Adventure on skis, skins and Mt. Troy

On Saturday, April 3, seven members of the Juneau Alpine Club toured central Douglas Island on skis. This is a story of that tour.

Posted: Friday, April 09, 2010

Things are not looking up. We sit in the car at the Mount Jumbo trailhead, watching the rain fall on the windshield. It always sounds worse than it is ... right?

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Photo By Tamara Bledsoe
Photo By Tamara Bledsoe

We'd started early, parked two vehicles at the Eaglecrest parking lot in preparation for a ski traverse from Mount Jumbo to Eaglecrest Ski Area, but now the rain is dampening our plans.

We've skied this route before, and I wanted to do it again. As I contemplate a wet start, the rest of the group arrives. The problem we face is not so much one of discomfort - we can dress for the weather - but instead one of navigation. We will need good visibility for key sections of the route, especially for the ski off the back side of Mount Jumbo.

We can bundle up to deal with the weather, but we can't safely ski off Mt. Jumbo in a white-out.

After a short discussion, Jan suggests we start at the upper Dan Moller trail head instead. Skiing the portion of the route over to Mount Troy from that point will be easier. And, it's a great idea. If the weather deteriorates, we can take refuge in the Forest Service cabin located below the Dan Moller bowl.

At nearly 500 feet, the upper Dan Moller trail turns from snow to mud. It is still raining, but the errant snow flake makes an appearance. After carrying skis a short distance on the bare trail, we come to snow. It's deep enough to ski. At this point we attach climbing skins to our skis and begin the ascent into the Dan Moller bowl. The weather is now a classic spring mix: Snow and wind one moment, calm and cloudy the next. We enjoy a short break in the warm, dry Forest Service public use cabin before continuing on.

By this point the weather is improving, and we decide to ascend the southern shoulder of Mount Farewell, before traversing over to Mount Troy. Climbing up out of the Dan Moller bowl, I feel good. I love ski touring and enjoy the climbing as much as I do the downhill skiing. The views improve as we climb. This mixed bag of weather, brings dramatic light and shadow. Scenes are framed by holes in the clouds. One minute I see a cloud-framed picture of downtown Juneau, the next a scene from Admiralty Island.

Upon reaching the summit ridge of Mount Farewell, we remove our climbing skins and prepare for a descent to the north. One by one we ski down to a prominent knoll, carving S-turns in the slope. Sailing down on my "fatty" skis, kicking up plumes of snow, I feel elated.

As the second one down, I point my camera back up at the slope and try to capture action shots of each skier. Each person has their own style: The daring cornice jumper, the speed-racer and the polished ski patroller. On this side of the ridge, the ski conditions are great. Several inches of soft snow provide good cover over the hard icy layer. The further we descend, the better snow we find. Smiles of joy and exhilaration grace people's faces. Things are looking up.

We again don our climbing skins and begin to traverse toward Mount Troy, following the rising and falling spine of Douglas Island. By now, the breaks between snow and clouds are filled with blue sky and sun. We stop to eat and bask in the warmth.

Continuing on, we start working our way up Mount Troy. As we reach the upper slopes, we find stretches of rime ice, mixed with a thin cover of snow over ice, making it difficult to ascend. I start up a section of slope that looks good from below, but turns out to be hard and icy, making it difficult to gain any ground. I slide down on the metal edges of my skis, losing elevation, but working my way over to a better route.

Finally, we reach the summit of Mount Troy. Yay! It's our second summit of the day. The wind howls around us. The snow is hard and icy, and a cornice curls over the north side of the ridge. Though the views are great, we don't linger. The group spread out on the ascent, so we wait just long enough to re-group before descending. We each choose our own descent line, again carving S-turns into the slope.

The snow improves immediately after leaving the summit ridge. Soft snow replaces the icy crust and the skiing is pure fun. We ski down the slopes of Mt. Troy, stopping to regroup at various benches along the way. I begin to feel the fatigue in my legs.

We reach a flat, wind-sheltered area on the lower slopes and decide it's a good spot for a break. We remove our skis, and create "lounge chairs," which are really just skis planted upright in the snow to form the back of the chair. A backpack forms the seat. We bundle up in warm parkas and settle in, relishing in the joy of day. We have nearly completed our route. We rest, snack and chat. Someone begins to snore.

A cool breeze finally rousts us from our rest spot and we continue on our journey. Skiing down through the trees and meadows, the snow turns soft and heavy. On the lower slopes, snow has the consistency of runny, mashed potatoes. But we are almost down. Just a short ski over to the lower Eaglecrest runs then an easy cruise down the groomed resort runs. Last chair has come and gone and we have the place to ourselves.

• Tamara Bledsoe is the current president the Juneau Alpine Club.

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