Today is the last day of our trip, or it should have been. Instead, we’re stranded in our tent, shoveling it into a giant hole, as the glacier grows around us. At this point, we’re living on borrowed time, burning through our extra food and fuel as we wait for the weather to clear enough for us to fly out. Luckily, we “went heavy”, and brought with us a ton of fuel and delicious food. We don’t have anything to worry about except our growing boredom.
Six days ago, on Sunday, was the last day we saw the sun, and the last day we skied. After a fabulous bluebird day skiing on Saturday, we woke on Sunday to cloudy skies and periods of white-outs. After a few hours of hemming and hawing, we finally decided to head out for some skiing, taking advantage of one of many sucker-holes.
Since the weather was marginal, and recent storm snow still hadn’t stabilized completely, we intended to keep it mellow. Our goal was the nearby low-angled faces on the north side of Tomahawk, the mountain directly east of camp. We skied down the glacier from our camp, and ended at a short south-facing couloir.
The slope had already slid in the sunshine of the previous day, so we booted up the bed surface, toward the top of the ridge. At the ridge we found what we were looking for; some mellow glacier skiing. Although the slope angle was minimal, the glacier was littered with crevasses. We picked our way toward the bottom, and skied some wonderful pow along the way. At the base we could look up and see the impressive NE face of Tomahawk through the clouds.
One of our lofty goals for this trip was to ski the face of Tomahawk; it was nice to get a look at it for the first time since we flew in two weeks previous. The face was seductive, 2,500 feet of steep spines. Alas, the upper face held a deep, jagged avalanche crown, evidently from something that ripped during the storm. Even without the crown, our current storm bound position doesn’t allow any skiing, much less something like Tomahawk.
After staring at the looming face for a bit, we made our way up the shaded glacier. At the ridge above we re-emerged into the setting sun. A small south-facing couloir led down onto the Riggs Glacier, our “home”. The ski down the chute was on the icy bed surface of a recent slide. After we skidded down, we found some enjoyable pow on the protected glacier. We continued down the glacier, milking the last of the evening light. Arst waves of an oncoming storm.
That same storm is now our confining reality. Our tent time is broken every few hours by furious bouts of desperate shoveling. As the storm varies, so does our rest/shoveling ratio. Glacier Bay is doing its best to bury the little yellow world of our shelter. Today when we hiked back up to our camp, we could see the oncoming “wall of hate” moving in from the far south. Dark clouds were quickly rolling across mountains, the first storm isn’t too bad, allowing me to write a bit. However, some of the other days have been almost non-stop shoveling. For long periods, the snow is accumulating faster than we can shovel. Even at night, we have to wake up several times to shovel madly in the midst of a furious blizzard.
Since we set up camp, it’s snowed about 7 feet, and the top of our tent is nearly level with the rest of the glacier. Unfortunately, the winds are substantial, rarely dropping less than 30-40 mph, with long periods of 60-70 mph. If they lulled for a bit, we could risk setting up our tent in a different spot level with the glacier. However, we don’t want to risk losing or ripping our giant dome, so we have settled on maintaining our current position; while we do get buried, we do have the advantage of being completely protected from the vicious wind.
The forecast shows some clearing over the next few days, so it’s possible we might be able to fly out soon. However, forecasts around here are notoriously unreliable, so we are simply taking it day by day.
Louie Dawson earned his Bachelor Degree in Industrial Design from Western Washington University in 2014. When he’s not skiing Mount Baker or somewhere equally as snowy, he’s thinking about new products to make ski mountaineering more fun and safe.