Friday, February 12, 2010

Into February

Date: Feb. 11
Mileage: 35
Time: 2 hours, 17 minutes
Weather: 38 degrees, overcast, east wind 5-10 mph
Details: Another tempo ride, with three intervals until my right knee started to ache a bit; intensity 60-95 percent.

Date: Feb. 12
Mileage: About 10
Elevation gain: 5,237 feet
Time: 6 hours, 54 minutes
Weather: (alpine) 26 degrees, partly cloudy, east wind 20-30 mph
Details: Blackerby Ridge walk; intensity 20-90 percent.

On Friday, I woke up to beautiful blue skies, so I postponed my planned distance ride and set out for a climb up Blackerby Ridge instead (I've been biking a lot lately, anyway. I needed to give my legs a break by stumbling up and down an incredibly steep mountain with a lot of gear on my back, thereby beating up my entire body equally.) So here goes my latest mountain photo post:

I tried to figure out what kind of animal made these tracks. They looked more feline than canine - maybe a lynx?

And the requisite snowshoe track shot. The brown spot in the upper right is the Juneau International Airport.

The view of Blackerby Ridge from the far end. It doesn't look like that long of a ridge, but it always takes me a surprising amount of time to reach Cairn Peak, the high point in the center - or in the case of today, the knife ridge just below the peak.

Looking out over Salmon Creek reservoir. Usually this is a great bowl for skiers, but probably not during this low-snow year.

The entire ridge was lined with incredible cornices. The one near the top of this photo overhung by at least 30 feet. And you can see in the center right where the entire cornice is starting to crack off the ridge. I made a concentrated effort to keep my feet on top of rocks.

The cornices continued to the point where the ridge narrows, giving literal meaning to the term "knife ridge." I spent about 30 minutes working on this particular spot, punching my way up one side, feeling queasy, backstepping down, trying the other side, etc. The snow was fairly well packed and the angle was never more than 45 degrees, but eventually I'd hit a crux where I had no choice but to side-step along the edge of the cornice with scary exposure on both sides. I just don't deal well with scary exposure. But as I analyzed the traverse, I started to become more confident in both the stability of the cornice and my ability to skirt along the top without falling. As I was reaching these conclusions from a perch on a spot that was not nearly as exposed, I took a careless step backward, missed the snow-step I was aiming for entirely, and slipped. Even on a 45-degree slope, I plunged downward with surprising speed and lack of control. I was quickly stopped by the ice ax I had stabbed into the top of the cornice, so there was never any danger. But it was such a strange sensation - the only thing anchoring me to the mountain was five fingers wrapped around an ax, while my body just dangled like a windsock over a precipice. Had I continued to fall, I probably would have slid about 100 feet into a bowl - certainly not a catastrophic fall. But a similar fall on the exposed section of the cornice would be a different story. It was enough to make me lose my nerve entirely. So, like I usually do, I turned around.

All is OK, though. I'm really not up here to bag peaks. I'm here to absorb beauty. Oh, and beat up my poor body.

I got lost on the way down. I had left the crampons on to deal with the steep ice patches at snowline, but it turns out they're mighty helpful when trying to crawl out of a partially frozen waterfall. You learn something new every day! I don't mind learning the slow way.