Guiding in the Alps surrounding Chamonix is the norm for American IFMGA guides. Over half of America’s 80-something fully certified guides are here this summer. Why? Not because the pay is great. The plane ticket here is expensive and the dollar is lame against the euro. It’s also not because the US doesn’t have great rock for guiding. The western US has some of the best rock in the world. It’s not because Chamonix is the birthplace of mountain guiding, either. We’re here because the guiding is AWESOME! With our customers we can zip to the alpine on a tram and climb impeccable rock all day, then whisk back to a comfortable town where guides are socializing and living their normal life. Small, non-knee crushing backpacks are another bonus.
It’s a fat season so far in south central Alaska. We’ve had relentless warm storms that are plastering the mountains with thick snow. Most of these storms are combined with winds over 100 miles per hour… while it’s grim now, the base and mid-pack are rock solid for when the good weather rolls around and the spring ski season will be huge.
Here’s a gallery with a few photos from our season so far…
Thanks Osprey blog readers for your helpful comments on my Tear Down the Cairn post. I realize it was written with some arrogance, but sometimes it has to be done to get a reaction. Below is a second go at cairns — this time, I kept it to Alaska. Keep sending your opinionated, but civilized comments so I can keep working on this project. Cheers!
Anchorage is legendary for bad rock climbing. The crags along the Seward Highway were awarded a top five in the worst climbing areas in the US. For that reason, I’ve never climbed on the Seward highway although it is just minutes from town. By driving an hour you get high quality granite in the Talkeetna Mountains near Hatcher Pass, but it’s tough to catch dry conditions at there. Then Kevin Wright showed Cathy and I “The Wedge”. Solid rock just outside Anchorage! It is a bike and then a hike, but it is close!
Here are some photos from our trip…
The double fisherman’s knot has plagued me for years. For climbers, this bomb-proof knot was traditionally used to tie ropes together for rappelling. Now most climbers use the flat overhand (aka the Euro Death Knot) for rapelling. I switched to the in-line overhand when the double fisherman’s made my cordelettes impossible to untie for anchors, threading boulders, or rescue scenarios. But I was still stuck using the double fisherman’s for my prusik loops. The knot would weld shut when I desperately needed it untied. And one more annoying thing: the double fisherman’s is near-impossible to teach clients.
I’ve toppled thousands of cairns. I kick them over and scatter the rocks. I then walk away, leaving my trail of no destruction. I admit I feel somewhat pompous about destroying these towers of rocks. Like I was up for an early morning run before work and saw the sunrise while others were sleeping. But should I feel ashamed?
Mountaineers see climate change. It’s shoved in our face as an observable fact. On approaches to mountains we deal with miles of moraine where maps show glacier. Once on route, we find that steep glacier headwalls, once covered by spongy neve, have become black ice. And with less neve, we see more rockfall, such as during the summer 2003 heat wave that closed Mont Blanc.
Non-mountaineers have heard that glaciers are vanishing worldwide, yet most have never actually seen a glacier. They’re often curious about our encounters with these climate-change barometers.
Mount Logan is serious wilderness. Not wilderness with trails and wildflowers, but WILDERNESS. Like nobody there. For 16 days of our 21-day trip we had Logan to ourselves. Why? Because Logan is the second highest mountain in North America. At 19,550 feet, Logan is shorter than Alaska’s Denali at 20,320 feet. So who cares about something that’s second? Me! And three customers and guide Tino Villaneuva.
Skiing in the Western Chugach all leads up to May. The snow becomes stable and darkness never happens. Over the past couple weeks we’ve hit the impeccable Korohusk Chutes, an 18-hour, 13,000-foot day on the Rumble Chute and the White Lice Chute. With fluffy snow still lingering on high north faces, Cathy and I headed into the Chugach behind Anchorage. We stashed a car at the Eagle River Nature Center and began walking from the South Fork of Eagle River. Our plan, to ski the Flute and Organ Glaciers and search for skiable faces along the way. And not get eaten by a bear.
Sunshine is bad for making powder, but great for exploring Alaska. After hearing reports from a friend, we grabbed our bikes and headed up to Hunter Creek in The Butte. The big gear question for the trip was should we take fat tires or studs? The first part of the ride was soft snowmachine trails—perfect for fat tires. But then we covered three miles of smooth river and lake ice where studs are best. Anthony took his fat tire Pugsly and only slammed the ice a few times. The rest of us took regular mountain bikes with studded tires.