allows the body of the radio to live in your backpack all day long, with the speaker mic clipped to your pack shoulder strap.
BC Links operate on the FRS/GMRS (talkabout) frequencies – this keeps things simple and license free, but in high traffic zones finding a clear channel can sometimes be tricky (the sub channels help). This wasn’t an issue in the Wrangells. As soon as we started using the BC Links our radio woes vanished, as did our awareness that we were using radios. We were simply communicating clearly in complex terrain.
A month later on a ski expedition to Mt. Blackburn, BC Links provided easy conversations between the summit ridge and base camp. The radios are USB rechargeable which integrates perfectly with a solar panel, and we were impressed with the battery life of these things (up to 140 hours according to BCA).
For guides, the BC Link won’t replace the complicated guide VHF. But for everyone else, the BC Link is a superior tool for distraction free backcountry group communication.
Jack and I went up to the Lake Angeles cirque today to check on the ice situation. As this was a scouting mission, we almost didn’t bring gear with us which would have been a terrible decision. Despite our late start we managed to get in a few laps. Super awesome to be climbing ice in the Olympics in mid November.
Lake was not trustworthy yet but skirting the edge was not too bad. Temps appear to be getting warmer for the next few days but with the next good freeze it should be good up there.
At 18,510′ feet, Mt. Elbrus is the highest mountain in Europe, and one of the Seven Summits. Situated in the Caucasus Mountains of Russia, this trip combines high altitude ski mountaineering with a heavy dose of Russian culture. The 13 day itinerary starts in Moscow and finishes in St. Petersberg, with ample time for measured acclimatization, skiing time, a 2 day summit window, and city tours. Similar to our Chile Volcanoes Ski Mountaineering Expedition, this program is offered in partnership with RMI Expeditions. 13 days, June 2015.
Learn more: Mt. Elbrus Ski ExpeditionSkiing on the Antarctic Peninsula is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Starting in Ushuaia, Argentina, this trip involves loading your ski gear onto a 331′ ship called the Sea Adventurer, and setting sail across the Drake Passage. Three days later you’re skiing above the ocean on surreal ice clad islands and peaks, shuttling to and from the ship by zodiac. In addition to the skiing, is the fact you’re in Antarctica, in a world of icebergs, penguins, elephant seals, orcas, and killer whales. This 13 day voyage is offered in November 2015 in partnership with Ice Axe Expeditions.
Learn more: Antarctic Peninsula Ship-Based Ski Touring
We just returned from a very fun and successful Chile Volcanoes ski trip. Weather conditions were a little tricky with El Niño bringing a particularly wet winter and spring to South America. For us this meant standing on fewer of the summits in our ambitious itinerary, but it also meant excellent snow coverage and even September powder skiing! Hard to complain, really. We’re already looking forward to next year.
Photos (all of the best ones on this page were taken by Katy) and Dispatches from Chile 2014:
SEPT 22, 2014: WARM UP DAY on VOLCAN VILLARICA
Our goal for today was to have skis on our feet, and driving through the lush lowlands in the rain, there was a sense of disbelief circulating through the van that we would soon see snow, let alone be skiing. Next thing we knew, with Sergio at the helm (our Chilean outfitter) we were fully utilizing the Mitsubishi’s 4-wheel drive capabilities to precision glide past stuck vehicles on the steep access road. High snowfall intensity from the sky, high psych intensity from our crew.
We spent the afternoon Volcano Storm Skiing. Not to be confused with below treeline storm skiing, where the forest provides terrain definition and the ability to see; Volcano Storm Skiing involves using rocks, closed chairlifts, other skiers, and/or their tracks for definition. When in doubt, have someone else go first. If your hat says ‘Guide’ on it, that means you are the sacrificial lamb.
Get blasted by the wind on the way up, seek refuge in a closed lift station high on the mountain, look up at your teammates and see huge smiles, transition to ski mode. Random outbursts of laughter. Volcano Storm Skiing is awesome. Especially the part about skiing in September.
SEPT 23, 2014: VILLARICA: ANOTHER STORM DAY
We got a casual start on our day knowing that the storm was raging on Villarica. That summiting was not going to be an option for today was glaringly obvious in the forecast, but the skiers mind is slightly different from the climbers mind: stormy conditions yield a bunch of new snow, and a bunch of new snow equals powder skiing. Powder skiing equals the polar opposite of defeat. So like yesterday, we set off into the storm, the only skiers on this mountain crazy enough to go touring (the ski areas on these Chilean volcanoes are above treeline, thus relying on good visibility and not too much wind to stay open).
