Saturday, November 18, 2017

Fatbike Intermission

   To the people out there that watch this blog - you may be wondering 'bout the lull in mountain stoke.  Well, it turns out there actually is night in Alaska, and sometimes a lot of it.  When that happens, it's easier to go for a bike ride than a full mountain day...  Which brings me to the subject of this (filler) post.


Me riding at Knik glacier.  The drone that took this photo has an uncanny ability with composition.

This is about as fat as they get.

Sometimes you can jump them.

   Yep.  I even work for a fatbike company (and it shouldn't be hard to figure out which one).  This means I feel a certain obligation to get out there and test what I sell.  It's pretty fun even.  It's so fun, and so ubiquitous in Alaska, that sometimes us crazy locals race 'em.  Which brings me to the next subject.  


The local fast guys dragging me around.  Yes, that's me back there.  This is when I realized there would be pain.
Finishing my 2nd Frosty 50.  No matter what happens, you smile at the end.  Photo by Brian.

First few minutes of racing on Eagle River.  Dat temp doh.

   Fatbike racing is, in my opinion, the most interesting form of bike racing.  There are a tremendous variety of snow conditions, each with its own corresponding series of tactics and gear choices.  Fast snow favors narrower tires, road racing skills, and pack strategy.  Deep, fluffy snow requires bike handling, meaty tires, and the ability to endure a high watt sufferfest for as long as possible.  Of course, there are a million other variables - the course style, the temperature, the competition.  It all combines into a unique race experience every time!

   This year, my goal is to take race training a little more seriously.  It's easy to do pretty well on just fun miles (going easy most of the time and hard when you feel like it) but I know there are definitely gaps in this - with major things being race nutrition and proper periodization.  Race nutrition has always been a weak spot for me.  I get very focused as the race evolves, but unfortunately, not very focused on when to eat and drink.  Not only do I forget, but the nature of racing in winter can make it difficult to even get at the food or drink.  Lots of layers, yo!

   The second aspect, periodization, is a core idea to many sports, cycling included.  This is probably the worst problem I face.  I like to go hard sometimes, and sometimes hard for too long.  Sometimes junk for too long (JRA - Just Riding Around).  Rarely do I manage to do the correct combination of intensity and recovery.  That's where my co-worker, TWR (The Will Ross) comes in. 

Warning: Shout-Out Below  

   So, Will is arguably the fastest fatbike racer around - Alaska, lower 48, anywhere.  Not only is he quick, but he knows how to get quick.  He's been racing for a long time, knows the ups and downs (literally) and has a very approachable attitude.  That's why, when Will mentioned he wanted to start coaching, I was quick to jump at the opportunity.  I'm stoked to put my training into more experienced and objective hands.  

   My plan starts today and uses a heart rate monitor to measure intensity.  It accounts for two peak events: The Frosty 50 and Susitna 100.  I guess the real proof is yet to come, but for now, I'm confident to recommend Will as a coach.  Go check out his website and tell him Nate sent you!

But it's not all racing...

   Winter is still young.  The trails are packing in with snow, the rivers and streams are icing over, and there are many fatbike adventures waiting. 

   "Sorry Mountains - I'll come back when I can, but for now, fat wheels are pretty good."

   Here, have some fatbike stuff.  

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Korohusk Peak w/ Adrian - Full-on Fall Fun

Korohusk Peak 9/30/17

  This might have been one of the most magically aligned mountain days of the whole year - perfect weather, perfect gear list, perfect peak, near perfect routefinding, and great company!

Maybe the last time summer scramble gear is used!
   I picked up Adrian around 7:20, and we were hiking from the Eagle River Nature Center by 8.  There was a touch of damp chill in the air, as recent rainfall still saturated the first four miles of our approach on the Crow Pass trail.  A few low lying clouds hung about, but things looked bright and clear up high.  As we walked, we noticed that there was some serious erosion going on near The Perch, and that it seems a trail re-route is in the works.

