After demonstrating for the last time how to calculate the speed of a falling projectile, I handed in my final final exam. Wahoo! Lets go to the mountains!
The Eklutna Traverse starts out behind Girdwood, near the start of the crow pass race, travels over and through the mountains, crossing three glaciers, and ends up at Eklutna Lake 30 miles later. It's then a simple 10 mile walk on the four wheeler road to get around the lake. The sun was hot, the snow was decent, and Clay and I were as antsy as teenagers moving away for college.
After packing the gear and a grocery run, we shuttled a truck out Eklutna lake. We then drove all the way around the Chugach front range to get to Girdwood. Because we wanted to get good hard snow, and it is hot out during the day, we left town at midnight and started hiking at 2am. This would get us on skis early in the morning, and hopefully save us from wet snow slogging in the late afternoon sun.
6 hours and 6000 feet of very difficult hiking got us to the top of Goat Mountain, perched just above the Eagle Glacier. The snow on the way up was atrocious. Crotch-deep mashed potatoes in lots of places. The rocky talus and scree ridges weren't much more accommodating. Neither were the skis and mountaineering gear we had on the packs. This was not looking good for the remainder of the trip, but we pressed on with hopes that the glacier was not as bad. Angled snow, like that on goat mountain, receives sunlight more directly. We were hoping that the flat glacier was a little more firm.
When we finally crested the ridge we could see our route across the Eagle glacier. Not to mention the many thousands of peaks in every direction. We could see South over the Kenai Peninsula, Southeast to whittier, East to the great big peaks deeper in the Chugach, and North to the Whiteout Glacier. Not a cloud in the sky. No wind. Wow.
We had some oatmeal and a 30 minute nap after the long grueling night. Even just that half hour of sleep on talus really helped to recharge our batteries. Then we strapped on skis, took off our shirts and whizzed down the Eagle glacier. Giggling like schoolgirls, we did the 5 miles across the first ice field in about 20 minutes. The snow was perfect corn snow. Not too icy, not too soft. Sweet!
The next stage was a long day of slogging up the icefall to the Whiteout Glacier, and up the Whiteout to Hans' Hut. We spent the rest of the day roped up, skinning up and sidehilling at a steady marching pace. At 5:30, when we finally reached the salvation of the hut, we were completely exhausted, sunburned, dehydrated and hungry. Food, water, sleep. We conked out for 15 hours. That is how much sleep our bodies needed after that day. One of the longest days I've ever done.
When we finally rolled out of bed around 10am the next day, it looked like we were going to get some clouds rolling in, so we wolfed oatmeal and packed up to get off of the glacier while we could still see. Once we were skiing though, the skies cleared, and gave us one more day of perfect sunshine. We glided down the whiteout icefield to the top of the Eklutna Glacier, and had another cathartic release as we bombed down the gradual snow slopes of the icefield.
Getting off of the icefall ended up taking most of the afternoon. Guessing there would probably be enough snow, we decided not to carry the 3 pounds of steel crampons up and over the mountains. Turns out we could have used them. We were able to work our way down the ice ok, but it took a few sections of downhill step-cutting to do it. Kinda hairy, and lots of work.
At about 5 pm, we were at the base of the ice, and getting ready for the long hike out to the truck. It's all flat ground, and most of it is on a solid dirt road, but 13 miles is 13 miles. We thought about spending the night at Serenity cabin, but decided that we would rather say we did it in 2 days, and sleep in comfortable beds instead of putting off the long walk out. Plus Steffi was leaving for Deutschland the next morning, and Clay knew that I really wanted to see her off.
We felt pretty cool hiking in shorts by the lake carrying full mountain packs complete with skis, ropes, iceaxes pickets and the like strapped on. 13 miles later, we dumped our packs into the truck and heaved our tired selves into cushy seats. We drove into the sunset, and chuckled about how sunburned we were.
Hard work, sun, fun and adventure! Hooray!
photos to come when Clay posts them...
Now it is off to Fairbanks for the summer. Living with the folks to train for one more year of college skiing.