Backcountry Ski Tours in Northern Iceland

Northern Iceland seems to offer unlimited potential for backcountry ski tours. Last week I returned from my second ski trip there. I’ve updated my original travel guide to backcountry skiing in Iceland with more resources on planning a trip here, and in this post I’ll share some details of some classic tours we conducted on this most recent trip. Enjoy!


Day 1- Karlsárdalur Valley and Siglufjörður ski resort

After settling in to our accommodations in Akureyri we planned a light warm up tour for the next morning in the Karlsárdalur Valley that we became familiar with last year. This scenic and easily accessed valley is just a few minutes north of Dalvik. We skinned up to about to about 650 meters on the second ridge coming off of 988 meter Karlsarfjall mountain and enjoyed a spring condition snowpack run back down.

Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Skinning in to the scenic Karlsárdalur Valley just north of Dalvik
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Heading up a shoulder of Karlsarfjall
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
A rocky prominence at about 650 meters on Karlsarfjall with Eyjafjörður, the longest fjord in Iceland behind me
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Our highpoint on this quick morning tour is the prominent point in the background

Here’s our GPS track from the tour and relevant details. Keep in mind we took quite a few photography/filming breaks along the way and this could probably be a quick 2.5 hour tour without these breaks.

Relive ‘Morning Apr 12th’

Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Warm up tour in Karlsárdalur Valley

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/embed/2633935627

After this quick morning mission we jumped back in the car to scout some potential northern locations. We drove north on route 82 through Ólafsfjörður then hopped on route 76 through a virtually uninhabited valley referred to as “Tunnel Town” before reaching Siglufjörður, arguably the northern most size-able town in Iceland! Here, while scouting a potential tour location and running into our back-east-home-town guide-of-guides Mr. Marc Chauvin, we had a couple locals pull up in a truck to promote an upcoming ski race they were hosting. They also informed us they ran the local ski hill and invited us to visit free of charge!

Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Faster than skinning! photo by Cait Bourgault
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Most scenic T-bar I have ever been on!

This ski resort operates a series of 4 t-bars that whisk you up to 650 meters (our current morning highpoint) in just under 20 minutes! The views on the descent are stellar and their groomed main trail offers night skiing (though we opted for some off-piste on our second descent). A huge thanks to these folks, and especially Patrick who shared a lot of his towns history and info with us while we enjoyed some complimentary dried Cod and Icelandic beer on the ski lodge porch!

Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Dried Cod, a tasty local snack high in protein
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Size-able avalanche paths threaten the small town of Siglufjörður hence the “avalanche fencing” visible high on the slopes above the town! Photo by Erik Howes

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/embed/2633938322


Day 2- Sunrise summit of Karlsarfjall (988 meters)

For day two we rose at 0200 so we could get higher on Karlsarfjall and enjoy the spectacular Icelandic sunrise during our approach. We were also treated to an Aurora Borealis display as a bonus!

Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Erik Howes captures some Aurora Borealis and the Big Dipper!
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Alpine glow starts to light the place up! Photo by Brent Doscher
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Looking southeast off the summit
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Almost to the summit of Karlsarfjall… the Norwegian Sea stretches on for days! Photo by Cait Bourgault
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Summit of Karlsarfjall- Photo by Cait Bourgault
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Layering up for descent- Photo by Cait Bourgault
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
The prominent Kerahnjukur peak is off to the north and looks quite tasty!
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Spring turns off Karlsarfjall- Photo by Cait Bourgault
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Enjoying the turns- photo by Brent Doscher
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Party ski with Baejarfjall in the background- Photo by Cait Bourgault

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/embed/2633950042


Day 3- Rest Day and Sightseeing- Grjótagjá caves

With a forecast for rain and feeling some travel fatigue after touring for two days we decided that Day 3 would be our sight-seeing rest day before our final couple of tour days. We decided to explore the Lake Myvatn region about an hour east of Akureyri. About halfway along Route 1 we made a quick stop at the scenic Godafoss waterfall then continued to Route 848 and drove around the south side of Lake Myvatn to the small village of Reykjahlíð.

Backcountry skiing in Iceland
The river below Godafoss- photo by Erik Howes

From here a very short drive back on Route 1 brings you to Route 860 and the Grjótagjá caves. This underground thermal hot spring has gained a lot of popularity in recent years, partially due no doubt to being the filming location of Jon Snow and Ygritte’s steamy encounter in the popular Game of Thrones show!

Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Grjótagjá caves- photo by Erik Howes
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Fun exploring around this volcanic fissure revealed a few underground thermal pools

Day 4- Kaldbakur (1173 meters)

For our fourth day we decided to tour on the east side of Eyjafjörður just north of Grenivik. A small cat touring operation runs almost daily trips up this peak ($75pp) (phone +354 8673770). We opted to stick with human powered adventure and skinned up the peak basically following the obvious cat track.

Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Cool Ortovox Beacon Check
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Skinning up the cat track
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
View to the east as we near the summit
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Size-able cornices near summit
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Summit of Kaldbakur- photo by Erik Howes
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Brent Doscher gets a great shot on the descent!

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/embed/2633956698


Day 5- Sulur Peak (1,213 meters)

For our final tour day we stayed close to our lodging in Akureyri and set our sights on Sulur Peak, the first prominent peak just south of town. The trailhead is only a few minutes from town. A long mellow skin leads to the scenic upper mountain and we reached the summit register box in just under 3 hours.

Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Cait & Corey all smiles on our last ascent of the trip
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Getting close to the summit
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Erik sends it off Sulur high above Akureyri- photo by Brent Doscher
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Sulur Peak- photo by Erik Howes

 https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/embed/2633961749


Summary

Northern Iceland obviously has a lifetime worth of touring to explore. I hope sharing these tours with you will motivate you to plan your own trip to this beautiful country. Be sure to check out my updated Travel Guide to Ski Touring in Iceland for advice on everything from flying to Iceland to eating & drinking when in country! Also if I left out one of your favorite tours let me know in the comments below! Are you interested in downloading the GPS tracks from these trips for future use? What else would you like to see in a trip report?

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Shop Climbing Clothing & Gear at Patagonia.com + free shipping on orders over $75!

Exploring a new slide path

The final days of October 2017 brought over 6 inches of rain from the remnants of Tropical Storm Philippe to Mount Washington which resulted in major flooding all over the Saco River Valley (which had risen to 14 feet above flood stage!). It also apparently ripped a nice new slide path near Burt Ravine on the west side of Mount Washington, only 10 minutes from the Cog Railway.

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
The 10 minute bushwhack to a 500 foot new slide path

I came across this path a couple days ago while exiting Burt Ravine and noticed it looked quite fresh but didn’t really put it together that it was only 5 months old until I got home and did a little research. While I’m sure a local or two has likely quietly grabbed the first descent I needed to get back and put a run in on this new path pronto, and this morning I made it happen.

Here’s the skinny…

I skinned up the Cog reaching Waumbek Tank in about 30 minutes. At 3,920 feet I picked up our skin track from a couple days prior and contoured/bushwacked back to the slide path (ten minute bushwhack). This skin track enters the slide at mid-path, so I set in some kick-turns and climbed up to about 4,200 feet, the high point on the path.

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
Skinning up the young slide path with the Jewell Trail ridge across the way

From here the run drops 500 feet to the south most tributary of Clay Brook, the main brook fed from Burt Ravine.  The average slope angle was 30 degrees with a max pitch of 34 degrees and is an almost true NW aspect.

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
Details from the top of the slide path
Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
The run, courtesy of CalTopo
Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
Looking back up the path from about mid-path
Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
The lower half of the path. There is a split that goes left out of frame that had a set of tracks in it that continued down Clay Brook

I skinned back up to the established bushwhack and exited back to the Cog, reaching the car in amount 2 hours and 20 minutes from departure.

Given I waited about 20 or more minutes for some friends to arrive before dropping I would say this would be pretty easy to hit car-to-car in 2 hours. It’s a really nice little run that is super accessible (though it costs $10 to park at Marshfield Station). New slides like this are so exciting. While extreme weather can have devastating effects on life & property the power of Mother Nature can also open up new ski terrain from time to time, and this little shot in the woods is well worth the effort.

Next time I head there I will try the bushwhack from the Switch House along the 4,200 contour so I can come in from the top, though the lower traverse would still be the easiest way out. I also want to go ahead and ski out Clay Brook to the Jewell Trail but I’ll be doing that on a day where I don’t have an early turn around time set.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Trip Report- Burt Ravine (3/28/18)

Yesterday I got to ski a new-to-me ravine on Mount Washington, Burt Ravine, the one just to the left of the Cog Railway when viewed from the west. We skinned up the Cog and reached the top of Airplane Gully in 2 hours and 10 minutes.

