MYSTery Alaska – Part III

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Day two, we overslept. It was only 8 AM but we missed our window of opportunity to climb and ski anything of significance. We conceded that the day would be better served by setting up an auxiliary camp close to some of our targets as well as observing the snow and sun movement in order to have a more educated idea of our possibilities. The basis of our conversations the night before revolved around the large, open north-west face of the peak looker’s right of Kickstep. Due the sun’s movement, we figured our magic window would be between noon and one, just after the sun began to hit the slope. Anything before would be rock hard ice, anything after would be too soft and run the risk of wet slides.

There we were digging again, not skiing. Pausing for lunch, we were treated to a fireworks show of sorts. It was just before three and like clockwork, southerly and easterly faces around us let go of what was left of the snowpack. Our serenity was interrupted by what sounded like jet engines echoing around the valley every five minutes. They served as stark reminders of the omnipresent dangers that exist in the mountains, amplified by below average snowpack and above average temperatures. After lunch and some impromptu nude foot races, we put our gear back on and collectively skied some fun, low-angle terrain before returning to camp and calling it a day.

Up before the dawn, the four of us set out on the day’s mission. As we reached Camp II, Lange, Sage, and myself continued towards the ridge as Sales remained behind with the promise of hot pancakes and bacon upon our return. The three of us traversed along a route that alternated between snow and exposed tundra on the way to the base of the ridge. We decided the quickest way up the ridge would be to boot pack so we strapped up and began the hike. Lange took point and broke trail – MVP of the day. The ridge was a lot longer than it looked but after an hour of solid hiking, we made it to the top.

The sun had yet to hit the face and sure enough, it was frozen solid. We found a cozy plot of exposed tundra to rest our legs as we cracked jokes about what Sales had been doing by himself for the past four hours. Over the radio, Sales’ voice crackled, “Okay, you guys ready to drop?” Our reply was concise and resounding, “No dude, it’s rock hard!” I awoke from a nap about an hour later, slightly startled at my surroundings. This place is indescribably beautiful with layers upon layers of mountains as far as I could see. Testing the snow, it was go time.

mystery alaska episode 3 skiing

One by one, we descended the ridge to the top of the open face. I won – or lost, depending on your view point – rock, paper, scissors for first drop. Pointing down the fall-line, I made a few cautious turns as I approached the blind roll-over. Feeling confident with the perfect corn beneath my skis, I raced down the remainder of the slope and raised my arms in elation as I made one final arc towards the direction of camp. In a safe spot, I cheered as I watched my two friends snake down the two-thousand foot face at high speeds.

Stoke was high as we rendezvoused at Camp II. Sure enough, we had hot pancakes and bacon waiting for us. Jet engines signaled that the day was done, but we didn’t mind. One run was all that we needed. That feeling still hadn’t worn off as we sat around the fire that night on our three-piece sectional made out of snow. Returning to Anchorage the following day to see Sage off on his journey for higher education, we took the time to recoup, refuel, and resupply. Real furniture that wasn’t constructed out of snow sure was a welcome sight.

Check out the beginning of this series in Part I of the Myst crew’s Alaska trip report.

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