Sunday, April 29, 2012

Six Mile Creek, Early Season Advisory

This is Paul Schauer with the Glacial Facial Crew on Sunday, April 29th. This will serve as a general whitewater advisory issued for Six Mile Creek, this advisory applies to all three canyons of Six Mile Creek.

This will be the first and only advisory for the 2012 summer season on Six Mile Creek- 6 months of AMAZING paddling has already begun! Susitna Sled and Kayak will be hosting the second annual Willow Creek Whitewater Festival on May 26 and 27. Check out their website for more details.

There is a
 MODERATE danger in all three canyons of Six Mile due to snow bridges, snowy banks, and eddies filled with snow. Warmer temperatures and or rain should keep these concerns mostly at bay. Keep a close eye on constrictions as these have a higher chance to catch wood as the water begins to rise. In the case we have a rapid increase in the water level, there will be a CONSIDERABLE danger for strainers until it is determined if and where new wood has lodged.

Trip Kinney, Matt Peters, and Brian Graham and I made the first trip down Six Mile yesterday (4/28/12). The four of us ran first and second canyons and Trip, Matt, and I continued down third canyon. Little snow bridge activity was seen on the river yesterday. The only complete snow bridge was just below Waterfall in the first canyon. It was easily portageable on river left just upstream of the snow bridge (at 9.5’, ~750 cfs). There was one other small snow bridge blocking the sneak at Suck Hole. The boot track is set at the second and third canyon take outs, get out there and enjoy the river!

Primary Concern – New Strainers
 are our primary concern until the commercial rafting season gets going. Although we did not have any issues with wood yesterday, a small rise or drop in water level could change things. After running The Nozzle small branches were seen sticking up from under the water at the bottom of the rapid. If the river drops, be sure to scout The Nozzle. There were a lot of new dead trees lining the banks just waiting to head downstream and lodge themselves in the river. Be extra cautious as the river continues to rise and keep your eyes out for new wood. If you see anything please be sure to add your observations to the comments section below.

Secondary Concern – Snow
The secondary concern on the river in the early season is snow. There is snow lining the banks most of the way down the river. In some places it is just a sloping snow bank, but in others it is overhung, making it impossible to get out of the river at some points. Swims on the river right now could be very long and very cold. STAY IN YOUR BOAT. In some cases there is snow filling eddies you may normally catch, and your traditional stopping points my not exist until the river thaws out completely. In the next week or so (if we have nice sunny weather) the risk due to snow bridges will likely decrease. There was only one complete snow bridge across the river, just below Waterfall and it was easily avoided on river left (at 9.5’, ~750 cfs). There was one more small snow bridge blocking the sneak at Suck Hole. As of our run yesterday you had to run Suck Hole.

Other Observations
It is also worth noting that Merry-Go-Round has changed. There is no more giant boulder at Merry-Go-Round. Where there once was a giant boulder there is now a massive hole. The late season high water events last year have probably rolled the boulder. That being said, the line is still the same; drive hard left and ride the top of the curling wave off the wall and avoid a big wave/hole at the bottom left.

This concludes the first, and only, advisory of the season for Six Mile. If you see anything new on the river please submit your observations in the comments section. As the river rises be sure to check the comments section for where there might be new wood. The season is just beginning, as I make it out to other rivers this summer I may add additional advisories if there is anything new of note (wood, giant snow bridges, lost paddles, etc) in the rivers. Thanks and have a great summer!

Jon Combs seal launching into the river last year on an early season mission

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Rules of Engagement

Sixmile is on the rise, boats are thawing out of the snow banks, and the stoke is high. It is nearly time to get out there and start firing it up.

While there is plenty of time this year to unleash the honey badger, now is also a good time to review essencial skills. How are your first aid/cpr skills? Do you know how to set a dislocated shoulder? Need a refresher? Is your first aid kit complete? Do you even have a first aid kit? Did you put your rope away wet at the end of the season? Is it a moldy mess indistinguishable from your nasty booties? Do you still remember how to set up a z-drag? How are your swift water rescue skills? Need to take a class?

The crew is essencial. They fire you up, provide positive energy, make you laugh, and save your ass. I've heard some really scary stories. I've been involved in scary situations. Thankfully everything has worked out, mostly because of the skills of the people involved. While you wouldn't go out in avalanche terrain with out a shovel, probe, and beacon, you shouldn't head out on the river without at the VERY least a rope. It's not for you, its for your friends. How would you like to be in this situation without a rope, staring at your friend getting thrashed (or staring at your friends not able to do anything)?

Not having a rope should dictate mandatory drain plug beers (downing a beer through the drain hole on your boat). Not having a rope with you when you get out of your boat should dictate buying a round for the crew. Shit happens, and shit happens fast on the river. While it is awesome to tap into the river's power and work with it downstream, it is also an unrelenting force. In the end, the river does not let up or care. Be ready to act, and act quick.

I came across a few things this winter that are great to mull over while we are waiting to get back on the water. Jeff West has a great article on the Jackson Kayak Blog "The Subtleties of Safety" with a bunch of great points to think about before heading out.

