Those who know me know that I tend to be pretty down on Alaska cragging. Cragging in Alaska is pretty poor. The Seward highway consists of loose choss on road cut above an endless stream of cars honking and running into each other. I’ve always been told that Puriton has high quality rock – but when I finally made it out there I was treated to a 100lb block that lobbed off the wall and landed on top of my backpack 10′ to my right. That pretty much killed my enthusiasm for that area. Hatcher does have some good quality routes – but even the good routes pretty much always have a mandatory wet moss section and chances are it’s going to rain if you make the drive up there.
That said- A half day is all the weather gods granted us; not enough for a long climb but longer than needed for after-work hike on local peaks. So Jake Gano and I packed the rock gear and drove to Hatcher for some cragging. And even though I knew I’d come home disappointed I really wanted to get some climbing in and really didn’t want to go to the highway.
In the parking lot we hoisted the backpacks and opted to do the hour plus trudge up to Aurora Slabialous and Yellow Brick Road. The skies were dark and we risked being rained on – but I wanted to check out a new place so off we set. Up, up and up. Past mounds of talus and rubble and mining ruins until finally rounding the corner to the base of Aurora Slabialous.
We geared up and I set off… the first 15′ being the usual mud and moss delicate balancing act that one must tolerate if one wants to climb at Hatcher. But then the route changed- instead of taking the wet mossy corner I was pushed out onto the face where I balanced and pulled my way up thin slabby edges and tiny seams. Gear was a delightful blend of small to medium nuts and the occasional small to medium cam. And before I knew it, I was actually having fun. A lot of fun!
120′ later the route topped out on a fin of rock and I threw my legs over the edge with a sudden realization that I had just climbed an excellent route in Southcentral Alaska!
Jake followed me up – also surprised at the high quality – and then we rapped back down, packed up and walked 15 minutes to the next route that had been recommended: Yellow Brick Road.
Yellow Brick Road started with a 5.9 roof move (kindly protected by a bolt) and then onto a face where I delicately climbed knobs and seams with the occasional bolt and tiny cam. Half way up the route you pass through a very cool X formation and then you move up thin moves to another roof. Through the roof on big holds followed by the standard Talkeetna top out on grass and moss. And at the top out I realized that I had once again climbed a high quality route in Southcentral AK!
Jake followed and we rapped down just as the rain began to sprinkle. We packed up and headed down under misty skies. Passing by the old mine I crawled partially inside the shaft to get some pictures – grimacing at the working conditions those miners had to face. Retreating from the chasm and out into the open I looked at the rocks around me and began to wonder what other gems lay hidden nearby.
If you want a guidebook, Kelsey Gray’s book “Alaska Rock Climbing Guide” can be bought locally at AMH . If you’re not local or can’t make it to AMH you can order one at Chessler Books.
Aurora Slabialous – 5.8, 120′. FA Jim Sweeney, Steve Garvey 1987.
Take a standard rack up to 1″. Small to medium stoppers and small to medium cams are what you’ll use most. The anchor consists of a wedged cordelette knot and a #6 stopper, not something that really inspires confidence but it has been holding people for years. However – Kelsey has been slowly replacing old bolts and anchors all over SCAK and has plans to replace this anchor. You’ll need 2 ropes to get down.
Yellow Brick Road – 5.9, 120′. FA – Steve Garvey, Dave Whitelaw.
Note: this climb has also been called “Sweet Leaf”. Not sure which is the proper name. This route has 9 bolts but it’s pretty old school. The bolts are where you need them but you’ll want a set of #00-#4 TCUs for additional protection. There is a 3 bolt anchor and you’ll need 2 ropes to get down. This route also has a second pitch that I believe heads up and left to grass ledges. There are no anchors on the second pitch and it looks thin.
Sweeny also recommends two other routes in the area: “God’s Country” and “Iron Man“. Both of these were first climbed by Steve Garvey and Jim Sweeney in the late 80s. God’s Country is located on a formation called The Guardian which is below and (climber’s) right of Aurora slab. It starts in a corner just behind a large detached flake. First pitch goes at 5.9, second at 10b. Take gear up to 3″. The other route, Iron Man, is on a formation called Lost Wall which is above and right of Aurora. It’s the golden chunk of granite that appears chossy from far off but is actually remarkably clean. Iron Man starts in a “complex” corner and climbs up to a ramp where there is a 2 bolt anchor. The route is mixed; bolts, pitons and gear to 2″.
There is also another 5.9+ Sweeny route left of Yellow Brick Road called “$20 Blow Job“. Anchorage in the 80s was a crazy town and apparently the name refers to an offer a hitchhiker made to a car load of climbers (one can guess who was in the car) as they were leaving town for Archangel. Whether this name also refers to the nature of the route is unknown.
And finally…. if you haven’t read it yet, Sweeny’s new book The List is a good read and has a handful of climbing stories about Anchorage locals.