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Sunday
Apr262015

2015 Denali Ski Base Camp #3

The Eagle Ski Club is the UK's largest ski touring and ski mountaineering club, with over 1200 members. The club's purpose is to bring people together for trips, most of which are led by IFMGA Mountain Guides.

Phil is a trip coordinator for the Eagles. We first met in the sunny meadow below the Galliands crag in Chamonix. Phil was keen to organize an Eagles trip to Alaska. After all, Alaska is world renowned as the holy grail for ski mountaineering. Two years later we skied Alaska. We nailed conditions. 

Eagles! Phil Jardine, Ross Clueley, Jeff Colegrave and John Ring. 

 

We camped at the same place as the previous week, off the Ruth Glacier, in the Alaska Range. Our tent is the speck in the shadow. A storm between trips refreshed the terrain with three feet of powder. Our first tour on this trip was to the sunlit mountain behind camp. Denali is in the high distance. 

 

We found perfect powder on northerly aspects. 

 

Phil, Ross, John and Jeff are each life-long skiers, but they had never skied untouched powder in empty mountains. Alaska sets new standards. 

 

Coulie time! 

 

Powder apron below the chutes. 

 

Unlimited powder for everyone. This is Alaska. 

 

Jeff was dealing with excess energy management issues. Sometimes we continued the day with a few more runs. 

 

Busted! Kick turns and zig-zags can be embarrassing for a guide. Guides aim for low angle skin tracks that use the terrain to make rounded turns on benches. A guide's goal is to have clients relaxing on the ascent. Conserving energy so they can make more ski runs. My excuse for these zig-zags was that the 35-degree ascent slope was confined by seracs on the right and steeps on the left. But the powder was so soft....

 

Looking down at a size three avalanche we triggered from the moraine bench above. The avalanche happened on the warmest day yet. When it was warm enough to moisten the snow surface. It's a trend I've noticed with other avalanches. When powder warms for the first time—enough to clump around a dragged ski pole basket—avalanche terrain wants to avalanche. Possibly because the wetted snow is pulling hard on the weak layer below, flowing downhill, like a glacier. 

 

After the avalanche we shifted from 10am starts to avoid the brutal cold, to 5am starts to avoid the sun-heated unstable snow. The bonus of getting up at 5am is that you get to lounge around all afternoon. 

 

Jeff claiming his fairshare of Special Cocoa. Jeff taught me the English saying "...the actress said to the bishop." As in, "I want my fairshare of Bourbon, the actress said to the bishop." It's an English version of the all-American guy saying, "...that's what she said."

 

Phil second-guessing his Sainsbury's shopping bag in light of a technical Osprey Organizer. 

 

I try to start each day with a coffee and a coulie. Jeff, Phil and I had coffee, then left camp for a coulie. The aluminum plates are custom Harold Hill Climbers, made by Bryan Herold. The HHCs are held on with crampons. They are mini snowshoes for booting Alaska coulies. 

 

Phil and Jeff ready for their morning coulie before jumping on the plane back to Talkeetna.   

 

The Moose's Tooth and the Root Canal Glacier. Paul Roderick gave us a scenic flight on the way home. 

Thanks for organizing a great group Phil! It would be an honor to ski with you Eagles again. A simply marvelous time, the actress said to the bishop.