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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
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    New States
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    841

    Dancing with Jack of the Shadows on 7601, Valdez AK

    The first time I ever saw Peak 7601 was a number of years ago while flying by in a helicopter. My reaction was immediate and visceral: “What is that!



    Peak 7601 viewed from the air.




    It turned out that one of my guides at the time (Kerstin Kremer from Valdez Heli Ski Guides) had been part of the guide crew when the peak was done by Terje Haakonson for the film “First Descent”.








    Whether it was actually the first descent is open to some debate, since quite a bit of stuff gets done in Alaska without those involved talking it up much. (Jerry Hance, now guiding with BlackOps is a likely candidate for having done it before Terje). At any rate, I’d never seen or heard about it before and found it really mesmerizing, even from the few brief glimpses of it I’d gotten.

    For several seasons thereafter, the only look I got at the peak was from bad angles and a long way away.




    View of 7601 in the distance, seen from the south cirque of Mt. Dimond.





    Most of these views weren’t exactly what you’d call “inviting”. In spite of this, I was still interested in taking a shot at it (at least the lower face, if not the peak) but for a variety of reasons (usually weather and snowpack related) it wasn’t on the menu. Finally this year, the stars aligned enough so that I would at least have a chance to give it a closer look and perhaps try and get a ways up the thing.

    This was made possible by a combination of snow pack and wind conditions that made it seem reasonable to at least go take a look at it, combined with the possibility to work with Pete Lowney, a Valdez local sledneck, mountaineer, snowboarder, speed flyer and all around badass.



    Pete Lowney on top of Saphire


    Pete’s website: https://proudline.wordpress.com/



    The day started at the 19-mile compound where Pete and a revolving cast of characters hang out when not skiing, sledding or flying insubstantial bits of fabric in the surrounding mountains. The compound provides classic Alaskan ambiance, featuring as accommodations a yurt, an old school bus, a parked airstream and a treehouse (really, a treehouse). Lawn ornaments include various dead or dying vehicles slowly rusting back into the earth, fuel tanks, storage sheds, a collection of sleds, skis, and snowboards and a huge dog that looks like something leftover from the Pleistocene (a “woolly” something for sure).




    Stuff that might come in handy someday.





    Yes, a treehouse.





    Pleistocene dog.




    7601 is fairly far from the nearest road (around thirteen miles out by the most direct route) as such, a sled bump to the base was necessary. Sled access to many areas this season was complicated by a number of warm spells earlier in the season that had left low lying areas with limited coverage and the crevasse fields of many glaciers poorly bridged, but the approach route to 7601 is higher than many others, making sled access viable (if not completely unproblematic). Another member of the 19-mile crew (Zach, an ex-Baker ski patroller) joined us for the trip to the base and to provide backup in case of problems. He was unfortunately in for a much longer day than any of us had envisioned.

    Arriving at the cirque, we found that the face looked pretty good while the peak looked, well, sporty.



    Thar she blows!




    Lower face looking good.




    Peak looking, well…




    Pete at least seems psyched.




    Heading up the face, we found a mostly consolidated base covered with a few inches of dense surface snow. This made for quick climbing and promised good skiing with little avi risk.



    Ways to go yet.




    Good climbing conditions though.




    Approaching the top of the face, the pitch became quite steep and we got our first close look at the conditions on the peak proper as well as a look at the ridge at the top of the face.



    After looking up at the peak Pete still seems enthusiastic (don’t know why exactly).




    Looking back down from the top of the face.




    I had been told in the past by various heli-guides that it wasn’t possible to land the ridge at the top of face. Given some of the places I’ve seen helis drop people off up there, I found this rather surprising until I got a look at this ridge. On the other (lee) side of the ridge were huge, poorly anchored cornices, reaching in some cases twenty to thirty feet past their closest anchor point. Since the windward side of the face at the top is also very steep, a heli-landing there would have required a toe-in so high that one would have probably been climbing out directly onto the cornice itself.



