Last winter it snowed in Southcentral Alaska from October through April. This winter it hasn’t snowed since mid-September. But that’s great! The ice is fat and juicy and the temps warm. Ice climbing season is here!
On the last belayed pitch. We topped out at 5:30 p.m. in total darkness. Over two hours we thrashed down 2,000 feet of thick alder back to the road. Oh, we long for the sun and easy approaches of Colorado!
Joe Stock is a mountain guide and photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska.
Dreams of Brown Moose is a classic early-season ice climb in the Portage Valley near Anchorage. This 500-foot, Water Ice IV route has the ingredients of a proper Alaska adventure with a bushwacking approach, dodgy thin ice, overflowing water and deathly avalanche terrain. I went with Sam Johnson, a life-long Alaska climber, artist and Ph.D candidate to give it a shot.
Andrew McLean packed the Bear Tooth Theater for the annual Friends of the Chugach Avalanche Center fundraiser. This is the biggest event for the Friends, who provide weather stations, salary and gear for Southcentral Alaska avalanche forecasts. To over 400 fired up Alaskan skiers, Andrew told stories from ski adventures in the Wrangell St. Elias Mountains in Alaska. These are the most vast mountains in the U.S., and Andrew’s current ski obsession. Between slide shows-he gave another show for the Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center–we played in the hills above Anchorage.
At a Chugach trailhead with the fat tire bikes loaded onto the Rice Rocket. Or is the Honda Rice Rocket loaded onto the fat tire bikes? Andrew had never ridden a fat bike, so I gave him the Alaska experience.
Some hazards on the ride into the Chugach. We counted 16 moose along 4 miles of trail.
We biked around Gray Lake below Ptarmigan Peak.
Along the way we noticed this iceflow up in the rocks on Ptarmigan Peak.
We came back the next day and climbed this beautiful route. It was 300 feet of rolling water ice 4.
Following Andrew’s lead up the steepest section. Thanks for coming up Andrew and supporting the Friends. And thanks for the mountain time!
Danny Uhlmann and I thought a couple pitches of ice climbing would be fun during our day off. The weather forecast seemed fine: no precip forecasted and low winds. We took the 9,000-foot Midi lift up from Chamonix to the alpine and trudged over to our route: the Chere Couloir on Mont Blanc du Tacul, a sub-peak of Mont Blanc. As we neared the route we realized the wind was funneling through the pass where the climb was located… Here’s what ensued.
The Chere follows a gully in the rock up the right side of the Triangle du Tacul.
Danny geared up, minus goggles. We led with our faces down, blind, climbing by feel. Our frozen sunglasses protected our eyes with a layer of ice.
At the top of the six-pitch route we exited the wind venturi — and the raging sandstorm subsided enough for a cup of mud.
Then we rappelled back into the blizzard.
And experienced a nice exfoliating facial for the boys.
Final rap down over the bergschrund. Let’s get out of here!
We ran back to the Midi station and zoomed down to the warm valley below. Next time we’ll bring goggles!
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?