Back to Hatcher Pass

With no particular destination in mind after our snowboard tour outside Eagle River yesterday we headed back up to nearby Hatcher Pass for the night. We weren’t entirely sure we would hike and ride yesterday, but it was a beautiful day. We spent most of the morning chatting with people in the parking lot, including a woman who went to high school in Waterville Valley to ski, a woman whose husband is distantly related to Sara, and a guy who lives in Maine but has a House here in Palmer so he comes to Alaska as often as he can. Such a small world. By early afternoon we finally decided to get out and stretch some tired legs.

The sun was bright, but the temps were cooler than last time we were here as the temp at midday was only about 34 deg. We figured the north(ish) facing slopes would still be quite firm and stable, but might soften up a bit with the sun. Our goal was a face we saw last time we were here on the long ridge from the parking lot up to Hatch Peak. The face had an existing skin track so we figured it would be an easy climb.

We were wrong. The track was set out on a sunny section of the slope and not exactly where we would descend. It was quite steep and not set very deep in many places. Worse, it was on an icy crust and on the splitboards it was tough to get an edge in so when we did slip off the track we quickly started sliding down the steep slope. Let’s just say it was a good experience in our nascent splitboarding career.

Sara traversing the difficult leg of the skin track.
Kenai wondering why Sara didn’t run up as quickly as he did.
A 180 degree view looking south into “The Valley of Sin” and north into the Hatcher Pass road, which is not named in our guidebook.

We had great cell coverage on top of the ridge so I did a video chat with a couple buddies in New Jersey.

His and her matching Jones Solution snowboards reassembled and ready to ride.

The difficult hike proved well worth it for the awesome descent on just a very slightly different aspect where the snow was still surprisingly soft. I was worried we would still hit a significant crust as it was still right about freezing, but the line we descended was just shaded enough and just enough of a gully to still hold some great sort snow. After a few tentative turns it was fun to let it go on the bottom. Had the skin track not been so terrible we definitely would have headed up again for a second run.

Video of Sara and Kenai on the descent.

Watching Kenai chase Sara down the mountain is pure joy. Out of Eagle River Sara went first and I got to watch the view from behind as he tore pell mell straight down the hill. Here I got to watch from below. He is always sooooo happy when he catches us at the bottom.

Michael’s line, Sara’s line, and Kenai’s [straight] line.
At the bottom we debated calling it a day, but Sara rallied us so we hiked up the other ridge of Hatch Peak to where we could see into the bowl beyond. We hoped we might climb high enough to see Denali over the ridge to the north, but it was not high enough. On the descent we were again lucky to find a more protected section of soft snow, which always makes the hike worth it!

Kenai chasing Michael on the second run.

Sara on her second run.

We rode out the valley on the side of the creek where all the snowmobiles run and with the combination of snowmobile tracks, ski tracks, snowmelt, and crust it was an interesting ride. Fortunately it was sunny enough on this section that when we got caught in the ruts and fell it was mostly soft.

Looking back up along the closed section of road toward the true summit of Hatcher Pass.
Poor puppy is beat, but I know he’ll be excited to run again in the morning.

As we still have no place to be, because we have no jobs and currently live in a van in Alaska, we spent another night up here at Hatcher Pass. The sunset view across the Matanuska Valley was gorgeous so we drove about a mile down the road to get the best view of the sunset down the canyon.

Good thing we had such a good time up here because this was what we woke up to this morning.

The view from the top of the parking lot. Nearly the same view of the Matanuska Valley should be visible over the top of the small lodge.

Should be a fun drive down the mountain, although some people in the parking lot told us it is rain just a little ways down the road and only cloudy in the valley. Before heading out, Sara and the dogs went for an adventurous XC ski in the whiteout. Sara was glad the groomed trail is marked with tall blue stakes, though it was still hard to tell which side to ski on with the 3 inches of fresh snow on crust.

Who knows where we will go next!

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