    Well, that explains why nobody lands it.
    "I just want to thank everyone who made this day necessary." -Yogi Berra

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
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    New States
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    841

    TR Continued

    Although the conditions on the peak looked pretty sketchy, we decided to keep going. The start of the climb to the peak involved a traverse across a thinly covered rock band to reach the snow field below the summit. The snowfield itself presented a mix of conditions: The looker’s left side (where Terje descended) was covered with a hollow sounding wind slab while the center of the face was covered with a reasonably consolidated slab over a mix of fairly dense snow in some places and sugar in rockier areas.



    Looking across snowfield below the peak at puny mountains below.




    We naturally stayed off the hollow wind slab, but the climbing in the center of the face had its moments as well. Particularly in the rockier parts the snow didn’t provide very good support and the pitch left one’s face inches away from the unreliable snow one was trying to climb.



    Pete can’t understand what I keep winging about. Looking down from the middle of peak snowfield.




    This required a worm like climbing style to keep ones pack from overbalancing backwards into space. Pete, with all his mountaineering experience, seemed reasonably comfortable with this, while I used up a year’s supply of adrenaline and expletives to follow him.

    About a hundred feet below the summit, I was ready to throw in the towel, but Pete wanted to check it out and kept going.



    Pete getting ready for summit push.




    This last pitch was especially spicy, since it is the steepest part of an already very steep face and we didn’t know what exactly was on the other side of the summit ridge (a cliff, cornices, what?). Pete, knowing that a helicopter had landed up there at least once, tunneled up through this final bit in a steep traverse while I looked on in amazement at his display of steep snow climbing prowess. I followed nervously.



    Pete commemorates summit with selfie. (Starting to get cold up there).




    Looking down from the top.





    It turned out that our worries about the summit were unfounded, and we found there a small plateau from which we could enjoy a spectacular view and regroup for the descent. Due to slow climb to the summit (mea culpa) the sun was starting to set as we arrived. After taking a few pictures we headed down.



    Summit view to the sea.




    View of Pontoon far to the Southeast.




    Summit view to the Northeast.




    View to the Northwest including Haunted House (face to the left of high rocky peak).




    Due to snow conditions on the peak, including hidden pepper, some possibly breakable crust and an occasion tip grabbing wind pocket, the descent of the peak could most accurately be described as a ‘ski assisted down-climb’. Photographic documentation of this descent as well as the remaining evening’s adventures is missing because of dead batteries in one device, an inoperative flash in another and generally having more important things to worry about.

    By the time we reached the top of the face it was getting dark and we donned headlamps for the remainder of the descent. Skiing the face, which involved kicking off sluffs then chasing them in the bobbing light from a headlamp proved to be a somewhat surreal but thoroughly enjoyable experience, particularly after the hours of tension experienced up on the peak.

    The rest of the evening turned into something of an object lesson in the power of Murphy’s law:

    -Some gear left at the bottom of the run was lost under drifting snow.
    -Missed the skin track on the way down (drifting snow again) and wandered into a crevasse field. In the dark. Then Pete’s headlamp batteries died.
    -Finally got back to the sleds to find Zach almost hypothermic from standing around waiting for us on the windy hillside.
    -Heading back on the sleds had to constantly stop due to overheating on icy trails.
    -Got a sled stuck while trying to reduce overheating.
    -Bag strapped to one of the sleds came loose and got sucked into the sled track requiring major surgery to remove.
    -Had to take an alternate route back to avoid riding steep, icy trails in the dark doubled up.
    -Got back to the road miles away from where the car was parked after 2AM.
    -After walking for a couple miles on the way back to the car we finally got picked up by a couple of ladies who had driven by the frantically waving Zack (who apparently had a bit too much of an ax murderer vibe going on) but decided that Pete and I, who were a bit further ahead, could perhaps be trusted in their car. We probably just looked so exhausted that we wouldn’t be able to take a kindergartener in a pillow fight.

