Our third day on Glacier Bay rolled around and we were continuing to gain a better understanding of the stability on the peaks surrounding our camp. We had our eyes on a face that captured early morning light in a swatch of pastels, beckoning our efforts to find a way to access it.
The evening before, Louie and I decided to recon the south side of the ridge for an efficient morning mission. Cory, Zach, and Jason headed back to the base camp tent to begin fortifying a wall for the impending storm that we were expecting to arrive the following evening.
Planning and being proactive is critical out here because once a storm comes our only option is to be entirely self-reliant. As we continued on our scouting trip, Louie and I found the best access yet — a moderate slope that looked like we could skin all the way up the south side of the ridge. We decided to bask in the evening light and head up the first headwall to gain more perspective. In another 45 minutes or so, with a clear view up the rest of the way to our face for the morning, we decided to head back towards camp.
Louie and I looked down a beautiful 1500 foot face that led back to the glacier below camp. It was getting late, but we decided to go for it and do a belayed ski cut on the steep entrance. Alaska continues to blow me away with the quality of snow that holds on such high angle slopes. Louie dropped first and I had a few blissful moments on top by myself with the evening light turning the surrounding peaks into flaming towers over a sea of white.
The following morning we woke up somewhat early and made haste out of camp to get on the face while it still had good lighting. Retracing our previous evening’s skin track for a couple of hours and a short section of booting up a narrow slot led us to the ridge line. All five of us were looking over a steep convex roll that led to a beautiful spine. We all decided to make an anchor and do another belayed ski cut, despite the added time it would take. I volunteered to get belayed into the slope first and much like our previous days the snow felt stable. After a couple of ski cutting turns I unclipped and made some of the best turns down one of the more aesthetic lines I’ve ever experienced.
From the base, which sat amongst a fairly broken glacier, I radioed up to give advice to everyone about where to cross the bergschrund. As each of us arrived one by one to the bottom of the line we were all elated to be given such good conditions.
With plenty of day left, Jason, Louie, and I had our eyes on a big smooth face that was positioned a ways down the Riggs Glacier. Zach and Cory headed back to camp to relax. As the three of us skinned out into the deceivingly endless flats of the glacier, we noticed a wall of weather in the distance. Over the next hour it appeared to be picking up speed and looked more impending. Storms move fast when you’re this close to the ocean and we were hyper aware of continuing on. We had made it to within 200 feet of the top of the next slope we wanted to ski and the light went flat, causing us to bail down our skin track by Braille. It took us over an hour to make it back to camp and it just started to snow upon our arrival — just in time to avoid the coveted whiteout glacier navigation.
We have been sitting in a storm for the last five days with high winds and it has snowed several feet. We are hoping for good stability if/when the high pressure comes back.
Jonathan Cooper (“Coop”) grew up in the Pacific Northwest and has been playing in the mountains since he was a teen. This was about the same time he made the fateful decision to strap a snowboard to his feet, which has led to a lifelong pursuit of powdery turns. Professionally speaking, he has been working as a ski guide, avalanche educator, and in emergency medicine for over a decade. During the winter months he can be found chasing snow, and passing on his passion for education and the backcountry through teaching avalanche courses for numerous providers in southwest Colorado, and the Pacific Northwest. Similarly, his passion for wilderness medicine has led him to teach for Desert Mountain Medicine all over the West. If you’re interested, you can find a course through Mountain Trip and Mountain West Rescue. In the end, all of this experience has merely been training for his contributions to the almighty WildSnow.com.