I've always liked the simplicity of Hiking Lines. No helicopter noise, first-hand impressions of the snow conditions on the slopes and - above all - the satisfaction of having earned your turns are simply priceless.
So when the idea came up among my snowboarding friends to plan a mission deep into the Alaskan backcountry, with nothing but tents to sleep in and nothing but my own feet to get up the mountain, it was easy for me to go along.
The choice fell on the Tordrillos, a mountain range northwest of Anchorage that became famous as the setting for parts of the legendary Brainfarm snowboard movie "The Art of Flight" with Travis Rice and John Jackson, featuring big-mountain riding like you've never seen it before. The challenge of reaching some of these spots "barefoot" was simply enticing.
After some planning and finding the right guides for such a mission, we finally met at a seaplane airfield in Anchorage. Five riders, two filmers, two guides and myself to take photos. Three planes with a Beaver plane equipped with skis to land on snow. More than a ton of tents, cookers, sleeping bags, snowboards, safety equipment and food that had to be moved to the back of the plane.
The spot the guides had chosen for base camp was perfect: a large flat area in the middle of a huge glacier, free of crevasses and yet close enough to reach most of the slopes within two hours. During the final preparations, rumours reached us that temperatures would drop to -30°C on the first nights, so the first priority was to set up base camp with proper snow walls around all the sleeping tents to minimise wind chill. To get as much of the "infrastructure" in place as possible before the temperatures dropped from "bearable" to "really bloody cold". We light the camping cookers and get the water boiling for hot tea and our first dinner in the wilderness.
After a really cold night, it's always nice to get the body moving. Luckily, most of our special lines required about two hours of splitboarding, followed by another hour or more of bootstrapping up the steep sections to get to the top of the slope. A thorough look at the topographical maps showed that there were many opportunities around the camp to ride and shoot the best light at different times of the day. The downside, of course, was that you had to get up early in the morning at 5am for the spots with light. However, most of the spots offered beautiful light in the late afternoon, especially the technically more difficult ones.
Camp life became more and more comfortable as the temperatures slowly rose and everyone got used to the unfamiliar life. Snow caves were dug, packed lunches were placed on a spooky table as soon as the sun brought the temperatures above freezing. Perhaps it also helped that the pilot of a supply flight brought two cases of beer. A rare luxury that no one had even dared to hope for! So the mood couldn't have been better, whether it was a bluebird with lots of riding and shooting or days to rest the bones and get a few lessons in knots and ropes.
Although everyone was longing for a shower and other cultural amenities, no one really wanted to leave after 12 days on the glacier. We were happy that our big dream had come true and everything had worked out so well. We had gone further and deeper into the Alaskan backcountry than any of us had before. A perfect combination of simple camp life in breathtaking scenery and daily steep AK descents that we could only manage with the strength of our own feet. The whole trip was a turning point for all of us and Alaska will be on our yearly schedule from now on. The only question is what is the next level...? It definitely has to be deeper and further!
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