For years I've been eyeing the couloirs that snake directly up the north face of Bear Point (the wall above Mirror Lake on the Glenn Highway). There are 2 very obvious lines - a direct couloir that drops straight off the summit for almost 3000' and a twisty turny line that ascend though rock bands and tops out just east of the summit. This year the couloirs have been melting out and thin ribbons of ice have been appearing, making them quite appealing! ( Read more... )
[ Gannett Peak - West Couloir ]
The forecast called for clouds and isolated showers; not ideal conditions given that isolated showers usually have a way of finding me, but I wanted to get out so I studied the maps and my photos. I finally decided to give the North Face of Eagle Peak a try. My reasoning was that 2 weeks ago north facing slopes were still powder and south facing slopes were corn - whereas a week ago south facing slopes had turned isothermal. I was hoping for corn conditions on north facing aspects - but I knew we couldn't go if the sun was shining due to avalanche hazards. After much thought I figured the clouds would shade the route giving us the rare opportunity to ascend the route in spring conditions.
The route ascends the obvious couloir. This photo was taken from Significant peak on 6/10/06.
So I rounded up a team who all bit on the first cast: Dan, Eric, Bryce and Yvonne and at 5:30am on Saturday we met and were soon driving. We dropped off a car at the South Fork of Eagle river (thinking we might have to traverse the peak to avoid late afternoon avalanche conditions) and then drove to the Eagle River Nature Center and were hiking by 7am. ( Read more... )
JT passed along info that Korohusk was in good shape, so on Saturday Yvonne, Bryce, Charlie and I headed up Eagle River to give it a try. The initial four miles went by in no time and soon we had reached the turn off point and were headed uphill. As usual the start required a little bush whacking; but it was still early enough in the season to where travel was easy. After about an hour of hiking bear and moose trails we finally found the trail and after 4 hours of travel were sitting at the base of the route.
The route was totally filled in with snow, which made travel fairly easy; however the snow was shin to knee deep so we all took a turn kicking steps. The waterfall pitch was easily climbed via a snow ramp and soon we were kicking steps up the final snow slopes. ( Read more... )
The earth buzzes by below us; rolling hills turn to spires, caribou tracks up ridge lines, blue ice overflowing tight river drainages. The creeks flow past - Caribou, Divide, Boulder. The mighty Chickaloon calm, frozen in time the meandering blue ice locked until Spring (who hovers just around the corner) descends. And suddenly we are banking past jagged granite spires. The spires become behemoths trapped in glacier ice, seracs clutching their sides glistening and opaque.
My pilot, Mike Meekins, maneuvers his plane between granite towers and we float out into the open, the Talkeetna glacier spread below us, her many forks outstretched and the plane spiraling over them with my eyes glued to the window looking at ice, granite and snow. Meekins studies the snow and we aim for a calm tongue of powder unscathed by the winds. ( Read more... )
We reached the parking lot, sorted through gear once again and by 7:30 were hiking down the trail making light of the Forest Service signs that alerted us to impending doom on the glacier above. By 8am we had reached the ice and were staring up at the route. Initially we had planned to take the normal route - which is the west ridge. However the glacier looked good so we decided we'd head up the ice and gain the summit via the North glacier. ( Read more... )
On Sunday Eric Parsons, Dan Boccia, Yvonne & I climbed the Southwest Ridge Granite Peak (6729'). We left town at 7:30 am and by 8:30 were driving in circles in the maze of 4WD trails that are at the base of Granite. Dan's excellent driving technique through mud, over rocks and across ditches had Eric howling in delight and Yvonne biting her nails. Finally after close to an hour of driving up and down trails we found a good trailhead parked and started hiking up at 9:30 am.
