A first shot at Alaska mountaineering in Panorama Mountain’s south couloir.

I haven’t done much in the way of posting on this blog since moving to Alaska.  Fall was busy and I managed to blow a knee running the Pinnell Mountain Trail (one of the interior’s best) in September, putting a damper on many of my autumn plans.  By the time my knee had satisfactorily recovered it was wintertime, and the days were mostly too short for photographs or for trips out of town.  I went skate skiing alot, and generally tried to maintain fitness for springtime.

Now the days are getting long again, temperatures are moderating, and the snowpack has (actually had, since it’s nuking snow this week) stabilized.  On February 15th, I joined Marc, Joanna, Jenna, and Alex for an attempt on the south couloir of Panorama Peak, immediately to the east of the George Parks highway, and a few miles south of Denali’s front gate.

Twas the obvious one to the

Alaska has the tendency to be much larger than it looks in distances and elevations, and Panorama exemplifies this trait.  Having looked at a fair share of couloirs I feel as though I can accurately assess their length from below.  I would have pegged this one at around 2000′.  It turned out to be more than 3000′, with a sustained pitch of around 40 degrees.  The snow was good for cramponing: occasionally a bit hard, soft, or thin, but generally firm and secure.  It was mostly a bit of windblown powder sitting atop classic interior depth hoar.  The booger sugar is ubiquitous here, I’m coming to learn (which is something to get used to, I guess). 
 

Midway break.

We made consistent progress up.  The weather was breezy and skies overcast.  There were two exposed scree bands, which would have stymied an unbroken ski run.  Otherwise, I was wishing desperately that I had brought snowboard. 

Wine, cheese, wind.

The top of the couloir is not the top of Panorama Mountain, but as we reached the summit ridge, the high winds that we had heretofore been protected from, combined with the late hour conspired to content ourselves with the climb, rather than a new summit.  We drank a little bit of wine, and ate a little bit of good Swiss cheese (thanks Marc), and began the downclimb.  I realized at this point that I had not really downclimbed steep snow before (having always just snowboarded), and it took a minute to find the appropriate rhythm. 

Looking over the south face of Panorama Mountain.

Traversing over some rocks.

After the steep head of the couloir, the descent was easy, and we swiftly and safely reached the bottom, just in time for self-arrest practice and recreational glissading.

 

   

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