Osprey Packs Athlete Joe Stock is an internationally certified IFMGA mountain guide based in Anchorage, Alaska. He has been climbing and skiing around the world for 25 years with extensive time in the mountains of Alaska, the Southern Alps of New Zealand, the North Cascades of Washington and Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. Since 1995, Joe has been freelance writing for magazines starting with a feature article in Rock & Ice on climbing the Balfour Face on Mount Tasman in New Zealand. Since then, he’s published numerous articles on adventures and mountain technique in rags such as Climbing, Backcountry, Alaska, Climbing, Trail Runner, Men’s Health and Off Piste.
In 2009, Paul Muscat and I climbed Mount Chamberlin, then considered to be the highest summit in the Brooks Range at 9,020 feet. Now, Mount Isto might be the highest at 9,060 feet. It was just the excuse we needed for another trip to this pristine wilderness.
Joining us was Glenn Wilson and James Kesterson. Over the past 17 years we’ve been on many trips together: Denali, Mount Baker, Marcus Baker, Mount Bona, Mount Iliamna, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Mount Chamberlin, Mount Logan and the Central Talkeetna Mountains. On this trip we didn’t get up Isto, but we had a blast exploring and bagging peaks.
With logistics help from Alaska Alpine Adventures, we flew direct from Fairbanks to the Jago River with Wright Air. It was a two and half hour bush flight, with no in-flight service. This region is better known as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where Alaska’s embarrassing half-term governor once said, “Drill baby drill.”
The plane is a Helio Courier, made in the 1970’s and designed for a low stall speed. Supposedly it will fall horizontally rather than nose dive. The tires are Alaskan Bushwheels, made near Anchorage in Chugiak. They are the “premier tire for extreme backcountry adventures.”
Glenn and I got brand new Volt 75 packs for the trip. They were perfect! The right size for our eight days of food, fuel and mountaineering gear. They fit like a slipper, straight out of the wrapper. Once again, Osprey made our trip better.
Our first summit was the 8,625-foot Screepik. While conducting summit LNC (Leave No Cairn) we found Tom Choate’s name in a sodden film canister. In 1999 he climbed Screepik and made the impressive scramble over to Isto. His trip reports are in the October 1999, February 2000 and the November 2013 Scree newsletters from the Mountaineering Club of Alaska. Choate called Peak 8625 “Spectre”. First ascentionists called it Shadow Peak. Keeping with the tradition, we called it Screepik. Scree for the endless boulderfields, and “pik” for the Inuit word for “genuine.”
Descending from the summit of Screepik. Nobody out there. Just us.
After eight days of mountaineering at high camp, we returned to a base camp by the landing strip on the Jago River. Here’s Paul on one of our day-hikes from camp. Our tent is a tundra-colored dot in the tundra fields way down there along the river.
Another day hike along the Jago, this time up the big split in the river. While the first part of our trip was cold, drizzly and snowy, the second part was warm, calm and sunny. The bugs weren’t even out yet. Conditions were ideal for snoozing in the soft tundra.
James, Paul and Glenn mid-layover at the Arctic Village Airport terminal on the flight home. Thanks for another great trip guys! And all the memories. I can’t wait until the next installment. Maybe to try Isto again. Maybe to try the next highest Brooks Range summit. There is a rumor that it’s now some unnamed peak. Oh bummer. I guess we have to go back….
Known as the birthplace of skiing, Norway has probably been the subject of most backcountry skiers’ dreams. It has always been on my radar after watching the Norwegians dominate the Olympic Cross Country Ski events over the years, not to mention the stories of endless daylight and sweet terrain.
There’s only one problem Norway creates for skiers…it just happens to be one of the most expensive places in the world to visit. Be warned my fellow skiers: Norway is the 5th richest country in world, as is visible in the sculpture-laden streets of all the towns we visited. Here are some examples of what things cost in Norway as opposed to Canada:
- Laguna Burger, no fries: $30 CAD. California patio with beach views not included.
- Corona beer: $25
- Gasoline, per/litre: $2.25
- Last minute car rental: $199 per day
Having a lifetime of practice in ski bohemia, I knew we could stretch a budget. But Norway’s prices and our lack of preparation before this trip made for quite an uphill battle. Luckily we don’t mind ‘earning’ our turns, and our Norwegian Ski-Bus-Skineering mission began.
We started in Oslo, but the classic fjord skiing was waaaaay up in the Lyngen Alps in the North. Following a quick Facebook check, I noticed that our friend Adam U. was in Norway and he diverted us to the much closer Jotunheimen zone and we hopped on the first bus out. This was all good in concept, but after we fell asleep the bus kept on driving right past our desired mountain pass in the night. Good thing camping is allowed anywhere in Norway, so we camped on the grass in Årdalstangen, a quaint little town that reminded me of Terrace, BC.
