Another ski adventure for Tom, Robin, John, Lino, and Mark, this time on the Pika glacier in Denali National Park in the Alaska range. Our camp had a good view of Mount Foraker about 17 miles to the north-west. Denali is about 30 miles to the NNE, but hidden behind the spires that enclose the Pika. Better known as a summer rock-climbing venue (and called "Little Switzerland" for its scenery) this area has some steep lines.
We aimed for a base camp at the head of the Pika, under the Trolls and the Crown Jewel spires. The weather patterns for winter 2010-2011 were not propitious, with a long dry spell in February and March. The week before our arrival the snow came - somewhere around 2 meters or more.
Paul from Talkeetna Air Taxi flew us in on Saturday when the weather cleared enough for the flight. The flight was spectacular, but the landing more so - even with the ski pontoons the single Otter sank almost to the prop. The snow was chest-deep and virtually impossible to navigate without skis. We spent the afternoon skiing and boot-packing a turn-around, runway, and kicker so Paul could get out.
Apart from a stove fuel near-disaster (TAT bailed us out with an air-drop) we had ideal conditions. The snow was virtually bottomless and the storms over the prior week or two had laid down a consistent light snow with virtually no detectable layers. Sunday had clouds and a few inches of snow, but otherwise the week was sunny and cold with over-night lows one night hitting -25C (colder than -10F).
Friday, 8 April - Drove Anchorage-Talkeetna. Checked in with the ranger station, told that with the possible Federal government shut-down we may not even be able to enter the park. Headed over to Talkeetna Air Taxi about 1pm, sorted gear and weigh in, but TAT told us they couldn't fly because of weather. Changed back to civies and had a late lunch at the Denali Brewing Company in Talkeetna. Slept in the pavilion at TAT.
Saturday, 9 April - Breakfast at the Roadhouse. TAT says we fly, we head out about 10:30. Clear skies in the mountains, beautiful views, and land on the Pika. The plane, a 1954 single Otter, sank in almost to the prop. The afternoon was skiing and boot-packing a runway. Paul got off about 4 or 5. We built camp, and eventually realized the fuel was never unloaded from the plane. Temps fell quickly after the sun disappeared behind the Royal Tower about 6pm, but it stayed light until about 10. A cold dinner, and cold night with snow-filled water-bottles in our sleeping bags.
Sunday, 10 April - Called TAT, and Paul does a fly-over about 10:30 with an air-drop of three fuel cans and one box of wine. Fortunate, because weather comes in mid-day. By afternoon skies clear and we could ski the "Milk Run". (1460ft vertical, 2 laps). Dinner: Fajitas/stew (onions, peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, steak, tortillas).
Monday, 11 April - Start about 11:30 and headed down the glacier to the Hobbit. Skied the Hobbit Hop, then the north-west facing couloir off the Hobbit (the Bobbit?). It's 1500ft, the last section over 42degrees, thin snow-pack and facets. Back to camp about 9:30. Ravens got in the trash and some food. Temps down to -20C after the sun goes down. Wearing more clothes to bed to stay warm. (3100ft vertical). Dinner: TastyBites with tuna and cous-cous.
Tuesday, 12 April - Late start - since Monday was a long day and it's cold in the morning. Up to col E of camp. Tried to go off the NE side but it was ice/rocky/steep. Booted back up. Skinned over to Telephone col, then back down to camp. The ravens got 4doz eggs, and took them all away. John, Mark, Lino took an extra run off the base of the Crown Jewel. Cold night, with temps -23C next morning. Dinner: Sauerkraut and sausage with rye bread.
Wednesday, 13 April - Late start again. Down the Pika to Italy's boot. Laps on the toe of the steep NE-facing couloir (top looked scoured). Good skiing. Overnight some thin clouds, so warmer. (4100ft vertical, 5 laps). Dinner: tortellini in tomato sauce, with onions, bacon, peppers, zucchini, served with red wine.
Thursday, 14 April - Back to Hobbit Hop. Then up the small glacier between Hobbit and Dragon's Spine. Lunch on a small col off the Hobbit, skied the bottom of a W-facing couloir, not terribly good. The ravens got into the clean mountain cans. Some wind during the day and overnight. Dinner: TastyBites with salmon and rice.
Friday, 15 April - Up towards Telephone col. Some localized slab (not very thick) from the wind. Triggered a small slab skiing back down towards camp. Then over towards the Munchkin and looked into the Crown Glacier, lunch on the col into the Milk Run (with a view of Denali). A couple laps down to the Crown Glacier, then a couple laps on the Milk Run. (2500ft vertical, 4 laps). Dinner: Pasta and pesto, red wine.
Saturday, 16 April - Paul from TAT comes in to take us out about 10am. Takeoff uneventful.