Getting to the base was easy and quick - and 1 1/2 hours after starting we were at the base of the route and hiking up the massive couloir that drains the south face. We meandered up the couloir - taking a couple wrong turns before finally finding the correct one which took us all the way to a very steep final ridge that lead to the summit ridge. Once reaching the SW ridge we stuck to the left (NW) side of the ridge; Eric tentatively plowed through waist deep snow (in sneakers sans rope) while Yvonne & I roped up with 30 m of rope and protected the pitches with a handful of rock gear (4 nuts, 2 cams). At the top of the first gendarme we set a belay and belayed everyone down - the only spot Eric and Dan roped up. I down-climbed the rock pitch while once again Eric plowed through deep sketchy steep snow up and over 2 more gendarmes. The put us on the final summit ridge where we cached the rope and hiked to the summit. ( Read more... )
Thursday was Yvonne's birthday so we had a party; a bunch of people came over and we cooked up a bunch of salmon and made halibut tacos. As usual halfway through the night talk turned to where to go for the weekend. The weather looked good and we were itching to go out so Yvonne bailed on work for Friday. Later in the evening Eric stopped by and casually mentioned that J.T. and Tony were headed up Polar Bear for the weekend. J.T. is in the top 3 on my 'who to call for conditions and beta in the Chugach' list (along with Wayne and Steve who were both at our party) so our ears pricked up. Polar Bear? It's high on the list and if J.T. and Tony are heading up there then conditions are probably good. Besides, I figured, if our timing is right then we should be able to jump right into their tracks and boot up to the summit. Wayne and Steve concurred that it would be a good time to try it and Steve opted to join us so we planned to pack up in the morning and hike in Friday afternoon.
The next day we packed up and by 2 pm Yvonne, Steve and I were hiking up the Eagle River trail. Our packs were obscenely heavy for an overnight trip. Yvonne and I both had our winter (-20) bags plus we hauled a stove, pan, tent, bivy sacks, ice axe, ice tools, crampons, snowshoes, pickets, ice screws, rock and glacier gear, a 60 m rope, tennis shoes (to cross the river in) and leather mountaineering boots. Despite the load we made good time and within 2 hours we shed our pants and donned tennis shoes for the Eagle River crossing. ( Read more... )
The season is upon us. Gone are the weekend mornings of leisurely starts and sleeping in till 7:30 and meeting at 8:30. The sun rises at 5:55 am and sets at 9:57 pm. Although it doesn't make any sense, we argue that because the days are longer we should get up earlier so we can have a longer day. Thus we go to bed on Friday night and set the alarm for 5am. It beeps at 5 and I jump in the shower to wake up; an hour later we're driving north - skis, pickets, ropes and plastic boots in the truck. We want to try Granite Peak but as we get closer the rains come and just past Palmer we pull over, disappointed and turn back to Anchorage. It is 7:30. ( Read more... )
Alaska has woken from its slumber. Last weekend I saw bear tracks meandering through the snow; yesterday I saw a coyote slink through the trees. Rock climbers are venturing out onto the cliffs next to the highway and the dogs are lounging around outside in the sun. However... there is still snow to be had for those of us who don't wish to put the skis away quite yet. At the same time the climbing bug has returned...what to do?
In an effort to stave off caching the skis in the shed for the season Yvonne and I opted to do some ski mountaineering on Saturday. We pouring over the maps and finally settled on Explorer Peak down in Portage. Explorer Peak is a small mountain at the far western edge of Portage Road, The summit is only 3,440' - but you start at sea level, have a little glacier travel and finally get to boot up a corniced ridge; it's the perfect shakedown trip to get ready for spring mountaineering routes.
We enlisted Dan Boccia to help break trail and on Saturday morning we headed down and by 9:30 am we were skiing through the trees towards the glacier. The initial part of the route is pretty moderate; you ski through a stand of dead spruce and then start heading up the valley towards Explorer Glacier. There is an obvious drainage that you work your way up which dumps you out on a plateau just right of the glacier's toe. We then skied up a broad snow slope to the right (west) of the glacier until reaching a bench where we stopped and roped up. ( Read more... )