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
The view from Jacob’s Ladder, elevation 4,760 feet, into Ammonoosuc Ravine with the southern Presidential’s beyond

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
The top of Airplane Gully, elevation 5,470 feet, with The Great Gulf below and the Northern Presidential’s beyond

Jordan, who had climbed up from the east side of Washington via Pinnacle Gully and was meeting us on the ridge, dropped into nearby Turkey Shoot while Benny and Nick sent Airplane Gully. Conditions were stiff but edge-able wind-board. Brit and I made our way over to the top of Burt Ravine and dropped in.

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
Two skiers on the skyline skinning up alongside The Cog

I would find out later through Facebook that this was likely Marty of Alpine Endeavors, who sent me a pic of us from his vantage…

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
You can see our tracks and if you look closely find us!

Burt skied pretty well with a variety of snow conditions as you can see in the video below. Once we got to 3,800 feet I found a skin track leaving the drainage that appeared to be heading back to the Cog. Consulting the topo made it look like it might contour back to the Cog around Waumbek Tank, and be quite a fair bit easier than the 1.2 mile low-angle thrash to pick up the Jewell Trail and exit. We decided to commit to it. It climbed about 150 feet with a few switch backs then crossed a really enticing new slide path.

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
Looking up the new slide

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
Looking down the new slide path

The upended trees and dirt made this new path look quite fresh and the rumor is it formed during the Fall 2017 weather system that brought massive flooding to the Mount Washington Valley.

The skin track seemed to stop on the other side of the path so I continued following our contour and intersected with the Cog about 300 feet above Waumbek Tank. It only took us about 30 minutes of bushwhacking to get back out of Burt and from what I hear that is much better than trying to negotiate the lower drainage.

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
Burt Ravine GPS Track (accidentally paused tracking where the line is straight on the descent)

We exited down a still pretty firm Cog run and called it a day. Mileage was just over 5 miles in 4.5 hours with 3,264 elevation gain/loss. It looks like the Higher Summits Forecast isn’t to appealing for the next few days. Let’s hope the weekend brings some decent Spring skiing weather for the last avalanche course of the season!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start


 

Trip Report- Gulf of Slides 3/25/18

Yesterday we wrapped up our AIARE 1 Avalanche Course with a field trip into the Gulf of Slides on the east side of Mount Washington. The weather was fantastic and looks to staying that way for the next 48 hours. I’m catching up on some home chores today but will be heading back into the alpine tomorrow! Here’s a quick run-down of our tour yesterday.

AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
AM Trip Planning Session at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Skinning past the Avalanche Brook Ski Trail while heading up the Gulf of Slides Ski Trail
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
The main gully. Instead of booting up our intended run we skinned over to the South Snowfields and then traversed back to the main gully at 4620 feet.

The skinning was good until about 4400 feet where holding an edge on the traverse got a bit tricky. I was happy to have my Dynafit Ski Crampons along and will be posting a thorough review of those very soon!

AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Heading up the South Snowfields- photo by Erik Howes
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Small old cornice at the ridge top
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Making some snow-pack observation. We mostly found pencil-hard slab with low propagation potential (CTH, Q2, ECTX) See field book pic for more info.
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
CTH or CTN results
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Our pit location, UTM, altitude, angle, and aspect courtesy of Theodolite app!
Gulf of Slides Ski Tour
Gulf of Slides Ski Tour
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Little bit of fun on the way down! – photo by Erik Howes
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
My field notes…

It wasn’t too crowded, we saw perhaps 20-30 people up there. The 48 hour forecast is for more low wind bluebird conditions so I’m heading back out tomorrow with a plan to ski from the summit. Hope you can get out and enjoy! I think our Spring ski season is going to be quite good this year!

New to Back-country Skiing? I do teach the following courses

Introduction to Backcountry Skiing

Backcountry Ski Touring

Ski Mountaineering

Former AIARE students of mine get a 10% discount on these courses! Just message me directly through Instagram or Facebook for the discount code and let me know what date you want to go!

Upcoming Reviews

I’ve recently upgraded and added to my ski mountaineering gear and upcoming reviews will be focused on ultra-light gear designed specifically with back-country skiing and mountaineering in mind. Look for these reviews to come out soon!

Dynafit Ski Crampons

Petzl Leopard FL Crampons

Black Diamond Raven Ultra Ice Axe

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

 

Affiliate links help support this blog

Trip Report- Skiing The Flume

I’ve been thinking about skiing The Flume in Crawford Notch State Park for close to a decade. I’ve climbed it dozens of times as an excellent early season moderate ice route (one memorable trip report here) but avoid it later in the season when it fills in with snow… until today. My friend and co-avy-instructor Benny texted me last night that it was looking prime so we decided to skin up the Webster Jackson Trail and give it a go.

