Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Urban Assault

A common phrase exchanged when discussing the subjective merits of living in Anchorage is: "The best thing about Anchorage is it's only 20 minutes from Alaska."  

Oftentimes the contrast that the urban sprawl offers to the unforgiving wilds of the Alaskan landscape creates a feeling of separateness from the "real Alaska" that can potentially lull Anchorageites in to a false sense of security in exploring the terrain in and around the city limits.

With minimal snowfall through the end of November, I had been eyeing a winter biking route lying in the borderlands of our fare city.  An established route in the summer months, the Powerline Pass to Indian  trail is a popular day trip in the Chugach State Park and affords some gravity fueled rewards descending to Indian, with an elevation change of roughly 3500 feett beginning and ending at sea level (when starting from the urban bowl). The thin snowpack of the early winter made this an ideal route for the unique attributes of a fatbike.

Leading up to the weekend planned for the ride, I opted out of the trip due to other commitments.  Also,  a storm system had brought two feet of fresh snow along with high winds on a base of 2 weeks worth of hoar frost. (Read: highly unstable and dangerous!)

Although I wondered if my riding buddies had similar misgivings about the route, I assumed they wouldn't attempt such a trip due to the high degree of avalanche danger, or perhaps would have checked snow conditions via the Friend's of the Chugach

I was wrong, and despite the sketchy conditions they took to the mountains, attempting an up-and-over of Powerline to Indian.

The picture below shows the accent up to Powerline approaching an open couloir on the aptly named Avalanche Peak in the Chugach front range.    Two minutes after this photo was snapped a point release sent a slow rolling powder slide further compromising the route ahead.  The intrepid and ill-informed cyclists pushed onward into the sketchy snow-pack, and amazingly didn't trigger a second slide.   Thankfully the all day trek brought them safely to Indian, and prompted afterthoughts of "maybe next time we should have shovels or beacons...?"

They were truly lucky to not have been injured or killed. I relay this story here in hopes that people will educate and equip themselves appropriately.  This is increasingly important with the advent of fatbikes bringing a new group of outdoor enthusiasts to the mountains; encourage your winter biking peers to get basic a snow-safety  education before venturing out of city limits.

1 comment:

  1. I still can't believe they went for it.

    Great post addressing the hazards and risks many don't readily associate with riding bikes.