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... )
On Labor Day weekend Yvonne and I climbed East Twin (5863'). I had previously tried this peak a total of three times; each time I barely made it to the base before turning around for a myriad of reasons.
On Saturday. September 2nd Yvonne and I left town in rain and drove to Eklutna. It was still cloudy at the parking lot but at least it wasn't raining. With hopes dimmed of getting up the peak, we left the parking lot with the goal of at least checking out the route. The walk up was in dense fog and after getting above treeline, we walked around in swirling fog before finally opting to head back down. This was my third time turning around on this peak; although this time it could hardly be called an attempt.
Sunday, September 3rd dawned with a dense fog that began to burn off around 9 am. We headed back up to Eklutna and at 10:45 started hiking up the Twin Peaks trail. As we ascended, it got warmer and the sun began burning off the fog in the valley below.
We soon reached the top of the labeled trail where we turned off on the slight footpath heading down to the creek that flows off of East Twin Pass. We then began booting up a good trail and at 1 pm, we reached Twin Pass where we were greeted with a herd of Dall sheep that traversed the ridge in front of us. ( Read more... )
On June 25th Yvonne and I opted to give Bold Peak (7522') a try. We drove to Eklutna on Saturday morning and by 8:45 am were biking in. The bike ride (10 1/2 miles) went by fairly quickly despite us not having biked more than once this summer. By 10 am we had cached our bikes, changed and began hiking down the East Fork of the Eklutna trail.
The trail leading up the East Fork of the Eklutna was in good shape and we made quick progress and soon reached the spot where the creek coming out of Stivers Gully crosses the trail. Here we poked around in the brush for a few minutes looking for the trail and soon found it leading upstream on the east side of the creek. We followed it up, crossing back and forth on either side and by 10:30 had emerged from the brush onto the talus slopes that make up the base of Stivers Gully.
From that point on, the route was fast and straight forward. I fully expected a much harder route but the climb is essentially a huge scree gully that is pretty low angle. We cruised up the lower talus slopes until we entered a canyon-like feature with huge walls on either side. This portion had snow in it so the walking was even faster. At 12 we reached the portion of the route where the canyon constricts and you're forced to ascend a steep gully and finally crawl up an exposed rock rib. There is a fixed rope here which, in dry sunny weather, isn't needed; however in wet conditions it is much appreciated (as we were to find out). ( Read more... )
On August 27th Yvonne and I drove south down to Bird Ridge where we began heading up the trail at noon with Ranger in tow. We made quick progress although our legs were quite stiff after having taken so much time off from hiking due to the almost constant rain Anchorage had experienced since late July.
At 1:30 we reached the top of the Bird Ridge trail and began to traverse the ridge that heads east towards Bird Ridge Overlook (4,600'), the peak that sits at the end of the ridge.
The hike is a total of 12 miles round trip; 3 miles to the top of Bird Ridge and then another 3 miles to Bird Ridge Overlook. After ascending Bird Ridge, we dropped down about 300 feet and then began a long rising and falling traverse to Bird Ridge Overlook. Hiking was easy and straightforward with an excellent well traveled sheep trail just below the ridge crest that kept us on more or less a level plain as we traversed the ridges. ( Read more... )