I was intrigued by the north side of the Wrangell mountains after a short visit in the fall and wanted to explore the land closer to the mountains. With help from Evan Olson, Lead Backcountry Ranger for Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Preserve, who gave me details on a traverse he did in 2012 I began mapping out a route that more or less followed Evan's route. The route essentially traces a line that goes up and over Mt Gordon, down to Jacksina Creek and then up into the headwaters of Tumble Creek until finally we would climb a pass that would deposit us at the headwaters of the Copper river where our pilot would pick us up on gravel bars near the Copper Glacier. In total the distance was about 60 miles with a gain and loss of about 10,000' along the way. ( Read more... )
"Anchorage is great," they say. "It's only 20 minutes from Alaska." By they I mean the red state rural minority who believe in the Three Ps: the Permanent Fund, Providence and Palin. As much as I hate the saying they have a point. 20 minutes from Spenard, strip clubs and Sams Club you can hit the park and head east for 400 miles before you hit another road. And most of the year I manage to get out of Anchorage and enjoy Alaska on a regular basis, but the fall is different. Fall in Anchorage means foul weather; freezing rain, sun and snow all in the same week. ( Read more... )
This past weekend I was encouraged by the high numbers of bikers and hikers heading down the trail at Chitina. Perhaps a third of the users were hikers and bikers… and while ATV users still rule, the growth of bikers over the past five years is a trend that I’d like to see continue. And so while I am conflicted on giving away techniques on how to successfully fill your freezer from a bike the truth is the ATV crowd has no qualms giving away tips so I might as well contribute my $.02.
Let me first say that if there was ever a place for ATV usage then it’s the O'Brien Creek road. If there were ever a need for ATV usage then it would be to carry coolers full of fish back to your truck. And if there were ever a demographic where ATV usage was justified it would be for the elder users who cannot make it back to the fishing spots utilizing a bike or hiking. Furthermore - the majority of the ATV users you meet on the trail and friendly and respect the fishery and the river.
That said - the majority of the ATV crowd are men in their mid 30s and early 40s who are just too lazy to walk back and forth with their fish. I can’t really say I blame them for not wanting to carry 200 lbs of fish out on their backs - but with the lazy users come a small but impactful population of users who routinely leave trash, shit wherever they please, build huge campfires and chop down trees on a whim. And within the ATV demographic there is always a small group of 20-something drivers who hate hikers and bikers and will make it known to you that you’re not welcome by driving fast and running you off the trail.
Thus this post is all about encouraging bikers and hikers to head into Chitina. With more bikers and hikers on the Chitina trail, ATV users will be forced to drive a little slower and deal with a user group that doesn’t fall into the "drive fast and kill ‘em all" AK lifestyle. Hopefully with increased non-motorized usage the dipnetting experience will revert to respecting the river and working hard to harvest your fish - and less about driving fast, shooting guns and drinking beer.
And with that said on to how to dipnet with a bike… Everyone has their own method - some of those methods work, some don’t. Here's my take... ( Read more... )
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... )
For the long 4th of July 2003 weekend Todd Kelsey invited me on a raft trip down the Tana River. A rafting trip with Todd Kelsey is the polar opposite of my usual mountaineering experience. For starters, since I cannot row I usually sit on the raft and just look around. Second lack of food is never an issue - breakfast is a full meal, lunch is a full stop with sandwiches and beer and dinner is a 2 - 3 course feast along with a scrumptious dessert. Drinks vary from canned beer to gin and tonics (with ice!).
We took 4 days to float the Tana River. We flew out of Chitina and landed about 5 miles upstream from the canyon where we made camp below huge sand dunes. The next day we explored the sand dunes in the morning and that afternoon floated through the canyon which was about 5 miles up HUGE Class IV whitewater. I've never seen anything like that and our 3 raft captains rowed through the giant swells and around deep swirling pools with ease. ( Read more... )