The climbing scene is all-abuzz with the recent report of a rescue on Mt. Hayes last week. Two Fairbanks climbers set out to climb the East Ridge and made it up and over Levi's Bump (10,500') without incident where a storm forced them to dig a snow cave. They waited out weather then went for the summit. Apparently they went for the summit the next day - but bad weather forced them to turn around and head back just shy of the summit around 13,000'. They descended for a while, but the weather picked up - and after two falls they opted to dig a snowcave and bivy on the exposed ridge. I must note that all this is hearsay based on a report in the Anchorage Daily News - which probably is not reporting something. According to the news the guys made it through the night and come morning decided to press the little help button on their Personal Locator Beacon. A couple hours later the military buzzed the climbers in a C-130 and shortly thereafter the National Guard PJs - who are as close as you can get to modern Ninja warriors - showed up on a Pave-Hawk and plucked the climbers off the ridge. An hour later they were back in Fairbanks.
As I stated - the news probably isn't reporting something - but I hate reports like this. It's what makes the "pay for rescue" crowd come out screaming for blood and what leads to legislation like the beacon legislation introduced in Washington and Oregon.
I hate to judge. For all I know the storm opened up the bergschund turning the walk down into an epic struggle… possible? Not really. It's more likely they were just cold, tired and scared of avalanche danger which had probably escalated during their nighttime bivy. They did what countless other people have thought about doing: They called for a rescue instead of taking the risk to get back to their high camp.
Climb up here long enough and you'll have a couple great bivy stories yourself and chances are you'll probably hear even greater bivy stories from friends and acquaintances. One of the best "stuck on a ridge oh god we're going to die" stories out there is Jeff Benowitz's "Strange Vibrations" which was published in Climbing Magazine in March 1995. Benowitz tells an amazing tale about enduring days inside a snowcave just below the summit of Mt. McGinnis after an ascent of the Cutthroat Couloir. They fought sanity and dreamed of a helicopter rescue. Knowing that a helicopter wasn't going to show up, they were forced to descend a wind-loaded ridge after their cave started making popping noises in the night. If you can find a copy it's well worth the read.
Another great bivy story that comes to mind is of local climbers Roger and Mary Kemppel on Mt. Barrile. They had ascended the Japanese Couloir and were on their way down when foul weather and poor visibility forced them to hole up on the summit ridge for a night. They endured the night and then descended the NW face the next morning. When I asked Roger how the night was he responded with a classic understatement: "Oh it wasn't so bad. Kind of nice actually," Roger said. "My wife didn't like it though." One can only imagine what the night was really like.
Anyways… enough about other people. I have a handful of fun bivy stories and one of the best is from a May 2005 ascent of Mt. Blackburn. One day I'll write a real story about our climb - but for now I'll jump to the good part... ( Read more... )
I know I know. Call me cliché - call me unoriginal, uncreative, unadventurous, boring, standard whatever... I 'm back. I 've been here four times now - yet I am still awed by the presence of the Cassin and Denali's summit as it appears hulking above our heads while we dig in for the night. Snow falls, the temperature rises just above freezing - the familiar pitter patter of sleet on a glacier. Communal dinners in the tent, Roger Robinson (who organized my rescue almost 6 years ago to the day) grasping my hand his deep voice "Oh great - that's great - I see you have a team from Anchorage... No - it's not too early for that route but it has been warm - Good luck!" His tan face, lines etched deep from season after season on Denali's slopes, breaks into a smile then grows serious as he remembers Jeff, my partner who died as a result of a fall on Denali in 1998. ( Read more... )
On May 16th 2003, Todd Kelsey and I flew into the upper Chickaloon drainage with Dave of Grasshopper Aviation out of the Wasilla airport. We got to the airport to find out that fog was sitting over the landing zone so we sat around in Dave's office while he regaled us with tales of plane crashes. Nothing fills your mind with confidence like a pilot who reminisces about various spills and forced landings. Apparently losing a tail in a landing was no big deal. Who knew?
While flying in Dave apparently sensed my unease and did his best to scare me silly. He skimmed along the river, diving in sickening bursts of madness. When we landed we landed a bit too fast and hit the ground HARD slamming into the rocky strip and bouncing close to 10 feet in the air. I crawled out of the plane and ran into the bushes dry heaving.
