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... )
On Memorial Day (May 28th), Yvonne and I hiked in and climbed Koktoya. ( Read more... )
Friday night. I drive past Pyramid Peak in Turnagain Pass looking casually up. I wanted to climb it all winter but my friends are snow snobs; they'd rather ski one run of good powder 5 times than skin up a wind hammered ridge. Now that it's spring they're all out doing spring things - like gardening and river rafting. For some reason I want to get one more ski day in. Looking up at the peak thoughts come and go; "Tomorrow should be an easy day. Almost too easy. I could climb Pyramid and then go ski elsewhere..."
I spend a lazy night next to a campfire watching the moon drift over the Kenai Mountains. Ranger hangs out next to me. He misses his old friend Pharaoh who used to chase him in circles when we camped. I miss him too. That night it freezes and I shiver inside my cheap flannel sleeping bag. Ranger, in his thin coat, shivers so hard he wakes me up so I dig out a jacket and throw it over him.
The alarm sounds at 6:30 am. I sleep till 8. Coffee follows and then I jump into the car and blast to the parking lot where I strap the skis to the pack and start booting uphill. Somewhere in the back of my mind it registers that there is no snow for at least 2000'. It also registers that there is brush for 2000' but I choose to ignore these thoughts. ( 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... )
Pharaoh as a puppy in the Talkeetna Mtns. Sometime in the summer of 1997. This is probably my favorite photo of him.
I have lost my best friend and climbing partner. Pharaoh has been with me since May 1997; he came into our lives a squirming ball of fur and grew up by my side accompanying me across the country and back; always in front of me pushing his way through deep snow, scrambling up steep rock and ready for more than I could ever give him. ( Read more... )
My nephew, Matthew, and brother John, came to visit me for Matt's spring break. I'm not sure if they expected balmy spring like temperatures or not - but they certainly didn't get them. Temps hovered in the teens on the good days; on the bad days it was around -20 with 50 mph winds!
We spent 8 days skiing down on the Kenai Peninsula; 4 days at Turnagain Pass and 4 days up at Crescent Lake where we stayed at Crescent Saddle cabin. This was John and Mat's first winter visit to Alaska and their first ever backcountry ski trip.
I acted as ski guide for the entire trip and I have never worked so hard in my life... My brother and nephew learned fairly quickly; but I still had to literally battle with them to do key things like drink, eat, ski where I tell them to and not push themselves beyond their limits as well as seemingly stupid things like always wear liner gloves when it's -25 and not to lay down in the snow when tired. ( 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... )
We are back in Anchorage after our long absence. We returned to find -10 temperatures which was harsh considering it was 95 when we left Thailand!
In short we were gone 6 weeks. We spent 1 month in Nepal; 3 weeks in the Khumbu and 1 week in Katmandu and Chitwan National Park. We followed this up with 2 weeks in Thailand where we went sport climbing on Tonsai Beach.
I'll be adding stories and photos later; we have 1500+ images to sort through as well as 60+ pages from our combined journals not to mention a back log of clients who need my devout attention, two antsy dogs and a number of well formed ice routes that need to be climbed! ( Read more... )
On Friday night June 16th Wayne Todd called us and invited us on an attempt of the North Face of Pioneer. Wayne figured that since there was more snow than usual this summer, what is usually a March - May route was doable and safe this late in the year. For years I had lusted after this route and had never gotten the chance to give it a try so I jumped on the invite.
The North Face of Pioneer is a classic alpine climb that pretty much starts right from the car and ascends snow, ice and rock all the way to the 6,398' summit. You begin the route at 100' and over the course of 1.8 miles climb 6,300'. The route involves a couple easy (5.2ish) rock steps at mid height, followed by close to 2000' of 40-50 degree snow. The final exit pitch steepens to around 60+ degrees and the step is usually ice. To descend the route you must climb 300' of easy but exposed rock (5.4ish) to ascend up and over "Counterpoint" (a false summit to the east) and then rappel twice before finally dropping down into scree gullies and slopes to the bottom.
The next morning Yvonne and I met Wayne, Carrie, Ross and Randy at 6 am on the side of the Glen Highway at the Old Glen Highway exit. We then drove the final 5 miles to the base and by 6:30 am were hiking up the initial scree slopes that line the bottom of the route.
The initial section of the route went quickly as we hiked up a massive avalanche path and remnants until we reached a waterfall that blocked our progress. We passed the waterfall by traversing to the right and climbing 500' up a gully choked with alder and devil's club. We were then able to traverse back to the gully by monkey-barring though a dense thicket of alders. ( Read more... )