Forums Trip Reports TR: Talkeetna Range Hatcher Pass Alaska 3-30-11
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  • #574690
    Snowolf
    86 Posts

    On Wednesday March 30`th, I left Anchorage around 9:00 AM and headed north up the Parks Highway under a an overcast sky. The previous day I had been at Alyeska and the base was raining while the top was getting snow but had zero visibility. After the great sunny riding I had enjoyed up in Fairbanks, I had little patience for rain and flat light. Today was my day for the solitude of solo split boarding up in the Talkeetna Range north of Palmer, Alaska as the sky was mostly clear up there.

    After a quick breakfast in Palmer, I drove up the Hatcher Pass road to the end in the Hatcher Pass Recreation Area and found the parking lot devoid of people. Along the road behind me several rigs with snow machines were parked, but no one else was skiing or riding. I had the entire wilderness to myself. I set up the split board and started up the groomed trail toward the basin and the Independence Gold Mine.. After skinning in about a mile, I came to the mine and ghost town, nestled high up in the basin, far above tree line. The snow was quite good with very fine coverage. At this point, I scouted a route up through the limitless possibilities that would get me the best view and best snow for the ride back. The avalanche danger in the Chugach Range around Alyeska was very high with many natural releases observed so I decided to start out with a lower aspect approach that offered decent protection to get to the really good terrain.

    I skinned northwest up out of the basin up a natural valley toward a saddle between two of the larger peaks. When I got to the flank of the mountain and avalanche terrain, I dug a pit to ground and did an isolated column test. I found the entire snow pack to be really good, consolidated 1 to 2 finger snow with no radical density difference throughout from the surface down to about 4 feet. I ran through the entire series of CT tests with no results, so I was stoked at what I found to be very stable snow. The last foot to the ground however was a tad worrisome as it was very loose, week sugar snow and depth hoar. While unlikely to be triggered by hiking and riding, if it did go, it would be big and go clear to ground. For this reason, I elected to pick a route up through large boulder fields and natural terrain that offered good anchoring of the snow pack as well as kept potential slide areas small with nowhere for it to really travel.

    After about an hour of climbing up the approximately 40 degree slop to the ridge line and saddle, I was treated to my first view of the back side of the mountain and it was breath taking to say the least. This of course left me wanting more so I began to scout for my rout to the very top of the peak to my left which offered the most plausible access to the summit. Within a few minutes, I had a route planned that would would take me up the 45 to 50 degree slope through multiple cliff bands via a sick chute.

    The higher I climbed, the better the snow got and the vast open bowls and rollers above beckoned even louder. The skinning was relatively straight forward until I had to make a lateral traverse above a small cliff band on a roughly 45 degree pitch. This became a bit tricky as there was only a 5 to 6 inch layer of fresh powder on top of firmer, icy in places, older snow. Setting an edge was difficult in a few spots and provided a few brief moments of terror as I contemplated a slide over the 20 foot cliff below. By taking it slow and methodically, I made it to the bottom of my chute.

    Here is where the art of splitting temporarily evaded me as it became just too steep to sidestep up and I eventually gave up and removed both “skis” in favor of hand over hand climbing. Using the ice axe to create steps and hand holds, I looped a section of rope through my bindings and tied the other end to my belt and climbed up through the steep narrow section of the chute. Once at the top of this hourglass, I hauled my “skis” up with the rope. From here to the summit, it was a straightforward and pleasant split up through the cliff bands to the ridge line.

    Once on top, I was totally awestruck by the 360 degree view that I had of the entire Talkeetna Range as well as the Chugach to the south. Had the weather been clearer, I would have easily seen 20,300 foot Mt. McKinley in the Alaska Range to the north, but the weather was not cooperating. Still, it was a view unlike anything that can be had in the lower 48 and I was far from disappointed. I traveled up the ridge to my right and made the summit of the highest peak in the vicinity, where I ate my lunch enjoying the solitude and grand desolation that spread from horizon to horizon about me. After about an hour, I set the split board back up in ride mode and prepared for my reward; shredding fresh lines in untouched Alaskan powder on the sickest terrain imaginable.

    The ride down my route up was every bit as epic as I had hoped and the snow was like riding through silk as it whispered underneath my feet, making each new turn a work of art. I got to the entrance to the chute and felt a pang of adrenaline as I looked down it and imagined what my escape route would be should it go. I made a couple of quick ski cuts to reassure myself that I had indeed made sound judgment calls and then went for it. While over quick, these were the best 5 or 6 turns of the entire trip! I rode down through a valley of wildly undulating terrain dotted with house sized boulders all the way back into the basin above the ghost town.

    The last half mile of the ride was riding past and through old mine buildings which was really kind of cool thing and certainly something I have never got to experience on a snowboard before. Once onto “main street”. I walked around and looked at the buildings and other artifacts; taking the opportunity to play around with the camera and it`s different filters. I spend about an hour wandering around and the desolation of the Alaskan winter added a real mystique to this ghost town. Just before dusk, I found myself back at the truck where I enjoyed a beer and a fine cigar. It was not the longest tour, nor perhaps even the most gnarly or epic ride, but the total experience was unlike anything I have ever experienced before in the lower 48.

    Approaching the ghost town in the upper basin with the Talkeetna Mountains behind:

    Some “old time” effects I used on the photos of the mine and town:

    The upper basin above the town and my route to the saddle and eventual summit of the left peak:

    View south of the Chugach from about half way to the saddle:

    The way ahead, these boulders seen are the size of small houses:

    A look behind as I reach the saddle:

    View right:

    Looking ahead, over into the next canyon:

    View left and my ultimate destination:

    View up the chute:

    At the top of the chute looking back:

    Last stretch with epic powder up top:

    Finally up on top of the ridge:

    On the top of the world!

    My 2011 Volie Mojo RX in its natural environment:

    Heading back:

    Views on the way down:

    Back in “town”:

    The locals:

    If you want to see all of the pictures, click here for the Web Shots Slide Show:

    http://sports.webshots.com/slideshow/579999595zdtJkP

    #639065
    jcocci
    699 Posts

    Awesome. Love the “town” shots.

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