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2010 was a low snow year in Interior Alaska. Spring was short-lived and extremely warm. Options were limited and the snow conditions were often not ideal. Nevertheless, I made it out every weekend of May to ride something.
As it has across North America, local interest and motivation for splitboarding activities is growing in the area here and only once during May was I left without a backcountry partner. In fact I found myself trying to balance and organize trips I had planned according to the level of interest being portrayed by several partners simultaneously! This is a big change from a past of continuously heading out solo.
In 2009 I discovered a potential line on the North Face of Panorama Mountain. I was looking to ski something tight and technical and Mark suggested that we attempt to climb and ride the line on Panorama’s north face which I had showed him in a photo several months prior.
We’ll call our proposed destination here “Teeter Totter”.
With enough snowfall I knew the line was doable, with one possible down climb or rap. Mark had toured the area a few weeks prior and came to the same assessment. Here’s a look at the proposed route:
We set off early morning on the wonderful frozen creek bed approach up Slime Gulch. After being a lazy man on a helicopter for a few weeks, it felt great to be out touring again.
Here the north face comes into view. The Merry-Go-Round area can be seen on the left in the first photo. We are heading for the north buttress area towards the right. Snow is definitely sparse this season.
As I began to suspect on the approach, the Teeter Totter Couloir likely did not hold enough snow to warrant a descent. The area shown in this photo, which does not look passable, was filled in with snow last winter.
Even more, that section is not even the crux of the route. There was discussion of down climbing or rapping through this section. I became highly doubtful of an ascent in these sparse snow conditions being worthwhile. A discussion of our options led us to continue onwards to get a closer look. As we began climbing there was a lot stoke regardless of our reservations. The snow was wintery and it felt good to be gaining some vertical.
As we reached the base of the route another tight, exposed section revealed itself. Nevertheless, Mark went to explore…
…and came to the obvious conclusion that the Teeter Totter route was best saved for a heavy snow year (hopefully 2011!). In an attempt to salvage our efforts we elected to continue on, heading left and climbing an aesthetic ramp that looked to provide some decent turns.
Short, but good fun. We’ll call that “The Balancing Bar” because of its exposed ramp feature. Here it is shown in red on the left side of the frame.
All this way and shut down. ‘What to do’ we ask ourselves? Do not fear: The Playground has an answer and Savage has a plan. We traversed hard right and began ascending another possibility: a steep, tight couloir that I had taken notice of a two winters ago. I could never tell if the line would go or not from previous vantage points but today would be the day to find out for sure. The snow was stable, the climbing was good, and the surroundings were beautiful.
As we turned the corner more of the line revealed itself and we were quite happy with what we could see.
As we climbed on, a beautiful couloir revealed itself to us and it began to snow.
The chute stayed steep (45-50 degrees) and tight (15-20ft.) for a considerable time and then opened up and tapered off a bit about ½ way up (43 degrees precise, as measured by an inclinometer).
Towards the top it steepened again and got tighter and tighter (down to 6ft wide). This photo is looking down the route as we enter the upper pitch where things really tighten up again. Looks like a good ride!
The view up as we ascend the upper pitch.
The tight section.
We reached a point where it was a short class 3-4 scramble to attain the ridge (on a bigger snow year this would be rideable from the ridge). Things got very tight and there was barely enough room for all 4 of us to get our gear on.
(3 Creedlers in a Crux)
The upper crux was too tight to make turns or side slip. Mark pointed it for about 20ft. and came raging out into the wide section in a massive white room spray dumping speed and gaining control. Fearful, Savage followed cautiously and made two precision tips-on-rock jump turns…
…and then pointed it as well, forcing himself into the rock-blind world of the white room as he dumped speed.
That was a rush. But it’s all good as vision is restored and killer powder turns are being made.
Following that session Surface Hore drops in and scores some as well.
And then B- the DNP ranger gets some too.
The lower section is intimidating, but perfect once we get our flow going;
A couple of great photos here, capturing the aesthetics of this spectacular couloir; which we elect to call The Monkey Bars Couloir.
Here are two photos of Monkey Bars taken from the road.
We ski some fresh powder on the apron and get some fun corn on the way out.
It was a challenging and technical descent down a melting Slime Gulch. Here Surface Hoar slays it on split skis. You don’t want to mess with this chik boys.
Very happy outcome on this day and the Teeter Totter route will likely get done by one of us in 2011. Stayed tuned for Part 3.
