| Ski Mountaineering in Little Swiss, AK
After a few years of reading about guided trips to "Little Switzerland", or formally, the Pika Glacier, I finally had a chance to get up and check out the area for myself this April. Despite lots of pleading for partners on various sites, I couldn't get any takers, but did convince Lee and Rob to join me, who I've known for a while. Many thanks for coming gentlemen!
on the Pika
I'll spare you the stories of planning, but suffice to say that you can make this trip happen without too much work. Simply book your flight to Anchorage, find a way (shuttle or train) to Talkeetna, and book a flight onto the glacier. We decided on 7 nights on the glacier and it essentially broke down as:
Day 1: Arrival and setup of camp; low angle skiing
Day 2: Skiing and climbing our first objective, Little Munchkin...and more skiing
Day 3: Crevasse rescue and glacier safety work...and more skiing (Middle Troll Couloir)
Day 4: Journey down glacier, thru ice field, and attempt of Italy's Boot...and more skiing (South Facing Couloir off Italy's Boot, South Face of Italy's Boot)
Day 5: 'Rest day' that turned into aggressive climbing and skiing (South sub-peak of the Trolls, 'schrund-down descent of North face of The Throne, sub-peak between Thone-Trolls ski descent)
Day 6: Traverse over col into neighboring glacier for ski attempt (Your Highness Peak Couloir)
Day 7: Last big skiing objective; then pack-up and wait for the plane; and harvest powder while hurrying up and waiting for the plane (Crown Jewel Couloir)
As we flew into the Alaskan Range, the size and beauty was jaw dropping.
And the bird flies away!
As the slowed lowered in the the skies, we got in our first turns just to the south of camp. Beautiful low angle runs that terminated right outside of our tents.
South side runs
The Little Munchkin was one of our objectives for the week because it was one of the easiest things in the cirque to ski! It's rated a 5.4 rock 3 pitch rock climb, but we quickly came to find out that this year, in April, there was very little rock. We climbed the snow face to the saddle, Lee belayed me up the exposed cornice to the summit block, where there was a nice belay/rap station in waiting. Thankfully Rob and Lee yelled out a couple of times, "Dude, step right!!! You getting very airy on that cornice!"
Ascending the LM
Photo by Rob - the ridge to LM summit
After a successful ski down we celebrated in camp with a beer before they froze.
Beer! (However, we did become experts at boiling everything from beer, peanut butter, cream cheese, eggs...and anything else that was rock solid)
Later that evening ski skied up the col beyond LM to take in some evening light and to get a ski off another steeper peak.
View from col to Crown Jewel Glacier, Your Highness, and it's SE facing cooler
And our return trip offered beautiful views of The Trolls. The Middle Troll Couloir was my number one goal of the peak, which we luckily we able to ski the following evening!
Ski descent of the M Troll Cooler
One of our biggest days was a trip down glacier to attempt Italy's Boot. This day offered us the chance to practice route finding thru ice fields, assessing slope stability (various large avalanches were visible), and a more in-depth session of 'picketology'.
Approaching the ice fall
Navigating the maze
working on our degrees in picketology
As the days passed on the glacier, the temps slowly warmed thankfully. While the first night or two had lows of -25, I think things probably thawed to lows of -5 or -10 near the trips end. And while we were graced with blue skies and minimal winds due to a rare sustained high pressure system, it did lead to chilled temps throughout the week.
This area is truly amazing and if you are a skier or a climber, I can assure you that you'll come back all smiles!
Summit of Your Highness Cooler
view of North side of Your Highness
Here is link to many more photos if you are interested: LINK
(I added a few of Rob's photos to this bucket, so Rob, thank you and I hope you don't mind!)
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):