Just what the Hell is Alaska Day? I wasn't sure, but it was a day off from work. I figured in the absence of structured holiday events, that the best bet would be to treat it like MLK Day.
I loaded the skis and put Anchorage in the rearview. It was cloudy, but forecast called for clearing. The goal was Silvertip. Skiable snow in Summit / Turnagain is at about 1,800'. The Silvertip trailhead is at 600'; there'd be some walking.
There is a gated mining road that gets you through the worst of the brush. Unfortunately, I convinced myself that this was the wrong road and tore off into the woods like an idiot trying to find the "correct" road. 90 minutes later I popped out a ½ mile up the original road. Moron! At least I was back on route. The road quickly peters out into ATV trail and then a small path that puts you at a perennial snow-bridge. Using this and other bridges, you can link meadows on either side of the creek.
Silvertip Creek splits around the NE Ridge of the peak. I opted to make for the ridge from the mini-confluence. This involved some steep bushwhacking and creative swearing. Progress was slow but eventually I gained the ridge at about 2,000' and immediately started skinning.
The snow was refrozen slush and odds for soft conditions up higher seemed low. Despite expectations, the snow quality drastically improved at 2,500.' A few new inches made for easy travel.
Looking Back towards the Trailhead
Now was the opportunity to make up time that was lost to pointless alder smashing. The NE ridge is low enough angle to avoid any switchbacks, but this makes for a long (albeit safer) approach. The wind kicked up into the 30 mph range around 3,000' and with those few inches available for transport, it was full-on winter.
The Final Push to the Summit
The last 600' vert gets steeper, but fortunately wind had scoured the ridge down to only a few inches giving me that false sense of security that I am so fond of. The views from the summit are outstanding. Silvertip looks down 6-Mile all the way to Indian. Both Summit Lakes are in your lap as is all of Turnagain Pass.
The Ridges of Turnagain County
I quickly transitioned using an advanced technique for folding skins in high winds. Now: to the schuss!!! The ridge held no appeal. The SE Face has been taunting me for years. Today would be the day.
There was a slight wind crust for the 1st few turns, but conditions improved dramatically. The snow wanted to be my friend and with gravity as my weapon, I let 'em run!! Yelps and whoops echoed off the steep walls in front of me. Wind whipped and snow flew and before too long I had descended 2,500' to the creek.
I stayed skier's right of the creek and was able towork the snow down to 1,500.' Once on foot, I linked meadows with minimal shwack'n by staying boater's right. The friendly neighborhood snow-bridges continued to play an important role and I was quickly back on the the mining road heading for home.
Hint: Stay on the mining road for a optimal travel.
- Michael Schultz