In Ski-Bus-Skineering if you don’t plan efficiently you can lose use huge amounts of time, forcing you to spend down time at bus stations (which tend harbour some sketchy characters). Eventually, we did reach snow.
Once on snow and skinning uphill it felt good to be in our natural environment. The variable weather felt like a familiar mellow BC coastal ski tour. Of course in any new area it’s always good to respect the weather — I was feeling confident we’d get up to the peak when BOOM — whiteout, and the classic “stay-or-go” debate began. Fortunately it did clear after 5 minutes and we tagged Turboka peak.
24 hours to left to burn meant GO: Oslo to Lom by bus, hitchhiking with a German plumber to Spiterstulen, set up camp. At 7:30pm, climb…then turn around 500 feet from the summit thanks to another whiteout.
“I like to push myself to the maximum in the mountains to see what I can do physically to my abilities. My parents got me into skiing and the mountains at a young age. I progressed to ski racing, to front country, then I started finding powder stashes I had to keep going further and further to see what was around the next corner.
In addition to having worked eight years as a ski patroller, I have been racing in the pro/elite category for several seasons as a mountain biker. Racing enables me to go further and faster in the mountains in pursuit of steep skiing and speed traverses. Other activities I like: free ride mountain biking, road riding, bouldering, rock climbing, mountaineering, ice hockey, tennis, trailrunning . I like to go see live bands in small venues. I’ve been following the Vancouver Canucks for many years in their quest for the Stanley Cup.”
Andy Traslin, bicycle, Bike, cross country skiing, Denmark, earn your turns, Mike Traslin, mountaineering, norway, Oslo, Osprey athlete, ski tour, skiing, skinning, Traslin Brothers
Here in Colorado the snow has been hit or miss, with heavy storms in December and basically non-existent snowfall in January for much of the west. As a result of the poor to mediocre skiing a dialogue began between myself and a couple co-workers. We began discussing couloir skiing and how reasonable it is for the time of year and how we might make it even better. Naturally ski blades were introduced into the conversation. If you’re not familiar with ski blades, simply imagine a pair of skis that instead of making it to your nose, barely make it to your hip.
A few days later the ski blades were on order and plans were made to pull touring bindings off of an old pair of skis to mount on the blades upon their arrival. All the while, heated discussions were had regarding the pros and cons of ski blades. Sure they’ll be more maneuverable in tight couloirs where jump turns will be made easy, but how will they do in powder, mixed snow conditions, how well balanced will they be for touring, will the bindings rip out? After chatting with another co-worker that happens to shoot professionally we decided it would be only reasonable to made a sweet short film about the future of backcountry touring and mountaineering.
After the ski blades arrival we quickly got to work on grinding down screws so they wouldn’t go through the base when mounting new bindings, figuring out where on the ski to place the bindings (ended up mounting them 1cm back from center) as well as adjusting some kicker skins to fit the new setup. After a couple hours of work I was ready to set off on a three-day hut trip outside of Aspen, CO.
Three days later after dozens of miles of touring and skiing slopes up to 50 degrees psyche was higher than ever. Slapping the blades on my Kode ABS Compatible pack and boot packing up ridges was a breeze. Sure I fell many more times than I usually do, it took a bit more work to figure out the powder turns…but once I did I got twice as many as my friends. And don’t even get me started on the tours to and from the hut, those puppies weigh next to nothing and are not afraid to go fast.
My name is Sam Feuerborn, and I have spent the last three years living in various vans in order to pursue my passions on my own schedule. Having grown up traveling and spending much of my formative years with my family outside hiking, camping and skiing it has been a natural transition to embrace the dirtbag lifestyle.With many of my adventures fueled my coffee and stoke, I like to keep the van well stocked. With this addictive I have spent months at a time climbing in the desert, hitchhiking through Africa, mountain biking through the San Juans, backcountry skiing in the Elks, climbing in Yosemite as well as countless games of Settlers of Catan around the world. I have been lucky enough to embrace this lifestyle and make it work thanks to the support of countless friends and strangers alike, encouraging me to think outside the box and play as often as possible.
Eric Larson lives in Telluride, Colorado. But not very much. During the few winter months he works snow safety for Telluride Ski Resort. Then he ski guides in the Alps, guides expeditions on Denali and then guides mountaineering in the Alps. We see each other somewhere every year.
This year Eric and I overlapped in Chamonix. For a month, we guided trip after trip together. We had a blast working together. The best thing about Eric is that he’s always ready to go. We climbed every free day, then drank a few Stella Artois.
Eric leading the first pitch of the Contamine Route on Pointe Lachenal.
Eric following the money pitch on the Contamine Route, a 160-foot 5,10b.