Passing Echo Bend, looking toward Yukla (in the cloud)

View from The Perch.  Eagle Peak on right, Organ Mtn. in the middle, and Polar Bear on the left.  Some trail erosion going on nearby!
   Since I'd never climbed a peak from ERNC, I was very cautious about getting started on the right foot.  We first went a bit too far and hit Dishwater Creek, then backtracked to the worn "Trail" sign noted by Bill Finley in his trip reports.  From there, we simply entered the woods and hoped to find a trail.

   From time to time, a trail seemed to appear, but stayed vague until about 15 minutes in.  At that point, we found our way to a steep clearing and a obvious trail that led steeply upward.  As we followed, it became increasingly hard to do so - the trail was fading and leveling out.  We were led to a fork, took a turn uphill, and then the trail was gone.

   We then came to a large mossy rock in a clearing, and could see what lay ahead uphill.  Cliffs!  We'd been led to cliffs!

Don't go the way on the left - there be cliffs!

   After a thankfully brief alder bushwack, we went under and to the right of the cliffs, stumbling upon another fairly distinct trail.  This again we followed, and again were left stranded after the trail ran out.

   By this point, I was fairly certain where we had to go, so we struck off into the trees without a trail.  This would be a bad idea in quite a few places in Alaska, but the deciduous trees made for very decent bushwack.   Dishwater Creek was down out of sight in steep terrain to our right, but we used its sound as a guide to the moraine.

   In the last half mile before hitting treeline, we did pick up another trail, and this trail continued all the way to the moraine.  We had arrived!

   The few clouds we had seen earlier were burning away, so we were treated to heartrending sights of Nantina Point, Kiliak, Eagle, and many other tall snow shrouded peaks.  We both agreed that it was a great day to be out here.

Coming above treeline - Eagle Peak behind us.

The moraine in front of us.  Korohusk is on the left, Kiliak and Nantina on the right.

Adrian doing some typical side-hilling

Pano of Adrian sidehilling with Eagle in the background

   Although the remaining clouds were sparse, a persistent one stayed on Korohusk, obscuring our view of the route.  We got off the moraine, and sidehilled our way to a gully on the south face.  Upon reaching it, we went up and around the worst bit to avoid some wet rock.  At this point, we were surrounded by cloud.

Adrian coming up to the likely looking gully (behind me)

The gully.  We went up and around to my right.

The cloud was definitely a factor.  Guesswork for the route!
   It was guess work and avoiding pinch points from here - we encountered cliffs ahead and went left, chasing open terrain and avoiding the steepest, wettest looking areas.  We eventually came to what is likely a stream earlier in the year, and climbed next to it on the left.  We then dropped back into it as the angle slacked off, and peeped over on the right side to see what lay in that direction.

   A snow couloir to the summit! We were going to make it!

Adrian climbing on climbers left of what is likely a stream earlier in the year.

Crossing over to find the couloir
Almost there!

Finding the couloir
   The clouds were thinning out at this height, and we were quite hot as we kicked steps up the couloir and the bright sun shone down.  It was steep, sweaty, yet confident going.  As we got closer to the summit, the snow got a bit harder, and care was needed to kick steps.  After this weekend (9/30) it's not likely to be doable without an ax.

Adrian coming up the snow

Cloud was off and on
   We came to the end of the couloir, and realized that we had been eyeing a FALSE summit.  The good news is that the real summit was only about 5 minutes away!

That back there was the false summit!
   It was literally hot at the summit, though we had cold toes from submerging our running shoes in powder snow.  The views were mesmerizing - Yukla, Kiliak, Eagle, far and wide into the central Chugach as well.  Snow was settling into the mountains, and despite how fair the day was, we felt that winter was not far off.  After some congratulations and snacks, we went down.

Adrian @ summit!

Me @ summit.

Kiliak and Yukla, plus some central Chugach on the left.
   The way down was pleasant!  Only the very top of the snow couloir was the least bit of concern - right at the edge of probably wanting an ax, just in case.  Once we were past that though, it was fast going.  The rock further down the peak had dried out considerably, so we felt pretty good about what had earlier been slippery.  In no time, we were down to the moraine.

