Headlamp: Jan. 11, 2018

Gotta bring the dogs!

People with a more refined aesthetic and wilderness sense seek out distant backcountry destinations. As an unreconstructable philistine, I can’t help but obsess over skiing lines and peaks I see all the time from the road or the trailhead. Gold Cord, the peak with a large triangular face that looms over Independence Mine, always draws my gaze when I’m in Hatcher Pass and demands to be skied.

Gold Cord isn’t the most challenging ski or hiking destination, even among Hatcher Pass’ front country mountains. The Pinnacle is a much more difficult ascent, while the Rae Wallace chutes and others have more enticing ski terrain. However, in the manner of Pyramid’s west face near Turnagain, the prominence of Gold Cord makes it irresistible.

Though not all the time: The triangular face tends to have shallow snow cover with numerous exposed rocks. It can be wind hammered, and the shallow snowpack on a large face, all positioned above a broken cliff band, presents a nasty setup for large, destructive avalanches. Conditions in which Gold Cord is resistible include, at least for me, any time I’m not completely certain the slope won’t rip out.

Fortunately, this winter Hatcher Pass has had decent stability for a few weeks, making Gold Cord an attractive destination. It is possible to ascend the mountain from multiple directions, including the valleys to the east or west of the mountain’s narrow ridgeline. However, the more obvious and common route of ascent is to switchback up the southwest ridge that leads, conveniently, right up the mountain from near Independence Mine. While this route certainly includes some avalanche terrain, it is far preferable to climbing right up the larger, more exposed face. In decent snow, the ridgeline ascent is pretty easy--it’s not particularly steep, and it’s possible to set a skintrack through the myriad protruding rocks. Wind-hammered or icy conditions would make it more tedious, and perhaps conducive to a bootpack.

Gold Cord is wild, but not wilderness: Independence Mine is visible below. There’s an old, fairly intact cabin on the ridgeline, and an old metal tower near the high point on the ridge. A high set of cables crosses the valley to the east. Taken together, remnants of mining in Hatcher’s are very much evident from the mountain.

From the ridge, the options for skiing are fairly obvious: The large, triangular south face has a somewhat safe zone on a bench about ⅔ of the way down, off to skier’s right out of the large face’s slide path. A steeper, more committing set of lines drops down into the valley to the west, which is just downhill of Friendship Pass. Like so many peaks in the vicinity, Gold Cord has phenomenal views. My favorite looks south across Bald Ridge and down Cook Inlet to Iliamna and Redoubt. From those fairly distant peaks, the Alaska Range sweeps north to Foraker and Denali, and on a clear winter day you may see hundreds of miles of alpenglow.

Winter’s early twilight is an ideal time to ski that south face. It catches the sun better than most ski lines in Hatcher, and the soft light makes the region even more enchanting than usual. While the main face is the highlight, there are some nice mini-chutes at the end that terminate at the broad valley in which Independence Mine is located. If you’re a simple person like me who just wants to ski what he can see, Gold Cord is a necessary destination.

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