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Day Trips - Gold Spine, Hatcher Pass, AK

Orin Rolando and I went up to Hatcher Pass to climb one of my favorite mountains. I named the line "Gold Spine" several years ago when I first rode it. The upper face has a pronounced rib that is perched above considerable exposure. In the afternoon sun, the rib catches the light perfectly, turning a pronounced golden glow. 

It is also the site of an abandoned gold mine, high up on the face, from nearly a 100 years ago. Directly in the middle of the spine is a rusty aerial tram cable that intersects the line. The snow covers it only on the spine. As you pass, the cable rises either side of you. An industrial feel on a wild face! 




We climbed the line directly, something that I have not done before. The normal ascent route is in a hidden couloir on the back side of the mountain. With 8 inches of low density snow sitting on top of a firm, wind-hardened slab that showed no signs of failure, we opted for the exposed climb up the south face. We reached the bottom of the line as the sun started to rise over the horizon. We donned our crampons and started up. The climb was far more interesting than a straight couloir, as we wove our way above cliffs and onto the upper face. The last push brought us through very steep and rocky terrain before we topped out. 



We descended the first safe zone, which overlooks the spine. Orin dropped first and rode to the next island of safety, then took photos as I sent it down the spine and then out over the exposure, making traversing turns down and across the lower face. Sluff poured over the cliffs as I worked down through the terrain. Although the line wasn’t holding deep pow, it still rode very well! Orin then dropped down into a lower couloir.  A pocket of wind slab popped around him, taking him for a brief ride, before arresting and allowing the slide to continue. His last turns must have been a relief as he exited the couloir and rocketed out onto the pillow filled apron! We climbed and rode another west aspect face in the afternoon. This line was a complex face with significant exposure as well. By its nature, we had to descend very methodically to allow the large amount of sluff generated by each turn to pass us by and flow over cliffs below. We descended from the alpenglow down into the cold shadows, completing a fantastic day in the mountains!