The Weekend after the FE Exam: Skiing Michael’s Creek and Attempting Item Peak

So, it’s been one week since I took the FE exam, an 8 hour intensive exam that is more important to engineers than their degree, and totally unknown to non-engineers.  You have to have a special calculator, one reference book (they provide) and even a special pencil (they provide).  I watched a few people have their calculators taken away when they walked in.  Bummer dude.

“Oh, you have to take a test to get your degree?”

“No, but if you don’t pass, your degree is pretty much worthless.”

After taking this test I am in need of a break; Grant and Galen and I feel it’s the time to try a one day ascent of Item’s North Face, so we prep that week and Grant buys up every Black Diamond Cyborg crampon frontpoint in the state.  Serioulsy.  I even donate one so he has 3 new ones and one dull point. 

Good enough!

Good enough!

We plan to meet up Friday to LEAVE AT 8. Leave at 8pm, get to the trailhead at 11pm, sleep for a few hours and start skiing around 2am. It’s about 6.30 and Grant has gone home to sleep a quick nap, Galen and I are still packing. I realize I have left my warm puffy gear at school and ask Galen if he wants to tag along.

We get my gear and Galen asks “a quick beer at the pub?” We get to the pub and I suggest getting a pitcher, so we do that and just as we finish it off and are about to leave a bunch of our climber friends walk in. We bum some beer off them and buy some more, we tell them our Item plans and that we have to go, it’s about 7:45pm at this point. We get back to my cabin 5 minutes later and find Grant in my cabin waiting.

“Hey Grant, you should probably drive, we just chugged a pitcher each.”

“You assholes!  I thought you had maybe gone to the store to do some last minute shopping, then I thought maybe they went to the pub, nah they wouldn’t do that…”

We roll out of town half an hour or so later and stop by Safeway for beer and dinner (I got a double black XXX IPA, simply because of the name), the passengers drank said beers with dinner and passed out while Grant drove. Woke up in Delta Junction, went to sleep, woke up at the trailhead and went to sleep. We woke up around 3am and the boys tried to convince me we’re going ice climbing instead, but I am insistent that we’re going mountaineering.

Ski up in the dark

Ski up in the dark

We ski up the creek in the dark, make it to the base of the headwall and wake/hang with the guys camping there (Brian and Seth, they’re headed to Silvertip).

Dawn.  Mount Silvertip visible from the creek

Dawn. Mount Silvertip visible from the creek

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I always fall behind these guys...

I always fall behind these guys…

Alpenglow

Alpenglow

GOOD MORNING BRIAN AND SETH!

GOOD MORNING BRIAN AND SETH!

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We eat some dry Kodiak Cakes, head up the headwall and top out, decide it’s gonna be too sunny to do our route so we decide to do the west ridge instead.  Jeff Benowitz told us to start at 2am and chided us later (“You should have known the sun would hit the face”).  Jeff also cautioned against bringing beacons, which seemed like a good idea at the time (“Well, if you get in an avalanche on the north face, you’ll just fall a few thousand feet and die anyway”).  Jeff also claims to never use a beacon.

Climbing the headwall

Climbing the headwall

Looking back at camp

Looking back at camp

What a glorious morning.  You can just barely see Mount Shand, Mount Moffit, and Mount McGinnis popping up over the ridge on the right

What a glorious morning. You can just barely see Mount Shand, Mount McGinnis, and Mount Moffit popping up over the ridge on the right

Shand, Moffit, McGinnis

Shand, McGinnis, Shand

Topping out

Topping out

Seeing these peaks for the first time is one of my most vivid memories.

Seeing these peaks for the first time is one of my most vivid memories.

The Boys

The Boys

Seth and Brian

Seth and Brian.  We headed up this ridge to the high point above them a the top of the photo

Galen, Grant frolicking

Galen, Grant frolicking

Heading up

Heading up

Heading up

Still heading up

Looking back down the creek

Looking back down the creek

To the right

To the right

To the right

To the right

To the rightest

To the rightest

Kicksteppin' it up

Kicksteppin’ it up

We make it to the top of the coveted Bump on the way up Item, the high point between the head of Michael’s Creek and Trims Creek.  We have a great view of the Hayes Range and the Wrangells, though I didn’t take any photos of the latter.  We start along the side of the ridge and I’m so obsessed with the beauty of the situation I fall behind a bit taking pictures.  

One of Item's summits in the background

One of Item’s summits in the background

Galen

Galen

Trims Creek

Trims Creek

Item

Item

Silvertip in the Morning

Silvertip in the Morning

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Can you see anything wrong here?

Can you see anything wrong here?

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Big Cornice

Big Cornice

Big Cornice

As I catch up to the boys, they tell me Galen set off a sizable avalanche!  I was in disbelief because I didn’t hear anything, then look downward to the maw of the Trim’s Glacier and see it had jumped the bergshrund at the head of the valley.  

Avalanche runnout waaaaaay down there

Avalanche runnout waaaaaay down there

We dig a pit and find a few inches of wind slab on quite a few more inches of depth hoar.

Shit.

Shit

ABORT

ABORT!  

We had neither beacons nor the desire to die, so we turn around. We climb back down to the base of the headwall and the weather is super nice, very calm, very clear, and no wind where we were hanging out. We decided since our schedule for the day was suddenly open, we would hang out at our friends camp and lounge in the sun.

Looking back before heading back

Looking back before heading back

Shand, McGinnis, Moffit As zoomed in as my iphone can

Shand, McGinnis, Moffit
As zoomed in as my iphone can

A better view of our avalanche

A better view of our avalanche

Grant

Grant

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Brian and Seth's camp visible

Brian and Seth’s camp visible

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Grant

Grant

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We started to notice the rocks down the creek were moving. I thought it was just me being hungover and sleep-deprived, I think Galen did too, but when Grant made note of it we realized it was probably the Alpine Club on their own Item peak trip. We watched a pretty sizable group ski up and we decide to meet up with them (not that we had a choice, we were going down the valley). We ski down in awesome conditions, our mountaineering skis don’t work well in powder. In the spring, the sun bakes the snow into compact ice and freezes overnight.  Around noon the snow gets sunsoaked and turns wonderful, like butter taken out of the fridge and left to sit; a frozen core with a soft surface.  

I prefer Sour Patch Kids Extreme

I prefer Sour Patch Kids Extreme

Glorious.

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We see the Club is setting up camp. I presidentially ski straight through and meet up with the trip leader, Max. We tell him about the avalanche and chat for a while.  Grant, former AAC vice president, skis up and eats shit but succeeds in stopping.  Galen manages to stop just fine. We bullshit for a while before heading on our merry way. 

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...not worth it

…not worth it

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We ski off towards the car in the most wonderful conditions I’ve ever skied on. Dark Side of the Moon was our soundtrack on the way out, but were at slightly different spots in the record, we could hear each other singing along every now and then. Once we started to get into the canyon part of the river things got steeper, there was one section I almost got stuck in a river hole, which I affectionately call “The Motherfucker”.  It’s a really big, consistently forming hole that usually requires you to take off you pack and skis, straddle a little rock ledge, and toss packs and skis over.  We get out around 2 and drive home, the rest of the day is lost in the ether.

Mount Hayes on the right

Mount Hayes on the right

IGA has the best selection of Ramen

IGA has the best selection of Ramen

2 responses to “The Weekend after the FE Exam: Skiing Michael’s Creek and Attempting Item Peak

  1. Pingback: A Tour of the Eastern AK Range, Labor Day 2016 | engibeering the future·

  2. It’s actually a cool and helpful piece of info.

    I am glad that you just shared this useful information with us.
    Please keep us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.

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