The Majestic Porcupine Drainage Ski Trip

Words by Jeff Moski, Photos by Graham Kraft, Jeff Moski, and Lindsay Johnson

……The night before….

Graham: You want to go fly-in skiing tomorrow?

Moski: Yeah.

After a late night of last minute packing, Graham and Lindsay were at the house. An hour of morning awake before the sun and skies were still overcast. Heavy rain at sea level persisted, leaving the high country blanketed. We were transitioning to cold, clearer weather.

Piling gear into the Subaru and heading 0.5 miles to the Haines airport, our pilot’s synopsis for the flying was “f*cked” based on conditions. After a few minutes of discussion without a better idea of how to change the visibility, we decided to drive into town for coffee.

Drake called the minute we stopped the car with news that it was clearing. Half an hour later we were in the Cessna high above, looking out over the Takinsha Mountains, overflowing with glaciers and bathed in morning light. We were going skiing and it looked promising!

View of the Takinsha Mountains, the boundary of Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve. Photo: Moski

After three landing attempts due to the flat flight, Drake set us down on a prolific shoulder. After a quick gear and persons drop, the plane flew out of sight headed home. The sun broke through the clouds fully and looking around we took a moment to go wild.

Fly-in skiing Haines, Alaska. East chutes we skied the second day in the background. Photo: Graham

Plaster-caked, glacier-ville, mondo-mountains!!! These peaks were coated. A variable mid-winter snowpack at lower elevation turned to highly-consolidated and right-side-up cake frosting with a fresh 8-inches of snow. Strong legs helped us get after it.

Graham skinning the un-named glacier from camp 1. East chutes to the right. Photo: Moski

With a quick descent to our first camp we dropped gear immediately and began to skin up the shaded glacier valley, meandering a few crevasses. We roped up a section and chose our first line, a 1,500-foot couloir on a NE aspect. This proved to be a great decision.

Graham on an airy turn above the first couloir we booted up and skied down. Photo: Lindsay

That was fun! The sun peeled back the slopes of the next couloir looker’s right of the one we had just skied with a beautiful hanging snowfield above. We topped out on this one with more breathtaking 360-degree views. One at a time we took turns at carving our track down.

First two runs left to right, notice tracks on upper right face. Photo: Moski

From here, in perfect queue we made a quick a approach and topped out on a classic line. With the time of day and the sun rolling around the basin, the light was incredible. I stepped into a steep carpet of sunshine that led down to a couloir spilling out on the glacier below.

Lining up a clean one in the sun before going back for more! Photo: Graham

A moment at the bottom of this run for some reflection revealed that I was totally elated. I noticed the partners followed a steeper spine skier’s right of my entry. I skinned along the lower apron to Graham on his way back up. “Let’s do that again!” He read my mind!

We moved quickly as it was getting late in the day, up the basin following our skin track from earlier in the day. Roped up around the crevasses, passed our previous runs and topped out in time for one last evening lap. The run was steep, deep and unforgettable.

Cruising into camp, Graham proceeded to fiddle with the Whisperlite for a couple hours, while Lindsay and I cut snow blocks to stay warm. After a dinner of butter ramen, we lay to sleep inside our tent on the cold glacier, while the aurora and moon danced overhead.

Timing was everything on this trip. We awoke to clear skies and the towering east facing chutes looming above. With little debate, the three of us scurried up the apron, as the sun began to illuminate the slope. Kicking steep steps, we moved up and up…

Looking down the East chute, ready to top out and clip in! Photo: Graham

Lindsay veered off for an appealing looker’s right line as Graham and I headed up the main face. Our tactic here was to remain in the center and not skirt nearby rocks to avoid any potential trigger points. This worked well as we made our way up along the mountain’s shadow.

Graham taking first tracks to this beautiful run with plenty of steep, consistent vertical to go. Photo: Moski

At the bottom, it was all grins. With the contiguous snowpack and minimal slough to manage, this trip really was as good as it gets. A long steep run was the best way to follow up breakfast. From our first camp we decided to make a move and check out a different basin to the north.

I can’t stop smiling can you guys? Post-east chute group selfie. Photo: Moski

This proved for some mellow glacier skiing and then skinning up valley. At the junction point, Graham and I pointed obliquely in the direction of our camp, while Lindsay seemed to steer up valley in pursuit of looking around the corner. She had a hunch and we followed.

Lindsay and Graham making their way to the surprise col. A lot of terrain to their backs! Photo: Moski

Wandering up turned out to be a great idea, as we hadn’t seen the valley to the right and had nothing better to do than explore the vast wilderness of snow and ice. Unsure if we had to back track to our camp location we rolled up over the glacier peering around the high cirques.

Topping out at a sunny col we looked down toward the valley we had intended to camp in. It was hard to see beyond the rollover and we had to mind the bergschrund beside us. Graham scouted the potential route and said it would go. His wife was right! We had just topped out, again.

“Nobody fall in any crevasses,” Graham said. Sound advice. With cautious skiing it was possible to avoid small wind lip features indicating areas where snow had blown over holes in the glacier. Soft buttery turns were had all the way down the run we named “L.J. Surprise.”

Evening proved to be not too bad. The aurora overhead indicated we had found a nice spot to camp as cold, clear conditions persisted. Throughout the night, I awoke to photograph the aurora and surrounding scenes. There were so many great looking descents all around.

The aurora borealis dancing overhead camp 2. Notice Graham’s head poking out the tent. Photo: Moski

In the morning, our first objective were the strange nunataks on the horizon. Peak bagging with mind-bending views. Watching continental plates collide and glaciers hover in perpetual ice age. Participating in everything around us and most importantly, earning our turns.

Day three. Touring up to the nanutuks for a view. Photo: Moski

The happy pair high above the valley. Stoked to be here! Photo: Moski

After some fun in the sun, we dropped into the north-facing slope the way we had come in. And after a quick skin, we had gained an adjacent ridge and topped out again! With a tasty finish to our stellar tour, Lindsay stepped in for first tracks down a very skiable peak.

Lindsay steps into first tracks and makes a presence on the final descent. Photo: Moski

Our exit involved glacier skiing and as we neared 2,500 feet, rain crust and hard-pack. After some chatter and more skinning we edged around a nasty mush of SE-facing snow. An old mining cabin on the horizon made for an interesting stop along the way.

Graham eyeballing the old mining cabin and collapsed roof. Photo: Moski

We decided to stop for another night before skiing the exciting rain crust through the forest to the valley bottom. We figured that burgers and beer for breakfast would be a better option. In the morning we made our way down to the river and highway below.

Arriving at the valley bottom in time to ford the river to the highway. Photo: Moski

At this point, the clouds were building over the peaks we had stood on top of days before. A push in ski boots across the river and a few miles down the highway and we had arrived at 33 Mile. The grill was open, as were our cold beers! I highly recommend the double-burger.

After talking with some of the local heli guides we caught a ride with a lady from the local snowmachine club. Watching miles fly by from the back of a truck, Fairweather skis pressed against the horizon of snowy mountains. You are now entering Haines, Alaska.