The “Hawaiian Connection” expedition team took off from Talkeetna on Talkeetna Air Taxi Service to the Denali National Park on a remote secret glacier under clear skies and calm wind, ideal conditions. The pilot called the conditions the best in ten years. Eli Helmuth, UIAGM/IFMGA Mountain Guide, was our leader. See his site climbinglife.com
We set up camp in the middle of a mid sized glacier surrounded by 5000 foot towering spires, rock faces, steep couloirs and epic power bowls of such immense proportions that the mind cannot grasp it. The temperature was 15 degrees F, wind calm. Nearby on the glacier was world famous climbing team David Lama from Chamonix, France along with an Austrian doing first ascent routes up 5000 foot walls. You’ll read about them in the climbing magazines soon.
After setting up camp, with sunlight perfectly lighting up our valley until after 9:00 pm and light until after 10:00 pm, we had plenty of time to check out our new surroundings and get some turns in. We headed up “Camp Tech Hill” a south facing bowl about 1200 feet to the cliff line. There was very little natural activity from the previous snowfall of a foot with minor sluffing off rock bands and a few crowns on the cliff which we avoided. Cautiously we dropped into some nice creamy AK powder turns down the 30 degree slope. After a great run, we headed back to camp for evening refreshments and dinner and the well appointed, warm comfortable cook tent with seats, and well stocked bar, and Mango Margaritas. That night, the katabatic winds of about 12 knots made the temperature -20, but my -10 rated Feathered Friends bag inside a Hilleberg Nammatj 3 double wall tent kept the cold and wind at bay.
The next morning broke early cold and clear. Sunlight warmed our well situated camp from sunrise to sunset. We chose an objective with a north exposure where the powder was the lightest and headed up the “Caveman’s Revenge” Couloir with about 50+ degrees at the crux. I wished I had my verts or ascent plates. We got some sweet fluffy powder turns. It was so much fun, we headed back around the corner to “Po po pow pow” ridge for a couple of sprint up fast laps the left the thighs and lungs burning but were rewarded with fast dreamy powder that was rippable and perfectly smooth. There was no avy or crevasse danger at all.
The next day we planned to go big and headed for the big objective we could see from camp which we called, “Aloha Tower”. We headed up what turned out to be a large bowl with interesting chutes on the sides filled with smooth powder.
We topped out at 6500 feet for a 2400 vertical after a 2.5 mile approach. Denali towered in the distance. Wind slab at the top and cornices made it a bit sketchy when the slab cracks shot out for 15 feet in all directions skiing down, but luckily it was on the low angle before the roll and did not run.
The rest of the run was about as good as it gets in the backcountry…big open steep bowls with consistent angle and perfect snow and light. The light hit the slope at a perfect angle just kissing the surface of the snow for good visibility, but not warming the powder keeping it soft. You could see your shadow while skiing and the powder billowing behind.
Eli admiring our sweet tracks down the Aloha Punch Bowl from across the valley.
The next day we explored a high cirque and mountain feature which turned out to be an even bigger day. After skinning up to the cirque Eli asked, “Where do you want to go, up the couloir or up the valley?” I voted for the “Justice Couloir”. It was 45 degrees so not too scary and with solid snow, we booted up to the top.
The couloir was a sun affected so we continued exploring over the top in the high snowfields. We were a bit uncertain whether we would connect to the bowl or get cliffed out. Its real adventure. Eli has a masterful sense of mountain topography and snow and led us over the top to an absolutely stunning epic bowl we named the “Law and Order” bowl. A huge 700 foot solid sheer cliff towered ominously over the bowl run. Huge overhanging seracs hung above the opposite side of the valley. This is as big as it gets. The large scale thigh burning powder bowl encouraged wide big arcing turns.
Approaching and skiing the “Law and Order” bowl.
Eli chose this amazing line back through the huge glacier crevasses and ice falls and we glided all the back to camp exhausted.
Our last day we headed back up the Camp Tech Hill in hot hot sun and scored some perfect corn, packed up camp and headed home. Go big, and go home! All safe, no injuries. The worst injury was sunburn on the bottom of my nose from reflection up from the snow and aching sore muscles.