Early Season Southcentral AK ice

Everyone is complaining about the snow and the snowpack; both of which have been abysmal this year. We had snow in October followed by a long dry and cold period followed by snow that came in dry and left wet. Which left us with a low snowpack and absolute horrific avalanche conditions. So needless to say I have yet to feel the urge to dig out the skis this year.

But as others have said… you don’t climb during a ski year – and you don’t ski during an ice year. And this is an ice year, so I’ve been trying to get at it.

Early season ice generally means brushy approaches, low light and thin ice. Low light means blurry photos. Add to the mix high pressure and you have short, cold days and brittle ice. But it’s fun regardless and the the low snowpack means approaches are easy and people are climbing stuff that rarely gets climbed.

Below are some choice pictures from various outings with multiple partners over the past month.

Northeast Face of Ptarmigan Peak

This route probably forms up every year but was extra nice this year with the low snowpack. About 300′ broken into two pitches. The first 25′ and the last 25′ were steep but probably get fatter as time goes by. A super fun early season route and one that you can bike to before the snow flies.

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Jake Gano on the Northeast face of Ptarmigan Peak.

First pillar; about 25′ of steep ice.

Last 10′ is steep and hooky! Photo by Jake Gano.

Heading down!

Down the narrow gully section.

There is one section on this route where the gully is all of 18″ wide!

South face of the Wedge at sunset.


Eklutna Canyon

So far the ice is better than normal. We were able to climb Chamripple and TJ Swan in late November which is pretty early. Chamripple only forms up every few years and TJ Swan tends to be anemic in March – so it looks promising!

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Mix-master Joe Stock pulling down on a Harry Hunt Eklutna choss testpiece.

Joe up Chamripple.

Note creative placement (girth hitched alder) and usage of shrubbery to aid in upward progress

Tucker Chenoweth on TJ Swan.


Echo Bend

Ice is fatter than normal and the approach has been easy. No snow means lots and lots of ice with and no chest deep wallow from the river to the base of the routes!

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Two unknown climbers on Hollow Icicle.

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Dan Herman putting up the rope on Spruce Pitch; Lee Helzer belaying.

Dan beating up some dinner plates.

Why we’re not skiing this year.

Another shot of Dan on Spruce Pitch.


The Beer Climbs

Joe and I climbed an 80′ pillar just before you reach the Beer climbs that I had never seen before. It was mellow, fat and blue. Pilsner Pillar had a big crack across the whole thing and the bottom had shifted out about 2 inches – we didn’t touch it. The Beer climbs proper were both fat and sticky.

Low light blurry shaky photo of Joe on the route left of Pilsner Pillar.

Me down Blitz. Photo by Joe Stock.

Heading up Henrys. Photo by Joe Stock.


Goat Creek

After snapping pix of the route and hearing reports from others Jake and I made the trudge up Goat Creek to give the long mellow gully a shot. The approach is absolute hell… the route is spectacular. We climbed about 1000′ of super fun Grade II sticky ice with some simul climbing and some belayed pitches. Wonderful climbing.

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Jake Gano canyoneering AK style.

The route takes the obvious gully.

The approach. So awesome!

Jake starting up.

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Jake in the thick of it.

Good times!

1000′ of sticky ice!

With no snow this route is awesome.

Then the fun started… at 3pm Jake reminded me of our predetermined turnaround time (I tend to ignore those things). We rapped off v-threads for 100′ then Jake lead a absolutely fantastic (NOT) 300′ pitch of steep devils club and alder over rock to the ridge. Then down the ridge to the bottom of the route where we followed tracks. But darkness and snow were upon us and soon the tracks were covered in snow and we couldn’t see the valley floor due to the snow. After finding, the losing, then finding, then losing the “trail” (which was essentially a game trail that would have been great were we all of 2′ tall) we decided to just bushwhack down and left.

Thus began a 2 hour descent down a brushy mountain full of deadfall. We were soaked and took to just throwing ourselves down short drops and after what seemed like hours we burst out of the woods and onto the road well past the allotted time we were supposed to be home!

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7pm. Snowing heavily. Soaked. Coated with Devils Club. Haven’t seen the trail in about 2 hours.
Considering a rescue call….

A good season so far… and I’m past caring about whether it actually snows and the avalanche conditions improve. You don’t ski during an ice year.