Mens Adventure Travel Writer/Photographer Andrew Slough travels to distant corners of the planet208 720-5356
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Tordrillos, Alaska: Kings and Corn

It is 2:00 a.m. at Winter Lake Lodge in Central Alaska–still light enough to see the enormous black bear clamber onto the deck. Rising to its hind legs, the bear first pushes on the front door and when it refuses to open, begins to beat on it with both front paws.

“BAM! BAM!” The door shivers under the bear’s heavy blows.

This is the third time the bear has returned and wakened by the racket, Andrew, my 20 year old son swats at the mosquitoes, then rises out of bed, grabs the pepper spray and whispers, “I’ve had enough.”

Slipping quietly across the room, he pulls the pin, puts his finger on the trigger and opens the door.

You have to rise early to catch the Otter floatplane that flies to Finger Lake from Anchorage’s Lake Hood. This far north on June 20th, night never attains true dark and at seven a.m. Andrew and I are standing on the dock helping the pilot weigh our skis and fishing rods. We plan to ski the remote chutes of Central Alaska’s Tordrillo Mountains until late morning, or until the spring corn falls apart, then heli out to fight one of the thousands of king salmon now flooding up the tributaries of the Skwenta River.

Mixing a contrail of water from its floats and a wall of sound from it’s huge radial engine, the Otter labor into the air and banks west. For the next hour the 20,320 foot Denali looms off the right wing, the 11,000 foot Tordrillos rise off the nose and South Alaska’s braided rivers and rolling costal mountains slip beneath the floats. As the pilot sets the flaps on final approach to Finger Lake, a huge bull moose breaks from the forest and trots across the braided Skwenta. Touching down on Finger Lake’s mirror surface, we taxi to the dock where, climbing out of the Beaver, Andrew and I meet Lillehammer Olympic Downhill Gold Medalist Tommy Moe. Along with extreme skier/film star Jeremy Nobbis and Chugach owner Mike Overcast, during the coming week, Moe will serve as fishing guide, ping pong partner and ski instructor.

Andrew Dives Into Bond World

Andrew Dives Into Bond World

Winterlake Lodge serves as a rest stop during March’s Iditarod sled dog race. A one time hunting lodge still filled with caribou and sheep heads, Winterlake now offers a quiet, gourmet escape for guests hoping to hike, fish or photograph local wild life. Unfortunately, for the past two weeks, the wild life has been black and hungry. Overcast warns us that a family of bears has been camping out at the burn pit.

“Make a lot of noise when you’re walking on the paths” he says pointing to the alder lined alleys that lead to outlying cabins then cautions, “And do not step between the sow and her cubs!”

Central Alaska’s summer weather is changeable and Andrew and I drop our gear in the Lodge’s loft bedroom then quickly buckle our boots and, while the Air Especial’s turbine shrieks to life, belt ourselves into the back seat. Ten minutes later we trace a silty white river that rises to meet an enormous blue glacier that in turn assaults the Tordrillo’s 11,000 foot black pinnacles. Pilot Rudy Rossi eases down on a wild flower covered ridge above a snow filled, north facing bowl. As soon as we unload the skis, the ship lifts off, leaving us in a silent wilderness of rock, ice, ripening berries and grizzly bears, moose and the occasional molting caribou. Here, surrounded by the ten thousand foot Tordrillo’s hanging glaciers, how you ski defines who you are. If skiing with Moe and Nobbis is huge, sailing over the handlebars on a forty degree face is not and Andrew and I gingerly rock over the cornice and arc through the silky Alaskan corn.

Andrew Skis Steep Face In Bond World

Andrew Skis Steep Face In Bond World

Named “Bond World” after Ian Fleming’s Agent 007, this collision of grinding ice, shadowy chutes and sun cured bowls hides a thousand unskied lines. With Moe leading and Nobbis bringing up the rear, we explore a broad solar half pipe down to a narrow chute that eventually spills onto a glacial moraine where the Air Especial is waiting. You can break a dozen bad habits by following Moe, or Nobbis or Mike Overcast. Friends for years, the way each pressures the ski, carries their poles and squares their shoulders to the fall line betrays a life on skis, superb coaching and hard work.

Andrew Shadows Tommy Moe

Andrew Shadows Tommy Moe

The warm morning sun has baked the snow, ripening the corn across two hundred and fifty thousand acres of bowls, chutes, ridges, glaciers and cliffs. Studied first from the helicopter, when a run delivers on promises it makes from the air, it is named. One after Andrew’s eggbeater, another for a black bear that suddenly rises from the thick green underbrush, the name may stick or be forgotten, to be renamed until it is committed to memory or recorded on a map.

Helicopter Slips in Front of Denali

Helicopter Slips in Front of Denali

Landing on a high ridge, we watch an enormous grizzly traverse the sunlit bowl we planned to ski. The bear’s tracks approximate dinner plates with claws and, to avoid disturbing the cinnamon colored boar, we detour far down the ridge. That day Andrew and I follow Moe down chutes, through opens bowls, around crevasses, rocky out crops and glacial ice. In the time it takes to ski six runs, the corn sinks to slush and we moraine hop back to Winter Lake.

