Monday, April 9, 2012

North Face of Pioneer

There aren't too many faces in South Central Alaska more visible and impressive than the North Face of Pioneer. The North Face of Pioneer looms over The Valley and defines South Central Alaska as a place were 6 and 7,000 foot peaks rise straight out of the ocean. Pioneer sits like a sentinel at the North Western edge of the Chugach and looks out across the Matanuska Valley to the Talkeenta Mountains.

I've grown up looking at Pioneer as I drove into Anchorage from Fairbanks, but not until recently has it taunted me as something to ski. I've been to the top via the traditional hiking route on a summer running/hiking excursion, but unfortunately our views of the Chugach and Talkeetna Mountains were obscured since we were in a cloud. Since getting back from Chile I've been staring at Pioneer and thinking about skiing the North Face.

On Easter the conditions seemed ripe. The snow seemed stable yet there might be enough fluff to make the run fun. Sure enough we had good enough snow to skin to the top of the lower snow field. On our way up we had to keep checking a picture we had on a camera. From miles away it was easy to tell what the route was, but once we got on the face things that looked small were actually gigantic and the giant cliffs were foreshortened. After 8 hours of climbing (and a little backtracking and shwhacking around in the water-ice 1,000 feet up from the road) we topped out to amazing views of the Matanuska Valley and Chugach Mountains. Thankfully we had nice powder turns for most of the run. The top was steep and crusty and the bottom of the avalanche chute was a bit chunky, but besides that there was amazing powder on the two snow fields.

Andy climbing the Upper Snow Field.

Andy topping out.

First few "turns".

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