In late February 2014, a group of us headed out to complete the Bomber Traverse of the Talkeenta Mountains in Alaska. The traverse includes 20+ miles of alpine and glacial travel, 6-10 thousand feet of assenting and defending, 3 different backcountry huts, and all with 40+ lb packs. During such a mild, dry and overall strange winter thus far in AK, we were quite unsure what variety of conditions we would encounter, what crevasse issues the low snow pack would provide, and how far we would actually make it.
As we worked our way up the Little Susitna River drainage on day one, evidence of the extreme warm spell experienced a month prior was observed in all directions with now seized up remnants of wet slides, glide cracks and large debris fields. Upon making our assent from the drainage up to the Mint Hut the snow conditions eluded to a fairly seized snow pack, with intermittent fasting underlying an unbreakable crust. Though this would not provide for great skiing conditions, at least thus far it gave hope to possible stable passage of the Back Door Gap the next morning. That evening we arrived to the Mint Hut at sunset and in true AK fashion, the rugged alpine terrain surrounding the hut made for one hell of a setting.
The next morning the temperatures were a bit warmer and definitely elevated our concern about snow stability in the Back Door Gap. The Back Door Gap is at +/-1,500-ft assent up a 35-40 degree slope and couloir that tops out just below 6,000-ft elevation. At this location, the top of Back Door Gap gives passage to the head of the Penny-Royal Glacier to the west. We were able to safely work our way up back door gab, encountering breakable and unbreakable crust with firms ice and much colder temperatures toward the top. This was definitely the toughest part of the traverse between the heavy packs and slide for life conditions on the assent. The decent onto Penny-Royal Glacier provided for a bit softer skiing and sunlight, which was welcomed after the firm and cold conditions just experienced. The decent down the glacier and moraine to the Bomber Hut was pretty low angle, but a really enjoyable ski. Still firm in most places, but enjoyable. Once again, the hut is located in an amazing alpine setting on the lower moraine. We arrived to this hut a bit earlier in the evening than the last one and took advantage of the extra rest, as we were pretty whooped at this point.
The next day was slated to be an easier climb, as it is pretty much all touring at a manageable gradient. We woke an went through the usual routine of boiling water for coffee, to then melt snow and boil for our porridge / rain deer sausage, to then melt snow for water for the day. The trip from the Bomber Hut to the Snowbird Hut begins by continuing to descend down the glacier moraine about another 1,000 or so feet. Then a gradual assent of around 2,000 feet up the lower Snowbird moraine, drainage, and finally to the toe of the Snowbird Glacier. This stretch of touring was some of the most amazing and enjoyable touring I have done. The last pitch up to the toe of the glacier from the frozen lake was a bit firm, steep and sporty, but other than that it was pretty easy going. We arrived to the Snowbird Hut to find our buddy Ray awaiting us. Which made since, because we were supposed to meet there by noon, and it was now like 3:30pm. One, we did not think Ray would actually be there that early, and two we gave it a 50/50 split on whether or not he would attempt the approach from the Snowbird Mine trailhead solo. Well, he did and he did it with a half an hour to spare. To try and make up for the late arrival, Ray and I went out for a few mellow laps down glacier before dinner and Farkle. ”Sorry Ray, but it was a fun evening outing at least.”
The next morning we woke up to yet another bluebird day. After completing our routine (see above) we headed out up glacier for some turns. Crossing the glacier, toward the big ole nunatak, we had to be mindful of the number of moulins located throughout the glacier. The skiing and views around Snowbird Glacier are quite something. The area contains a lot of options over a number of aspects. While we were out skiing, two helicopters flew into the hut off in the distance, apparently dropping off a group of skiers.
Once back to the hut, we were really stoked to have had the whole traverse to our selves and figured we could end the traverse on that note, so we decided to accompany Ray back down to the trail head, completing the traverse a day early. What a trip through some of the most amazing alpine terrain imaginable.
Here is an edit from the trip, enjoy:
Scarpa’s Freedom SL Freeride Touring Boot is by far the most versatile boot to hit the Freeride/Touring genre to date. It is stiff enough to handle the big lines, but light enough to not hold you back on the hikes and tours. The walk mode provides a great range of motion and because the boots natural position is ski mode, you do not have to worry about that untimely shift to walk mode while skiing.
The Volkl V-Werks Katana is a stiff, high performance big mountain ski, but lightweight for touring. The carbon fiber build allows for the best of both worlds as far as performance and lightweight touring. You can really utilize this ski in any terrain and in any conditions.
Marmot Alpinist Tech Jacket offers incredible warmth as a mid layer, as wells as practical compatibility for storing in your pack when not in use.
Marmot Glide Softshell Glove coupled with the Marmot PreCip Shell Mitt is a match made in heaven for a touring ski glove/mitt. The Glide Softshell Glove is wind and water resistant combined with warmth and when it starts to get a bit chilly, having the PreCip Shell Mitt to slide on over the glove keeps your hands right where they want to be, dry and warm.
Marmot’s Col MemBrain sleeping bag is 800 fill goose down and rated to -20 deg F. This bag can be used for a burley expedition in the Alaska Range, but is also packable and lightweight enough for a traverse through a mountain range like the Talkeetna Mountains of Alaska.