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Home Forums Trip Reports A-Range 2010 Part 3: North Face of Rainbow Mountain

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    In May 2009 I came up with an idea for a ski descent on Rainbow Mountain that would provide more consistent downhill skiing, in terms of distance traveled, than any other peak in the Alaska Range that I know of which is accessible as a day trip from the road system.

    The idea was to ascend a southwest facing couloir on Rainbow Mountain for approx. 4,000 vertical feet to its summit. The couloir leads to the summit of Rainbow Mountain directly from the highway, providing superb access to this very nice, large peak. From the summit it would be possible to descend the North face of Rainbow to its juncture with the Rainbow glacier and then descend the Rainbow Glacier, then a series of moraines and creeks to the valley floor of the Canwell Glaicer. This route would provide a 4,000 vertical foot descent and over 4 miles of downhill skiing. From the Canwell it would be necessary to hike back to the highway for 1-2 miles and then hitchhike back to the vehicle waiting at the base of the Couloir. This is what it looks like:

    I attempted this route last May and upon reaching the summit elected to retreat due to what I felt were unsafe snow conditions. I ended up descending the south west couloir that day. The TR can be found here

    I kept scoping out the route however and decided to make another go of it this May. I was even lucky enough to recruit two partners. After a good night’s sleep, we began the ascent early in the AM

    About four hours later we attained the ridge.

    We quickly reached the summit and got our first look down the route.

    A few crevasses to watch out for out on the glacier, but the snow was of excellent quality: over a foot of cold Alaska powder. This slope is quite sustained and wind loaded and thus dangerous however, so I climbed down a little ways and did some quick stability assessment work. Results came back very positive and, unlike last season, the line was a go. I dropped in and was heavily rewarded with spectacular terrain and completely epic, stable, powder. Cowboy was up next.

    Let me tell you about Cowboy. Earlier this winter I met this guy out hunting who tells me he is a good snowboarder and that, although he had never been backcountry snowboarding before, he would like to do some backcountry. I tell him I will take him out sometime, as I need partners as well. We never really end up getting out there together because of weather, snow conditions, other commitments ect. But the kid keeps asking and me I promise I will get him out there before it’s all over. Normally we would all scope somebody out before we take them on a big, committing line such as the North Face of Rainbow, but before I knew it the season was about to end and I made a judgment call that anybody with as much energy as Cowboy would be able to handle getting up and down this mountain one way or another. I told him it was time to make it happen on Rainbow.

    I go to meet him in a random parking lot and he is sportin’ Wranglers, cowboy boots, a big ol’ belt buckle, and a big ol’ dip in his lip; yee haw! At this point I start thinking that maybe this is not such a good idea, that this guy likely has no clue how to ride and no idea what I am about to get him into. But hey, he’s ready to roll, the weekend is planned, and there is no turning back now (I am just trying to think of some type of plan B line that would suffice for a beginner). I am worried and he is too. He asks me if I think he can handle it. I tell him that if you are uncomfortable making turns at any point then you can just side slip. He asks “what is a side slip?” and I am thinking “oh fuck, not good dude”. On the drive Cowboy goes on to explain to us that he is a competitive bull-rider working to become a professional bull-rider at the national level. He also tells us that he is on the cross-country running team at the university. Fair enough, at least it sounds the kid is tough, in-shape, has ambition, and the balls to ride bulls. Nevertheless I am still skeptical.

    We got a view of the proposed line and I also showed him some lower angle alternatives. I asked Cowboy his opinion about the routes. He said he wanted to ride the big line on Rainbow.

    First off: the kid absolutely hauled ass up the couloirs ascent; he was literally running up the couloirs and beat us to ridge. Then the moment of truth: Cowboy drops in and this is what I saw;

    Huge pow; huge toeside throwdown :thumpsup:

    The kid absolutely tears it up; huge blower turns done like a pro; Rad!! I am really starting to like this guy!
    He sent it like a king all the way .

    Seth was up next and took a nice line to the looker’s right. Again, the snow was as good as it EVER gets in the Alaska Range.

    The face funnels into several chuted exits. This is looking down the lower 1/3 of the face into the entrance of the chute I am about to drop. Killer.

    Ah…that was so damn good! Total score! :drool: Watch Cowboy nail it here:

    Not bad for a guy who does not even know what a side slip is.

    Here is a photo of our line and then the assortment of other possible lines on the north face. There are several other options to be seen lookers left of our tracks as well.

    Now for the ripping glacier skiing segment. In this photo you can see the entirety of the GFP that awaits us. We will ride that snow as far as you can see it go on, to the valley floor off in the distance. It was absolutely beautiful.

    About 2 miles (!) down the dry snow gave way to another 2 miles of perfect corn snow (epic GFP-GFC transition for those of you in the know 😛 ). Eventually we entered a large canyon which led us to the flats. The riding in the canyon remained high quality.

    Here Cowboy throws down a clean backside 180 with Dall Sheep watching from the cliffs above.

    Now that’s cool! See Cowboy below and Dall Sheep above. Only in AK.

    Eventually we reach a point where the terrain flattens out, the snow becomes too soft, and we are inclined to split up the boards and ski out (Cowboy post-holed since he had no split). The scenery was spectacular and we were a very happy group.

    After our long ski we hit dry ground and walked another mile out to the road.

    I had that immense feeling of satisfaction with life and my circumstances that it seems only spring skiing can only bring out in me; it’s a feeling like no other. I think it has something to do with the changing weather, the warmth, the flowing waters, the new wildflowers, and the celebration of another epic winter. Accomplishing the north face of Rainbow and the awesome glacier run certainly bolstered these feelings.

    I’ll leave you with a few photos of the route taken from separate locations on separate dates.

    Stay tuned for Part 4.


    That is sweet. All the AK splitting on this site is so bad ass with all yr sick terrain and guns and bears and cowpokes.


    yeah; AK is definetly not short on guns, bears, or sick terrain in these parts; however Cowboy was a total anomaly, cause AK is certainly not known for horses, bulls, or ranching….I’ll tell you what there is a lot of though hillbillys, tea partiers, and SledNecks….its a total Go Sarah Go, Drill Baby Drill circus up in here…


    I need to follow up this TR and show you all something cool;

    I took this photo this summer.

    They don’t call it Rainbow Mountain for nothing. Rainbow and the face we rode is the high peak on the far right of the photo.

    And then later this fall I went for a hike. Rainbow and face we rode is the snowy peak in the background.

    Now thats what I call livin local; riding powder and fillin’ your freezer on the same hill….


    Whoa, sick TR. So did cowboy go back to ridin’ bulls or is he now ridin’ rainbows?


    killing it as usual. looks like it was an epic descent with a little bit of everything. what a good day


    WOW, I missed this tour 1st time around, How fun must that have been to go from never rode in the backcountry to that tour like that, in snow like that, way to go and way to go for into-ing someone with a day like that!!


    Cowboy has the ‘warrior gene’ for reals; I am still blown away by the way that kid handled this line. Total contrast compared to other expereinces of taking people out for their very 1st BC day. He went right from this mission to a Rodeo to ride bulls; no shit. And yeah, he is still slaying it; calling me to go ride handrails around town at night. Dude was doing tow-in hand rails a few nights ago…total nutter..


    Only in AK have I met people like Cowboy :headbang:. Congratulations on rebating this one :thumpsup: , have to get up there once we start getting more sunlight around here. Happy Solstice :guinness:

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