We just spent 16 days in the Alaska Range - 13 of those days were on Denali's West Buttress - and during that time period there were a total of 4 deaths. The day after we flew out 2 more deaths occurred at high camp. (Click here to read Mike Campbell's article profiling the accidents.)
The rash of deaths after a long quiet winter can only mean one thing: It’s climbing season in the Alaska Range. Unfortunately "climbing season" also means "rescue season" and this year is off to a bad start. And with rescue season comes the inevitable "who’s going to pay for this" argument on countless blogs, op-ed pages and comment sections nation-wide. Given our current political climate where tea party members happily gloat about gutting public programs while patriotically adding funds to our bloated defense budget I think it’s pertinent that I post some links to rescue studies. ( Read more... )
Lots of news and commentary has been published recently in regards to the recent accident on the Root Canal Glacier. In short, Christopher Lackey, a young man from Houston Texas, was camped on the Root Glacier hoping to climb Ham & Eggs on the South face of the Mooses Tooth. KTNA (Talkeetna Public Radio) reports that sometime during the night a small earthquake triggered serac fall on the hanging glaciers that cling to the Eye Tooth / Bear Tooth ridge just above camp. Apparently the icefall was immense and debris poured onto the glacier and obliterated the entire camp. Only Mr. Lackey was killed - the other 3 climbers somehow escaped. ( Read more... )
We set off to climb and ski Bench Peak. We knew there were tracks on the run we wanted to ski. But we knew of only 4 sets of tracks - and when those tracks are made by ubiquitous local skier "Eric the Viking" and his crew, and those tracks mean you don't have to route find through the wilds of Center and Divide Creeks, then you can forgive the 4 sets. Besides, following Viking and his crew's tracks down a Turnagain area run is kind of a given. If it's good and it will go, chances are Viking has already skied it that week. ( Read more... )
Fun weekend outing to Frontier Peak that actually turned out to be Matanuska Peak. More text and pix after the jump. ( Read more... )
[ Read much much more here ]
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... )
[ Gannett Peak - West Couloir ]
Saturday was yet another absolutely beautiful day in Southcentral Alaska, so we packed the skis and some climbing gear and headed south to try Kickstep. We left the parking lot around 10:30 with ski gear, crampons, axe, 30m of rope, harnesses and a couple pickets. Travelling up Lyon Creek was fast and 2 1/2 later we were at the base of Kickstep's West Ridge. ( Read more... )
[ Carpathian Peak - North Ridge ]