On my way back from Chile, sitting in the Houston airport, Tyler shared these words of wisdom with me. We were reeling from just getting back in the states and trying to comprehend what we were wrapping up; all the sites we saw, what people were willing to throw down on, what we ran, and the portages that were nagging us. These words by Pat Keller put everything into perspective for me:

"Fellow huckers! Allow me a moment to speak to you on a crucial point of the code. The level of excitement out there is so proud to see, so proud. That being said, with this excitement we must stay within our own boundaries and our own skill level. Now hang on, I'm not sitting here and preaching that you shouldn't do dumb things. I know I often go there, and probably many of my actions are inspiring y'all in yours. Thats awesome. I learned much from watching Tao, Tommy, Clay, BJ, Andrew (even Travis Rice recently) and many other shredders. Watching them over and over. Thats great. Its a big part of how we learn. But know that it is plenty ok to take you're time, taking baby steps, to ensure that you've got that line - and that you'll stick it on the first try. Growing up, my dad would show me a cool new slot or boof rock and tell me to try it. Those around me wouldn't let me step it up until I was ready to take that step. And I thank them for that. My parents also got me into years of slalom training. Hard moves on easy whitewater. That is the path. If you dial in everything you can where the consequences are likely to be small and you WILL succeed in the harder stuff. If you think, "It'll be ok - I'll probably make it" - you set yourself up for a possible fail that could put your life (an especially those around you) in grave danger. See the line, the alternate plans, know it. Know them. If you KNOW, then set safety and go. If even just one aspect is troubling you, walk. No shame in saving it for another day. Again, I'm not suggesting that you don't get out there and push. PUSH ON! It is in our nature and it is the ultimate search. But stay safe, surround yourself with people that you are certain know whats up, and listen to your gut. We don't have to fire just because its there, just cause its running on this particular day. Thats the great thing about our rivers. They stay. They wait patiently for us to be ready. When we are, they give us the most delightful sensations ever. If we are not, they can be the most unkind, unforgiving realms we can possibly enter. We all must respect these realms and tread lightly in them. Practice practice practice and wait for an invitation to step it up. Don't try that big leap that is so tempting. Nail and dial all the little steps along the way. Rivers teach us patience. We have to wait for the right time to try and roll - or it won't work. The same goes for new hard runs, new hard rapids. Visualize and practice, practice and visualize. Also, bring you're rope. Have it in hand. Always. It is our sword, our sniper rifle. Set that cover fire and don't let you're fellow soldiers rush into a trap - even those that may be self induced. Stay safe out there, have fun and style those good lines. Share this around if you agree with these points. Lets get river respect back on top of our priorities. Cheers to all, see you in the next eddy."

Its going to be a good year! See you on the water.

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".

Saturday, April 7, 2012

North Face of Eagle

A few weeks ago I got the opportunity to ski the North Face of Eagle Peak in the Eagle River Valley.

I continue to be blown away in what you can do just outside of Anchorage. That being said, another group caught up to us and passed us that day (we did 95% of the trail breaking and route finding). But the fun thing was that it was friends of ours, Luc Mehl and crew. If anyone was going to catch us, I'm glad it was Luc.

We struck out early in the morning and blasted out the three miles of snow machine and hiking trail and got to were we needed to break off from the river and start busting through the willows to head up to Eagle. Thankfully with the record snow fall we've had in South Central Alaska this winter and the hints of other people's ski tracks we were able to make descent time through the willows and up into the hanging valley. We were able to skin most of the way up the couloir that comprises the lower 2,000 feet of Eagle. Climbing from the couloir to the upper snow field was a bit exposed and thankfully the sluff fell off either side. After climbing the lower part of the snow ridge of the snow field we were able to put our skis back on and skin to the top. The snow could not have been better, right side up and nice and fluffy on top. The only thing that beat the snow was the view; we could see everything from Denali and the Alaska Range, Augustine and the Aleutians, and the rest of the major peaks in the Chugach and Kenai mountains.

The trip took us 13(ish) hours to ski in and out and manage a group of 4 down the North Face. We weren't moving at a blistering pace, just a comfortable all day pace. The trip was my first ski mountaineering trip. Perhaps a bit much to bite off for my first ski mountaineering trip, but definitely a big boost in confidence. I'm looking forward to more!

My camera died, but Bryan and Adrian's kept kicking.

Mom, look what we did! Photo by Adrian Bender.

Ian climbing to the top of the couloir and the transition to the upper snow field. Photo by Adrian Bender.

Me climbing the snow ridge at the lower end of the upper snow field. Photo by Bryan Friedrichs.

Getting ready to ski what we just climbed. Photo by Adrian Bender.

Bryan getting ready to drop in with Yukla, our spring climb last year, in the background. Photo by Adrian Bender.

Me side slipping down the upper part of the couloir with Eagle Lake and Anchorage in the background. Photo by Adrian Bender.

Our tracks into the couloir from the upper snow field. Photo by Adrian Bender.


My favorite time of year has arrived. We have more day light and snow than we know what to do with. Since getting back from Chile I've been running around like a kid in a candy store. Thankfully the days are longer than 12 hours now and I've been able to get out and enjoy some amazing post work ski sessions with great friends.