Eric rapping the Contamine Route to the Vallee Blanche Glacier. This is classic Chamonix; we climb a beautiful six-pitch crack on orange granite at 12,000 feet. Then we get swished back to the city. It may sound soft, but if you like to climb…
The next day we climbed a 400-meter mixed route on the Triangle du Tacul. The route is called the Via Gabarrou-Marquis. Since every inch of the Triangle du Tacul has a route, we should probably call it the Larson-Stock-Artois route.
Eric leading money pitch on the Via Gabarrou-Marquis. Payback after I got the money pitch on the Contamine the day before.
Eric crossing the bergschrund on the Tois Sommets route on the Tacul. The Tacul is a low summit of Mont Blanc and is the first peak of the Trois Sommets route. This is the second most popular route on Mont Blanc, despite the major serac-fall hazard.
Then we drank Stella.
In 1999 I guided in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real mountains for two months. I’ve wanted to go back ever since. This year I was lucky to return with Glenn, Paul and James. We’ve been on many trips together including Denali, Marcus Baker, Bona, Mount Logan, Ecuador, Iliamna Volcano, Arctic Refuge and the Central Talkeenta Mountains. Our motivation for Bolivia was to get Glenn above 20,000 feet. See more photos here: www.stockalpine.com/posts/bolivia.html.
We based our trip out of La Paz, the world’s highest capital city. La Paz sits in a valley ranging from 10,500 feet to 13,500 feet. The wealthy live at warmer, lower elevations. The poorer live in El Alto, which sprawls across the altiplano above La Paz.
Paul on our three-day acclimatizing trek. Some valleys had hundreds of llamas milling about.
Descending from our first summit, the dramatic Pequeno Alpamayo (17,600′).
Huayna Potosi is 6,088 meters. The problem is that it equates to 26 feet short of Glenn’s coveted 20,000 feet. We still had fun climbing the knife-edge summit ridge of Huayna Potosi (19,974′).
Glenn feeling the hard turf of a yareta plant while hiking into Nevado Sajama. Many yareta are over 3,000 years old.
A VERY stoked Glenn gasping around the crater rim to the summit of Parinacota. Eight hundred and twenty seven feet over 20,000! Tick! Congrats Glenn!
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.
In May somewhere along the Annapurna Circuit’s long, winding, dusty road, I began to believe that after a safe and successful slaying of snow on two peaks that I had finally achieved my goals as a Himalayan mountaineer. This shouldn’t be that shocking since I have spent ten years pioneering first ascents and descents in the world’s highest range with narrow-minded focus and more than a handful of narrowly missed catastrophes blending the good times with the bad and no regrets for how we did it. This insight was forced upon me in January, when my friend Jack died in my climbing partner Jon’s arms and then I decided to take a day off from filming heli-skiing in Haines, Alaska and my friend Rob died on a routine run guiding clients. The number of passionate people I have seen meet their demise in the mountains now takes up two handfuls of digits and that is likely too close for comfort, and forces me to ponder my own fate.
Great deeds are usually wrought at great risk. — Herodutus
This has been a tough season and the losses are overwhelming. Because so many friends died in the backcountry this year, it is in the spirit of discussion and education that I thought I would share more about some latest adventures.
There have been many moments of confusion and sadness. It has been a difficult process of personal internal recovery to get back out there.. but, the mountains are what move me.
In 2007, I skied the Grand Teton in WY. It was a long and exciting day, but fairly easy going. Everything fell into place and the mountain welcomed us at each pause. My ski partner Karen and I had planned the trip and took a long weekend off from work. We drove 10 hours from Telluride, arrived at 8pm, and our team left for the park at 12am. We climbed 7,000 ft, covering some miles with heavy packs. Conditions were great for climbing and for skiing so we pulled it off. It was my first time skiing in the Grand Teton National Park, and 16 hours after we started we were back in the parking lot, elated with the accomplishment of a great ski descent.
Skiing the Grand Teton along with climbing Lobuche and Ama Dablam in Nepal in 2005, were notable turning points for me because both endeavors went so smoothly. With these two successful experiences I was deeply enchanted with the big mountains and with bigger possibilities in ski mountaineering.
Osprey athlete Kim Havell sent this video to us this morning and it’s a perfect mental health break to kickstart your day. This beautiful short from Fisher Creative captures the beauty and the reality of ski attempts in the high Himalaya — in this case on the 14th highest peak in the world — without the use of any oxygen and with no one else on the mountain with them at the end.
Kim, and the rest of the team, was attempting to complete a first descent on the mountain, but not the first descent. The peak has been skied before… they were just hoping to ski a new route from the top. The crew turned around just shy of the final summit push because of a sick teammate and other factors. Take a few minutes, grab your cup and enjoy.