We floated the Chulitna River over the long weekend… hot and sunny and with glorious views of the Alaska Range towering above the river. The mercury climbed to 80 degrees and we drifted down river in shorts and t-shirts. On Sunday night we camped on a gravel bar with the summits of Denali and Mooses Tooth jutting above the clouds. The view from my sleeping bag serene when I unzipped the tent and looked out to see the faint morning light at 3:30am turning the peaks a deep pink. When you're on a gravel bar in the sun the mountains look so peaceful and pleasant…
And then back to Anchorage and the working life. I check my email to see a string from random people I don't know. And then I check the news; 2 dead in an avalanche in the Ruth Gorge: Andrew Herzenberg, age 39, and Avner Magen, age 42 - both from Toronto, Ontario. I read the NPS report… they were killed while descending Freezy Nuts on Saturday, May 30th.
Bryce Stath on "Freezy Nuts" - Spring 2009.
A little later I read the string of emails and make the connection… I had been corresponding with Avner Magen for a few weeks and now friends and family were asking if I had any news. ( Read more... )
Lots of news and commentary has been published recently in regards to the recent accident on the Root Canal Glacier. In short, Christopher Lackey, a young man from Houston Texas, was camped on the Root Glacier hoping to climb Ham & Eggs on the South face of the Mooses Tooth. KTNA (Talkeetna Public Radio) reports that sometime during the night a small earthquake triggered serac fall on the hanging glaciers that cling to the Eye Tooth / Bear Tooth ridge just above camp. Apparently the icefall was immense and debris poured onto the glacier and obliterated the entire camp. Only Mr. Lackey was killed - the other 3 climbers somehow escaped. ( Read more... )
We just spent 16 days in the Alaska Range - 13 of those days were on Denali's West Buttress - and during that time period there were a total of 4 deaths. The day after we flew out 2 more deaths occurred at high camp. (Click here to read Mike Campbell's article profiling the accidents.)
The rash of deaths after a long quiet winter can only mean one thing: It’s climbing season in the Alaska Range. Unfortunately "climbing season" also means "rescue season" and this year is off to a bad start. And with rescue season comes the inevitable "who’s going to pay for this" argument on countless blogs, op-ed pages and comment sections nation-wide. Given our current political climate where tea party members happily gloat about gutting public programs while patriotically adding funds to our bloated defense budget I think it’s pertinent that I post some links to rescue studies. ( Read more... )
A short lived Foraker attempt and a foul weather trip up to 17 camp on the West Buttress. (Next year I'm going sport climbing.) ( Read more... )
I've been up and down Motorcycle Hill about a dozen times so it always hits close to home when I read about accidents in a familiar place. I snapped this photo around midnight in early June 2001. In June the sunlight lingers until midnight on Denali and looking up from 11 camp the headwall of the West Buttress Proper glows deep purple in the alpenglow. It's a peaceful camp and a beautiful sight if you can stay awake long enough to watch the sunset. Rest in Peace Yoshiaki Kato, Masako Suda, Michiko Suzuki, and Tamao Suzuki.
The wind was howling, snow was swirling and visibility had been reduced to about 10 feet. A pure whiteout. The kind where you can't tell up from down and left from right. Stop skiing and look down at your skis and it feels like the ground is moving underneath you. Vertigo takes control and the only way to keep it in check is to turn and look through the thick fog at your partner who appears to be floating on skis in a sea of white.
I was roped up to Mr. 20ish-Grade-VI and I was sidestepping up the glacier, my ski pole probing the ground in front of me out of fear that there was a lip somewhere. Minutes before Brad and I had been skiing around unroped in search of cached gear when he let out a yell and dove backyards away from a gaping drop off. We were both disoriented from the fog so we dismissed the drop off as a combination of vertigo and perhaps a wind lip. We were wrong. Way wrong.
"Go left," Mr. Older-Canadian-Dude yelled, staring at his gps. I was way off to the right and I really didn't want to go left. Better to err on the south/right side of the glacier instead of pushing left. Somewhere to our left was a drop off. We all knew that but we thought it was way left, like 1/4 mile left. But Older-Canadian-Dude insisted once again. "The gps says go left. Go left." Brad, in the lead on rope with Older-Canadian-Dude and Mr. 20ish-Ski-Patrol, consented and changed his course, veering left, up and over the rock band and across the glacier.
"I think we should stay right," I said half- heartedly. But by now I was tired of arguing with the gps guy, so I stood and watched them push left. Brad skied ahead, gliding across the snow and into the fog. One minute he was there, floating in the fog. Then he was gone and 20ish-Ski-Patrol was on his side, skis digging into the glacier, the rope pulled tight and digging into the snow.
I took off running towards where Brad had dropped. A wind lip? Crevasse? No one knew. I approached slowly to where he had disappeared and saw a gaping hole.
Brad had fallen off a cornice and he was down there somewhere, hanging. ( Read more... )
With good reports filtering in from all over our objective in mind was Big Chief. Of course we wanted to ski the north face - which is everyone's objective when heading back there - but knowing coverage was pretty thin we all kept open minds and knew we had options should the route not go. ( Read more... )