Skiing the Flume, Crawford Notch
The route
Skiing the Flume, Crawford Notch
Skinning up Webster Jackson Trail

It did not disappoint! I brought a bit of technical gear in anticipation of 2-3 rappels and we only needed it for the one pitch that goes into the ice cave, which usually marks the end of the interesting climbing when the route is in early season ice climbing shape.

 

In hindsight, and under current conditions, I would only take a 30 meter rope as opposed to the 60 meter one I lugged up there, and if one wants to avoid visiting the ice cave you could probably find a line to skier’s right… but rapping into that cave was kind of a highlight! That and the waist deep POW we kept hitting from there down!

Logistics

Park at the height of land parking lot on the east side of Route 302 just south of Saco Lake.

Cross the highway and head north 200 feet the Webster Jackson Trail. Follow that about .8-.9 miles to a pretty obvious stream bed. (Took us 50 minutes)

Drop in and reach the top of the “ice cave” in about 400 feet. Either navigate through woods around the cave or rap in (30 meter rope would work).

Enjoy a few nice pitches of skiing back to the road. Walk back up to your car (took us 2 hours car to car).

Disclaimer: This is a Grade 2 ice climb. There are more than a few 40 degree drops that could produce size-able (D2) avalanches. Bring your A-game and assess the snow constantly.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Weekend Report- AIARE 1 Avalanche Course, Bates Outing Club, Backcountry Ski Festival, 2 Avalanche Accidents

Holy smokes what an amazing last four days and another Nor’Easter, the third one in 10 days, hits tomorrow!


Thursday

I spent Thursday at Wildcat wrapping up a Northeast Mountaineering Guides AIARE 1 Avalanche Course. It was a true powder day and we got in 3 solid laps including Thompson Brook while making snow-pack and weather observations and getting in some Companion Rescue practice.

AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Checking layers in a wind loaded aspect near the summit of Wildcat
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Making some turns in Thompson Brook- photo by @cfphotography

Friday

On Friday I met 7 students from the Bates College Outing Club at our classroom space at the Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center. Due to epic field conditions we focused on covering the majority of classroom on our first day so we could get two full field days in over the weekend.


Saturday

Saturday morning we met at the Northeast Mountaineering Bunkhouse to learn a little about Companion Rescue before working up a trip plan to Hermit Lake and potentially into Hillman’s Highway. The mountain was quite busy with traffic as this weekend was also the 2nd Annual Mt. Washington Backcountry Ski Festival, a killer event hosted by Synnott Mountain Guides and Ragged Mountain Equipment.

AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Busy day at Pinkham Notch!

As our class arrived at Hermit Lake a member of Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol informed us of two avalanche incidents that had just occurred. A skier in Gulf of Slides had triggered a slab avalanche and been carried in the “middle finger”. No injuries reported but he lost a ski and had a long trip back to Pinkham Notch. The 2nd incident was two skiers getting hit by a natural avalanche in Hillman’s Highway while they were ascending. They reported being carried about a 100 or so feet but were also not injured.

AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Chatting with Mt. Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol and Andrew Drummond of Ski The Whites

We decided to head up that way and see if we could spot the avalanche debris. Just past the dogleg near the bottom of Hillman’s we could see a small debris pile about 100 feet above the dogleg. We climbed up a bit further before transitioning to our descent. We enjoyed some pretty epic powder on the Sherburne Ski Trail, especially when we ducked into the woods on the right side at a few spots!

AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Hillman’s Highway Tour

After we debriefed our tour at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center I headed to the vendor gathering at Ragged Mountain Equipment and enjoyed a cold one courtesy of event sponsor Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery. I bumped into a few former avalanche course students who were attending the festival and it was great to catch up and see them out there getting after it!

I then made my way over to the Apres party at Beak Peak Base Lodge where Tyler Ray of Granite Backcountry Alliance kicked off the evening where keynote inspirational speaker, The North Face athlete, and professional ski mountaineer Kit DesLauriers, would be presenting. I saw a lot of former students in the crowd here as well! Speaking of GBA I’m excited to announce I’ve joined their “Granbassadors” team! Such an awesome organization to be a part of. If you are reading this you likely ski in the back-country so you should check the mission out and subscribe here!


