Jones Ambassador Guide Liz Daley just returned from an expedition to the Tordrillo range in Alaska. Here’s thoughts on the adventure from Liz:
Friends have been talking about Alaska for years. The land of perfect, stable, bootable snow that sticks to everything. Massive unridden spine walls, endless couloirs, huge alpine faces and large glaciers running from the sea to giant serac’d capped peaks. It snows at night and is bluebird in the morning. There are wild but friendly unicorns and rainbows atop every spine line. The climate heals any weak layers in the snowpack. It’s not that dark in the winter. Ok, the unicorn part may be a tall tale but everything else is absolute fact.
The past five years I’ve saved all my pennies to get to Chamonix and going to Alaska just seemed out of the question. I always thought, "Alaska couldn’t be much radder than the Alps could it? A girl just can’t have it all." I tried to remain content with staying in the Alps, which I totally was… BUT this year I got lucky and decided to go find out for myself what the BFD was with AK. And boy oh boy Alaska did NOT fail to deliver.
We flew into Anchorage, and Emily from Silvertip Aviation, www.silvertipaviation.com picked us up and her lovely fiancé, Matt flew us out to the Tordrillos. I’d highly recommend Silvertip, they fly out of Wasilla to the Chugach, Talkeetna, Tordrillo and Alaska ranges. Super nice couple, great service and solid pilots.
Alaska had a pretty bad season this year, low snow and a gnarly persistent layer I kept hearing about which made me kind of nervous to be 100 miles out on a glacier in the middle of now where with help far, far away. A little different than being in Chamonix with a free heli evac service just a phone call away. It’s also different than Cham because you don’t have a bunch of D bags dropping in on your head or racing you up to a classic line that’s in condition… they also aren’t around to open up a big line for you in sketchy conditions (the only time they’re appreciated).
We set up camp then went for a little evening sesh on some west facing glowing slopes near our tents. The new snow that had fallen in the last 2 days was kind of baked with a nasty sugary layer underneath. I made some sweet fast turns then got up onto a spine to let my slough pass through the choke at the bottom. After it passed I pointed it over the shrund and out onto the glacier. SO FUN! It took us a couple days to figure out the snowpack, the weather and where the good snow would be then we crushed for the following 8 days.
We got up at about 3:45am almost every morning after that and hit the northeast aspects, where the snow was blower, that had light on them at sunrise. We’d come home after an 8 or 9 hour sesh, eat whiskey snickers pancakes, nap, drink some pabst then go back out for an evening sesh when the light was on the northwest aspects.
Caroline getting some sunrise turns in. Absolutely gorgeous.
Me in my tent on one of two down days.
Carolina in the pink light! This morning there were windslabs everywhere from a storm that deposited about a foot of fresh overnight. We stayed on smaller lines with good run-outs. I cracked a few small ones off. It was a good lesson in risk management and hazard evaluation.
Jay Beyer and JT Thompson going to crushtown in a crevasse.
Megalaspine zone miles from camp.
One afternoon we were tired from endless spines and powder, soon we got bored and we decided to make a music video.
We called this zone Cham, because it looks like Mont Blanc and the Tacul. Want.
Overall Alaska was an AMAZING experience and now I’m begrudged to make it happen every year. Oh dang. I’d really recommend camping out on the glacier for an extended period to get to know your zone and maximize shredding potential. I taught a splitboard course in the rain at Mt. Baker in a white out yesterday, dreaming of being back in AK.