Deciding on a challenging, yet reasonable route has proven to be more of a process than we originally thought. Planning began in October with each of us independently bringing a proposed route to the table, explaining our decision process, and then combining those portions that we favored into one final route.
Prior to drawing a route on the map, consideration was given to several components: Mileage. We will not have re-rations during our two week trip, so we will be carrying packs and pulling sleds with all our gear and supplies. Because of this and the need to build snow camps nearly every day of travel, we decided to limit our mileage to only 1 to 5 miles per travel day.
Weather. We do not plan on traveling every day while on the icefield. Weather may keep us in our tents for several days, or we may opt for a day of rest after a full travel or summit day. With two days allotted for travel to and from the icefield and five days of weather/rest delays, seven days are allotted for travel on the icefield.
Area. We selected an area of the Stikine Icefield we were most eager to explore. Factors we considered included having some challenging terrain, and snow-covered peaks that we could summit and descent on skis, and an area that provided great views of Devil's Thumb.
Winds/Slope. The final considerations before drawing a route were the prevailing winds and slope direction (using windy.com and caltopo.com). The prevailing winds for the area we chose are northwest, so our original decision had been to travel north. For our final route, however, we decided to travel southeast so we are primarily skiing downhill for most of the route and the katabatic winds will be at our backs.
This was when we finally started drawing our route! We agreed that we wanted one or two ascents of snow-covered peaks, as well as challenging and interesting terrain. For the first route we mapped, we chose to summit two unnamed peaks and navigate through a challenging icefall that would test our navigation skills and bring us into a beautiful camp spot below Twin Peaks. However, this icefall turned out to be more extreme than we thought. An icefall can be seen on a topographic map as a series of close contour lines in an area that is glaciated, but to get an accurate idea of what an icefall actually looks like you should find a satellite image of the icefall (sources like Google Earth and Flash Earth can be great for this). A satellite image of the icefall we wanted to navigate through on our original route revealed that it was nearly impossible to cross safely. So we started working on another route!
For our second mapped route, we kept to the same general area, but changed one of the two unnamed peaks we planned on summiting and steered clear of the terrifying icefall near Twin Peaks. We were set on this route until looking into helicopter flights and costs...our route planned for both a drop off and pick up in the Stikine-Le Conte Wilderness area, but helicopters are not permitted to land in wilderness areas in Alaska. This resulted in building our (hopefully) true final route!
Our final route includes aspects of our first two attempts: we will be attempting to summit the same two peaks from our second map, as well as navigating thorough an icefall on our second day (similar to the first map, but the icefall is much more reasonable for our skill level and there is exposed rock that may allow an alternative route around). We decided to change our direction to travel south so we would be following the gradual downhill slope and set both our drop off and pick up spots outside of the Stikine-Le Conte Wilderness area.