Ruth Glacier

Whale Tail Ski

Mid-April is the week of Cathy's birthday and our wedding anniversary. During this week I'm either scoring mega-points, or in the dog house. In past years I've been sharing a micro-tent with fermenting dudes in some god-forsaken mountain range in Alaska. Those were the dog house years. Since then I've focused my uxorious nature. I've learned that micro-tents are best with my wife. Last year I scored huge points with Cathy on the Haute Route Grand Lui. This year I also scored huge points with her on Denali's Whale Tail.

On a mid-April Friday morning the forecast tipped to the good side of marginal. Annie at Talkeetna Air Taxi told us to be ready at 2pm. We loaded our rucksacks, drove two hours to Talkeetna and jumped into Paul Roderick's turbo bird. 

We stopped at Little Switzerland to pick up some pro dog skiers. The pro dogs said, "We skied everything." I saw their tracks. They did ski every big feature in Little Switzerland. Then Paul dropped us off at the Mountain House on the Ruth Glacier. 

At 7pm Cathy and I started skiing down the Gorge. The chubby seasonal snowpack let us ski unroped. Being able to ski unroped makes the Alaska Range way more cool. 

An hour down the Gorge we stopped for cocoa and a catch-up with our friends Silas and Peter. They were having a great trip, scratching up ice-encrusted corners on Mount Bradley.

Peter's 747 photo.jpg

Cathy and I heading toward 747 Pass between Mount Bradley on the left and Mount Dickey on the right.

We camped our first night below 747 Pass. In the morning we looked up Dickey's 5,000-foot wall. Eeep!

Skinning up 747 Pass. In a few places we used the rope with stopper knots. Here Cathy has unclipped and I'm dragging the rope since the avalanche danger was more eminent than the cracks. 

Second camp, up on the Tail with Denali and the Backside Glacier behind. I was thankful that Cathy didn't like her book. She's more entertaining in a small tent when she doesn't like her book. 

Skinning above the Tokositna Glacier. Last summer I hiked Denali's Whale Tail with Nik and Dmitry. The fun and views were world-class. Thank you Nik and Dmitry! But if you cover the Whale's Tail with snow, and don't have to hike, then the funness levels goes into the next category. 

Cathy heading toward Tokosha Gap. Tucker Chenoweth cooked up the Whale's Tail ski trip four years ago. Tucker said it was the best ski trip he's ever done. Since Tuck is a mountain wizard, skiing the Whale's Tail went to the top of my list.

On our tour Cathy and I had one powder run, some beautiful corn and lots of bullet-proof crust skiing. Perfect conditions for an Alaska Range ski tour. 

My trophy wife of 11 years at our fourth and last camp, just below Tokosha Gap, 4,000 feet above the Susitna Valley.

Cathy skating toward Porcupine Butte at 5am to beat the isothermal slop fest. Tokosha Gap behind. From Porcupine Butte we skied 12 miles of snowmachine highway to the Chulitna bridge. 

A slow hitch on the Parks Highway. Eventually The Prospector took us to the Talkeetna spur road. Then the Baptist minister's wife—a recent transplant from Arkansas—gave us a ride to TAT. She'd just been on a scenic flight with K2 Aviation. "We landed on the summit," she said. "On the Ruth Glacier?" I said, referring to their usual scenic landing site. "No, they landed us right on the summit of Mount McKinley." I went into the TAT office and told Annie to upgrade their scenic options.