    On the upside, we got some pretty good sightings of the northern lights while sitting around waiting for the sleds to cool off and we could claim the nth ascent and descent of 7601 (where 0<n<infinity).
    "I just want to thank everyone who made this day necessary." -Yogi Berra

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
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    Wow, teh gnar. Very well written, and photographed too. Nice.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2007
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    Looks scary and dangerous.

    I'd rather ski what you called the "puny" mountains below.

    But well done for facing the fear and the danger. Murphy's Law was amusing, but must have sucked at the time. Big day out.
    Life is not lift served.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Location
    Upstate
    Posts
    7,137
    I here to recognize that you are a bona fide badass. Strong work!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jun 2014
    Location
    Montreal, Canada
    Posts
    1,484
    Heavy man! Great TR!!
    24° 06°

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Location
    Where bankers' bankers breed
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    2,530
    To me, all looks like one big photoshop
    Gimme five, I'm still alive!
    Ain't no luck, I learned to duck!

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
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    Paper St. Soap Co.
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    2,678
    Awesome!

  9. #9
    Join Date
    May 2009
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    inpdx
    Posts
    14,868
    something i will never do...thx for the report!

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    New States
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    841
    Quote Originally Posted by St. Jerry View Post
    To me, all looks like one big photoshop
    You can imagine how long it takes to cut and paste all this to make it look realistic.
    "I just want to thank everyone who made this day necessary." -Yogi Berra

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    norcal
    Posts
    1,319

    Dancing with Jack of the Shadows on 7601, Valdez AK

    Badass indeed. Strong work dood.
    Life of a repo man is always intense.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Apr 2004
    Location
    cordova,AK
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    3,006
    wat to get after it and get a big line. lot's of motivation there. Is this off the Woodworth?
    off your knees Louie

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Location
    Moose, Iowa
    Posts
    6,775
    Wow. Ballsy. Sweet trip report.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Location
    the ham
    Posts
    9,027
    Quote Originally Posted by neck beard View Post
    Looks scary and dangerous.

    I'd rather ski what you called the "puny" mountains below.
    This.

    Respect.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Location
    SF & the Ho
    Posts
    6,278
    BAD ASS!!! I had Kersten as a guide at VHSG and she had a knack for getting our group onto pucker filled slopes, but NOTHING like that. You know it's pucker time when it even looks scary steep in the photos. Major kudos. Too bad about the cams, but what you did get was great!

  16. #16
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Posts
    303
    wow, thanks for the post

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Mar 2014
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    It's Full of Stars....
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    3,538
    That. Is. Bad. Ass.

  18. #18
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Location
    Missoula, MT
    Posts
    21,516
    That is fucking nuts. nice ride.
    Anyone else think that looks like Lone Mountain on steroids?
    No longer stuck.

    Quote Originally Posted by stuckathuntermtn View Post
    Just an uneducated guess.

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    AK
    Posts
    720
    Excellent!

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Location
    Tokyo, Japan
    Posts
    1,968
    Oh wow, Will. That is some impressive work. Respect.
    Days on snow this season: 54 Last Season: 83

    www.poachninja.com

  21. #21
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Location
    base of the Bush
    Posts
    12,954
    Very Nice!
    www.apriliaforum.com

    "If the road You followed brought you to this,of what use was the road"?

    "I have no idea what I am talking about but would be happy to share my biased opinions as fact on the matter. "
    Ottime

  22. #22
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Posts
    2,850
    So killer in so many ways and could not agree with mcski more as when the run looks steep in photos/pic you know it is steep as hell... Thanks for posting as this was one of the best TRs of 2015...!

  23. #23
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Location
    Fresh Lake City
    Posts
    3,767
    FKNA! that was rad!

  24. #24
    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    Location
    be here now
    Posts
    5,068
    shorts = browned. fkna solid.
    Let me lock in the system at Warp 2
    Push it on into systematic overdrive
    You know what to do

  25. #25
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Location
    monument
    Posts
    5,885
    whoa.

    ballsy.
    In search of the elusive artic powder weasel ...

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