Almost wanted an axe.

Nantina pano

Coming down on nicely dry rock!

Adrian on the moraine

Me on the moraine
   Heading back into treeline, we did manage to follow more trail than on the way up, but it was still disconnected and spotty.  This time we avoided the cliff, but never did stay on a trail the entire way.  In this type of woods, it was fine, and we neatly avoided any significant thickets.  It was about 5PM as we regained the Crow Pass trail, and had a leisurely walk back to the car.

   Adrian had brought a thermos of tea the whole way, intending to share it on the summit, but it was a welcome victory brew at the ERNC.  Mmmm, mint!  We talked about how perfect the day had been, and had a very tranquil drive back to Anchorage.  Now that's how to cap off a summer of mountains!

Thanks for coming Adrian!

Heading back to ERNC - almost sunset
The route.  Note the difficulties near Dishwater Creek.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Hidden Peak & Ramp Ridge - Danger! - Updated 2020

11.9Mi/6:10:41/3,724ft/Plus one 400lb boulder
UPDATED 2020 - See bottom of page

   I woke up this morning not knowing that I was going to go scrambling, much less on Hidden Peak, much less try to connect the ridge between Hidden Peak/The Ramp.  Interesting how plans for the day evolve, eh?

   Like 80% of my days off this summer/fall, the forecast called for rain showers.  That means I wake up, make coffee, go back and forth from the computer to the window, and wait for the sky to reveal itself.  It didn't look so bad!

OK, I'm used to seeing this by now.

   Since it didn't look SO bad, meaning that it still looked SORT of bad, I decided to stay close to home and climb a peak that had so far slipped underneath the radar - Hidden Peak.

   Hidden Peak is connected to O'Malley via a ridgeline, and many a time at the O'Malley summit I have entertained the thought of continuing toward Hidden.  But every time, it just looked too dang far to be bothered.  Hmmph!  So today I reasoned I would cut O'Malley out of the picture, and go straight up to Hidden Peak from the aptly named Hidden Lake just below.

   The trail to Hidden lake is several miles from the Glen Alps parking lot, and as I left the car and started walking, I knew it was gonna be a windy one.  And indeed it was proving to be!  I donned windpants and shell after the first few minutes, and kept them on all the way to Hidden Lake.

The trail to Hidden Lake.

Stream crossing on the way.

   The wind was in fact so fiercesome that it was stirring up white capped waves on Hidden Lake, and threatening to blow me over and rip the phone from my hand as I snapped some obligatory Fall alpine shots.  This was going to be interesting.  Bracing against the wind and errant few raindrops, I started climbing up the soggy scree.

Heading up soggy scree.

   I had slightly miscalculated my ascent, so instead of getting straight to the summit, I was deposited on the ridge.  It was a very windy traverse toward Hidden!  As I got closer, the rock got steadily steeper, until it forced me to go below the ridgeline and claw my way up a hideously manky mess of a chute.  Eww.

   At the summit, the wind was actually starting to calm down a bit, but that's a relative term and it was still quite strong.  In the distance, I saw fresh snow on both Mt. Williwaw and The Ramp, as well as a few rays of sun!  This got my attention, and then I had an idea - I'll go get some sun, and finally connect to The Ramp on this ridge!

At the summit of Hidden Peak, looking toward O'Malley.

At the summit, looking toward Mt. Williwaw and its Big 'Ol Buttress.

The Ramp with snow.

  I knew that this ridge was pretty serious.  I just didn't know HOW serious.  There is little intel to be found on it, at least none that I could ever find, and the one attempt I had made on it two years ago made me hesitate.  Surely it couldn't be that bad?  Could it?

   Well, I was starting on a different side this time.  Instead of trying to cross from The Ramp to Hidden Peak, I was doing the opposite.  And things were going alright!  For a while...