There were 3 other people at the landing strip. Jake, a bear hunting guide, and his two clients. Jake was the classic Alaskan bear guide. He was classic in the sense that instead of flying out with his garbage on his lap he opted to throw it into the bushes. Classic in the sense that he had hauled literally hundreds of pounds of junk into this area only to leave it sitting under a blue trap so it could be destroyed by bears and porcupines. ( Read more... )
We were up at 4am and out on the trail by 5am - trudging up the Snow Coach Road towards the Northwest bowl of Andromeda. The approach was tedious, 2 hours of hiking across moraine on a faint trail followed by and hour up an icefall - weaving in and out of crevasses and up and over steep ice, one foot on gravel the other front pointing on ice. After about half and hour of scary route finding we crested the glacier and picked our way across a very scary crevasse field, finally reaching the bergschrund and base of the route in 3 hours.
The planned on going on Skyladder (II) and coming down the East Ridge (II). Skyladder was an excellent straightforward climb. 3,000' of steep snow and ice climbing to a ridge crest. The route began with about 1,000' of 45 degree snow with good protection followed by 1,500' of 45 degree ice. Brad lead the snow and I lead the ice and we simul-climbed the entire route. After the ice face we had 500' of easy step kicking to the ridge. The route then traversed the summit snowfields via easy hiking in ankle deep snow all the way to the summit. ( Read more... )
July 6th; Saskatchewan Glacier - We are camped on the upper reached of the Saskatchewan Glacier in Jasper National Park. We woke up around 9 this morning, packed up and then headed over to the Parks office at the Icefields were we filled out a permit for Mt. Columbia. Originally we had planned to go up the Athabasca Glacier and set up the paper work as such. The sign up process took about an hour (groan) and afterwards we headed out. The Rangers warned us of icefall and suggested the alternative Saskatchewan Glacier route but we opted for the faster and more direct route. At the parking lot I said to Brad, "I'm feeling kind of nervous."
"Me too," he replied. We thought about it for a minute but then dismissed it and drove to the parking lot. However - once there we sat for a minute. "I don't feel good about this," Brad said.
"Me neither... how about the Saskatchewan Glacier route?" I replied.
So we agreed and drove back to the Visitor Center and changed our registration. ( Read more... )
The alarm went off at 5:30 am and we were up and drinking coffee by 6 am. Our plan was to climb the East Ridge of Edith Cavell. The guidebook stated that the route could comfortably be climbed in a long day.
We began hiking in at 6:30 am. The hike began with a nice trail that is beneath the massive north face and the Angel Glacier, and then up a trail branching off which took us into the high country and up to a snow slope leading to a col. We trudged up the snow slope kicking steps in snow that was at most 40 degrees. At the top we got a good look at the East Ridge: it begins with a scramble up 4th class rock that then leads to a snow gully which one follows up to the upper ridge. ( Read more... )
After our trip into the Ruth Gorge Jeff young flew back to Anchorage while Brad and I flew to the Kahiltna and started up the West Buttress of Denali. The following are entries from my journal from May 30th - June 6th. ( Read more... )
Brad Horning, Jeff Young and I flew into the Ruth in the hopes of first climbing the Mooses Tooth and then skiing up the West Fork of the Ruth Glacier, ascending Ruth Gap and then descending down the other side to reach the Kahiltna Glacier and ultimately Denali Base Camp. There Jeff would fly out and Brad and I would continue up the West Buttress of Denali. We had a lot of trouble getting information about Ruth Gap - but knowing that it had been done twice before we decided to give it a shot. Before we flew in we told our pilot what our goal was - but that if we were unable to get over the Gap we'd return to the original landing strip. The following are entries from my journal from May 30th - June 6th. ( Read more... )
For our first climb in the Canadian Rockies we chose an easy route: the East Ridge of Mt. Nestor (II, 5.5) - a 9,744' peak that lies off the Spray Lakes road south of Canmore. The guidebook referred to the route as "an enjoyable afternoon climb" so we felt good about sleeping in.
While packing up in the morning, I pulled off my helmet and pointed to the space blanket duct tapes inside in. "You might want to bring one of these," I said to Dave.
Dave looked at me and laughed, and with a very dramatic gesture he ripped his space blanket out of his helmet, flung it inside the van and slammed the door. Our fate was sealed (and you can guess what happens next). We began hiking at the abysmally late hour of 9:30 am and by 10:30 am we were off the trail and 4th classing up to the base of the route.
The route is a 2,500' with snow, ice and rock up to 5.5. The lower portion is mostly 4th class with bit of easy 5th class here and there. The middle of the route had a lot of snow on it and the top portion, the crux, has a roof traverse pitch that is rated 5.5 in difficulty. ( Read more... )