2017-03-07 - Peterson to Girdwood Traverse - AlpenScapes Photography

Unlike the fantastic weather window at the beginning of February, our high pressure in early March came in with strong winds, buffing most aspects in the mountains. What wasn't stripped of soft snow was quickly becoming skied out. We scored with our previous day in the Library and, knowing that another clear and (very, very) cold day was on tap, we opted to make the most of firm alpine conditions and do a ski traverse near Girdwood.

GW and I had ventured up Peterson Creek earlier in the season, hoping to ski some of the big lines that line the headwall, only to get shut down by flat light and an incoming storm. But we learned enough of the area to realize a traverse from Peterson back to Girdwood would be a fantastic day of ski touring. In an effort to show his visiting friends some new mountains, GW proposed we head back up Peterson and ski around to the upper Winner Creek drainage and back down to Girdwood. Andrew and I met up and dropped a truck at the Hotel Alyeska, cruised over to Peterson Creek and met up with the other dudes as we grumbled a bit about the well-below-zero temperatures. Negative 10 degrees at the truck, we donned our puffy coats and headed up the trail.

Beginning up the avalanche chute that is the gateway to the Peterson alpine

After a few hours of climbing through unsupportive sugary snow and frozen avalanche debris, we reached the alpine. The sun may not yet have warmed the air much but it was a very welcome sight after the frozen start to the day. A quick snack, some photos of icy Turnagain Arm, and we carried on towards the ridge that divides Peterson and Kern Creeks. 

GW is happy to see the sun

An unfortunately wind-hammered Peterson Headwall

Making our way across "The Ballfield" to the Peterson/Kern divide

GW dreams of Peterson Headwall on a better snow year

A few more miles of up-and-down travel across the Peterson Glacier brought us to the Peterson/Kern divide. We party-skied the mellow slope to the center of the broad Kern Glacier. Here we had a decision to make: head north and west beneath Lowbush and Highbush Peaks and over the pass to the Winner Creek Glacier and the Winner Creek Trail; or veer east, wrapping around Lowbush Peak to gain the upper Punchbowl Glacier, crossing a low pass to a pocket glacier and ski down to the Winner Creek Trail.

Option A was more direct, Option B took us deeper into new terrain. We took an inventory of our water, snack, and stoke levels and unanimously voted for Option B.

Wrapping around the east side of Lowbush Peak, we were perched 3,500' above the glacier-studded Twentymile Valley. Looking southeast we had exceptional views of the high peaks near Portage, including the hulking Carpathian, second highest peak on the Kenai Peninsula. East, across the Twentymile River, we had an unparalleled vantage of the Spine Cell; a couple of rowdy bowls lined with the kind of Alaska spines you see in the movies. Typically accessed via helicopter, and occasionally by snowmachine, the true badasses access it on foot.

Frosty lines on the north side of the Peterson/Kern Headwall

Carpathian dominates the southeast horizon, looking towards the Portage area

The "Spine Cell" zone - made famous by pro (heli)skiers in TGR films.

As we continued our traverse around Lowbush we gained the pass leading to the Punchbowl Glacier. To our surprise, a massive crevasse yawned right where we had hoped to ski down to the Punchbowl. Fortunately, all we had to do was climb the ridge to our west a bit and get a longer ski run down to the glacier. No harm done.

Once on the Punchbowl we saw numerous tracks on some of the surrounding peaks left by clients of Chugach Powder Guides (CPG) heliskiing. Fatigue was setting in, but we knew we were getting close now. We stopped to have a snack and some water and that's when I saw the casualty.

While descending the sastrugi slope one of the passes before Punchbowl, I had taken a great high velocity spill. No physical harm done I simply got up and continued on. When I stopped on the Punchbowl to have a sip of water, I pulled out my water bottle only to see that there was a hole in the side and the water that wasn't frozen had leaked into my pack. I deduced that, in my tumble, my crampons must have smashed into my water bottle and punctured the side. Gnarly.

We crossed the Punchbowl and gained our final low pass. Looking back, we admired the peaks that lined the headwall of the Rosehip Glacier. GW noted that CPG flies here, and we all gained new respect for the locally accessible terrain just beyond the confines of the Girdwood Valley.

Rosehip Headwall. So rad.

The Rosehip Headwall under a waxing gibbous moon

The sun began to tuck behind the peaks as we transitioned at the final pass. We descended to the Winner Creek Valley in great powder, alongside tracks indicating that we were on a heli-skiing run. From the bottom of the valley we did some fun skiing through alder and cottonwood forest, finally stumbling upon tracks left by others who had completed a similar traverse, leading to the Winner Creek Trail. Up and down, sidestepping and cruising around tight corners defined the long stretch of trail leading out of the valley. Exhausted, I was relieved to see that the final 1.5 miles of trail back to town was mostly downhill on a super fun luge-y trail. Split-skiing at its finest.

We dropped our gear at the truck as evening set in, and headed up to the A-Bar for celebratory beers. Tired, sunburned, dehydrated, we returned to Peterson Creek in the dark and, after one more round of high-fives, went our own ways. We reconvened for GW's birthday two days later...

The route - roughly 15 miles, 5,000 vertical feet of climbing, 4 (benign) glaciers, 3 passes. Took us 9 hours with very little stopping. One awesome day.

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