COMP - Mountains, Fresh Snow, and Sunshine (maybe a little history too)
To most, Carcross represents a last glimpse into the gold rush days. When men and women toiled for gold and did strange things under the midnight sun. But perhaps less known, but equally as interesting and much more appropriate for this competition, are the days in 1935 when Bradford Washburn and his team used Carcross as their launching point for exploring and mapping the area between the Canadian/Alaskan border and Kluane Lake in the Yukon.
The 6400 square mile area was the largest remaining blank on the map of North America at the time. The last U.S. Geological Survey of the border had been 21 years earlier. Bradford Washburn, Alaska’s most famous mountaineer and arguably one of the best mountain photographers of his time, took this task on while under contract for the National Geographic Society and capped off the expedition by making the first ascent of Mt Hubbard named after National Geographic Society’s founder. Innovatively using sled dog teams, bush pilots, and glacier landings, Washburn accomplished an amazing feat for his time. (ref: The Last of his Kind by Brad Roberts).
On our last trip from Whitehorse, through Carcross, on our way to the White Pass area, we coincidentally met a young guide that embodied some Washburn traits and we too tried to emulate Washburn’s impressive photography skills.
We arrived late (ok so we like to sleep in) and I remember feeling quite down that day overloaded with the stresses of the workweek that had just ended. As we got our gear ready in the parking lot we met a guide on his weekend off that happened to be heading into an area adjacent to our usual Feather Peak stop called Cleveland.
He set a pace that was manageable for us beginners as any experienced guide would. Leading us south down the gulley we usually crossed, through a large rock opening feature, and then up the other side off the gulley, along a long side hill gradually climbing to the alpine bowl. He stopped occasionally along the way to share his various mountain observations with us.
A couple of hours later we got our first glimpses of the magnificent mountain bowl we would be playing in.
And an hour later we made our first turns off the first ridge we ascended. Incredible turns in incredible snow under clear blue skies.
Up we went again, up to the ridge we had just ascended, and beyond summiting the mountain ridge that skirted the bowl we would descend.
We were lucky enough to see the most incredible views of the coastal mountains stretching in every direction we looked. And below, the best descent that we could have expected. A step above our ability, but a challenge we were up for.
I remember how nervous I was I set up my split board in downhill mode. I remember the look on my partners face as she put away her touring skins and set her bindings.
Those nerves got more intense as we watched our new friend jump off a cornice and then gracefully and effortlessly telemarking turns (yes telemarking) until he stopped in a safe location below.
“Be careful eh.” I said nervously to my partner as I worked my way carefully to the edge. “You too” was the reply.
The nerves quickly gave way to the exhilarating rush we all enjoy as I slipped over the edge, landed in the powder, and made the next set of turns until I stopped beside the guide.
My partner followed and surprised herself with how well she made each turn on the steep descent.
The turns continued. The smiles grew. The hoots and cheers got louder as each turn felt more exciting and rewarding then the last.
And then we were at the bottom, looking back up to the mountains, high fiving, complimenting each others skills, and trying to keep our tired legs from shaking.
As we traversed back down the long gradual hill to the gulley below the truck the sun began to set. We hiked out of the gulley and threw our gear into the truck with just enough time to watch the last of the sunset.
An amazing end to an amazing weekend getting great turns in the backcountry powder.