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Skiing the Bomber Traverse: Part 2

This is the second part of a two-parter on our trip to the Talkeetna Mountains. If you missed the first part, check it out here. For our map/beta of the route, click here (pdf).


 

The ski down from backdoor gap was our first taste of surprisingly good snow. Five inches of recrystalized snow blanketed every slope approaching a northerly aspect. It wasn’t deep, but it skied fast and soft.

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Our first north-facing tracks down the pennyroyal. And with heavy backpacks no less.

A quick skate at the floor of the valley let us to the Bomber Hut, and much roomier and lighter affair than the mint hut.

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Taylor makes a quick skate on the way to the Bomber hut with the Pennyroyal glacier shaded in the background.

Here we spent two nights, sharing the first with a crew of three skiers from anchorage who were quiet, polite, and a great source of local skiing information.

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The cute, scandinavian-style Bomber hut, with a creepy-me lurking in the window.

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The view from the hut was not bad. Not bad at all.

After dropping off our heavy stuff at the hut, we headed up the Bomber glacier to find some turns. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the remains of the namesake B-29 superfortress were poking out of the late-winter snows. I knew that the wreck was up here, but I hadn’t been quite sure where and suspect that it’d be buried. It was definitely slightly chilling.

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The tattered wing of the B-29 Superfortress that crashed on the then-unnamed bomber glacier in 1957.

Beyond the bomber was the upper bomber glacier, which served up mile-long runs of low angle powder under the imposing face of Lynx peak.

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Headed up for a second lap on the Bomber glacier, almost tired of skiing endless powder, but not quite.

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Taylor admiring our work below the North face of Lynx Peak.

Lynx looked like a tasty ski run indeed, but the recent weather had brought strong winds from the South, which ruled out any North-facing steep skiing. Though the North face of Lynx has been skied aplenty, it was garnished with a fat cornice that was a good reminder to stay away.

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The steeper East Face of Lynx, a quasi-couloir, made for some good, steep turns.

Still, that didn’t preclude finding some steeper skiing on its East face. The 45-degree run down to the 25 degree glacier typifies the skiing in this range: it’s either full on, or it’s super mellow. With avalanche conditions largely pushing us towards the mellow, it was good to have fast and light powder to ski day after day.

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T-shirt weather and cold powder on the Bomber glacier.

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Turns, turns, turns under evening light.

On our second day at the Bomber, we decided to skin back up to our prior day’s descent on the Pennyroyal glacier. It just looked too good to pass up a second day skiing up there.

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Team photo, Bomber hut.

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Breaking trail up the Pennyroyal glacier with a trick up my sleeve.

I broke trail back up the glacier with beautiful weather and just perfect snow. The Pennyroyal is a local anomaly, garnishing its two long pitches of 25-degree cruiser pow with an intervening headwall that offers more steep turns than most of the glaciers around. The air was windless and, I kid you not, there were little songbirds flying around and chirping springtime sounds though the North-facing powder held fast and cold.

Though I had planned a more delayed approach than that day on the Pennyroyal, I did happen to be carrying a ring in my backpack, just in case. As we skinned up the Pennyroyal, everything was too perfect. I couldn’t risk it getting any worse, and it had too. Perfect doesn’t last forever. So, there at the top of the glacier looking out across the Talkeetnas and the Chugach, I asked Taylor to marry me.

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Getting engaged atop the Talkeetnas.

She made me a very happy man by saying yes.

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Taylor, sporting Addidas eyewear, Icebreaker underwear, Patagonia outerwear, and some new jewelry.

And what better way to celebrate an engagement than by skiing powder? It was so much fun that we took two laps of the infinitely long glacier before heading off to hunt South-facing corn in the afternoon. The evening brought a riffle of flurries, but as had become routine for the trip, the sky cleared again for a beautiful evening.

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The cutting cold of the nights dried out the powder and made it better by the day.

The next morning we made the hop over to the Snowbird hut, which is owned and operated by the American Alpine Club. The morning ski was a bit rough, crossing frozen avalanche debris with loaded packs before climbing to the moraine of the Snowbird glacier, but the position of the hut made the trip worthwhile.

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Checking the mail at the Snowbird hut. The message on this bird? “Hello to my new friend! From your new friend.”

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Taylor skins just below the Snowbird hut with the Snowbird glacier and Nunatak behind.

The hut sits on the terminal moraine of the receding snowbird glacier and looks out with circumferential views of the surrounding peaks. The Snowbird glacier is itself split by a famously striking nunatak, the rock spire which defines that zone.

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On our way up the main run to the skier’s left of the Nunatak.

On the Snowbird glacier, there is essentially one main run, and we lapped it twice before hitting the hut to rest up for the following day. In the evening, we skinned along the crest of the moraine to below Lower Spire, and there we found the best snow of the trip under a glowing alpine sunset. It doesn’t get any better.

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Harvesting the Alaska-grown under a nearly-midnight sun.

And the hut! This thing is plush.

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This is an outdated relic, but hey, it’d be worth the cash.

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The views are great, and they built the windows to suit the surroundings.

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These guys had jedi mind tricks for getting jenga blocks out of a gridlocked tower. This game went on for almost 2 hours.

That night, we shared the most intense game of Jenga ever transacted with a couple of gents from Palmer and Kodiac, who were up to ski for the week. They joked that Joe Stock was making it too easy for non-Alaskans to find out about the traverse. I think that they were just grumpy that we were putting first tracks down everything in sight.

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Trying to catch the weather radio signal at the top of the Snowbird glacier.

Our second day at Snowbird was our last full day on the traverse, and we milked it from morning to dusk, skiing our way around the compass on the terrain above the hut.

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Dropping into Snowbird East with Higher and Lower spire behind.

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Taylor rips skins for another lap.

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Taylor finding some steeper turns off the edge of the Snowbird glacier.

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Can’t get enough of the Nunatak.

On the last day, we couldn’t help ourselves and skied again to below Lower Tower with our full packs. Dropping our packs in the snow, we nabbed another couple of laps in the amazing snow before contouring to the pass and skiing downvalley back to the car.

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Finally making our way out of the range as the morning light breaks over Lower Spire.

We celebrated in Anchorage, quaffing tasty ales at Midnight Sun brewing and rehashing the most perfect trip we’d ever taken. Perfect weather, startlingly good snow, amazing terrain, and a new commitment to each other rounded out a traverse that can’t be beat.

This much is sure: we’ll have to come back to Alaska. We barely scratched the surface of a tiny corner of one of its many ranges. The potential is beyond a human lifetime, the wilderness is vast, and the adventure is waiting.

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Mountains beyond mountains.

 


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3 Comments

  • Scott Keller on May 24, 2016 Reply

    What a great trip! It looks so isolated… and you get a “win” for the engagement too ;)

  • Bruce Moffatt on May 23, 2016 Reply

    Great trip report. NOW I want to go. Thank you for sharing and what a great way to get engaged.

  • Cecilia on May 23, 2016 Reply

    Thanks Patrick, loved reading both parts but my favorite was when you asked Tay to marry you. So good! Great photos, some reminded me of The Lord of the rings. Stunning country, so glad you both got to experience it, and we also get a taste of what it was like.

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