(Note: Surface Hore previously posted a TR for this trip. I was going to just add larger photos to her post, but decided to start over from scratch. Her original TR can be found here viewtopic.php?f=5&t=8862)
BG; I am a tight windy couloir fiend and this mountain has several of them; hence "Panorama Playground". Next year when you roll up lets go nail one. there are several more that have yet to see a descent. I know you got similar lines in CA...trying to think of some; Parachute maybe? (thats much steeper though). Skeelite? I used to think Halls of the Gods was like that, or Fallen Angel, and they are I guees, but they seem short now. How about Crescent Moon? Oh; I know some stuff on Tallac that is windy like that; skiers right of the summit; right of The Cross; secret entrance....
Sneeky; well when its all you got close to home you gotta make the most; and even though the snow is usually horrible its a very awesome mountain! that mountain in a coastal snowpack would be couloir heaven. Where you at?
what you are seeing there is people climbing with one ice axe and then a BD Whippet pole w/ axe. Over the years I have found that this is the best combo for snow climbing ; your ice axe provides you with solid climbing capability while the pole allows you to push down with stability when you need to reach lower angle terrain; much as a hiking/ski pole is used. This way you have the best of both worlds for any type of snow conditions you run into with the added bonus of having another blade if it becomes necessary to use it. For example, when the angle steepens and the snow gets too hard (or icy) for the ice axe shaft to penetrate I usually switch to ice climbing mode where I am using the front point of the blade and my wrist leashed to the shaft for gaining a stable placement, if you have a whippet then you can have two blades for swinging into the ice. This is not only more stable than one axe, but more fun too!
I swear by BD Whippets for splitting, they are a complete multi-use BC tool; you can flip up your heel-evators with ease, scrape ice off your gear with ease, and quickly self arrest when you slip while trying to skin up steep , slippery snow or your start sliding on a hard pack traverse. And, as mentioned above, they work great for climbing as well (even small dry-tooling moves are feasible). I bought mine 8 years ago when I took over a 500 vert slide while skinning sideways across very hard snow. Back then they still made the triple collapse-able verison, now I think they only make a double shafted verison;p which sux because they end up being so much longer when completly collapsed.
Now, if you were also wondering about riding with an ice axe, when I do that I only ride with one actual ice axe, never two. This is basically because you need your other hand to self-arrest properly if you need to. Still, I have seen French snowboarders in Chamonix riding with two axes but feel like I would not be able to control my self arrest because I would not be able to apply downward pressure with my free hand.
In this TR I am seen riding with an ice axe once, but that was just because I was being lazy and did not want to put it on my pack for only ten turns. I do ride with an ice axe quite often though; anytime I am worried about steep hard snow being unsafe for turns, or when I am dropping into something blind and not sure what I am getting into. I have found that if things get dicey having my axe out and ready for action makes life a lot easier. I have become stuck above exposed ice before and had to very carefully take off my pack, get my axe out, and get my pack back on, which sucked, so I usually ride with it if I am concerned about anything. I use a toe-edge ice-axe belay tactic where I shimmy myself down steep hard sections on my toe edge with my blade in front of me; sorta like down climbing with a snowboard on. This has come in handy several times, but I would not call it fun.
In Part 3 of this series Cowboy is seen riding with an ice axe. This was because we were not sure if the line we were dropping into went through or not and we wanted to be prepared to climb out as quickly as possible if we were to end up stuck and hung out above a serac, a cliff, or unpassable shrund'. Dropping in blind into glaciated terrain is certainly not reccomended, but if you do it, its a good idea to have an axe out.
ok; thats my very extened answer; thanks for asking.
Alessi; well thanks for the immense compliment. Twight is the real deal, beyond anything I could ever imagine accomplishing.
bs; thanks for commenting. I really love that photo you highlighted; s-line. Yes, some ranges in AK. are better tackled with serious training elsewhere and I always called Tahoe mini-golf training for the Chugach (aka the Masters). Tahoe snowpack and terrain is perfect for getting yourself dialed in on steepness and sending things at high speed; many people have taken all that they have learned at Squaw and Alpine and appllied it very sucessfully to Chugach hits. 395 and Shasta will get you dialed in on the vert. However, the little mountain in this particular TR could just as easily be found anywhere else in the world. I should also say that people who charge hard in the Wasatch and/or the Tetons usually rip it in the Chugach as well; thats my observation at least...