Skiing Bond World's Grizzly Bowl

Skiing Bond World's Grizzly Bowl

Following a quick lunch, the helicopter follows the braided Skwenta River to a clear tributary where the kings rest in dense, dark schools that spook as the ship’s shadow sweeps across the stream. Even a non-fisherman, one who does not feel the ebb and flow of the tides in his blood, or the pressure of the salmon flooding against the current cannot help but stare in wonder at the numbers of fish. Andrew and I are awestruck by the numbers of Kings holding in the clear water. A hundred fill this hole and there are dozens of holes in the river.

Andy, Andrew, Tordrillo Mountains, Alaska

Andy, Andrew, Tordrillo Mountains, Alaska

Under the best circumstances King Salmon are difficult to hook and harder to land. The forty pound weight and power of the fish strip knots, break tippets, eviscerate reels and occasionally shatter graphite rods. Once hooked the Kings shake and porpoise against the rod’s resistance. Even the smallest, twenty-five pounders, can easily break off by turning downstream. But salmon are driven to spawn and genetically cannot run with the current. A number of the most agressive wear jewelry–lures and flies collected in their backs and mouths as they run a gauntlet of fisherman from Cook Inlet.

Andrew casts to the head of the pool and a minute later feels weight in his line. Raising his rod, he watches as a huge hen explodes out of the pool, turns and runs to deep water. For the next twenty minutes, he pumps and reels as the fish porpoises between the alder walls. In time the hen turns on her side in shallow water, where he removes the fly and turns her loose.

Andrew With Nice King

Andrew With Nice King

That afternoon, Jeremy Nobbis, Andrew and I fight and release Kings until can’t hold our rod tips up. And still we fight these powerful, wild fish until the helicopter pilot advises us that dinner is waiting back at the lodge. Our request for another half hour falls on empathetic, but deaf ears, and we reluctantly slip our rods into the ski baskets and climb into the ship. During the next five days, Andrew and I will each catch and release thirty fish. And the only reason we stop, is we lose most of our flies and exhaust our arms. Six months later my elbow still aches from fighting those strong wild fish.

Tordrillo Mountains from Finger Lake

Tordrillo Mountains from Finger Lake

That night Rudy Rossi flies us to a ridge facing Denali for a lamb dinner. There, with the evening light touching North America’s highest peak and Alaska’s rivers, forests and lakes unfolding for 360 degrees, we toast the guides, Kings and Corn and the beneficent forces that control the weather and fishing luck.

It is two in the morning and still light when the black bear wakes us. Holding a can of pepper spray in one hand, Andrew opens the door and shoots the huge bruin with a sustained long blast to the face. The bear snorts loudly, then clawing at its nose, staggers backward and falls off the porch. I catch a last glimpse of it’s glossy haunches as it crashed into the underbrush. At that point, Newton’s law of propulsion….. “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” took effect. The residual cloud of pepper spray wafted back into the lodge blanketing Andrew with cayenne scented of tear gas. Less than a second later, my eyes, nose and mouth caught fire.

Andy and Tommy Moe with Nice King

Andy and Tommy Moe with Nice King

When my eyes and mouth stop burning, I wonder how Tommy, Jeremy and the rest of the guides who are sleeping in tents are faring. It turns out not well. During the night the bear raids Moe’s tent, then runs off with a dry bag containing Nobbis’s fishing lures, reels, leaders and flies. At breakfast the following morning he is fuming. “That bag represents a lifetime of gear,” he tells the empathetic Overcast and Moe. “I had reels, and lures…..” he describes each in loving detail, where it was bought, how much it cost and what it caught. Muttering darkly he promises if he catches the bear he’ll skin it with his bare hands…”Until there won’t be enough left to piece a rug together!!!!”

During the next five days we skied bowls, chutes and ridges. We caught and released dozens of salmon. Jeremy’s dry bag was eventually found in a nearby thicket with all reels and lures intact. “Probably just a curious cub,” he said, grateful to have it back.

If a petroglyph that was discovered in Rodoy Norway is accurate, skiers have been gliding downhill for over four thousand years. There is no telling how long nimrods have been casting lures to spawning salmonoids. Admitting that a visceral love of fishing and skiing is hardwired to our double helix may help explain why booking one of Chugach Powder Guides, Kings and Corn weeks in Alaska’s Tordrillo Mountains, may be the best investment you’ll ever make.

Tommy Moe, Andrew Slough, Tordrillos, Alaska

Tommy Moe, Andrew Slough, Tordrillos, Alaska

For more Information:
Chugach Powder Guides
P.O. Box 641
Girdwood, Alaska
99587
http://www.chugachpowderguides.com/cpgindex.html
tel: 907.783.HELI (4354) fax: 907.783.4355
email: info@chugachpowderguides.com
http://www.chugachpowderguides.com/kingsandcorn.html
What’s Included:
Guided heli-supported King Salmon fishing, corn snow skiing and rafting.
Lodging and gourmet meals at Winterlake Lodge
Round-trip transport from Anchorage to Winterlake Lodge.

What’s not Included:
Required overnight stay in Anchorage the night prior to trip.
Fishing gear, licenses, tackle, skis/snowboard equipment
Any alcoholic beverages
Fish shipping and processing

Getting There
Among numerous other carriers, Anchorage is serviced by Alaska, American and Delta Airlines.
For information on Anchorage Hotels, Restaurants, Sight Seeing and Maps visit http://www.anchorage.net

Tommy Moe Guiding Tordrillos

Tommy Moe Guiding Tordrillos

Andrew, Sweet Corn, Deep Steep

Andrew, Sweet Corn, Deep Steep

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