Sunday

Sunday morning had us planning a Gulf of Slides tour in the pack room at Pinkham Notch (along with quite a few other avalanche courses!). We skinned up into the Gulf by 11 AM and made our way over to the yet-to-be-filled-in South Snowfields. I then navigated us up to a bit of a bench and traversed us back over to the main gully stopping at about 4620 feet. Here we had a great small test slope that allowed us to see some really reactive new wind slab. After practicing some stability tests we used travel techniques to cross the main gully and then descend a smaller finger of amazing powder down to the lower half of the gully. It was by far the best run of my season so far!

AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Gulf of Slides GPS Track

Fun turns all the way down the Gulf of Slides ski trail saw us back to Pinkham by 2 PM where we squeezed in a little more Companion Rescue practice before reviewing our tour and debriefing the course.


Relive ‘Gulf of Slides’

 

A huge thank you to the Bates Outing Club students who were super motivated to learn through-out the course and brought some endurance and solid skill that allowed us to access quite a bit of terrain over the course of the weekend! And to my former students that came up to me at both Ragged, Bear Peak, and on the mountain thank you for saying hi! So rewarding to see people out there applying skills they acquired in one of my courses years ago! You all rock!


Video Highlights From the Weekend

 

Ok… I’m still feeling the high from the last few days and can not believe we have another foot of snow coming tomorrow!!!


Useful Info

If you are heading up there don’t for get to check both the Avalanche Advisory and the Higher Summits Forecast!

Still need to take your level 1 avalanche class?

We have seats available for this upcoming weekend and the conditions on PRIME!


See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Mid Winter Season Check-in

I hope you have all been having a great winter so far. For me the early season ice climbing was great with a couple Black Dike ascents getting it off to a good start.

ice climbing black dike cannon cliff
Early season ascent of The Black Dike, Cannon Cliff, New Hampshire- photo by Peter Brandon

Then we got 82 inches of snow in December followed by another foot the first week of January and it appeared we were about to enjoy an epic snow year. Then between January 11th-13th we received 3 inches of rain and lost over two feet of our snow-pack.

avalanche courses new hampshire
January 10th. Green is over 2 feet of snow
avalanche courses new hampshire
January 14th after 3 inches of rain

A highlight of this event was a massive wet slab avalanche that was larger than one recently retired Snow Ranger saw in his 10+ years of service there! Standing out on the debris with students two days after the slide one could not help but be impressed by the power of Mother Nature. It made regional news headlines and I saw quite a few people trek up to the floor of the ravine just to get a first hand look at it!

avalanche course tuckerman ravine mount washington
Students of an AIARE 1 course checkout the scale of the massive wet slab avalanche that occurred around 1/14/18- photo by Cait Bourgault

January failed to recover our snow-pack finishing the month with a total of only 29 inches (12 of which were washed away during that rain event). That is less snow in January in more than 10 years!

While it seemed a bit devastating the bright side was we started seeing ice form in strange places and ephemeral routes like Gandolf the Great and Hard Rane came in FAT!

Ice climbing Frankenstein Cliffs
Benny Allen follows me on a rarely fat Gandolf The Great- Photo by Ben Lieberman

All this ice was great for the 25th annual Ice Fest and despite a burly cold first day of the event folks seemed to have a great three days at the event.

Avalanche Courses

We’ve been having another great year for our avalanche courses with 6 AIARE 1 courses behind us, an Avalanche Rescue course, and an AIARE 2 course that just ended yesterday (with ski conditions that signaled ski season is definitely back!)

avalanche course tuckerman ravine mount washington
Making snow-pack observations during an AIARE 1 Course- photo by Alexandra Roberts

We only have one more AIARE 1 Course that isn’t sold out

NEW: March 3-5

One more Avalanche Rescue Course:

March 16

One more AIARE 2 Course:

March 17-19

Here’s some footage showing our last day of our AIARE 2 course which should get you stoked for the rest of the ski season!

 

If you do book any of these courses be sure to use “DavidNEM” in the promo/notes box to be entered into a drawing for a free guided adventure.

Gear Reviews

I have been testing a ton of great new gear this season from companies like Petzl, Sterling, Black Diamond, Kailas, Arcteryx, DPS, Dynafit, and many more. Expect to see a lot of new gear reviews posting in March and April as I find time to give these products honest and detailed reviews.

ice climbing Cathedral Ledge
Testing the Kailas Entheos II Ice Tools and clothing- photo by Peter Brandon

Looks like another nice dumping of snow (totals up to 14″) is coming Wednesday so I’m really looking forward to this weekends avalanche course! Hope you get out and enjoy the snow and thanks for reading!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start