Yesterday was Volcano Storm Skiing. Today was just plain storm skiing. We stuck below treeline for most of the day and found some great tree shots. With over a foot of new, dense, fast, springy pow, we put in a skin track, and one lap turned into two laps, then three laps, four laps, five laps… To be skiing in an early succession forest with a cauldron of lava bubbling 5,000’ above your head feels exotic.
At the end of the day we toured up into the storm to get a sense of how windy it really was in the alpine (and to line ourselves up for a nice glide back to the parking lot). It was windy. Really windy.
SEPT 25, 2014: VOLCAN LONQUIMAYFirst summit of the trip! We may or may not have had a slight mechanical advantage on the approach this morning (chairlift) to Volcan Lonquimay. We were teased with beautiful views of the mountain, although the wind was clearly howling up high. The visibility started to deteriorate as we climbed high above the ski area.
We transitioned from skins to boot crampons where the broad terrain gives way to a semi-sharp ridge, and we climbed up and up into the clouds. The wind came in waves with periods of eerie calm in between.
We climbed until we could climb no further, enjoyed some nice celebratory summit time, and clicked into our skis. The upper mountain required careful turns in the limited visibility, but 3,000’ lower we were able to finally open it up and just ski.
The lifts were still spinning after our huge descent, so we snuck in a few extra laps at the ski area before heading for the lodge for chocolate caliente and cervezas. Lonquimay!SEPT 26, 2014: SIERRA NEVADA
We didn’t take Sergio seriously when he said “I have a snowcat”. We were discussing the approach to Sierra Nevada, which would typically involve four-wheel drive pickups to get to where the snow starts. As our Chilean outfitter and local guru, Sergio has been with us the whole trip, and here in Malalcahuello we are staying at his ideally positioned lodge, the SuizAndina.
It turns out Sergio has two mini snowcat-like vehicles he recently acquired, and he was psyched to give one of them a try in getting us to Sierra Nevada. If all went well, it seemed possible that we’d found a loophole in the “No Shortcuts to the Top” argument. The mini snowcat would deliver us to treeline, we could spend more time touring in the alpine, and maybe get a few bonus turns at the end of the day.
Apparently the universe is on Ed Viesturs’ side. Before we even hit the snow, the mini snowcat had lost one of its tracks. These are the moments where us skiers start to panic internally. Will we make it to the snow? Will we ski today?
With one track down and Sergio at the helm, the mini snowcat still performed amazingly well in getting us up the gnarly road. When we hit the snow, it was time to earn our turns.
We ascended through mysterious Araucaria forest (monkey puzzle trees) and out on to a long alpine ridge. Cornice on one side, rocks on the other. The terrain became particularly interesting on the upper mountain, with a series of intersecting ridges, alpine bowls, and mushroomy ice features. The weather was perfect, the views endless, and we were able to ski from the highest point beneath the summit (the last 50’ was steep rime ice).
Sierra Nevada is one of those descents that just goes on forever. Photos tell the story better than words.
Chilean ski adventure to the max.
We launched for the north side of Volcan Llaima with overnight gear, optimism, and our fuel tanks filled to the brim with carne. Our send off from Malalcahuello was the asado of all asados: Chilean grass fed beef, homemade sausages, and lamb slow cooked over a wood fired grill masterfully by Sergio (our Chilean outfitter and owner of the lodge in Malalcahuello).
The wind was steady and the views nonexistent as we toured up an expansive lava field that just five years ago was flowing red. Above the monkey puzzle trees the wind was whipping, and feeling energetic we opted for the storm camping experience. We carved tent platforms into the leeward side of a small rock outcrop and proceeded to build Alaska style wind walls around our camp.
The next morning was frigid. The sun came out and as we packed up our gear for the summit ascent, we had the feeling that everything was lining up. Almost. The nice springlike snow surface we’d skinned up the day before was now a skating rink. Our ski crampons, even under full body weight, were not biting into the ice. This was not the type of frozen snow that softens throughout the day.
About 600 vertical feet above camp it became apparent that the snow wasn’t getting any better. Getting on the face above us – which Katy and I had learned the year before is deceptively enormous and quite steep at the top, was out of the question.
We ripped our skins and skied east coast style “packed powder” (very loud turns) 1,000’ down to a small sub peak to the east. Views across the way of Sierra Nevada rising above the beautiful Lago Conguillio (a huge lake) began to the open up. We cramponed to the summit of our mini peak, skied down, and as we contoured back to camp, the decision not to go higher on Llaima was further reinforced. The winds ramped up, and visibility dropped to ping-pong ball status. We packed up camp and skied down out of the clouds.
Overused statement of the trip, uttered multiple times at the end of every ski day: “Well that was an adventure.”
This is a truly amazing place to have skis on your feet.
Sound interesting? Learn more about this trip here.