A couple of weeks ago, two mountaineers wanted to climb Denmark Peak in the Chugach Mts., and they needed to go into this spot at 5000′ Elevation. 5000′ in late October is normally totally off limits to tires because the snow is too deep. I knew the Chugach Mts. were thin on snow thus far so I hummed and hawed and decided to give it a try with my tires first before I went through the thrash of switching to wheel skiis.
I touched my tires to the snow several times and I would begin easing off the throttle, but I could feel it was going to suck me in if I slowed too much. I was unsure how deep the snow was, and I noticed on my second pass that my tires tracks were not uncovering rocks, so I was leery to commit. I was pretty certain that I could do it, but I was not positive. It was a pretty tough call for me because I really needed to get in there. I formed a rule early-on that maintains if I am not 100% certain of a positive outcome…I go away. I was turning to tuck-tail and run when I saw a 150′ long gravel pad that the wind had blown clear of snow. It was in-between two frozen creeks with snowy banks and approximately 200 yards down valley from the deeper snow. I made several passes and then committed to it by setting down on the gravel and braking hard. Much to my surprise the first 50 feet of gravel was actually a sheet of ice with little bits of vegetation sticking through to fool me. It felt like I accelerated when I hit that ice with the brakes locked. Fortunately when I got to the good firm gravel my brakes were locked tight and I was able to stop before the deeper snow.
This picture shows me out on the snow. Near the creek it was very firm so I used it to extend my landing strip for take-off. It’s not fun to test variable conditions like this from the air. I walked over to where I had been dragging my tires and the snow was about 12″ deep and it was really crusty. I still think I could have landed in it, but who wants to play the “I think I can” game…not me. It is a real peace of mind if you can get out and walk around a bit and test, snow depth, density, ice thickness, etc. I ended up using this spot for 6 more landings. I’m sure it’s buried in snow now.