Wrangell Mountains 2014
We were not done with Alaska after The Tordrillos. For 2 days we enjoyed showers and beds we did some laundry and shopping in Anchorage and we were ready for round 2. As we unloaded on the air-strip near Chitina, AK, we couldn’t decide which was more impressive the amount of stuff we had or the fact we fit it all plus four guys in the rental van.
The pilot, Paul Claus said he’d never seen any group with as much food, alcohol and fuel. We flew in safely on the turbine otter plane and landed on a frozen lake near what Andrew McLean has dubbed the “Slotterhouse” due to the quantity of nice tight slots and chutes.
We quickly set up the fattest ski base-camp ever! If you look closely you’ll see a lovely black puff of smoke wafting out of the Stronghold dome tent. Andrew decided a wood stove was a good idea and he was right. It was carefully “installed” and we enjoyed the many blessings it provided such as heat, continual melting of snow and the drying of gear!
Costco doth provide! Snacks galore.
It became painfully clear that we would need to eat our way out of the Wrangell’s! Enjoying a pizza bagel at sunset.
Well fed and excited to check out the terrain we headed out into the clouds the next day. Our expedition team from left to right- Jonah Howell, Thomas Gaisbacher, Garrett Grove, Andrew McLean and Noah Howell (taking photo). Felt good to get the legs moving, but the clouds were thick and the lack of trees made it tough to ski in white-out conditions.
Giving one of the nearest chutes a visit we found some REALLY deep protected snow up high.
Thomas was pretty fired up about being in AK even though they were having a “bad” year.
The paparazzi was out to get all the shots.
Skies cleared and we went exploring up valley 1, which held some of the best looking chutes.
We took it easy and stuck to mellow angle pow, waiting for all the new snow to settle out.
Still early in the trip, we hoped we get a chance at these beauties.
We topped out in the valley and pondered the abyss. Very cool stacked valleys that lend to link ups and up and overs, which Andrew had done some of before on a previous visit. This one didn’t go.
The next day or two were spent exploring and getting to know the neighborhood.
The crevasses were really well filled in and the camera crew couldn’t pass up jumping in and around them to get interesting angles.
And just as we were feeling more comfortable with the snow, skiing some larger faces and steeper pitches this happened (it’s the debris pile from our avalanche)!
The temps were on the rise and while skinning up a steeper headwall the slope popped. The crown was about 2ft deep and ran for 500ft. Garrett and I were caught, but I was able to dig in, swim and was only flushed 40ft downslope. Garrett was much further out in the meat of it and went for a 600ft ride and over 20ft of cliffs. Luckily he wasn’t buried and was unharmed, but lost most of his gear. Surprisingly we found everything all spread out in the debris, even his pair of white sunglasses. Not much to do, but tuck tail and retreat.
We grabbed some glacial ice on the way to camp……
and thoroughly enjoyed some margaritas….
and sunsets………and life….and every little thing.
Our goals and desires were sluffed out with the avalanche. The weather came in again and we reset our heads and kind of started the trip over.
The temps got really warm and the days were cloudy so we slept in….
and dried out gear…….and read some more.
We poked around valley 4 a few times and rockfall and wet slides spooked us back across the frozen lake to camp.
Then, out of boredom and curiosity we dug down through the snow to see how far it was to the lake ice. It was about 3ft.
Back to skiing! The weather broke again and with reverence and hope we headed up Valley 1 to probe some of the chutes. Since the weak layers we were finding were on the big open slopes we reckoned that skiing chutes that had slid would be a safe alternative.
Fresh wolverine tracks in our old skinner.
Long but worthwhile approaches to each valley.
And nothing but steep beautiful couloir skiing to our hearts and legs content!
High five worthy!
And all smiles during a picnic break.
We divided and conquered on some, we tag-teamed others. All in all we almost skied them all in one afternoon!
And back to camp in time for a pool party. Sorry Garrett, I had to post this one!
And on our final day we toured long and far up Valley 4, skied some smaller chutes and took in the scenery. Thomas and Andrew wrapped it up by skiing this massive three thousand foot line that we’d been staring at from camp.
Jonah celebrates surviving one month of sleeping in tents, shitting in the snow and shooting Some Thing Else in Alaska! This trip really delivered all that we keep coming back here to experience (minus the avalanche).
And we all celebrated a safe return in Chitina. Luckily the liquor store would serve us, but the beer wasn’t free.
The iphone shots don’t do the trip justice, but keep an eye out for Garrett’s images and Andrew’s words in Powder Magazine next year.
by Noah Howell