Traveling on the ridge, look back toward Hidden Peak (right) and O'Malley (left)

Look back toward Hidden again.  What a monstrous block of crud!

Typical saturated crud.
   The wind was considerably calmer by this point, but the rock was still quite wet and horrendously mossy.  Not confidence inspiring at all, especially while wearing wind shells on your gloves.  Despite that, the ridge crest seemed to have go arounds for all the sketchiest parts, for which I was grateful.

As it continued, these go-arounds got gnarlier and gnarlier, until it was difficult to tell if it would be better to stay on the ridge and contend with steep rock, or step off the ridge and deal with near vertical moss chutes.  It was at about this point, even though I was going slow and carefully, that I had a confidence shattering mishap.

   I was starting up one of many mossy go arounds, and decided I didn't like the route I was on, so I opted to try and head to the neighboring one.  No problem - step to the side, get a hold on this large boulder, and the-...

   The boulder moved.

   I felt a heart stopping moment as it moved, and continued to move, coming toward me, barely touching my shoe and wind pants, and then continuing down on its chaotic path of moss destruction, plummeting a thousand feet or more below.  It must've weighed at least 300lbs.

This wasn't good.  The boulder fall incident happened somewhere on the left (out of frame)

   The near miss shook me.  My foot was scratched a bit and my windpants were torn, but it was nothing compared to what could have been.  I felt like it was a sign that maybe this wasn't the day to be here.  I was very close to the end of this nasty part of the ridge, but unfortunately this last bit was also the worst bit.  I decided to call it, and made a painstaking descent down toward Hidden Lake.

   Even though I was bailing off the ridge, it still wasn't easy getting down.  The line of sight is deceptive, and there are many dropoffs that look fine until you're right up on them.  This slowed me up quite a bit, but I heaved a sigh of relief once I was off the super crud.

   Things were certainly a bit more pleasant down here, so I decided to have a nice leisurely walk back to the car, snapping photos as I went, reflecting on my incident.  I felt pretty lucky to have escaped as neatly as I did, with hardly a scratch.  I suppose that this is what happens when you mess around in loose rock, time and time again - eventually, you will make one fall.  Maybe a big one.  I knew it, but now I've seen it demonstrated right in front of me.

Stream running down from Hidden Lake.
More stream action.  The Ramp/ridge in background left.

More stream and foliage. The Ramp and ridge still lurking in the background.
   The parking lots were fairly empty for a Glen Alps Saturday afternoon, and this probably should have been expected due to the weather.  I started on my way home, happy to have finally made it up Hidden, but knowing there's still a looming asterisk on the ridge.  I'll be back.  Just not in the wet!  

(1) The manky gully up to the summit. (2) Realizing that I need to duck below the ridgecrest to avoid the worst exposure. (3) The first crux - I came to a steep overlook, carefully peeped over, and realized I needed to go around. Even so, there was an unavoidable knife edge for about 30-50 feet. (4) Massive crud block. I went around it on the Southwest side, and took a scree filled gully to finish getting past. (5) This is where the rock fell. I was being forced into worse and worse situations, and although I don't think the other side of the ridge would be any better, I'm not certain. This took away all my confidence, and I slowly started making my way down and around. (6) I was faced with several incredibly slippery blocks of rock, and had to keep looking for a way around them. Luckily, there were some moderately inclined dirt/moss ramps that were viable go-arounds. (7) I made it to some far less perilous scree, and my GPS had a significant data recording hiccup!


2020 Update - Making it across this 2017 FRange nemesis
On Sunday 6/21/20, I managed to finally (SAFELY!) cross this nastiness, but in the other direction - Ramp/Hidden.  Weather was much nicer, and this certainly had an effect on how pleasant the traverse was.  The "crux" is definitely near the 5 label above on the Google Earth screenshot.  I downclimbed (OK, groveled downward on moss) toward hidden lake in this area, then resumed the route described above.  Is it faster than going down to Hidden Lake and back up to Hidden?  In dry, maybe...