Last week was pretty typical of my season thus far, any plans or possibility of skiing was met with thick clouds and rain, where as whenever I seemed to get bogged by a bunch of pointlessly necessary things to do the sun would shine and my phone would ring with people looking to ski. Max and I had planned on some snowmobile skiing on Saturday, but rain put a stop to those plans. So it was coming after at least a week of frustration that I woke up Sunday morning to webcam evidence of sunshine in Whittier and busy getting ready as soon as I stepped out of bed. Max was awake moments later and before I knew it our sleds were on the trailer, we’d picked up Paul from his house and were on the road. Our start was so uncharacteristically early that we went through the day without any beer since none of the liquor stores were open before we got in line for the Whittier Tunnel.
Just as we were patting ourselves on the back for the early start and about to enter the tunnel a Whittier Cop pulled over. As Max handed over his paperwork and the officer read through a list of things we’d done wrong I was fearing the possibility of our day finishing early. Both parking in the wrong lane and running the red light were honest mistakes, but the three additional violations he claimed to spot while approaching the truck (no trailer lights, unregistered axillary gas tanks, studded tires) seemed like the kind of things that might get us turned around. But then the officer mentioned he’d try to hurry so we’d still make it through the tunnel on time, while a tourist driving an orange Honda Element held up traffic so he could take a couple pictures of our scene and provide us with some comedy. After returning to the truck, the Officer asked “How often do you go to Whittier?” Unable to understand what the proper tactical response would be Max went with the truth, once or twice a season. This seemed to please the cop, who told us to get the tires changed and sent us on our way, as the last car through the tunnel.
With the previous week of rain the snow at sea level was extremely rotten, allowing Max to stake his undisputed claim to the day’s MVP by using his saw to free Paul’s sled from alders. Our early start also ensured we arrived before any decent trail had been established, which led to some further delays and doubts as to weather or not we’d reach our destination. But after some work to putting in an up track Max made it up what is normally the worst of the climbs on his short track (which was suffering from both loose head bolts leaking coolant and an occasionally plugged air intake) prompting Paul to take a few practice attempts before climbing the hill himself. From there, attempting to establish a trail up the final climb to the glacier I got greedy and stuck with a climb a bit too long, getting my sled stuck just above the steepest part of the climb. Once free, my sled rolled 7 or 8 times before flipping end over end 2 or 3 times snapping my skis (which were strapped to the seat) off at the tails as well as breaking the right steering arm on my sled. At this point I was thoroughly convinced my day was finished. After dodging potentially day ending boggies all morning, being forced to quit by an inability to steer my snowmobile seemed shameless and I was ready to retreat. Max refused to quit though, and took his saw back out, cut my ski broken ski down to size and strapped it between two front skis (picture above), and instructed me to push on. Taking the flatter trail that was established in response to my crash, we pushed on, reaching the glacier and dipping down above Portage Lake.
Conditions on the glacier made travel slower then expected, as the new snow had been whipped into repetitive 3 foot drifts, which although still powdery, weren’t quite soft enough to be enjoyable. One person we came across aptly described the experience as snowmobiling on the ocean. We drove around and looked at some potential skiing, but my lack of a second ski and the choppy wind affected conditions convinced Max and Paul to stick to their sleds for the remainder of the day. A burnt out spark plug on my sled eventually convinced us to turn around and return to the truck. The return trip went by free of both difficulty or any excitement, other then a brief food break with a group of girls from Girdwood who were out snowmobiling, grilling hot dogs and listening to Snoop Dog. Usually, a safe return to the car/truck is where these stories end, but yesterday was one of those days that never ends. While waiting for the tunnel, we were initially worried when a man parked next to us began frantically signally for us to roll down our window, but any worries were erased by laughter when he informed us of the days majors news story. Then, we blew a tire on the snowmobile trailer a few miles from Girdwood, but Max, with the days MVP status already in the bag, drove the rest of the way down the highway, with the trailer riding on the rim so we could change the tire at the liquor store rather the side of the highway. After some aborted attempts at looting a couple of wrecked cars parked behind the state troopers office in search of a jack, we were forced to unload the snowmobiles and pick up the trailer by hand before replacing the tire and continuing home. A long exhausting day, that seemed to be trying to tell me to quit either for the day or the season.